Music as Identity

Posted: December 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

As embarrassed as I am to admit it, I listened to a Casualties song on the way to work today.

I’m sorry.

Never my favorite band, the Casualties earned my ire (and the ire of the all powerful internet!) after allegations surfaced about poor conduct by the lead singer of the band.  But that is not the subject for today.

What my shuffle came to this morning was a song called “Diehards.”  Here, this is the video for it:

For those of you too cool or respectable to watch YouTube in the middle of a Thursday afternoon, let me sum up by restating the song’s chorus “We are punx!”

I was thinking of how much punk connects with identity in those who listen to it (or are “in the scene”, as it were).  It’s part of the reason punk is viewed as a musical phase, something people grow out of listening to.  It’s got a dress code (yes, even your weird proto-hippie crust band) and a general code of conduct.  Even when punks punx disagree about what’s important, we generally have some similar values and ethics.

So, you’ve got your cred.  You stud and paint your own leathers, you taught yourself to (badly) play the drums, you drink the finest malt liquors (or not) and you rent a room in a house with ten other like-minded people.  Now what?

Punk was started by groups of people who were so frustrated and angry with the system as it stood, they created identities, art and culture in opposition to mainstream culture.  One of the clothing labels I’ve seen most often is “No Future.”  There’s a million songs about how there’s no future for us, that life is for the young…so what happens when we grow up?  What happens when we’re 30 and 40 and 50 (and 80) and our backs hurt from stage dives, our teeth are rotten because we can’t afford health insurance, we’ve got fifty bucks under the mattress because we don’t trust the banks and can’t hold a job?

See: Shane McGowan, former lead singer of the Pogues

It’s always hard to change your identity (there’s even a branch of therapy specifically devoted to it, called narrative therapy).  Anyone who’s come out as LGBTQI, anyone who’s made a life in a different country, or even gotten a divorce, can tell you about the anxiety, fear and disillusionment that comes when you change an integral part of who you are.  We don’t have to be conformists or buy into the capitalism, consumer driven bullshit to live meaningful punk rock lives.  You might never be Joe Strummer, trying to make changes from the stage on down.

I believe our only hope is to channel the rage, disillusionment and innovative creativity present in our music and culture, and put it to work.  It doesn’t really work to say “fuck the system” if you can’t create a better system (as Ben Harper sang, “what good is a cynic with no better plan?”).  It doesn’t matter if you think the world is unjust if you coast through that world.

Okay, so you care about (issue here).  What are you going to do about it, punk?

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