Aug 10, 2011

To the End, To the End, I'll Journey to the End.

Greetings all.
This is going to be the last Ask A Punk post for the forseeable future. Blogger spellcheck is telling me that "forseeable" isn't a word ...but then again, it is also telling me that "spellcheck" isn't a word.

I started AAP in January of 2008. Now, over three and a half years, 182 posts and nearly a quarter million words later, it is time to refl
ect and reconsider. The good news is that I have the opportunity to turn 'Ask A Punk' into an Ebook. The bad news is that the few hours in the week I had to dedicate to this website will now have to be spent working on the Ebook and so, well, something has to give.

I won't be taking the site down or anything, so if you're a new visitor and just stumbling upon this post I'll say - hello & welcome, please look around and read as deep as you like. I'm proud of what I did here, every Wednesday for 182 weeks (not one missed deadline!) and I hope I helped, or at the very least entertained some people.

I appreciate the loyal weekly visits of all of my
regular readers (numbering in the 100s.) I knew you were out there, my 'Google Analytics' reports told me so. So a special thank-you to you folks in Minneapolis, Austin, Lynnfield, Portland, Seattle, Dublin, Sydney, Varanasi, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, London, Manchester, Leeds, Ulster, Perth ... well, I can't name them all, but all told, thousands visitors and 100s of regular readers from 98 countries/territories including all 50 US states. I appreciate every moment you spent on the site.

Maybe to some web-savvy folks, a few hundred readers doesn't sound like much but to me it is. I never advertised, promoted or otherwise 'pushed' this website. Maybe I should have, but I didn't. So everyone who read my posts week after week did so after discovering it for themselves and then deciding to stick around. That's pretty cool.

Thanks for all your questions and supportive emails and comments. Thanks also for the flames, they made some of my weeks a bit more interesting.

Egods. I'm getting maudlin. It isn't really a big deal. Just another blogger needing a break after nearly 4 years of weekly deadlines (for no money.) As I said, I'm leaving the site up and will still be regularly checking for messages at the email address. I reserve the right to come back and start answering questions at any point in time. you've been warned. ... and lord knows, when/if I get the Ebook compiled, edited down, formatted and out into the world, I'll spend some quality web time flogging the heck out of it.

That's it for now. Stay punk. Stay alive. ...and remember to pull your brothers and sisters out of the pit when they need help.

Aug 3, 2011

Summertime and the living is sleazy.

Dear aap- I thought I would be spending a cool summer at a local resort area. I landed a job at a restaurant, in the kitchen because I'm not a cute/waitress kind of chick. I moved into a Summer rental with some friends who are doing the same thing and thought it would be a Summer of working hard and partying hard, both of which I find equally fun, which I guess makes me a bit weird to my friends. The problem is that it is turning out to be no fun at all. I'm ok with working almost 70 hours a week, I need the $$ and no one would ever describe me as lazy... but I think if I could have found a job like this closer to home, I would have been better off just taking that because the 'fun' part isn't fun at all. My friends-turned-roommates are more annoying and spoiled than I even thought was possible. They live like four-year-olds who I guess expect the house to magically clean itself after every party, and well, you get the idea. I want to party as much as the next girl, but I don't want to be the only one cleaning up the mess the next afternoon. When i have a rare day off I want to actually enjoy the beach and the town myself, I don't want to spend it cleaning up our crappy rental place. What can I do to turn this Summer around before it is too late? - Seaside

Dear S-
There are a few things it is too late to do: such as be a better judge of potential roommates. I know that saying that doesn't help your situation, but it is always eye-opening when we're forced to live with people we've always considered 'friends' and then we suddenly see a whole new (and unappealing) side of their personalities. This isn't news, I know. It is just interesting.

As far as your situation goes, you first have to go through a couple of obvious steps. The first step is to TELL your friends what is on your mind. You describe them as basically clueless/thoughtless and no maliciously out to ruin your Summer, so maybe they just need a little reminder that their moms aren't around to clean up after them and they have to step up and do a better job as roommates. That might work. I doubt it will, but it might.

It'll probably come as no surprise that clueless / thoughtless people rarely like having this shortcoming pointed out to them and so they usually react by lashing out, arguing, or accusing 'the other people' of being "just as bad, if not worse." ... and then you're back to square one, but now with added resentment and possible name-calling. You can stage a silent protest by NOT cleaning up after the others and waiting for them to notice or complain etc... this passive-aggressive thing rarely works either...

Yeah, basically I'm saying you're screwed and you're probably going to get that thing people always end up with when they don't get what they really wanted: "experience." ... You wanted a work hard/play hard fun Summer and instead you've gotten the experience of now knowing what you don't want and hopefully you'll learn how to avoid getting into this crappy situation in future Summers. That's the bottom line. Everyone has to live through crappy roommates and disappointing Summers.

I'm not saying that you should give up. I'm saying that this is going to be a tough ship to turn around... You have to speak up soon, and directly, and let your roommates know exactly what your grievances are and what steps you would like them to take to make everyone's life better and the living situation more agreeable to all parties. You have to speak up because people are not mind-readers, they don't know you're angry or frustrated if you don't tell them... and no, they're not going to just 'notice' that 'something is bothering you' since they've already proven themselves to be the sort of self-involved and inconsiderate people who can't do their share of housecleaning. Just don't expect them to listen closely or radically change their personalities and living habits.

Jul 27, 2011

Kicking Ass and Taking Blame

Dear AAP-
I have spent plenty of time in moshpits which resembled brawls and I've been in a few brawls that were more like square dances with people shouting curses at each other... but now I find myself in a new dilemma. I got involved in an 'altercation' in a parking lot after a show that my band played in. It was the usual drama of some dipshit following us out to the load-out after the show, drunk and talking shit and threatening us. There was pushing and shoving but no cops were called... and then the next day I have cops at my door, charging me with assualt. Since when does a guy go where he shoudn't, say stuff he shouldn't, START trouble and then call the cops the NEXT DAY? What the fuck is that about? ...and more importantly what now? - Defender.

Dear D-
Welcome to America, where no one will take personal responsibility for their own actions. I'm glad you didn't share too many details of the altercation in your letter because the first thing I would tell you is to Stop Talking About It. Don't go on-the-record with anyone describing what might or might not have happened. Next: Immediately find a lawyer. Seriously.

Things you probably have in your favor: The cops showed up the next day and (apparently) didn't drag you away in handcuffs... which means they probably already assume it is a BS charge... but don't depend on that (repeating: shut up and get a lawyer.) Also in your favor: It sounds like the guy acted alone and hopefully you have at least one or two bandmate/roadie witnesses. You'll also want to check with the venue - maybe they have security cameras in the parking lot? ...or maybe a neighboring business does... be proactive in looking for this stuff. Basically find as much proof as you can to tell your side of the story and then keep it to yourself - Wait and see what happens. If you threw the first actual punch, you might have some trouble. Let's hope that the dude, once he gets over his hangover and his embarrassment, just forgets the whole thing... but be ready in case he doesn't

Jul 20, 2011

Pretty In Ink

dear ask a punk-
I'm a female musician. I've been in a couple of bands and I'm a decent player of guitar or bass. I'm not much of a songwriter yet so I do like being in a real band and not just sitting home and recording stuff by myself into my computer. The problem I'm running into now is that I'm once again looking for a new band to be in, I keep getting the vibe from people like I'm not cool enough for them. I'm cute enough. I've got style and can be pretty outrageous when it is called for. It seems the problem comes down to this mostly: I don't have any tattoos. It seems like it is now mandatory to have arms full of tattoos if you want to be in a band, or even be allowed into certain crowds. The thing is, I do like tattoos on other people, boys especially, I've got nothing against 'em and don't judge people for having them, so why am I being judged for NOT having them? That doesn't seem fair. - blank canvas.

Dear BC-
Skinny ties. Wide ties. Tight pants. Baggy pants. Long hair. Short hair. Leather jackets. Vegan shoes. Basically fashion has always been a way of indicating where our other cultural preferences are and who our chosen 'tribe' is... but all those things are temporary or removable. Hair grows out or can be cut. Old and/or embarrassing clothes can be replaced (and hopefully forgotten.) Styles, and with them, their era's definition of what is 'cool' are forever changing. It has always been this way... but tattoos are forever, right? ...and that is something very different.

What isn't different is that, as always, a 'non-conformist' subculture tends to start trying to instill conformity within the group. As I've said before, in the earliest era of Punk Rock, basically anything that didn't sound like Lynyrd Skynrd or Styx could be called "punk rock" ... including an act that consisted of two guys in suits, one playing the accordion while his band mate beat on a shopping cart (wired with microphones) with an axe handle. I know this because I opened for them. More than once ...but eventually "official" punk rock became something that carried with it certain requirements - leather jackets, torn clothes, Docs or sneakers, F-ed up hair etc etc. You get the idea. I guess the tattoo thing is/was the next logical step in pushing the envelope.

