Mar 27, 2013

High School Confrontational

Dear ask a punk,
I am a 12-year old girl living in probably one of America's most conservative areas ever, second to Utah. My question is, how can I get people around here to acept my style, most importantly my teachers and friends? All of my riends hate the music I listen to (lots of older punk like The Ramones, Nirvana, Generation X, etc) so way too often I catch myself getting pulled in to listen to the god-awful music on the pop stations with them. Also, a select few of my teachers treat me unfairly due to how I dress. I constantly find them scowling at whatever I decide to wear to school, whether it's combat boots or just some studded jewelry. One teacher flat out told me that she hated my nose ring. The fact that I'm a straight A student with no discipline records clearly does not make as much difference here as how I dress. Sorry to sound like a ranting little twerp, but I just really need to find some way to get on even ground with my teachers and friends, without changing my style - Loud&Proud 

Dear Loud&Proud
I'm sure a lot of my readers who are no longer 12 year old punks could identify with everything you're going through, including me (although, admittedly I was 16 when I heard my 1st Ramones song.) The bad news is: You're not going to single-handedly change the culture at your school, nor are you going to change the narrow opinion/worldview of some of your teachers.

But it isn't all bad news. 

You did say a "select few" of your teachers were coming down on you for your clothing & accessory choices... so obviously some teachers must be more understanding. Focus on those teachers because they see past the nose ring etc, and are likely thrilled to have someone like you in their classes, as a change of pace if for no other reason. I know a lot of school teachers (and was raised by two of them.) After a decade or three of teaching, any teacher will tell you that 85% of the kids' faces blend together into one long, dull smear, but they always remember some standouts, those rare kids with some ideas and the intelligence to express them.

You have the intelligence if you're getting straight A's. -- and I'm glad you included that detail and mention of your clean disciplinary record because I otherwise I would have had to say my usual: "Don't give 'em any legitimate reasons to come down on you..." Clearly, you're way ahead of me on that score. Those Straight A's - and the ones you have to promise you'll continue to rack up all through high school - are the only real way you'll ever have to prove all of them wrong about you. If you keep making honor roll, you can tape a big Anarchy "A" to the top of your graduation hat and let 'em all have it when you give your high school valedictorian speech... then you can skip off to some college and leave all those narrow-minded teachers in your rearview mirror. Trust me: There are few feelings in the world any better than that.

We all know there is nothing worse than parents and other adults telling you that High School has to be "the best time of your life" ... sure, for some it is, but come on, if High School is your "peak" what does that say about the course the rest of your life is going to take? Sixty-plus years that won't be as interesting, enjoyable or life-changing as Algebra 2 or some half-assed Prom? ... wouldn't that be horrible? Of course it would! For most people, High School is something to be endured, and if you're lucky there are at least a couple of good memories and a few things that made it worthwhile or at least tolerable such as: a few, or even ONE teacher who "gets" you, some extracurricular something that you enjoy doing, just a couple of friends who, even if they're not quite on the same wave length are at least accepting and uplifting. ...and most importantly: A decent atmosphere at home. You didn't mention any family issues, so I'm guessing that, aside from the universal pre-teen hassles & issues that we all have/had with parents, you're not living a nightmare at home. I'm sure your folks would probably have preferred that you waited a little longer before getting the nose ring, but obviously they're at least OK with the combat boots. If your folks know that, deep down, you're a good, if slightly different, kid and are at least trying to be OK with it, then you're very lucky. Keep them on your side. I know that isn't always easy.

Really, my best advice is to keep doing what you're doing. Stay brave and true to yourself - but also: be honest about how "out there" you really want to be, and recognize the times when maybe you are just doing (or wearing) something to get a reaction from people. Know the difference, otherwise it can become a "pose." And here is something that even Joey Ramone would agree with: Always remember that being "punk" doesn't have to mean being miserable and antagonistic. It can be fun. Punks are allowed to smile - and laugh. It is easy to forget that when we're in the process of constructing this "me against the world" persona, but it is truth. Joy IS allowed. ...and the bonus is: It reeeeally confuses adults when some kid in full-on punk regalia actually says something thoughtful, intelligent and/or polite.

