Jul 31, 2013

Girl Talk

Dear Ask A Punk -
Punk rock, at least in my town, is one big boy's club and they're all just as big jerks as the jocks and rich kids are, but in their own way. I play bass and some guitar and I'm in a band that is mostly girls, except for one guy, and even he is talking about quitting because I guess being in a band with girls isn't cool. We sure aren't asked to play any of the good or cool gigs because I guess we're not cool enough because we're girls, either that or we're not "hot" enough to be girls in a band. I really didn't expect to have to deal with this at least not as much as we do, and it is demoralizing. Even the fact that I have to ask a guy (you) about seems pretty lame. What can a mostly girl band do to be taken more seriously? - Ms. Punk.

Dear Ms. Punk -
Yes, it does suck - your situation I mean, not the fact that you had to write to me about it. Maybe there is a female punk rock advice columnist out there, but I don't know who that might be... so I'll try to do my best by you. 

First of all, you're right about one thing - Punk rock scenes are not immune to sexism and a rampant "boy's club" vibe. Some are better than others, but it still exists, on some level, pretty much everywhere. I like to think we punks are at least slightly better than say, the crowd down at Hooters or the local football stadium, but that often isn't the case, especially with younger punks because, let's face it, every generation's 20-25 year old guys are usually at the peak of their douchiness. 

So what can you do about it? The first thing that comes to mind is a quote I've seen attributed to Rosanne Barr. I'm pretty sure she got it from somewhere else, but here it is: "Power is never given, you have to go out and take it." What that means is - It is rare to find anyone (male or female, really) who is going to just give you everything you want, whether that is a good gig, or simply: approval. You have to go out and take it or some how make it for yourself ...DIY, people!

So first of all: Are you as good a band as you think you are? Seriously, I'm not trying to be a douche either, but I've known plenty of bands (and been in a few) who thought they were being "held back" by forces who were against them when, in fact, they just spent too much time complaining about the "politics of the scene" and not enough time practicing. 

Second, and I say this all the time: You're living in a golden age to be a "new band." Sure, it is less likely than ever that you'll actually make money (or a career) at it, but on the plus side, unlike all previous generations, you are NOT completely at the mercy of the one or two show bookers in your town. With just a little bit of effort, you can get your music out to the entire world without leaving your apartment. You've probably grown up already knowing that, but trust me, that is pretty amazing. Create and record your music to the best of your ability and unleash it on the world. Be so good that you can't be denied or ignored.

...and thirdly - if you think the issue is gender generally, or "looks" specifically, you can be like many bands (male and female) before you - and keep things ambiguous. IF you want to be judged purely on the basis of your music and lyrics, then stick with abstract album art and, if necessary, develop a more mysterious persona for the band. Let the music do the talking. 

Every band has trouble getting noticed. Every band has trouble getting taken seriously. Every band has trouble lining up good gigs. Yes, female or mostly-female bands have an even harder time with these things. Sure, it is unfair, but are you going to let that stop you? If you really want it, you won't. 

If, after following all of the above advice, you still can't break through the wall of knuckleheads running your scene and get any good gigs then create the gigs for yourself. And while you're at it, create a space/opportunity for other female bands like yours to play too. I'm really talking about DIY 101 here: If what you need doesn't exist - Create it for yourself. 

Imagine that an even younger girl punk was asking YOU for advice. What would you tell her? Would you tell her not to bother, because the "boys" run everything? Would you tell her not to bother because she isn't sexy/pretty enough? ...or would you tell her to go out and kick all the ass she can without any apologies for her gender or looks? 

That's what I thought.  ...so what's stopping you?

Jul 24, 2013

Opportunity Shocks

Regular readers will note a small difference in the website today. I have replaced the "subscribe" widget with a "Subscribe by email" one. I can promise you I'm not hellbent on collecting addresses or "mining" big data or (worse yet) looking to collect and sell my readers' information. A reader informed me that the subscribe widget was useless and didn't work properly, so I'm trying out the other options for now. I think most people just plug the site into feedly or some other favorite reader. In fact - if any of you have some better solutions that don't require a lot of coding, I would be happy to hear them. See? I look for advice too. I don't just give it.