Don't get me wrong. Like you, I actually DO like tattoos (and I even have a couple.) but I don't think of them as a requirement. Funny also that, opposite of you, I usually think they look better on girls... probably due to the fairer sex being less hairy.

I would say that you have to stick to your guns here. As you said, you're not being a jerk, not judging them for having tattoos... so anyone who judges you for not having them obviously isn't on your level. Keep looking. Surely the world needs more cute and clever guitar girls who are also willing to play bass.

Jul 13, 2011

Joystick Division

dear aap:
I want to make music, but I don't want to be in a band. I think it would be cooler to make songs and music for videogames. How do I do that? Where do I start? - unsigned.

Dear Unsigned-
Ahh, the future. There was a time when every kid wanted to be a baseball player. Then every kid wanted to be a rock star. Some kids wanted to write the ultimate novel. Other kids wanted to make movies... now everyone under the age of 15 that I talk to wants to make videogames. I'm not saying that as an old fossil, I'm just pointing out the truth of it. Desires and thoughts of what is "awesome" shift with the generations, that is the way of the culture and that is cool, but one thing is constant: a tiny percentage of the kids who wanted those dream occupations ever take the steps necessary to make their dreams (possibly) come true... and only a tiny percentage of those people actually get that ultimate gig/life.

I'm not saying this to discourage you. I'm saying it to double-down your determination.

I know that video games buy/commission some real "songs" from established recording artists for specific games, but from the sound of it you were talking about making the 'music' for games too, and by that I assume you mean the scores/background music that fills gameplay and cut scenes. Before you even get to thinking about how to get specifically into games you're going to need some basic skills... and then some advanced skills... and hopefully some innate talent... and then some pure luck. But you asked "Where do I start?" so I'll tell you.

1) Piano Lessons.
Yes, and maybe years and years of them. You said you specifically don't want to be in a band... so buying a guitar and taking four quick lessons from the local stoner isn't going to give you the foundation you'll need. That foundation can be found in the piano, and in real, structured study of music theory. You'll need to be able to read music too, and understand rhythm and harmony and melody and all those words that serious musicians bandy about so easily. Seriously. Think of it like learning a foreign language- of the country you plan on moving to. "Real" musicians start at the piano. It is the most straight-forward instrument on which to learn the basics of all the things I just mentioned. Once you have the basics really down pat, then you'll branch out into learning all the styles of piano and keyboard music. Then you'll branch out into orchestration and all sorts of music theory. These are the basic building blocks.

2) Immerse yourself in gaming and gaming culture.
By this I don't mean just PLAY videogames every waking moment you're not seated at the piano (although, of course I assume you're an avid gamer already.) I'm saying you'll need to get into the esoterica and behind-the-scenes stuff. Start reading gaming INDUSTRY blogs and websites. Basically I'm saying: After you know the 'language' of your new foreign country home you have to also know the history and culture.

3) Start making stuff.
Start making your own games (another thing to learn) and/or align yourself with people who have a passion for making games so that you can learn about HOW games are constructed and how the music fits into the overall structure... maybe throw some understanding of coding and computer science into your bag of tricks. You'll also hopefully gain some experience in actually creating music for them. DIY still applies to the world of videogame-making... more NOW than ever.

So that is the most basic starting path. Develop the basic skills now, so that the advanced skills won't be as much of a reach for you later. Don't give up and don't get lazy, if this is what you want.

Good luck.

Jul 6, 2011

Draft Punk

dear aap:
It is time to throw a band member out. I know you have answered this sort of question before, but here is the twist, we have to throw out my brother. He is basically a drunk. He wasn't when we started, but now he is. We're all in our mid-twenties and as a band we've taken our music increasingly seriously and gotten better and even more professional in how we approach the whole thing, but he has taken it less and less seriously, more like he likes being a "musician" lifestyle-wise but not when it comes to actually PLAYING the music and getting better. He's the bass player, so it isn't like he's irreplaceable or anything, but still he's my brother and that makes it weird and even more so that I can't figure out what his problem really is because obviously we came from the same homelife and all that so I know exactly how fucked up his/my familly is - which is: alittle, but not all that much. I'm no saint and neither is anyone else in the band, but he is completely out of hand. So I have two questions - what do you think caused this slide of his and how do I go about throwing him out. - Done.

Dear Done -
It is interesting that you threw in the word "irreplaceable" because, as I read your email, the first thing I thought of was, of course, the story of The Replacements and how they had to throw Bob Stinson out of the band while his little brother, Tommy, stayed. That might sound like ancient history to you guys, but it might be worth digging up some books and reading about it... but I know that doesn't help your immediate situation. So let's get into it.

Sure you both grew up in the same home, but you would be surprised how differently siblings can experience the same home they grew up in, just as any individuals will experience and process ANYthing differently. Maybe he saw your mutual childhoods as a more difficult time than you did. Maybe he has had experiences (bad ones) that you don't even know about. Add to that the fact that every individual (including members of the same family) is a unique soup of genetics and brain wiring/chemistry and there is your answer. Things like alcoholism do run in families due to what many researchers are fairly certain is a genetic 'predisposition' to the problem, but even in the most besotted of families there are always a few who manage to avoid the landmine of alcoholism... Is it luck? Genetics? Determination? ...I'm not going to even pretend I have an answer for that, just know that it is a fact. Trying to figure out the 'why' of his problem isn't going to yield (m)any answers and isn't going to much help your current situation. Just deal with what you can see: His behavior and how it affects you, your band and your family.

Sure it would be easier to just toss a 'friend' out of a band for bad behavior, but family is tough, and contrary to what you said in your letter, I'll warn you that good bass players are much harder to find than you probably think. How far HAVE you already gone to address your brother's problem? Have there been ultimatums or interventions already? or have you all just been silent as he as gotten increasingly "out-of-hand" and just NOW you're getting to a breaking point? He's your brother. Have you talked to him one-on-one about any of this, not as a band mate, but as a family member? Trust me, on some level even he knows he is fucking up... He might be amazed that no one is calling him on it. He might be dying (literally and figuratively) for someone to throw him a line and pull him out... even if he says otherwise when drunk and confronted. Find a time when he isn't loaded, get him alone and SAY what isn't being said, then see if that changes things. Keep in mind that, if he is already in deep, and not ready to quit, he might say all the things you are hoping to hear, even if he has no intention of changing his behavior. You have to set some parameters and STICK to them, then judge the results by his ACTIONS not by his words. I say all this because, based on what little you said in your letter, it sounds like things are just beginning to go off the rails for him.

IF you have already been through all of that and he is still incapable or unwilling to improve and you really are at the end of your rope with him then of course you do have the right to take care of yourself and your band (and your family.) You might have to handle it like a real 'Intervention' and just sit him down with everyone, including the band and the family if possible. Let them all have their say. Tell him, with no negotiation or wiggle-room, what has to happen if he wants to stay in the band and then put the situation in his lap. It is tough, but the flipside is: You keep him in the band and let his problem become a problem for all of you. You have the right to protect yourself.

Good Luck.

Jun 29, 2011

Eat. Pray. Louvre

dear aap - It is almost Summer and, luck me, I'll be spending it abroad doing an exchange program in France. If it goes well I might be able to stay through the Fall semester. For me, this is the trip of a lifetime and part of the reason I picked my particular college in the first place was because of their "study abroad" programs for Upperclassmen. The problem isn't my boyfriend - well the problem isn't JUST him. He is a bit put out by the whole thing, but he knew it was a non-negotiable. He made some noises about "joining me" and I wouldn't have been totally against it, but he didn't bother planning his life - academic or otherwise - to include this trip, this opportunity. So I don't feel like that is my fault. I AM going to miss him and I am going to miss my family, friends my cat and especially my band. I think THEY are the ones I feel most badly about. If my boyfriend gets bored or stupid, he can always go out with someone else, but the band, we're just a three piece, really only works with the three of us and most of the songs and stuff are mine - so with me gone they really can't do much without me and I feel bad leaving them in the lurch, but not so bad that I would cancel my trip. Am I being selfish here? - Passport in Hand.

Dear PiH -
Easiest answer in a long time: No, you're not being selfish. GO !

...heck, if I could I would even offer you a ride to the airport. I hate to sound like the old fossil I'm becoming but here goes: Unless you're a trust fund kid, or a (very) successful Web entrepreneur, once you're out of college and neck-deep in the "real world," you don't get (m)any opportunities to spend three, or possibly even six months in Europe for any reason.

I know your world seems full of possibilities, opportunities and calls to adventure now, and that's because it IS... and those sorts of possibilities etc do NOT come around later in life... sure OTHER yet unimaginable opportunities will present themselves at later stages in life (and you should seize those too) but when it comes to the sort of thing you're describing, the term "once-in-a-lifetime" was coined for a reason.

