This project is an on going, 10 year project that was started in 2017, to show how the subculture of the Punk Rock looks between the 40th year and 50th year anniversary of it’s start. These photos focus on the people who have made this subculture their life, ranging from teenagers to those who have been in the scene since it’s beginning in the late 1970s. These are their photos and their stories.
We Are All We Have Tonight
I didn’t come from a scene where I felt like a minority as I was a poor kid like everyone else. I grew up in the San Antonio scene. It is predominantly made up of Latino skins, punks, hardcore kids, rude boys, etc. There were very few white faces that I saw at shows that didn’t belong to touring bands. That or maybe I just didn’t really associate with white kids because they weren’t from my part of town or didn’t dress like me. Most infighting within the scene seemed more concentrated on what crew you ran with rather than racial beefs. It threw me for a loop at first being that all you hear about from the media is that we are all a bunch of racist assholes.
It wasn’t until I moved to Oklahoma City in the late 90’s that I began to feel like a minority. It’s no secret OKC had some nazi elements to its scene, but I wasn’t treated terribly. It was hard to wrap my mind around it. I figure that it was more along the lines that some of these guys grew up together so they didn’t give a fuck what their friend’s politics were.
The event that began my shift in politics was the day I attended an anti-immigration rally. I became obsessed with militia groups like “The Minutemen Project.” When I approached them with one of my white friends, they wouldn’t look me in the eye nor give me the time of day. They gave her literature and she threw it away. It began a self-reflection. I got used to hearing things like “Aaron’s one of the good ones” and it made me start thinking about if I was just a token minority to some people. I began questioning all the things that I once held so dear to my heart. You find out really quick who your friends are when you are deep in the gutter of life.
I decided that I should reevaluate my life and that led me on the path to going to school. I’ve always loved education but never thought I would have the money to go. I use to also have this idea that universities were for rich liberal cesspools. My ideas on that have somewhat changed. If there’s anything that will make you rethink your politics, it’s being surrounded by the people you may not have liked in the past. It’s easy to hate someone when you don’t know them face to face. I have met and had conversations with people of different races, religions, sexual orientations, political affiliations...etc. I sat with an Iraqi in history class and we traded history notes about what he was taught and what I was taught. There’s no better place than to have that open dialogue than in an educational environment or serving in the military.
I’ve learned to embrace myself, my Latino culture, and the moments that have shaped me. I’ve allowed myself to dream. I don’t just talk about the “America” I want based on my old flawed politics in a scene, but I’m a better citizen that contributes to my community through service work.
Growing up, I always found myself outside of the norm. I've never been the cookie cutter type. From a very young age, streaking down the sidewalk, I have and continue to always push the limits, not because i crave attention, but more so because I believe that an individual can only true grow when they are forced out of their comfort zone. It is in those uneasy, uncomfortable moments that great things happen. I’m a very dedicated, competitive person. Even in school, I had to be top of the class. I grew up in a tiny town, where everyone knew everyone, and rumors were assumed to be the gospel truth. It's because of this, i found myself escaping that injustice every weekend by going to the skating rink in a neighboring town. From a young age, skating become a therapy for me, something i refer to as my 8-wheel peace. When i put on my skates, no matter how difficult the day has been, therapeutically, I find myself in a sense of euphoric happiness, much like meditation. Living in the midwest -- skating outdoors is limited -- and therefore wanting to continue to skate all year around became an obstacle, as most rinks are for younger kids and school parties. This is when i turned to roller derby. It became a way for me to skate as often as i wanted, but also tapped into that competitive drive of mine. I immediately wanted to be the best. I became obsessed with the sport and the environment that it was trying to foster. You see, as a very assertive, blunt, competitively driven, yet motivational individual -- it's hard to fit in and be accepted. You add all my tattoos and the fact that i am gay to that… its a recipe for judgement and disgust. Roller Derby is a community where all individuals are welcomed. It is a place that empowers individuals to become the best, strongest, most badass versions of themselves, or atleast, i believe that is what they are trying to do. Personally, in the last 9 years of my life, I have been through some very difficult times, very dark places. Having roller derby in my life, being able to “skate it out,” has helped bring me off the ledge multiple times. I’ve, unintentionally, created bonds and made lasting friends from the sport, found my partner because of it, and have found a higher sense of self than ever imaginable. I am now, in the best shape of my life and it's only going to get better. I will always be a skater at heart. And I am thankful for the ability to do it, be apart of it. The road to my skating success is always under construction and i will continue to stay open minded, try things that scare me, and push the limits in any and every way possible. Because the key to better skating, is skating better. And well, honestly, LIFE IS BETTER ON ROLLER SKATES!