Keep looking outward. Keep looking forward... and I apologize if this long-winded answer didn't have enough "Give 'em the Boot!" and too much rah-rah parental-sounding peptalk, but hey, I'm probably older than your parents. I'm definitely not telling you to silently tolerate mis-treatment or to let anyone bad mouth you. What I'm really saying is, even though it is very hard to do, try to look at things in a more 'big picture' kind of way. If your math teacher gives you and your combat boots the stink-eye every day, guess what? In a few months you'll be finished with his class (a class he'll have to give you an "A" in because you crushed every test) and with any luck, you'll never have to speak to him again. You'll move on with your life and next year he'll have to find some other girl to disapprove of. Pretty sad, huh? So sad that it is tough to be angry with such a sad person. That's what I'm saying: You're not going to change him, all you can do is: a) ignore him and his opinions and b) prove everything he thinks he knows about "your type" wrong by acing his whole class.

And finally, I'm begging you: Stay smart too, please. The world needs more smart, no-guff-taking grrrls! Nothing is sadder than seeing an outspoken, brave, smart girl turn into something completely different right around 13 or 14 and then never getting back that spirit. 

,,,and when all else fails, blast some Ramones. In seconds you'll forget every stink-eye and every scowl. They'll never know what they're missing. Good luck.

Gabba Gabba Hey!

Mar 20, 2013

Whiskey Deadly

Dear Ask A Punk -
I'll admit that I'm drunk as I write this. I'm drunk. I have been getting drunk a lot lately because it seems like everything is going crazy anyway. I'm still working. I still have a job which I realize makes me luckier than most people these days, but I'm nearing the end of my 30s and still not working in the field I spent 4+ years studying in college - and am still paying off the student loans, which seems to me to be the only thing I really got out of those four+ years of work. I'm not lazy. I've hustled plenty so don't start off with the "you should stop drinking" Drinking is actually a new thing for me, but lately I wonder why I didn't start years ago. What is the alternative really? If we're lucky, or maybe unlucky, we live until we're about 70 and then get really sick and, since we're in America even if we have some health insurance we'll still bankrupt ourselves and our families in those last few painful months. If it even comes to that. I have already lost a few friends to various diseases and accidents and everything else. Married friends are getting divorces. Friends with kids are terrified every day. Single friends are either clinging to their pets or wantonly fucking everything they meet online (I used the word "everything" on purpose there.) Meanwhile I spent this evening with a good bottle of wine, then a cheap bottle of wine. I read a bunch of stuff and stayed home and watched yet another blizzard dump a foot of snow on nearly everything in my state. What difference does it make? What would I have done otherwise? Started a(nother) band? No thanks. Created a website? What seventy billion websites aren't already enough? Created a podcast? (see previous reason not to) Written a book? When the local mini-branch of my library is already choked with more books than I, or anyone, could read in seven lifetimes? What is the point of any of it? Better to sit quietly and enjoy the slide into oblivion isn't it? As long as I don't drive and accidentally kill someone. Even though it is a distinct possibility that sooner or later some drunk is going to run me over. Or if not, I get to die of some horrible disease as previously stated. It is all bullshit. I don't see much difference if I live another 40 years or 40 days, and I think most, if not all of mankind is pretty much the same - even if they don't think they are. The planet is a couple billion years old. What difference does on life make whether it is 10 days long or a 100 years long. We are all insignificant. You. Me. The president. Rock stars. JK Rowling and my dog. We have no real reason to be here. I think the fact that we, as a species, understands all this is the biggest cosmic joke of all. And the people who think we're somehow special because of this, that we're created by 'god' as some special thing haven't been paying attention. We're flukes. Consciousness is probably an evolutionary deadend and we're too full of ourselves to even realize it. And dolphins are probably smarter than we are anyway. All our big brains have done is caused us to delay death and give each individual member of mankind more time on the planet to fuck up the planet. All we're going to do is make it harder for us to survive, and sooner than most people think it is going to be impossible to keep seven billion people alive on this planet, and when we're gone, and I mean when all of us are gone, no one is going ot care. Even if there is intelligent life out there somewhere else, and I'm pretty sure there is, they're as fucked as we are. like amoebas on different continents, we'll never know the others are there anyway and we'll all just wink out like a candle that has run out of wax. It isn't a money thing either. I told you  I'm working. I can pay my bills, I can continue to be a good citizen more or less, but I don't see any point in thinking any of it matters. All I can do now is laugh at what I see on the news. We're all absurd. All of us. fighting over bullshit when the real truth is that none of it matters. Not me. Not you. Not your website. Not my student loans. Walk by any cemetery and pick a stone at random. Who was he or she? Some nobody who lived for a while then died and no one except their kids and their spouse and their dog even noticed - and might not have even cared - until of course they died and then nobody cared. I read your website and people ask all these questions when really the only question is: What's the point and the answer is: There isn't one. The joke's on us all.  -- Realist.