You're level-headed about your boyfriend issue. That tells me you're a person who knows her own mind and is at least trying to live life on her own terms... hold on to that. Kiss him good-bye and mean it. As far as the band goes - You didn't make it sound like you three were on the verge of breaking BIG this Summer, so what does a 3-6 month hiatus really matter? Your band mates can work on their long-simmering "solo projects" or at the very least practice their chops, while you, you get to fill your head with new sights, sounds, smells, beats & rhythms that will probably be a strong influence on your songwriting for years (perhaps decades) to come. it isn't just an "opportunity" you're almost obligated, in the name of all of us with mostly-empty passports, to go forth and explore the continent and yourself.

Safe Travels.

Jun 22, 2011

Love is in the Hair

Greetings everyone. I paired up two questions with one answer this week...

Dear ask a punk: I'm a guy and I'm only 28 and this year my hair started falling out in big clumps. For all the obvious reasons this has me totally bummed out. I've always been in bands and let's face it, no matter how pure you are about your punk rock and roll, everyone has given some thought to their hair, and most have given a lot of thought to it. I like having hair that hangs in my face when I want it to. I can still pull it off, but I know that time is running out. I'm not sure what my question is, I mean I can google for baldness cures or start taking the medicine but I don't have health insurance and probably can't afford any of that anyway. Maybe my question is, how lame am I for being so worried about this and will it affect my future as a band guy? - Thinning

Dear AAP-
The Summer is coming and I'm going to be working a hot and sweaty day job all summer and at night I'll be going out to humid, sweaty clubs to see bands and hang out with my friends. What I want to do is cut most of my hair off, more for heat reasons than fashion ones, I've always kept my hair long but I'm sure I could still pull off a cute short cut. I'm in my mid-twenties and pretty good looking. OF COURSE it seems like everyone in my life is acting like I've gone crazy. My boyfriend is all flipped and HE has had mohawks? Most of our friends male and female have all kinds of weird stuff going on with their hair, I just want to cut mine off and it is a big deal? What is with guys especially and long hair on girls? - pixie cutter

Dear Thinning & Pixie-
Hair... ahh hair. Smart people in all sorts of scientific and academic disciplines have spent whole careers trying to figure out just what it IS about hair & hair styles that makes them such a big deal to us humans. The scope of the societal (and sexual) ramifications of hair choices for both men and women are really pretty astounding when you stop to think about it... considering the fact that the hair really serves no physical or survival purpose. It is more comparable to the decorative 'plumage' on birds than it is to, say, their pin or flight feathers. So what is the big deal?

Damned if I know... but I am pretty certain about a few things, and one of them is, if you build your self-confidence and/or self-image on a foundation of hair, you're going to be in trouble sooner or later, no matter which sex you are.

Thinning - Your problem is as old as time itself, when a man's hair starts falling out it is taken (in almost every human society) as a loss of youth and virility... Having your hair go grey isn't much better, but I'm sure every bald guy would gladly swap his fate for a head full of thick grey hair. Maybe you can still pull-off the "hair in the face thing" but if you're already seeing clumps of hair in the drain then that means you're probably developing a bald spot in the back of your head where you can't see it - but everyone else can. Even if you had the cash or health insurance to cover the cost of prescription hair pills, have you read the possible SIDE EFFECTS on those things? (which include 'erectile dysfunction' by the way.) ...a clear case of the cure being worse than the ailment. You could wear a skull cap everywhere, like the Edge, or you could just start cutting your hair shorter like the vast majority of men of a certain age. A comb-over is out of the question - unless you have a supernatural amount of inherent irony. Your best bet is to just get over it. Have you ever noticed that you sometimes DON'T notice that a guy is bald? least not at first? That usually has something to do with how that particular guy views himself. As cliche' as it sounds, it IS a confidence thing.

I know I definitely have a semi-advanced case of "male pattern baldness" as well as a good bit of grey hair (although I started finding grey hair at the ripe old age of 19, which I guess has something to do with my predominantly Irish genetics.) So what do I do? or rather what DID I do? ... I went with it. several years ago I bought my own pair of barber trimmers and just keep my head buzzed fairly short. It is a low-hassle, low-maintenance, no-nonsense look, and I've saved myself a ton of money that would have been spent on haircuts (and shampoo.) Heck, even when I had hair, I never liked mine much. I had a bunch of cowlicks and so, long or short, my hair never looked all that great and it certainly was never my "most appealing feature" so screw it. Truth be told, I was 100 times more devastated when I discovered (a few years ago) that I needed reading glasses. Being the ONLY member of my ENTIRE family who never needed glasses was a huge point of vanity for me... but I had to get over that too.

PIXIE's situation is at least a little bit similar... It is more about self-image than it is about "what people will think." Sure I could rant on for a few hundred words about societie's overall feelings about how long a woman's hair "should" be, but those are generalities after all. I remember dating girls with crewcuts, mohawks, and weird multi-colored home cut-and-dyes as well as girls with long 'normal' hair. Some styles just look 'right' on some people while others don't... but the bottom line with hair, as it is with fashion is: "Is the person wearing the 'look'? ...or is the 'look' wearing her/him?"

I mean, what could be LESS punk rock than giving a fu#k what someone ELSE thinks about your hair? If you really wanted to cut it short for the convenience-based reasons you mentioned, why didn't you just go ahead and DO it? ...and then, if anyone gave you any lip about it you could tell 'em to go to hell? Taking a poll of your family and friends before pulling the trigger sounds (to me) like what you're mostly seeking is attention from all these people. Seriously, it sounds like you're using the "Should I cut my hair?" question more as an excuse to create some drama than anything else. Are you trying to come up with some excuse to break up with your boyfriend if he hassles you about your shorn locks? Are you hoping he'll break up with you because if it, so you don't have to break up with him? I mean it is JUST FREAKIN' HAIR and in your case (unlike in 'Thinning's case) you can always grow it back in a few months if you don't like it. Aren't there bigger things to worry about? Or at the very least more interesting things for you and your family/friends to talk about? What is your TRUE motivation behind all this?

Yeesh people. Come on.

Jun 15, 2011

Say Yes to the Stress

dear ask a punk - Your letter last week hit on something I think a lot of us are going through, but I think it was a bit simplistic. The paycheck was only one of the things I lost when I lost my job. I lost a part of my identity, my status in the community and a certain amount of status in my own home. I don't see a lot of that coming back any time soon either. So this time around people aren't just forced to find new jobs, they're forced to redefine themselves and also, in most cases, set the bar a little lower for their hopes and dreams. I think our citizens needed a reality check and now we've gotten it, the question is: What's next? - Simplified

Dear Simplified

What's next? If I really had the answer to that, I would be doing much better myself. I don't disagree with you though, one of the problems with our previously mentioned 'consumer culture' is that all those credit cards and 'easy money' allowed a lot of people to avoid the reality of their economic situation by spending more than they had and/or being able to get a home loan that any reasonably sane person could see was a bad idea.

What's next could be an awakening bordering on a new Renaissance or it could be a complete collapse of the current system complete with blood in the streets and neighborhood gun battles over clean water... I think it is likely that what's really next will fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, at least I hope so... but I am doing a bit of stockpiling of water purification tablets, solar rechargers, ...and bullets.

As far as your situation goes, I can understand how that loss of 'status' can affect people, myself included. But the truth is, estimations of our self-worth should be based on something deeper than how big a stack of green pieces of paper we can accumulate. It gets back to basic needs. We Americans feel like $100/month cable TV is a basic need, but tell that to the 1 billion+ people on the planet who have to spend 70% of their day just finding and hauling that day's drinking water.

We need to wake up, and once we do, we need to do something more than complain about being woken up from our unsustainable dream(s.) I'm not saying all this uncertainty and change isn't scary (let me tell you about my currently monumental insomnia problem) but it is better to embrace the new, weird future than complain about the lost golden mirage of a past.

I have been ranting on this a lot lately, haven't I ??

Jun 8, 2011

Lack is Beautiful

Dear Ask A Punk- So far 2011 hasn't been any better than 2010. Like everyone else trying to make their way in a medium-sized but surprisingly expensive city after lay-offs and stuff, I find I can still "get by" but that is about it. In fact it is getting harder to get by in spite of all the personal cutting back I have done. There isn't much more that can be cut back. While this is a scary situation to be in, a part of me also feels like it was time for this to happen... and I don't mean just to me, I mean it feels like the shit has finally hit the fan for the wasteful lifestyle we were all living, me included. I'm not a hippie or anything, I just think it might be a lesson we needed to learn. I used to go out drinking and spending money and seeing shows, stay home where drinking is cheaper, invite over some friends and play music or videogames or something. We're written tons of songs and stuff for no reason other than it is fun. So IS this the upside to all the crap we're going through? - USA-

Dear USA -

You might be on to something. Necessity might be the mother of invention, but poverty is the mother of free time, that is for sure. The trick is to SEE that (as you have) and use that downtime constructively. Of course, "constructively" can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I might suggest that some of your copious downtime be used to help other people somehow, through volunteering for a cause you hold dear, creating a space for more people to use their downtime constructively or even just teaching one kid how to make a 'D' chord. Know what I mean?