Dear Ask A Punk -
This def. goes under the heading of a good problem to have. My band is OK, we're not great or anything and we're not headlining anywhere and we all work day jobs but we take it seriously. So what has happened now is - somehow we've gotten invited to do a sort of tour with a bigger band that is playing not exactly festivals, but definitely bigger shows than we've ever played. We haven't decided as a band yet whether we're going to do it or not. It would mean quiting jobs and probably losing money of course, but none of us are working jobs that are important to us, but more than that, I'm wondering if it is all too soon and if it'll be a disaster because we're taking like four steps ahead instead of just one or two. What do you think? - Opening Act?

 Dear OA -
Easiest and shortest answer in the history of this website: GO.

Quit your jobs, pack up your gear and go. There is only one way to find out if you're ready or not, and that is to go.

You said that you were invited on this "tour" by a bigger band, so obviously they see something in your band that maybe even you don't see yet. We're not always the best judges of where we are creatively - often that means we're not nearly as good as we think we are, but sometimes the opposite is true. Surely that other band wouldn't invite you along because they're hoping you'll suck, right? I mean that would be an odd thing for any band to do, unless they're shooting for some weird bit of performance art.

Ninety percent of life is just showing up and saying "yes" to the universe. You really have to grab on to opportunities when they present themselves and then just see where they take you. What is the alternative? Say you wait another year or two to "get better" and then what? ...call up this same band and hope they remember who you are, while also hoping they don't remember that you turned down their previous offer?

What are your real fears here? Are you worried that the band won't play well? Or are you worried that you won't get along together "out there" on the road? Are you concerned that certain members will be out of control? Are you worried that that person is you? Only one way to find out.

Go... and good luck.

Jul 17, 2013

Forgotten, but not gone.

Before we get to this week's question, I wanted to mention something. I have to stress that, in keeping with the "no reviews" policy that has been in place here at AAP since Day One, the following is not, repeat not a review. It just seems important to help spread the word about the following piece of Punk Rock, just to let the world know about it.

Regular readers will recall that back in October I mentioned a great documentary I saw while I was visiting Austin, Texas. That film was called "Punk in Africa" and it was just that - a documentary about the roots of African Punk. It was a great little film. Important even. There was line near the end of it that really resonated with me, and I've repeatedly paraphrased it ever since: "Punk Rock happens wherever it needs to.

So, with that thought in mind, I want to tell you about an amazing thing that now exists: The first Punk Rock compilation from INDIA. Yes, India. On the other side of the world "the kids" are looking around, not exactly liking what they see, then plugging in and having their loud-ass say. If there is a better definition of Punk Rock, I haven't heard it. As I said at the outset: This isn't a review, but I will say that I have been listening to it... a lot. You can listen to it (for free) but you know the drill: If you dig it, try to support it any way you can.

And now back to our regularly scheduled column...

Dear Ask A Punk-
Sucks getting older. I still love music and going to shows, but now that I'm in my 40s, it is starting to feel weird. I never played in any bands, but I bet I have gone to ten times as many shows as you and any three of your friends combined. I guess "scenester" would be an accurate description even if I always think that sounds kind of douche-baggy. I stayed in my medium-sized city, got a decent day job, went to college even, but all I've ever really cared about the most is punk rock music and especially live and local punk rock. I've known pretty much every band and also every booker, doorman and bartender, every roadie and ex-girlfriend. You get the idea. I've seen the talent pool of awesome bands here fill up and empty out a couple of times. Seen legendary clubs shut down and then attended the opening night of some new clubs as their own legends started. My idea of a good time is STILL going to a show on a Tuesday night and seeing five bands I've never heard of, hoping to see some magic, or at least the start of something that could turn in to magic. 