Dear Realist
At least you found a way to fill your evening. Glad my inbox could be of service. Sometimes I enjoy a good, rambling screed as much as the next guy. Funny how those existential dilemmas really start to kick in after the second bottle of solo wine. I'll admit that somewhere in that long typing exercise you had a few decent points and inarguable facts. Our lives are barely visible dots on a vast timeline. Most of what people think is important here in this life really isn't and if we dwell too much on the enormity of the universe and the minuscule nature of humans, and even of the earth itself, well, it gets pretty hard to force yourself out of bed in the morning. 

...but so what if you're right? 

Most physicists will tell you that the atoms in our bodies were born in the center of ancient stars before they were blasted across the galaxy in explosions of a magnitude that we can't even begin to comprehend. Those atoms will be around for, probably, billions of years after us, in other configurations, some living, some inert... and so for just a brief part of their possibly endless journey they have coalesced to form you and me and everyone else. Even if there is no 'reason' for your existence or mine, the fact that we exist at all, for however short a time, is almost dumbfounding in it's improbability. You're right. It is random and arbitrary, but that doesn't make it any less inexplicable and magnificent. 

You said yourself that we'll all be dead sooner or later and that is true, so why start practicing for the long dirt nap now? Instead of being paralyzed by the "pointlessness" of it all, why not be energized by the novelty of it instead? Your drunken 3am epiphany should have given you some real insight into the fact that, if "nothing matters" then you have nothing to lose by trying to actually do something with this particular life of yours. ... and by that I don't mean you need to go out and amass a fortune in business or learn how to sculpt marble or build a new Great Wall of China, unless of course that is what your particular muse is telling you to do. The most worthwhile thing you can do, and really in the end the only thing that might matter, even a little bit, is to try to connect with your fellow man on some level that might offer you both some hope and peace in these brief moments before time has its way with all of us. 

Jim Carroll said it best:
"There ain't much time left, you're born out of this insane abyss and you're going to fall back into it, so while you're alive you might as well show your bare ass."

... Jim Carroll dropped dead at age 60 while sitting at his desk, writing. 

Hope the hangover wasn't too bad. Good luck in finding some meaning. Be brave... what have you got to lose?

Mar 13, 2013

Your Name Here (not)

Before we get to this week's question I wanted to call everyone's attention to the following (and since I do these posts a few weeks in advance, my apologies for perhaps being the last person to post about this.) -- In what is probably the closest to a Replacements reunion we're ever likely to see, a story about a new Replacements song, as part of a benefit for replacement Replacement Slim Dunlap who recently had a stroke. Dig it. 

Now on to this week's question.

Dear AAP-
I live in Brooklyn, the now epicenter of hip and hipster and all of that. Sometimes just when I'm tired of  hearing all the stereotype stories in the media, I'll end up spending the day dealing with some douche with a mountain-man beard and a flannel shirt who is trying to tell me all about how his new band is "it's own genre" or "nothing the world has ever heard before." I may only be 28, but I'm in probably my 10th band and I've seen a thousand of them and I listen to spotify and soundcloud and pandora set on "random" just to see what'll turn up next and I just want to scream at these people that there is nothing really, REALLY new... If you're sticking to western style music it is all the same 12 notes, just re-arranged, and jesus everyone with garageband on their laptops thinks they're a band now and I can't fucking stand it. I'm just a normal-ish girl. I just play punk rock and I don't think there is anything wrong with that but I trying to get a show anywhere within a 30 block radius just isn't happening. I don't know what the problem is really. There are a bazillion people here. There has to be 30 or 40 who just want to rock wouldn't you think? - Questioner.

Dear Questioner -
I agree, so what's the problem? What is always the first rule? DIY. You're surrounded by thousands and thousands of your generational peers and they're all looking for something to do with their nights and their energy and their hormones... and these days there are no excuses. Get out there. If you can't get invited to a play at a show start your own. Find a bar or a garage or a livingroom that will let you set up and play, then go out and get/find/kidnap your audience using every means at your disposal. This has always been the first step and never has it been easier for a new band to do. I know that you already know this. 