You're right that, as a culture (a 'consumer culture') we've collectively spent a lot of time chasing happiness and trying to spend our way into fulfillment only to discover that these things are easier to 'catch' if we just sit still, breathe deep and sort of trap them when they come to us. Regular readers will know that I have been "under-employed" for longer than I care to admit, and it is really starting to wear on me, however: a part of me has never been happier, I have more time for my friends, my significant other and my own creative pursuits, including night-times where, if I was working more I would feel the urge/need to go out and spend cash and do more 'external' things... none of which would be nearly as fulfilling as reading a good book, writing a bad book, jamming with friends or taking a long-ass walk. ... of course I've never been a spendthrift, but if I was to suddenly land a big-dollar job tomorrow, I have trouble imaging that I would forget these lessons overnight. I think (or perhaps hope) that my fellow countrymen are feeling the same... I mean, SHOULD an economy be based on a model that says, basically - in order for the country to function, everyone has to almost immediately spend most of their hard-earned $$ on things they don't really need?

The sad part is that, of course the rich are still getting richer and the previously-not-quite-poor are getting poorer, but that is a rant for another day. Keep doing your best, keep an eye on your budget and when things start looking up for you, me, and everyone else, try not to forget this stuff.

Jun 1, 2011

The Sound and the Furry

dear aap:
My band is starting to play out-of-town gigs so you know what that means, getting in the van or in our case a mini-van and loading up the gear and going out for a few days or weeks at a time. Eventually going out for months at a time, we hope. The problem is one of our band members has insisted on packing his 'furry' costume and looking for other furries wherever we're doing a show. We all knew he was kind of weird because we've all known each other for years, but this is more than any of expected, so do you let it go on or do you throw someone out of the band for something like this? - SD&R&R

Dear SD&R&R

While I'm 85% sure this question is a put-on, I think it touches on a basic truth and raises a common issue that anyone at that stage in their band's lifecycle is likely to run into.

On more than one occasion I've described the experience of putting together and/or being in a band as being very similar to dating & establishing a relationship, only more difficult because you're not just dealing with 2 humans and their personalities/issues/desires... but with three or five, (or seven?) other people. When you start out you just want to link up with people who share your views/opinions/tastes in music and hopefully want to accomplish the same things that you want to with this 'band' entity you're conjuring into existence. If you clear THAT hurdle then you've got a band that can stand practicing with each other and can get along well enough with each other to play gigs around town... Which means showing up on time, spending an evening together rocking out and then everyone goes home to their neutral corners.

But if you're all determined and ambitious enough there comes a point where you're going to have to take your show on the road, for days, weeks or possibly even months at a time. This is a lot like finally moving in with a girl/boyfriend in that, you now all have to co-exist on a whole new level... including during what would normally be down, or personal time. You're going to learn things about each other that weren't even part of the equation in the earlier stages of the relationship/band. The kind of things that have nothing to do with music and everything to do with personalities & personal habits. Hygiene, sleep patterns, drug and lifestyle choices ... all of these things are potential landmines for any band (of individuals) who is taking that next step together.

That transition from 'playing gigs around town' to being a 'road band' is one of the many places that aspiring bands discover, to their dismay, that they can't go any further together... Clashes over the previously mentioned issues might be insurmountable if the people involved are selfish, inflexible or a danger to themselves (or others.) In your particular (and possibly imaginary) case, I would say this: I don't think your bandmate's "lifestyle choices" are a good reason, by themselves, to throw him/her out of the band. That said, IF those choices (and again, they could be lifestyle choices, hygienic choices or drug choices etc) have a direct impact on their performance/abilities as a musician and bandmate THEN you have every right to toss that person out of the group. ...but, I'm sure you're saying, what if you're just weirded out by a bandmate's behavior? isn't directly affecting the band, but indirectly it is putting you, or someone else in the band, off... In that case you have to examine your own hang-ups. Are YOU the problem? How does everyone else feel about this? Are you (or they) REALLY personally wigged out by this person's choices, or are you just worried that you'll look bad as a band, if your friends/fans/supporters find out about this one guy's particular kink? ...and if so, aren't we beyond that? I mean at least by now MOST folks of our ilk have gotten over their homophobia and all of THAT nonsense, so do the Furries now have to stay in the closet?

Hope that answers your question.

May 25, 2011

Generic Headline informs readers of new content.

"I shot the serif" ? wtf did that have to do with anything? What the fuck is a serif and what does any of this have to do with punk rock or even with the person's question? Why are your headlines always so stupid? Your not punk. - unsigned.

Dear reader-
As always, I thank anyone who takes the time to write in to AAP, no matter what their question, or attitude but, as I also often point out: If you don't like the content, please feel free to just move along. I don't see the point of starting a flame war... but I will answer your questions.

I am forever shocked at how freely some people admit, almost to the point of pride, that they "don't know" something... implying that people who DO know certain, obscure things, like say - what a 'serif' is, are somehow to be looked DOWN on because they know something you don't. Is a defensive reflex? ...and really there is no excuse since you could easily type "serif" in the search window at the top of your browser and find the answer in less than .0000478 seconds... and while you're at it you could google "the difference between your and you're." ...I'm getting pretty sick of the ascendancy of the moron. Do you really aspire to live in a country where knowledgeable = suspect and ignorant = acceptable? Stupidity isn't "punk" either.

As far as the headlines in general go, I'll admit to a certain weakness for puns, but also SEO101 says that a good headline is one of the best ways to hook new readers... Maybe I go a bit overboard sometimes, but hey - the whole point of having your own blog is so you can do things EXACTLY the way you want, without having to seek anyone's editorial approval.

...and I'm guessing you don't know what "SEO" is either... please just google it and leave me alone. Maybe you could find another website where they just blow stuff up real good. You won't be missed here at AAP.

May 18, 2011

I Shot the Serif

Dear AAP-
The question last week from the guy about his band wearing masks or not made me think of the last band I was in where we argued for months and eventually broke up with me quitting first over the look of our WEBSITE. I couldn't believe we were even arguing about it. I didn't care how it looked mostly, but two of the the guys were acting like it was the biggest issue in the world and wouldn't compromise about anything from the pictures to the colors to the logo to the font. I don't think the Clash and those guys worried about these kinds of things. Is the problem the technology or is it the people? - Just Play.

Dear JP:
The truth is that even bands like the Clash (and especially The Ramones) were VERY particular and focused right from the beginning when it came to crafting their public image and the icons/pictures/typography that presented them to the world, and I'm sure that, if the web had existed back in 1977 their respective websites would have been equally thought out and "on message." ...but as with all things, if the product itself (the music & the underlying message) isn't great, then it doesn't really matter how good the "packaging" might be.

There are tons of great musicans in the world and there are countless great bands... but ultimately there has to be something special, some kind of X-factor that separates the immortal bands from the rest. Call it a common purpose, wavelength or vibe, the bands that really explode in people's heads usually click on some internal and I would even say, mysterious level. I think about all the people I've played with, from bandmates to strangers I've just jammed with once or twice and there is something internal that you just FEEL when you're really clicking with other musicans and when the music you're making somehow just sounds like more than the sum of its parts. Know what I mean? ...and you can't really predict when lightning will strike.

For example. I've played with countless friends and strangers who, like me, could play whole bunches well-known punk rock songs... but, even though we were hitting the right notes at the right time, the sonic result just sort of laid there in people's ears, but then I would jam with one friend who was purely a "Led Zep / Thin Lizzy" kind of guitarist, who had barely heard of the Ramones and never liked them all that much, but when we jammed together in his livingroom... man... It. just. sounded. awesome. I still have no idea why.

May 11, 2011

The Man in the Ironic Mask

dear aap:
My band has been together for almost 2 years. We haven't played out much because we want to already be 'good' when when start, so instead of rushing things we've been practicing and writing songs and trying to get better at playing our instruments and stuff, but now that we're getting close to being ready we're starting to disagree with how we're going to look on-stage I mean. One of the guys is getting more and more intense about us all wearing "masks" of some kind and actual costumes and stuff... I think this is a bad idea and not punk rock at all. The rest of the band seems sort of undecided still, what do you think? - No Costume Rock.

Dear NCR-
Well, it worked for KISS, GWAR and Slipknot just to name the first three that jumped to my mind... but you're right about one thing: It is extra tough when you're just starting out to really pull off the masks/costumes/stage-show aspect of Rock-and-Roll that these bands did (and continue to do.) It takes COMMITMENT and a decided lack of the ironic detachment that seems so essential to most bands (and people) now. The masks and all that stuff have to matter a great deal to you in order for them to ever mean a great deal to any future fans.

So is it do-able? Yes. Is it still punk-rock? It very well could be. Should your band do it? I have no idea.