I moved to Lawrence, KS in the Fall of 1988. I attended KU, and lived in the dorms. I was in the Wichita punk scene in 1987, and had heard of the venue The Outhouse, in the cornfield, outside of town. The first show that I attended there, was Die Kreuzen, and then GWAR. I loved seeing bands at The Outhouse! I started working at KJHK, the college radio station, as a DJ and Concert Promotions Assistant, in 1989. I also worked Hospitality for SUA (Student Union Activities). This meant that I took the band’s lists of backstage requirements for shows, and made sure that they had everything. I worked at SUA for the Faith No More show, Day on the Hill, and my favorite show Soundgarden. I drove Chris Cornell across town in my brown Chevette, to sign autographs, at Streetside Records. There was also a stage in my backyard, 1223 Ohio, where local bands would play. They also played inside our house. We also had bands that were playing at the Outhouse, staying at our house. SNFU, the Chemical People (2x), Straw Dogs, Steve Albini & Flour. One night my housemates brought home Babes in Toyland. It was a scene. The best times and friends, Ever.
There has never been a time in my life when music wasn’t a driving force. When I was younger I was convinced that I was going to be a famous musician as an adult. My sister and I would stand on the hearth in front of my parents’ fireplace and put on shows for our family. I even had teachers send home notes to my mom telling her I needed to quit singing and disrupting people in the middle of class. I was always “on” and so was my stereo.
As I got older I started realizing that it was music in general that I loved, not just performing, or for lack of a better word, showing off. I went to my first concert in a dive bar when I was 13 and that opened the door to my love of music, but punk music especially. The sheer joy that I felt in that moment was a feeling that I never wanted to get rid of. The pulsing of the music in the speakers, the throng of bodies moving to the beat, the sweaty smiles coming from every direction. That became my drug of choice and I’ve been chasing that high ever since.
I’ve seen the Casualties, the Descendents, ALL, MU330, Black Flag, the Distillers. I honestly couldn’t even tell you all of them anymore. The Casualties was the first, though. When I was about 14, a friend of the family sent me a care package from the record company she was working for at the time, Side One Dummy. I got CDs and posters from the Casualties, Floggy Molly and Piebald. I was sold. I dyed my hair black and bought my first jean jacket that month.
In my late teens/early twenties I went to as many shows as I could. I started working more so that I could always afford to see the better bands that came through Kansas. Around the time I was 26, I was actually working three jobs to support my show habit. One of them happened to be in a little dive in Topeka called the Boobie Trap. By working there, I was able to see as much new live music as I could possibly take in, and I was also invited to become involved in the scene.
So, I started booking bands. That grew to an even more intense love and appreciation for the scene that my friends and I had already worked so hard to support. Now I was helping it to expand and grow. However, as much fun as it can be, it’s not easy being a woman in the booking scene. There are times when people don’t take you very seriously. It’s a very male dominated industry. Even still, when things do work out and the stars align and you book a show where the bands and the fans are both pleased, it’s once of the best feelings in the world. To know that you brought someone else the same sort of happiness that this music made you feel is one of the best feelings in the world.
Currently I’m backing off from booking so that I can take more time to enjoy the shows I go to rather than organizing them. I do still book the entertainment for the First Friday parties at the bar where I’m working, and I still help find shows for bands who reach out to me, but mostly I’m just back to basics. I’m enjoying getting to be a spectator again. I will always be happiest standing in the middle of a crowd watching someone talented do what they love.
My introduction to punk happened in two facets, close together. I got received a “punk sampler” CD from a cousin of mine. The song that stuck with me the most from that CD (and continues to be a staple and favorite of mine) Was Stiff Little Fingers’ “Alternative Ulster”. Shortly thereafter I was introduced to Oi! by the only Skinhead at my high school, who was two grades ahead of me. One day at the lunch table he gave me several mixed cassettes containing singles from bands like The Business, Anti-Heros, Bruisers, Ducky Boys, Condemned 84, and Cock Sparrer. I was hooked. I knew after hearing those bands that my musical preferences had changed forever. Fast forward twenty years, and I am older, fatter, and grayer. I have worked and put myself through college (undergrad and now grad school) to be a teacher in a Special Education setting. My love and life in punk is a considerable source of entertainment for my students. But, there has been an unforeseen perk. Not fitting the “stereotypical teacher mould” has helped my relationship building with certain students. Music is the great ice breaker, and it is a joy to see their reaction when they hear some of those same bands that I love, for the first time. A lot of the kids I work with have had a rough and tumble upbringing. Hearing about my rough and tumble experiences creates connections where there may not have been. Not being seen as yet another “stuffy white guy” has helped me connect with students on more of a social/emotional level, and not just an educational level, and to me, that is the most important aspect of being an educator.