But now, I don't feel as welcome. Obviously 99% of my old friends have moved on, or out or up and now, I feel like I have become the 'weird guy' who shouldn't be in the room. I'm looked at as either someone's dad, a narc, or at worst some kind of sleaze. I stopped trying to talk to anyone new years ago, especially girls because they automatically assume I'm hitting on them. -- I'm not by the way. I've had the same girlfriend forever -- I can understand why they feel that way, but it still sucks. What are my options here? I have some ideas, but I want to hear yours. -- Old School.

 Dear OS -
I know what you're talking about. I don't get out much these days. I tell myself that the reasons are mostly economical, and they are... but not entirely. Time is a MotherF-er, no question about it. We make our choices - right, wrong or otherwise - and no matter what, the clock just keeps spinning and nothing stays the same. You do have to accept that, and it sounds like you more-or-less have. 

But what comes next? The answer is "death" of course, but probably not for awhile. Keeping our bodies alive is fairly easy: eliminate or at least moderate the bad habits you can no longer get away with, take some fish oil pills and let the 20 year-olds lift the really heavy stuff. But how do you keep your spirit alive? 

... you have to adapt.

Note that I didn't say you have to "change." ...Let's face it, at this point you're not going to hang up your Doc Martens and decide it is time to start listening to Chamber Music. You have to take your passion and experience and figure out a way to use it. You're a walking historian (of sorts) and that knowledge has to be useful somehow -- but please give me a break and don't start writing a Punk Rock Advice column... 

The way I see it you can work inward, outward or both. I vote for both.

Start organizing all that history in your head. Are you one of those guys who collected every poster and single and free 'zine etc? If so, start piecing it together into a coherent archive of the history of your town's punk rock legacy. It sounds like you might be the only guy who knows all about it. You could do it as a website, or a documentary film (note the 'Punk in Africa' film I mentioned earlier.) This could be an interesting, useful and entertaining kind of project... and the tools needed to pull off this kind of thing are cheaper now than they've ever been. 

You mentioned you also know/knew every band, booker and bartender etc. Why haven't you gotten involved in your scene in some non-band, but still more hands-on way? As much as your day job (and girlfriend) schedule might allow, you could become a booker, or curate a monthly show somewhere or, if you're really ambitious, you could create some kind of homegrown music festival, bringing in the older bands you know and the newer ones you're still discovering. No matter what size your town/city might be, there are always always always more bands than there are places to play... So create one. And finally: don't forget Rule Number One for people like us:

Good luck!

Jul 10, 2013

Not So Friendly Persuasion

Dear AAP,
So I've always been really into harder types of music I guess than my friends. While they were all listening to Britney Spears I was listening to Metallica. Well now I'm listening to bands that my friends consider screamo,punk,acid,etc.  They're all just very negative towards my music choices. My music choices vastly vary from many different bands. Some are punk, some are mainstream, some are alternative, and so on. They enjoy insulting my music taste and have began to cast me out for being interested in different artists than they are. This outrages me because one is not determined by their music tastes. I'm just trying to further understand their thinking. I have done nothing wrong. I don't know what to do or how to handle it, do I ditch them and find new friends? -Alternatively Distraught

Dear AD-
You're right: You've done nothing wrong, but admit it: While you were rocking out to Fade To Black, you were judging your friends for the Britney Spears stickers on their notebooks.

Music is a weird and powerful beast. On many levels, it is arguably one of the best things we humans have managed to create for ourselves. Music can cut across cultures, borders and socio-economic realities to bring people together with it's universal language of rhythms and beats. In many ways, lyrics (even the best of them) are secondary to the sonic power of the music itself, when poured directly into our earholes.  On the flipside though, music, is also a way for us to separate and sub-divide into a thousand+ identifiable sub-cultures and can contribute to our most universal and tragic human failing: our hard-wired tendency to form "Us" versus "Them" tribes and conflicts.

When I heard my first punk songs in my late teens, it felt like lightning had split my brain into pieces and fused it back together to form an entirely new whole. The music helped me understand myself in new and different ways. Even more importantly - it made me realize I wasn't the only kid with some strange turmoil in my head. It made me feel less alone, even when I was.