It sounds like the whole mask thing is just one guy's vision and the rest of the band, you included, have probably been polite and indulgent since so far all the talk is just that: talk and theory... When the time comes, the band will have to decide, as a group, whether or not to suit up and that could lead to some conflicts for sure. I think you really have to address and decide this situation sooner rather than later... What is the point of spending more time rehearsing as a group if all of your personal 'visions' for the band aren't the same?

It is about personality and 'vision' and all that but it is also about the songs... Certain songs (and kinds of songs) are better tailored for the big theatrical rock-and-roll treatment, while others are not. As a whole, would you say your band's songs are "big" and anthem-like somehow? or are they intimate and more 'real/honest' ? Do you get what I'm saying? Would a big mask-show presentation really 'fit' the attitude, vibe and sentiment of the songs themselves? ... if not then what would be the point of all the showy stuff, if it all just obscures the music?

Although it might not sound 'punk rock' to throw around douchy new-media buzzwords like "branding" etc, the truth is, it has always been this way... Your band (or any band) needs to know what its CENTRAL message or theme is... While it is good to have grandiose plans for the future, you ARE just starting out, so you have to look at things realistically. What IS it you want to get across to the audience in the 15-25 minutes you might have as an opening band? ...and notice I said 'the' audience, not 'your' audience... because when you start out your primary job as a band will be to win over roomfuls of strangers to find 'your' audience... and if you're going to do that from behind masks, you better be damn sure you're wearing them for the right reasons... Because you can be sure that if you're not, the audience will smell bullshit before you play the second note.

Good luck.

May 4, 2011

Oh Death Up Yours !

Last week's AAP posting was already pre-loaded and ready to go when I read the news that Poly Styrene had died. Truth be told, it had been a long time since I listened to some (or even thought much about) X-Ray Spex, but it is still sad to see yet another punk rock icon shuffle off this mortal coil at what I now perceive as such such a young age... adding yet another name to the list of dead Punks.

Now, I don't specifically wish ill-health or death on anyone really, but it does strike me as unfair, on a nearly cosmic level, that Johnny, Joey AND DeeDee are all dead, but every member of the Eagles is still alive and well... Where, I ask you, is the justice in that? The list goes on of course. Anyone who is a reader of AAP probably already knows the roll call so there is no need really to run it all down again here. I think we all remember where we were when we found out that Joe Strummer had died etc.

Of course AAP does have some mail/questions we could answer this week, but I think all I want to do today is think about how impermanent everything is... and if that sounds a bit heavy on the Buddhist, my apologies. As I try to picture my long-gone record collection from those days, I'm trying to think of who might die next -- someone whose music moved my head and soul in new and unexpected directions "way back when" ...even if I haven't heard/played a note of their stuff for a decade or so... and that, of course, makes me think of actual friends, acquaintances and etc who influenced me (in ways both good and bad) over the course of my life who are now also lost to time and space and...did I mention time? As we get older we can't help it - we spend more time 'looking back' than is sometimes healthy for us... In my case it isn't so much a lament for long-lost youth (although, admittedly there is some of that - especially when I find myself searching for my newly mandatory reading glasses) ...I'm mostly wrestling with the "What, if anything, did it all mean?" questions. I'm not coming up with any skull-ringing answers yet.

So that is the column for this week. Now I'm going to dig through my iTunes, play some old music and (more importantly) go through my phonebook and call up some old friends.

Apr 27, 2011

I've Grown Accustomed to her Faith.

Dear Ask A Punk-
My girlfriend insists we spend certain holidays with her family. I hate going to these things and it isn't because I'm a jerk, it is because even SHE doesn't like her family, in fact I think I like them better than she does, but she feels this weird duty to show up and be miserable and really it seems like that is the only reason any of them are there. I didn't have a perfect home life growing up either but these people are worse than anything. I can't figure out why they bother going through the motions at the holidays when it is clear everyone would be happier if they all stayed home. Of course 99% of this has to do with the family's split views on religion - the one they grew up with vs. the ones all the kids fled to. She and I don't talk about or practice much religion at all, but when she goes home it is like a battle of theolgens - who also happen to hate each other on other levels too. How do I get her to stop this behavior? - Holiday Dis-spirit.

Dear HD-S-
Your best bet is to try talking about this at a time BETWEEN Holiday gatherings... You don't want to open this up in the days leading up to a visit or in the decompression period afterward... Find some harmless Tuesday afternoon to bring it up and maybe suggest that everyone's mental health would be better off if she opted out of the next Family dinner. It is worth a shot, but don't count on her coming around. Family Insanity has a pull to rival gravity... People just can't stay away from the very people that consistently bring out the worst in them... and no one does THAT more efficiently than dysfunctional family members.

It might cause some static in your relationship, but you could always tell her that YOU don't want to be part of the next next round of Holiday Madness... but be careful. You have every right to not want all of YOUR holidays ruined, but you don't want to appear 'unsupportive.' Why not tell her (and her family) that you have to 'alternate' between her family functions and your family functions? Then, when it is 'your' year you can decide to stay home (with her) and maybe once she experiences a couple holidays that don't include calls to the police etc, she'll be better able to wean herself away from the crazy she knows so well.

It is worth a shot.
Good luck.

Apr 20, 2011

Rave New World

Dear AAP=
This is a question I thought I would know the answer to since I've been thinking about it for so long. I'm a mother of a 14 year old girl who is at the point of wanting to go out and "explore" the same sort of things I wanted to at her age. I spent those years exploring punk rock clubs - starting with all-ages shows and wearing the uniform and making all the usual iffy choices about booze, some drugs and unreliable boys. I had always planned on being honest about these things with her, assuming that I would spend years 1 through 12 building up a level of openness and trust that I never had with my mom. I have done a pretty good job of that by most standards but now that it is show time, I find I'm second guessing myself. She has seen the pictures from those days and know that I wasn't always a "mom," and she's pretty smart and together for a 14 year old, but I know KNOW that part of being that age IS making the wrong choices, on purpose, just to see what might happen, and that worries me. While me and my friends would sneak out of the house to go to some all-ages show at a local gym or a punk house party for a few hours, my daughter is talking about going to weekend-long raves in big stadiums and 'camping out' in cars with her friends and that sort of thing. It seems far more extreme and dangerous. I feel bad enough that I can't understand the appeal of the passion-less and mindless computer-generated music... and I know that really the popular drugs at these things are the only way to make the music tolerable, I don't want her doing them. I regret the underage drinking and drug-taking I did, but I know I don't want to be a total hypocrite about it. What are other ex-punk parents doing about this? - ex-Exene wannabe.

Dear EEW-

It is obvious that an intervention is needed... to get your daughter off of that dreadful music. OK, I'm (almost) kidding, but still, I can understand your pain. I'll take a second to remind everyone that I don't have kids and, yes, I'm well-aware that "everything is different when it is your kid." and all of that, but still, I think a person in my position can have some valid opinions. Here goes...

First of all, congrats on having a good & open relationship with your daughter. I hope you enjoyed it. Even "good" and "well-adjusted" kids hit a kind of wall at that age where, as you pointed out, sometimes the novelty and allure of making the occasional 'bad choice' far out-weighs the predictability of making the (usual) right choice. Kids that age crave the possibility of seeing and experiencing new things.. and they know that those new things are most likely to come when they step out of their parentally proscribed Zone of Safety. If you have (or had) a healthy relationship with your child then a lot of the 'acting out' that happens in this phase isn't calculated to "get back" at you... but is more likely just a way to start measuring where they are on that sliding scale between dependent child and independent (and cool) grown-up... and keep in mind that she'll want to slide back and forth on that scale for a while.

Kids have to separate from their parents. That is so obvious that I feel idiotic even typing it, but it is the truth... and they can only figure out what they ARE by figuring out what they no longer are (ie: little kids who do everything mommy tells them to do.) I read somewhere that parents start out as CEOs to their kids: Dictating rules and commanding actions, but as the kids hit your daughter's age, parents take on the role of a consultant... The kid is going to make their own decisions, and you can only hope that they come to you for some input - which may, or may not change their minds about whatever dumbass thing they're thinking of doing.

The big question is: Do you trust her friends? ...Those friends are going to have more influence over her than you are for a while... Is your daughter hanging out with a faster crowd? Is she trying to fit in with a group of kids? -- if so she's likely to act out even more in an effort to win their approval -- OR does she surround herself with basically stable kids who are more-or-less at her level (socially and life-experience wise) who probably also share her interest in skull-numbing techno music? A good circle of friends is more likely to keep her from taking that free hit of Ecstasy from the creepy guy wearing the upside-down visor or getting in the van with the DJ's roadie... one can hope.

The bottom line is - I think letting a 13 year old go, unsupervised, to a weekend-long rave might qualify as child endangerment... so you're probably well within your rights to say a big 'no' to that particular plan, but you might want to consider attending a less-ambitious show WITH her. I know she'll probably hate that... but not as much as you will.

