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Editorial

Basslines and Protest Signs Part 75: It’s OK to Care, Punks!

Since the onset of punk few things have been more tedious than the constant wave of punks telling other punks what is and what isn’t punk. It’s exhausting. And utter nonsense. It was bad in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when every act from The Police and The Jam to Elvis Costello and Adam Ant would be met with cries of “fraud” from people still wearing safety pins.

It was deafening in the 90s when Green Day, The Offspring, NOFX et al were accused of being overnight sensations, “mall punks” and other examples of dumbass snobbery, despite the fact that all of them spent years playing locals clubs before breaking. 

I love punk music and I generally love the people involved but, damn, even the punks are capable of mass idiocy and not just regarding music. Conventional wisdom generally arrives at the conclusion that “punk” is less a musical genre and it’s more about attitude. It’s rebellion, questioning authority, even nihilism. That’s all great, go for your life, but it sure as shit shouldn’t be mindless rebellion and nihilism. 

Let’s examine our recent past. During the W. Bush administration, the Fat Mike-initiated Rock Against Bush albums were a huge success and did a great job of rallying young punks, getting them active in politics. People started watching and reading the news, educating themselves — it was never mindless. Even during Obama’s terms, which most of us will agree were better than the previous eight years, the likes of Tom Morello would encourage us to stay informed — drone strikes were happening. Things were better but not perfect. 

When Trump was elected president, many people predicted a wave of excellent punk. Bush league, if you will. It didn’t materialize at the levels expected, probably because things were just too dark. Some great art came out of the last four years, sure, but not as much as we might have anticipated.

So here we are in 2021 with a Democrat in the White House. Again, things are feeling better but not perfect. But still, better. There appears to be a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. Vaccinations, while slowing, are ongoing and music venues are starting to open up. “Normal” is within our grasp.

So the question, in this environment becomes: Is it the responsibility of punks to question everything even when lives are at stake? Of course not — but the internet would have you believe otherwise. Nowhere is this mindset more dangerous than when exploring the issue of vaccinations. When punks are calling people mindless, boot-licking sheep for wearing masks and getting vaccinated, their heads have gone.

Asking questions is obviously healthy but it’s also healthy to listen to the experts. That means the CDC and doctors, by the way. Not the random nonsense somebody spewed online. The amount of times somebody has posted something like, “Thinking of getting the shot? Read this” and then linked to an utterly fictional and discredited source. Insane.

The Queens, NY anarcho-punk band Reagan Youth formed in 1980 when Reagan was the presidential frontrunner. He wasn’t in the White House yet, but the musicians could sniff the nazi-esque fervor (the name is a play on Hitler Youth). This week, they posted an image to social media which reads, “Loud and fast — Punks wear mask.”

Despite their history of anti-government leanings, they have listened to the science and come to a smart conclusion. Masks, while not necessary forever as vaccinations continue, have saved lives. The response from some of their fans was nothing if not predictable.

“How about this. You need a mask to feel safe, cool. You don’t want to wear a mask, cool. Real punk is not telling other people the choices they should make with their lives. Protect yourselves how you see fit and stop giving people shit for how they choose to protect or not protect themselves. Be a real punk.”

“Be a real punk.” Isn’t that sort of horseshit the problem? Another idiot responded, “This is stupid I feel like y’all lost your testosterone or something. Fuck masks.”

There’s nothing like adding a bit of toxic masculinity into the punk mix, huh? But this is the way it’s been this year. If a punk offers support to the president or vice president, or to the idea of masks and vaccinations, others in the scene will hammer them for being “pro government.” It’s just utter, mindless bullshit. 

Jello Biafra (photo: MontecruzFoto)

Nobody is more outspoken than former Dead Kennedys man Jello Biafra, but even he isn’t immune (no pun intended) to idiot fans. When he posted a story about vaccines to his Facebook page, one guy responded, “I will never take this vaccine, absolutely pointless. I will never be a guinea pig for a group of mega corporations with full immunity if they cause harm. How much is big pharma paying for mouth pieces these days?”

Fuck that guy. That’s the sort of crap that gives punks a bad name yet, as previously mentioned, it’s the sort of snobbish shit the scene has dealt with since its inception. “Real punks do this, not that!” 

The spokesman for contrarianism is surely John Lydon. The former Johnny Rotten should be enjoying being revered these days due to his work with both the Sex Pistols and PIL. Yet he seems to go out of his way to make a fool of himself. No John, praising Trump isn’t the “punk thing to do” just because most others in the scene despise him. That’s not punk, that’s just dumbassery. Feel free to call “woke activists lunatics” but know that being “woke” is preferable to being morally asleep.

Again, asking questions is fine. Nobody thinks you should follow anything blindly. But trust the science and believe the experts.