I'm sure the people reading this are probably thinking the same thing, and they're also noticing that you weren't asking much of a question really. What they don't know is that I had to edit your question rather extensively to take out the (at least) four obvious mentions of your band name and other facts that had nothing to do with a question and everything to do with self-promotion. I know every website wants the world to think that they are a major and influential hub of some kind, but I'll be honest... a mention here on Ask A Punk isn't going to bring the masses to your next gig anyway. 

There are no shortcuts. A good band can always find a gig, as evidenced by the fact that nearly any bad band can find a gig too. Go do something awesome. 

Good luck.

Mar 6, 2013

The Mansion Family

Dear Ask A Punk-
So we put an ad in craigslist looking for a new band member, hopefully someone who would be willing to play bass as well as guitar. This guy showed up and he seemed like a good fit. He could play, but he wasn't super better than any of us and he was around our age (late teens/early 20s) and he didn't seem like a jerk or anything. We all seemed to be on the same plain about a lot of things and are coming from the same place musically, liking most of the same bands and all of that and we're all working day jobs or night jobs and trying to put a decent band together, so all that was cool. We've been practicing with him for a few weeks now and he still doesn't seem like a jerk. But getting to know him we've found out that he isn't working a day job like us and struggling to pay the rent and stuff, but he actually comes from some rich family here - I didn't know this because I moved here from a small town, I don't think the other guys in the band knew it either. I know you're going to say that it shouldn't matter but knowing this about his makes it seem different to me now. Like he is maybe doing all this because he can and he has the free time and doesn't have to worry about anything whether the band does well or not, but he isn't really taking any sort of risk like we are, and it makes me think that some of the rest of it is fake too, like I wear these clothes yes because they're part of my identity but also because it is all I can afford. Knowing he has a big pile of money to take from means he's just wearing this costume for now, and can always change back in to nice clothes whenever he wants. For all we know he maybe already does.    I don't know if I'm being bogus here or if he is.  Your thoughts?  - - Questioning.

Dear Q
I'm thinking your real question is: How do I know if he is sincere? That is tough question to answer from here, since it is impossible to know what is in his heart. Like yourself, I have in the past questioned the motives of people who choose to "slum it" ... especially when their idea of a 'slum' was my actual life... but hey, Joe Strummer came from a pretty well-to-do family (by most standards) and I think we can all agree that his commitment to punk rock was pretty damn sincere. 

Granted, rich kids don't tend to have the same day-to-day pressures that the rest of us have, or had, growing up, but they do have different kinds of pressures - family expectations and the like... and who says that people from privileged backgrounds can't yearn for creative expression too? While some of the sources and causes of their rage and anger might be completely foreign to you, I'm sure at the core there are some universal seeds that anyone could relate to. 

I think you're really questioning your own instincts on this one. It sounds like you liked him and hit it off fairly well before all this other information came to light... so maybe now you're wondering how you couldn't have somehow known or felt that he was from different circumstances than you right off the bat. Maybe he's a very good liar, or at the very least a gifted chameleon... but maybe he is just a guy who wants to rock.  Think back to your first meetings with him, did he actually say he was just like you, background-wise, or did he not say anything and let you assume whatever you were going to assume? How did you actually find out he was from a higher socio-economic realm than you originally thought? Did he tell you? Did someone else?

My thoughts are these: For now give him the benefit of the doubt... especially if he is willing to play bass - I mean, come on, finding a decent bass player is tough enough without asking to see people's tax returns during the audition process - and see how he acts as things move forward. As I asked earlier, does (or did) he outright lie about his family, or just not talk about them? He might be embarrassed by his advantages, who knows? As you get to know him better, you'll be able to better judge his sincerity and you might get a better handle on his true motives. How will he handle interfacing you as his 'bandmates' with his other friends? If he tries to keep the band thing totally separate from the rest of his social life, that might be a red flag about his intentions. On the other hand, if he makes tooooo big a show about being punk rock in the faces of his family and rich friends then yes, he might just be acting out and this whole band thing might be a phase he's working through before he throws in the towel and agrees to trot off to the same Ivy League school his family always sends their kids to. 

Yes, he might bail on you but remember: rich or poor, people bail on their bands all the time and for all kinds of reasons. That is why there are so many ads on craigslist and elsewhere. If you jettison him today, you'll still have to find another guitar/bass player, right? So what is the upside to cutting him loose? Are you afraid having a rich kid in the band will make you less authentic? Get over it. Especially if you do get along with the guy. Get your band on its feet with the people you have. Get good and then see what the fates have in store for you all.