Good luck.

Apr 13, 2011

To Be or not to Beat.

dear aap-
I haven't been playing or writing songs for long. what if I want to write a song and use my own music but someone else's words, like old poems and stuff. Is that legal? - Cut and Paster

Dear CaP-
I find this to be an interesting question because it is the opposite of the usual situation. Most new musicians figure out how to play other people's songs first and then start laying their own lyrics over them.

Your question is almost quaint given that we live in a world of cut-and-paste music. With samples, loops and all the other tricks made possible by non-linear digital audio production software, it seems that everyone borrows (or "steals") bits and pieces of music, sound and voices etc, and then, without blowing, strumming or banging on a single instrument - pastes them all together, outputs the file and then calls themselves "musicians." ...and before any Girl Talk fans start a flame-war here: I'm not saying that this skill at audio engineering doesn't take a good ear and in many cases, some REAL talent... I'm not a Luddite, but come on people! Call it 'art', call it 'progress,' call it 'editing to a beat' ... but leave the term "musician" to the people who actually generate those moments of noise/sonics and not to the people who then manipulate and re-purpose the sounds. Even this isn't all that easy for me to say because "way back when" we punks were told WE weren't "musicians" because we didn't (really) know how to play our instruments... we were just bashing away, making noise and having our say... but at least we were interacting with actual musical instruments and generating, through muscle, sinew and mechanical means, the actual physical vibrations that created our music.

...ok, I'm drifting off-topic here. Sorry about that. The answer to your question is, unfortunately "yes and no." ... Since I'm guessing you're pretty young, I'm not sure what constitutes, in your mind, an "old" poem... That could mean something from the 1990's for all I know. In that case you would be in danger of infringing on someone's copyright, but if you're talking about real "old poems" such as Shakespeare's sonnets, then you're in the clear... assuming you're making a NEW recording of you (or your bandmates) DOing the reading...

...and I can't give you a set-in-stone cutoff date for when it would be 'safe' to use a piece of writing, because there are a number of variables... Something along the lines of: The estate of the writer still retains copyright 70 years after the death of the author... or something like that. But if you're digging up writings and poetry that are at least, say, 100 or 140 years old, you should be in the clear.

Good luck.

Apr 6, 2011

The Wide Man's Burden.

Dear AAP-
You've answered a couple questions now about how important it is or isn't for a band to worry about its "look" and all of that and you've talked about how you go about throwing a member out of a band AND you have even talked about how to figure out who gets stuck playing bass - I am all these issues rolled up into one person. When my friends and I were putting together a band, I agreed to play bass even though I was the better guitar player - their shady logic was "oh, since you're so good at guitar it'll be easier for YOU to learn bass." - so I did it, and after a while I did get good at it, and I figured out how and why to actually LIKE playing bass. The real reason they didn't want me playing guitar is because I'm not exactly frontman material. I'm a big guy, fat even. Not "cut a hole in the side of the house and get the fire department to help winch him onto a flatbed truck"-fat, but If I run my height and weight through the BMI calculator, I am officially "obese." Until we started the band, I didn't think my friends really cared, but once the band started and it WAS an issue, I realized it was something that could potentially get me thrown out of the band, friendship aside. Knowing this too is probably also why I agreed to play bass, because I still wanted to be not just in 'a' band, but in this particular band. With my friends. So now that we're playing out a lot and actually making a few things happen for ourselves (Next year or definitely by the year after that, we'll be ready to try to get into SXSW and stuff.) my bandmates are again making noises about my being too big... they never say THAT of course, they complain about everything else like "don't wear that shirt tonight, it looks like it fits wrong" How can a shirt fit wrong? I know what they're really saying. It is hard to pin down, but I just get the vibe that the squeezeout is coming and that they're going to find some excuse to replace me. Which really sucks because we've known each other since high school basically and we're all in our mid-twenties now. I mean these are really the closest friends I have in or outside of the band. What are my options in a situation like this? - Fat Strings.

Dear FS-
Your instincts are probably right. You know your friends well-enough to know when something is up. There are lots of ways you could go with this including (and I'm not saying this to be a douchebag) losing some weight. You're in your mid-twenties and you've "always" been big? Like I said, I'm not trying to be a douche - I know I need to lose weight too, but I'm a lot older than you and I haven't "always" had a weight issue, so the stuff I need to address is a bit different, for you though, it sounds like you just figure this is
the natural state of things for you, or perhaps a fate you've just resigned yourself to... and I can promise you, THAT just isn't the case. I'm NOT saying they're right. I'm saying you probably know, silently, that you would be healthier and better off (mentally/emotionally etc) if you found a way to get healthier - for YOURSELF.

For most people, even youngsters of your generation who were (unfortunately) raised on a diet of frozen pizza, McDonalds and high-fructose corn syrup, excess weight is an external sign of internal trouble, trauma and/or pain... and it affects not just where we shop for shirts, but it affects our mood, our personality and our capacity to hope. Think I'm wrong about that? Ask yourself why you so passively just 'accepted' their decision that you would have to play bass inspite of your six-string skills... What is the source of the lack or confidence (or perhaps self-esteem) that would let you
just roll over on the issue and let your "best friends" BS you into switching to bass...? Know what I'm saying? ... You're so young, you have the time, stamina and energy to change your whole freakin' life (internally and externally, mentally and physically) in ways you can't even begin to imagine... and all it takes is a little solid nutritional information, some achievable goals and a bone-deep understanding that your life and your good health is something worth fighting for.

I wonder if you're still reading this. I have no idea how truly open you are/were to really hearing all your "options" and I probably shouldn't have led with the "lose some weight" option, but THAT had less to do with staying in the band and more to do with staying off of diabetes medicine.

HERE is your main/best option:
Face the issue head on. It sounds like everyone is pussyfooting around the real issue. If these are really your closest friends, what CAN you all actually discuss openly with each other? I'm not talking about staging a big screaming confrontation, but rather having an "all cards on the table" summit. Find out what they're really thinking. Push for honesty, no matter how unwelcome it might be. Truth is, your "best friends" might just be a bunch of douchebags themselves. Finding something like THAT out reeeeeally sucks, but it is way better than not finding out until too late.

You sound like a good musician and a good guy. Ask yourself what sort of treatment you deserve from people... no wait, scratch that, because if your self-esteem has been kicked to sh#t, you probably don't think you deserve good treatment... Ask yourself how YOU would handle the situation if you were them... If you're not being treated as well as you would treat some other rotund bandmate, then you deserve to speak up, speak out and have your say.

Mar 30, 2011

Does this guitar make my ass look big?

Dear aap-
What's your take on bands wearing any kind of uniforms matching clothes and stuff? The band I want to join says that when we start playing out we'll all have to dress a certain way. I think that is automatically lame. What do you think? - No modeling.

Dear NM:
Well, it isn't automatically lame, but there is always that potential. As with all things fashion-related, if you're not committed and 100% confident in whatever you might be wearing, you run the risk of looking foolish.

It really varies from band to band. In some ways it is good that people in your band are thinking about the 'bigger picture' much as we want to think it is "all about the music" really isn't. Some effort and thought should go in to what message the band wants to send not just sonically but visually as well. Every band has to answer the "what are we going to wear?" question sooner or later - whether the guidelines stay kind of general or you all decide on a specific uniform. ...and deciding to NOT dress alike is a statement too.

Rock bands, punk or otherwise, have defined themselves by how they do (or don't) dress themselves since well before the dawn of feedback, and it hasn't changed much since. The Hives? The White Stripes? DEVO? Gwar? The Ramones? ... I could go on because the list is endless. All of them give you some idea of where they're coming from before you've heard even one note of their music. That isn't necessarily a bad thing especially when you're just starting out and trying to develop your audience and establish your sound/look/vibe.

You just have to be careful. You have to make sure that you're not spending more time and energy discussing the band's "look" than you're spending on getting tighter and better as a band. So many new bands, when they're trying to just get off the ground, have that one member who has .... a "vision" ...and that person gets tooooo wrapped up in what to wear and what the website should look like and "are we really sure we like this name for our band." ...etc etc and a million other things when everyone's top priorities should be: to make great songs and to get good at playing together... Nail that stuff down and then you can start worrying about how everyone should look on-stage etc. Nothing is worse than being in a band that looks great but sounds like crap... don't be those guys.

So basically I'm saying that you shouldn't base your "join or don't join" decision solely on the possibility that you might have to wear matching shirts... Base your decision on the music they're playing and on the dynamic of the personalities involved... because if either of those things don't work for you from the start, then you'll never get to the costuming part anyway.

Mar 23, 2011

Low down on the low end.

Dear AAP=
We've got a band together but no one wants to play bass. How do you decide or pick or tell someone that they have to play bass if they want to stay in the band? - six strings.

