I admit that I felt pretty strange as my friend and I waited for MxPx to take the stage. We were surrounded by “Punk Is Not Dead” believers sporting cut-off jackets with patches representing Anarchy, MxPx, and Jesus. Truly there is nothing like a Punk show, especially when the band is often considered the most popular Christian Punk Band of the nineties and early millennium.
My friend and I both went to the Bluebird in Denver after we got off work, I left my wife at home, and reconnected with my 16 year old self. I can only imagine what the 16 year old version of myself would have said as he saw his future self sipping a pbr in the “non-mosh pit” standing area. I’m sure the word “sell-out” would have been used.
Ask anyone who drove in my car between the ages of 16 and 18 and you would probably get memories of intolerance toward anything that didn’t have that late nineties Punk rhythm. But what was it about this music genre that made it feel like so much more than a music genre?
I was 15 when two of my friends came to my house and said, “You used to play the Tuba. The Bass should come easy to you!” They wanted me in their band and I was sold on the idea before I even had a chance to freak out about the fact that I didn’t know how to play…or even own…a Bass Guitar.
While our band wasn’t exactly Punk, it didn’t take long before we decided we needed to be. The most popular teenage bands in Nebraska were Punk bands. We started to travel to nearby towns to see some of these bands live and I fell in love with everything about the Punk scene. The Fragile Andys–who had recently changed there name from General Star–were the most popular Punk band in the region and we followed them around along with nearly every Punk Rock fan in the Cornhusker State.
My band never made it anywhere beyond the one show we played in the local Teen Center. Still I was in love with Punk Rock. MxPx, and others like them, were always in my CD Player. I would often turn the volume up as loud as it would go and imagine myself getting lost in the music with my Bass while my fans went crazy.
That dream died hard, despite the fact that the most successful band I was ever in was a cover band in college, called Wholesale Ripoff. We played like 4 shows.
Years passed, I got married, had a daughter, and most of my Punk Rock music was collecting dust in the same cd case I had in Highschool that was stored away in my house. Then my friend asked me if I wanted to join him at the MxPx show. At first I thought of how it was silly to spend the money, but Nicole convinced me that it was worth it. I was excited after I bought the ticket. MxPx was the one band I loved in Highschool that I was never able to see live. In some ways, I immediately reverted back to that 16 year old self I mentioned earlier. I dusted off the old Punk cd’s, created an MxPx Pandora station, and counted the hours before the show.
Despite feeling so out of place…and old…I had so much fun at that show that I haven’t let up on my Punk Rock cd’s and Pandora station since.
There was something different about Punk Rock than any other genre I listened to as a kid. Maybe it was nothing more than the age I was when I was introduced to it, but it feels like there was something else there. This has got me thinking about what I would call the Spirit of Punk Rock. What was it about this genre that made it more of a movement for me? By the way, for you hard core Punk fans out there, I am under no illusion that I came into the Punk Rock scene at its purest time or that I listened to the most “Punk” bands ever. I know that I joined in at what some call the end of Punk Rock as we know it. Green Day went all “21 Guns” and Blink 182 gave way to Angels and Airwaves. Also, I was immersed in a subsect of Punk Rock that was inhabited by Christians. I fully realize that our experience was different than those of you who followed Pennywise on tour or played nothing but the Sex Pistols on the old record player.
Still there was something about Punk Rock in the early 2000’s that captured me and made me feel right at home.
It’s that ‘something’ that I am seeing again within movements like the Black Lives Matter Movement. The true appeal to Punk Rock for me was that I was accepted despite the fact that my greater social context had decided I was slightly less than cool. In some ways it felt like the weirder and more pathetic you were to the “popular people” the more your presence was welcomed into the Punk Rock community. It was a community that found its strength in the desire to say “Forget You” to the popularity contest going on around us. In some ways we felt oppressed by that contest and so joining a community that spoke against it made perfect sense.
I suppose it also makes sense that the spirit that permeated the community I felt accepted by in High School wouldn’t attract those who were already enjoying popularity and acceptance–those who were benefiting from that system.
I wonder if the lingering pieces of the Spirit of Punk Rock that originally offered me a sense of acceptance as a stuttering, short, poor, un-popular kid are the very things that are inviting me into the fight for justice on behalf of my friends who have been left out of the broader popularity contest of our society.
I also wonder if the roadblock keeping many people out of those pursuits for justice is built with the same stones of the roadblock keeping the popular kids away from our awkward community. Perhaps when the system being fought against is one that has been kind to you, it is difficult to see the damage it can do.
So may the Spirit of Punk Rock be with you today. May you find acceptance when others tell you there is none. May you find the courage to speak against a system that forces some to the margins while lifting others up on thrones. May you tap into that rebellious part of humanity that refuses to conform if it means leaving others out. Even if MxPx isn’t your thing, may you feel the Spirit of Punk Rock offering you acceptance and giving you a voice.