Many of my friends at the time heard those same songs and felt.... nothing. And that, I guess, is the mystery. Certain sounds ring the bell for certain people, and not for others. 

The thing is: Whenever an individual shoots off in a new direction (musical or otherwise) it can be odd, confusing and even scary to the people around him or her. Some will agree and buy in, some will "understand" but not buy in and the rest will see it as a red flag or a threat to the established social order.

If nothing else, throwing the occasional behavioral curve ball can sometimes really let you know where you stand with people and how serious they are about your mutual friendship. Some friendships are almost completely based on geographical convenience and/or having similar likes and dislikes... in fact, most friendships are at least formed/started based on those kinds of things, but hopefully, over time, grow into a deeper regard. 

What I'm saying is that anyone who tells you "If you listen to _________, you can't be my friend." is clearly someone you're better off without. Not because of their musical taste but because of their assumption that THEY are the ones who get to dictate the rules of what is supposed to be a mutual friendship. Real friends don't engage in such power struggles with each other.

But hey, don't be too quick to write your friends off. Some of them might just need some time to get used your changing tastes... and their own. Let's face it: Musical tastes can change A LOT over time. Maybe those eye-rolling friends will catch up with you, or maybe they'll surprise you and fall in love with some strange musical genre that you have never hear of or can't stand... In that situation, would you be understanding and non-judgemental?

Keep an open mind. Know that that "judge-y" stuff works both ways. Don't judge your friends too harshly for not liking what you might now be in to. As I said earlier, your real friends will accept your diverging musical tastes... so you'll have to do the same for them. Your less-than-real friends, well, you're probably better off without them and their disapproval. But remember: people can surprise you.  

Good Luck.

Jul 3, 2013

No One Expects the Clannish Imposition

DEAR Ask A Punk -
This is unbelievable. I got out. I got completely out. I left my hometown and my fucked up, drunk, shithead family four years ago. I moved 500 miles away to a city that isn't all that big, but big enough for me and made a new life for myself with a half-way decent job, new friends and a chance at a decent, better life than I had going at home. Not necessarily a bigger life or anything. I think I would have liked my town if it wasn't for my family, so I'm not a city snob or anything, and really, this place barely qualifies as a city since there are a little less than 200,000 people here. But compared to 10,000 where I grew up? It might as well be New York. I love it. I still don't know what my future is going to be like. I will admit that I've only dabbled at a few college classes and have mostly just been having a good time paying my bills and living in a nice, quiet apartment that I can call my own. I even have a cat now. I work. I go to shows. I date cute boys sometimes. I might start or join a band this summer. I admit I'm proud of myself. I'll spare you the details of how I grew up, not because I'm ashamed, but because it is the same old story you always hear: drunk dad, drunker mom, and an automatic reputation as a member of "one of those families" even if I never, or almost never, acted like the rest of them. So bad start, happy ending, right?

Wrong. About a month ago my brother came to "visit" and never left. It would almost maybe make sense if he was a little brother who was finally old enough to escape too, but he isn't. He is my older brother - by 4 years! I don't even remember exactly how he weaseled his way in the door, but it was something about "looking for a new job" and "checking up on his little sister"  BOTH of which I knew were bullshit. He never looked out for me. He was a bully who stole my babysitting money to buy beer, used to beat me up and was always a complete shithead and fuckup. I figured I would let him crash for the weekend and then he would drive home or something, but of course his reasons for showing up in the first place were a lie. I'm not in regular contact with my family so I didn't find out untl a few weeks later that he had actually been thrown out of the house because he got in trouble with the cops for something. Not that my parents would usually care. The police aren't exactly strangers at our house, but he must have fucked up bad to actually get thrown out. So now I'm stuck with him and I AM PISSED OFF. I'm am not a doormat, and am usually pretty fierce at standing up for myself, but this is different. I don't know what to do. -- Not Brother's Keeper.