Dear SS-
A common problem. Anecdotes abound about people who considered themselves guitarists first and foremost, but switched to bass to either stay in, or get into a band they thought would take them places... so it has been done but, really, the choice HAS to be the person's... If you give someone the ultimatum "switch or you're out of the band." ...that person might switch, but KNOW that he/she will always be looking for (or starting) another band that'll let them play guitar instead.

...and think about it... If you're friends anyway (and it sounds like you are) do you really want to lay down some 'my way or the highway' choice for a friend? Sure the LOGICAL thing to do would be to figure out who the best guitarist is in some sort of controlled way - like having a play-off to see who is better... and then maybe the loser will relent, in the name of band unity and pick up the bass... but maybe not.

Keep something else in mind: Who says ANYone HAS to play the bass? Why not have all guitars? It has been done... and I mean, come on - the "rules" went out the window years ago... and since the White Stripes there has been a wave of 2 person bands anyway (and if you've read earlier posts you'll know I've mentioned that this started WAY before the White Stripes... just google "House of Freaks" for example.) why not have a multi-guitar assault but trade-off the 'parts' on a song by song basis... Take turns playing leads or keeping a rhythm on the low-end of the strings etc. All it takes is some decent chops and a little cooperation.

The bottom line is, if you all can't amicably figure out who should play what in a fair, or at least fairly straight-forward, fashion that is fair to all, well, then you're going to have ENDLESS troubles in coming to agreement on the much bigger decisions you'll all have to make (together) IF the band does make decent progress in the music biz. Know what I'm saying? ask yourself what is really happening in this "Who should play bass?" situation... Is it really a question, or are you all looking for a way to get rid of one member or another.

The truth is: There are millions of half-assed guitarists out there in the world (I should know, I'm one of them) but true bass-to-the-bone bassplayers are born not made - that is why they're so rare and why, when you've got a GOOD one... it makes all the difference in the world. As much as I like a good 'bass player' joke, the position is too important to be filled by someone who isn't going to put their best effort into it because they don't have the innate soul for it. Yes, I said "soul."

Good luck

Mar 16, 2011

You have to buy-in before you can sell out.

dear aap-
This might sound like a dumb question, but seriously, where do I go to buy my first guitar. I live in the middle of nowhere and the one music store anywhere near my town has maybe three guitars and even to a beginner like me they all seem like junk. So what now? - strummer.

Dear S-
If Google Maps can't find you a decent guitar store within driving distance then you're going to have to go online obviously. I know this seems weird and tricky and, believe me, I understand. Guitars are like shoes... Even if you know the brand, make, and model you THINK you want, once you have the guitar in your hands (or the shoes on your feet) the FEEL might be all wrong for you. I get it, but from the sound of it, you probably don't have any choice.

The easiest place to start is probably ebay. There are 1000's of guitars on sale there every day. Pick a seller with a good reputation and start bidding on something. Since it is your 1st guitar it is likely you don't even know exactly what to look for so try to keep it simple. Set a price limit in your head first, and keep it pretty low - I really couldn't shell out A LOT of money for a guitar I've never held in my hands, nor should you - but finding something inexpensive makes some sense. Stick to the guitar brands that are at least officially affiliated with some of the big names, such as "Squire" guitars are basically super cheap versions of Fender guitars (and some of them play beautifully.) and "Epiphone" guitars are affiliated with Gibsons. It is a place to start at least.

Is there anyone in your life who knows something about guitars? When you finally win that auction and get your new axe in the mail, it would be helpful if someone with some experience could at least look at it. Is the neck straight? Do the strings or pick-ups 'buzz' in ways that they shouldn't?

Chances are you'll end up with an "OK" guitar at the very least. A good starting point. Then BUY A TUNER !! ...nothing derails a new guitarist faster than having a guitar that they can't keep in tune. A little battery-powered chromatic tuner can be had cheap... and yes, you can find them online too.

Good luck. Rock out.

Mar 9, 2011

Give 'em the boot... but which laces?

Dear aap:
I'm 17 and have been into punk since I was 13. I love it, and now that me and my 2 friends are old enough to drive we can find some all-ages shows and clubs - there aren't any in our hometown which is small. We thought it would be great, but the problem is we go to these shows and we still get shit on by people there because we don't fit in or we don't dress exactly right. So how is that any different from the jocks and people who shit on us at home? How do you figure out what to wear that'll be right when we seem to not even know what color bootlaces we're supposed to wear. I didn't even know there was a code. Is there? If there is, what is it? We're all really bummed out about this. - Cotton.

Dear C-
I could tell you what the code for all the different color bootlaces is but there is just one problem: I would probably get it all wrong... That is because there is NO single universal code for this stuff - as much as people might tell you there is, trust me, there isn't. This is especially true because you didn't give me any idea what part of the country you were writing from or really even what country you're in. I'm just guessing it is the US or Canada based on the writing.

In some parts of the world for example, red shoelaces in your black Docs means that you're a communist or socialist, while in other subcultures it means you've spilled blood for your group's cause. In other places the color of laces doesn't mean anything - but the color of your suspenders (or "braces") means everything... or it doesn't. Or what you scrawl in white leather paint on the sleeve of your leather jacket means something... or it doesn't... or what color bandanna you have tied around WHICH boot (left or right) means something... or it doesn't.

See what I'm getting at here?

All that stuff, all those 'signifiers' of belief, stance, status, rank, what have you... no matter how carved in stone it might seem within one scene somewhere, you can almost bet that it has no relevance someplace even a few miles from where you're standing.

It is all about enforcing conformity... and some punk subcultures are as guilty of that as the most upper-crusty prep schools. All these things are a quick visual way of showing who 'belongs' and who doesn't... and if you're thinking to yourself "wait a second, I thought punk rock was about NOT conforming."'re right and you've stumbled upon a basic disconnect with the group-think that is created when ANY group of humans bands together... even when the people in that group think they're all free-wheeling Individuals with a capital "I."

We can't help it... Any group of humans will eventually organize around a basic principal of "us" and "them." ... I'm not saying that is good thing... It is actually probably one of our greatest flaws as a species.

Which of course means that this problem isn't going to go away any time soon, so you have a choice to make: Do you want to 'fit in' with these strangers just because they were hanging out at the all-ages club first, so THEY get to determine the dress code? ...or are you going to be true to yourself and dress as you please?

I say that with this disclaimer: Be prudent. You don't want to wear the wrong color in the wrong place if it is really going to get you physically hurt... shunned is OK, but there is no point in getting a beating (or worse) because you insist on wearing a certain color shoelace that makes the local goon squad go nuts. It would be like wearing the wrong gang color in the wrong neighborhood (which of course is an example of exactly what I was talking about.)

One of the most 'punk rock' guys I ever knew wore pennyloafers and a blazer to nearly every show... which was a pretty ballsy thing to do back then, or now.

If you're really trying to live for yourself, shouldn't you be dressing for yourself?

Mar 2, 2011

Rhymes with "Funky Drummer"

Dear Ask A Punk: our drummer is totally rad. can pelt out awesome beats and solos and may be more of an icon than our guitarist. But we all promised no matter what, under all circumstances, for any and every reason we'd stay clean (not like straightedge- no sex no drink but we'd stay off drugs). So our drummer is one of the worst drug addicts i've ever seen and i've had personal experience with the homeless will do anything to get a hit group. What gets me is that she's violent really violent and she drops off the face of the earth, literally. like just last week her mom called me and asked if i'd drive her to the hospital because our drummer was in the hospital. We've tried talking to her and sending her to rehab but so far nothings held up. I could stand to lose her as a drummer but as a friend i couldn't bear it. Any ideas? -JSinner

I have a bunch of ideas actually.
The first is to tell you that you don't have to worry about losing her as a friend... because you already have. From what you've described to me, it sounds like her best friend now is 'drugs' and, assuming she follows the standard trajectory (and believe me: she will) at some point soon drugs will be the only friend she has room for in her fast-crumbling life. All of those homeless-will-do-anything-for-a-fix "types" you mentioned didn't start out that way... They started out as people more-or-less just like your friend. They had other plans for their lives but due to what? genetics? trauma? funky brain chemistry? or some combination of all those factors (and others) once they decided to let drugs deal with their various inner pains, their lives went off the rails. As I've said before: Once they made that one choice, all the rest of their choices were/are made by the drugs.

I appreciate the loyalty and faith you have in your friend. No one is ever completely beyond hope for some form of redemption but, I have to warn you that your faith and your friendship are NO match for an addiction running at full gallop. I'm trying to save you possibly the next 7+ years of your life here... When addiction takes hold so firmly in someone so young, the problem is they have a lot of energy and youth to fall back on, so the trip to their true and final bottoming out can take a long long time... Are you willing to sacrifice your youth, your life and your band for all that? I telling you to abandon your friend? No. I'm telling you to watch a few episodes of Intervention and figure out that 99% of the "help" that well-meaning friends and relatives offer to the addicts in their lives does nothing but keep the addiction going. Offer your friend every kind of help/support to get well... but realize, heck, expect, her to not want your help and to probably curse your name. This is the addiction speaking through your friend... and as long as IT is talking louder than her, then she isn't ready for help.... and if she isn't ready, realllly ready, then rehab etc won't help her a bit.

She has to see consequences. What I'm saying is - no matter how good a drummer she might be, you probably have to throw her out of the band... and be prepared if even that might not be enough to get her attention. The truth is - if she's already deep in the swamp of addiction her drumming certainly isn't going to improve... and chances are she'll start selling off pieces of her drum kit for drug money soon anyway... Believe me, I know how tough it is to find a good drummer... but do you really want your entire band to be a bunch of planets orbiting a junkie sun? You (as a band) will spend so much time and energy dealing with your F-ed up drummer that it'll cut into everything else: rehearsal, songwriting, playing gigs... You'll lose time and opportunities that you can't even imagine right now... as any self-respecting, self-absorbed junkie would make sure of it. They're such experts at self-sabotage they don't even notice the collateral damage (you, your band, your friendship) they cause on the way to their final tragic flameout. Is that really a ride you want to take?

I'm not sure how much else you can really do. You and your friend are both still minors [I edited some details out of the 'question' due to what I thought might be privacy issues.] so the ball is really in her parents' court... You said the mom called you for a ride to the hospital, so obviously you have a decent relationship with them... Talk to them about what they're seeing in your friend vs. what you're seeing. DO they have a plan of action for her? ...I know I'm making some assumptions, maybe her homelife is her biggest problem... but try not to automatically stand behind the generational banners on this one... Look at things as coolly as you can: What is her homelife like? Can you approach her parents with this stuff. Can you talk to your parents about this? I know you want to protect your friend and you're probably worried that your folks' automatic answer would be to cut you off from her... but remember, I suggested the same thing.

The sad truth is, your friend might pull out of this nosedive and she might not. The fact that there is really nothing you can do about it is the hard truth. Al-anon meetings might be a source of some information & strength for you... but othewise the number one rule of dealing with addicts in your life should be: Protect Yourself ...and by that I mean everything from protecting your money, person & property to protecting your time and your peace-of-mind.

Sorry if this sounded harsh, that wasn't my intention. I just had a vision of what the next decade of your life is going to look like if you think you can somehow have more influence over your friend and her choices than her drugs do... It isn't a pretty picture. Save yourself the heartache.

Feb 23, 2011

(no) Money For Nothing.

Dear Ask A Punk-
Seems like unless you're Lady GaGa or an 11 year old boy with fucked up hair, you can't make a living playing music anymore. My band has been together for seven years, we've put out a couple of EPs, we've got all the online stuff going that you're supposed to have these days. We seem to have actual 'fans' in places other than our hometown and all of that. But this Fall we did a van-tour and played something like 35 shows in about 42 days... and in the end after expenses and all were covered each of us in the band (there are four of us) took home maybe $400 or so each. For a month's worth of hard work. I'm actually thankful that the winter has been so bad that we haven't been playing out beyond the usual hometown gigs because it gives me a chance to clock some real hours and get out of my financial hole at my "day job" which I don't despise, but it certainly isn't my dream occupation - but I'm getting tired of this. How does a band "get to the next level"? or DOES a next level even exist anymore? - road dog(tired)

Dear RD(t):
That is a tough one my friend, but it isn't a new problem. You have to remind yourself that 'The Creative Life' comes with no promises that you'll ever really be able to live on your art, no matter what it might be. I currently live in Los Angeles. I see countless people who are undeniably talented and trained and dedicated to all kinds of creative endeavors... and at least 90% of them are not directly supporting themselves with their art... or if they are, they are living very frugal existences.

I count myself as part of that 90%. I've been writing this blog every week for 3 years and counting - but I'm not exactly fending off book or movie deals .... or even advertisers. I played in bands for years too - but back then none of us ever expected to make a living at punk rock - heck, the few times I got paid anything I remember being sort of stunned. I don't play in bands any more, but I always have a guitar out, tuned and ready to play. I write something EVERY day - a script, a song, a blog post, whatever... and I work on creative projects of my own in every medium and genre you can think of (except maybe drawing/painting, good god, I can't draw to save my life.) Sometimes I make money at these endeavors, often times I don't... but I can't imagine not doing them. I can't stop myself from doing them... even when the feedback is bad or (more often) non-existent.

We fall in and out and back in of love with our various creative endeavors, sometimes in the course a single day, and usually that 'falling out' of love is caused by frustration at the lack of interest from the outside world. Our heads start to hurt from all that banging on walls... believe me I know the feeling... but you have to ask yourself if you would be even more miserable if you stopped. Was your plan, from day one, really to be a rich (punk) rock star? ...or did you just want to get up on stage (any stage) and have your loud say ? Can you find joy in the process - everything from rehearsing with your bandmates, to writing new songs to doing your band-related 'online' stuff? If yes, then you haven't lost the spark of what drew you to the creative life in the first place. If no, well, you've got some soul-searching to do. No one is forcing you to do this stuff, and if you want to hang it up and take some accounting courses the world isn't going to mourn... but will you?

Think about it.
Good luck.

Feb 16, 2011

A reader responds to an answer I didn't give...

dear ask a punk-
I read you new post just now and itis bullshit. Why are you always telling people to get off drugs? Most punks do drugs or have done drugs and don't remind me about straightedge most of them give that up as soon as they turn 21 and can go to bars. You know I'm right and so why tell people otherwise. - Not Done.\

Dear ND-
Please re-read last week's question after you've gotten some sleep (note to readers: this email was time-stamped 3:48am)... then re-read my answer. You'll see that the person who wrote in said that she WANTED to quit. Her only question was about the best way to tell her family. Yeeesh. If it wasn't such a slow week in the ol' inbox, I would have ignored you and your question completely. It sounds to me like you're just trying to rationalize your own behavior / habits perhaps ??

Sure lots of people in punk bands were or are on drugs, so were/are a lot of metalheads, and jazz musicians etc etc and etc. You're right, but so what? What does that have to do with people who WANT to stop using drugs? Nothing. ...and besides, we don't know if she was a musician or even really a punk-rocker... While she is apparently a reader of this blog, she didn't identify herself as a punk.

I appreciate all of my readers and I greatly appreciate anyone who takes the time to write in with a comment or question, but come on man - pay attention.

Feb 9, 2011

I know you know that they know. ya know?

Dear aap -
I have decided to quit doing drugs. I have been doing a lot of them and I know it is stupid and know it has gotten out of hand. Booze and weed sure but some semi-heavy stuff too. I'm smarter than this and it is causing problems and I know it is time to stop. I know it was time to stop a while ago. The problem is, how do I tell my parents? I don't think they even know that I do drugs at all and now I'm going to have to tell them and the rest of the family. They've always been supportive, which makes me feel like shit having to tell them. It is almost like a reverse-intervention. I'm tempted to put it in an email and then deal with their phone calls. My boyfriend says that is chickening out but I don't agree. It is still telling them. I just think if they have to read something before speaking they'll read the whole thing. Any suggestions? - Done.

Dear Done-
They already know. The fact that you said they've "always been supportive" means (I'm guessing) that they've always taken an active and nurturing role in your life, as opposed to you being some kid out there on her own with clueless sh#thead parents... So your folks almost certainly know that something has been wrong with you, even if they're not informed enough to know the symptoms of drug abuse... or more likely they fear it might be drugs but are hoping it isn't.

Even active and involved parents, other family members, or even close friends usually know when someone in their lives is F-ing up... and/or is out of control, but people don't know when or how to intervene. 99 times out of 100 they would rather err on the side of hope and caution and rationalize away their fears as "over-reaction" or something like that.

If you're getting into semi-heavy stuff to the point where even you are noticing negative consequences, believe me then: You couldn't possibly be hiding it from friends and relatives as much as you think you are, even if you're living in another town/state/time zone. No one is that slick. That is part of the lie that drugs tell the user: "You're ok, no one suspects a thing." ...that is dead wrong. Chances are EVERYone in your life suspects something, they're just hoping it isn't drugs.

The question of how best to tell them is a good one. The fact that you think you won't be able to "tell the whole story" without interruption if you go the face-to-face route makes me think that THAT particular family dynamic is part of the communication problem in the first place. I say follow your gut on this one and start with an email... but then be sure to fully engage in the dialogue that will quickly follow - either on the phone or face-to-face. Ya know, the more I think about it, it doesn't really matter how you start this conversation, as long as you start it somehow and soon. Any form of truth is a good start to get away from the lies and delusion (including self-delusion) that you've been dealing with.

By deciding to get clean you've made a great, difficult and profound decision. Don't get too hung up on the etiquette of what to do next - THAT might in fact just be your addiction trying to stall for time, hoping you'll change your mind. The best time to start getting clean is right now, today. Your family will be happy with however you choose to start the journey.

Good luck and let me know how it goes.