Dear NBK-
You try to set up some healthy, 500 mile-wide boundaries with your family and they get ignored. That does really suck, but you have to take a little responsibility for the situation you are currently in. Saying "I don't even remember exactly how he weaseled his way in the door" is a sure sign that you're the product of a chaotic, alcohol-fueled childhood... No matter what, you have to deflect some responsibility for whatever situation you find yourself in. That little bit of wiggle room with the actual, full truth has often come in handy I'm sure. It is just one of what I'm sure are many survival tactics you honed throughout your childhood. You survived and you escaped and for that you deserve a metal. Seriously.

...but you do have to focus on the fact that your shithead brother is currently messing up your apartment, life and towels because 1) you opened the door in the first place and 2) you haven't kicked his ass out... yet. So you have to ask yourself the real reason(s) why you let this happen. There is every possibility that the honest answer is this: That you felt like you were powerless to stop him. It is important to recognize that, because it is a sure bet that your brother knew he had some sort of leverage he could use on his little sister, otherwise he wouldn't have made the trip.

So there it is. You're tough, strong and independent, but someone you apparently despise can still manipulate you into giving him what he wants. That is nothing to be ashamed of, trust me, that isn't why I'm harping on it, ...it is something to be understood and (eventually) conquered. 

But in the meantime, how do you get his ass out of your apartment and make him stay out? The most straightforward answer is to do to him what you would do to a stranger or non-blood relative bad-news friend: You could just call the cops and have them haul the douchebag away. From the sound of it, the cops back home are probably still looking for him right? Keeping him under your roof might even make you an accessory-after-the-fact to whatever crime he committed. He might be an unwelcome guest, but to a bunch of cops, it might look like you're helping a fugitive to "hide out." ...now wouldn't THAT suck?

OK, maybe you don't want to get the authorities involved, what then? 

The first issue is this: You said he used to be a bully and beat you up etc. Do you still feel AT ALL still at physical risk from him? ...even a little bit? If the answer is yes, you have to protect yourself. You said you have new friends in your new city right? Make sure they know what you're going through. Make sure a few of them are in your apartment ALL the time. Then, send your brother out for something, or heck, take him out to lunch, and bring a long a friend or three as well. Have his stuff already packed if possible (I'm sure he is traveling light) or, have some friends back at the apartment pack it up for you while you're out with him, and tell him it will be sitting OUTSIDE your apartment door. Then give him money for gas or bus fare back home. 

DO NOT feel like you have to explain yourself or give an extensive list of reasons. DO NOT try to settle the scores of childhood hurts you've got in your memory banks and DO NOT respond to anything he says. He might start yelling, making demands, making threats... those are easy to ignore... what you really have to watch out for is: apologies. If he breaks down and starts telling you the things you've been waiting to hear from him for a long time... DO NOT cave in. He is working from the same playbook you grew up with - tears and remorse and whatever other lies it might take to get what he wants. By all means thank him for the tears and apologies, but tell him he still has to leave. Immediately. No excuses. ...and don't leave any wiggle room. Do not offer any possibilities that start with "maybe in the future..." or "If you can really prove you've changed..." etc... ANYthing he says will be pure bullshit. Say it with me: Pure bullshit. And tell him, clearly, that if he pounds on your door even ONCE, your first call will be to the police (and mean it.)

Then, when he is gone - change the locks IMMEDIATELY. Any dysfunctional relative worth his/her weight in douchebags will have surely made a copy of your apartment key. Count on it. 

As I said at the beginning. You wouldn't tolerate this kind of behavior from an acquaintance or a roommate/friend... why is it acceptable from a family member? It isn't ...or at least it shouldn't be. You really need to get some insight into how and why you opened the door for him in the first place and why you let it go on for so long. 

You have made a great start, but even at 500 miles, your family history is pulling you in directions you don't want to go. You've have made some great and heroic first steps, but clearly, the work isn't finished. Keep fighting the good fight. You deserve a life that you get to define for yourself... don't let "them" do it for you. 

Good luck.