“I got out of a bad marriage 6 months ago. He hated live music and was very controlling, which is why I went from seeing 2-3 shows a week to nothing for 7 years. I was diagnosed with lymphoma when I was 23, 9 years ago. The scars on my neck are from all of the biopsies, the scars on my chest are from the 3 power ports I’ve had surgically implanted over the years for chemo, etc. I’m a chronic relapser, so it never truly goes away, but I’m going on 3 years in remission now. Being so close to death for so long has given me a weird way of seeing life. I don’t give a fuck what people think, especially when they stare at my scars. Life is too short to care about that sort of thing, so I refuse to cover them up. I used to be into punk music in high school, but lost touch when I broke up with this punker dude I was dating. I needed some guidance. So when Josh and I started hanging out, he would give me his iPod to take to work. I went hog wild. I loved it all. I love the energy, I love the attitude, I love the loudness. I love how unapologetically opinionated and political it is. But most of all, I love that punk music is about connection; acceptance.
Ever since I can remember, I always wanted to wear combat boots and floral dresses - super 90s style. but didn’t really have the confidence until I was in my mid-20s. Now it’s what I wear most of the time.
[The cancer is] Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I ignored all the symptoms and kept partying. A huge tumor popped under my clavicle, which I only noticed when I got syrup on it when I was working as a barista. Ended up at stage 4 by the time I started chemo the 1st time. That means that the tumors were everywhere (above and below the diaphragm) and I was symptomatic in every way. Each treatment works, Just not for long. Sometimes I get 6 months, sometimes years. The side effects from the treatments stay with me. New problems. But I’m alive. Each day that I wake up is a good day.”
" I’m not sure." I replied. " I don’t feel right. Like something is off." She looked at me and shook her head. Pinched up her lip, cocked her brow and said something to the tune of "just relax. It’s cool." It's cool. Yeah. It's cool. Then. It hit me. Like a tons of fat kid stage divin’ ass, it hit me. "It’s too fuckin’ safe."
I was in Nashville 2014. Seeing some no name local punk rock show with a band I didn’t know but I had seen 1000 times in other cities and other times. I was far from my home punk scene of Lawrence Kansas. Even though the Outhouse was long gone and some of my favorite local bands were defunct I have a healthy respect for my scene because it will set your ass straight when it needs to.
Back in Nashville my date turns to me and says.. Are you gonna make it?"
"Yes" I said....."it’s just.. It’s just I don’t feel like I’m gonna get stabbed or nothing."
"Umm? Ok." Is all she said.
"It’s too safe. I don’t feel any energy in the room. Nobody is into it."
Punk Rock has become safe and I fuckin hate it. See I’m from a scene that was dangerous. Punk Rock to me will be and should be dangerous. To me, to you and to the sleeping giants of society that wont see the revolution coming. Punk Rock should feel like you might get stabbed in the bathroom. It means you might have to boot party a Nazi to round out the night. It means vomit in your car and sticky shit on your boots. It was visceral and greasy. There was not a god damned thing safe about it. Except your friends. Even some of those rat bastards would steal your mom's credit card and bang your sister. Back in the day my scene was known for bands that were notorious for doing unspeakable things to farm animals on stage. Hell one front man used to cram marshmallows up his butt. Bands like Kill Whitey, Cocknoose, Filthy Jim, Mopar Funeral, The Unknown Stuntman, bands that were in your face and dangerous. God forbid that one night would go by without some dip shit getting his head kicked in for whatever we could think of at the moment. It was awesome. I remember tripping at shows and having a religious experience in a corn field while D.I. or Toxic Reasons blared as the twisted soundtrack. It was an angry teen's Valhalla. There was sheer bliss and Anarchy and unabashed freedom.
Then, you had to prove it. When rednecks and cops came calling you stood and fought them. When you caught the jocks and bullies from school in your environment you taught them a lesson. Frat boys be damned.
But now it’s safe. Punk Rock should never be safe. Punks were meant to destroy. Now teachers and moms have blue hair and its kitschy. People with corporate jobs have tattoos and piercings and no one bats an eye. Somewhere there are real punks left. Street level. In a part of town your blue haired mom won’t go to. Somewhere there are loud guitars and blood and beer on the floor. There is a kid writhing on a makeshift stage screaming shitty poetry over feedback and dull drums. There are scars and drugs and fear. If you listen to corporate "punk" have blue hair and Hot Topic jewelry and have never been punched in the mouth by a skinhead or better yet punched one yourself you are not a punk. You are bullshit. Live a little. Start your revolution. Tear it all down. Safety is for the weak. If there isn’t blood on you or the band it was a shitty show. Pick up a guitar. Scream to the world. Safety is for complacent pigs. Stand up for your freedom. Wanna be a punk? Bleed for it. Show me the scars. Freedom isn’t free.
I was 15 in 1985 when through a friend at our rural high school just outside Lawrence, KS I was introduced to punk rock. Already feeling like an outcast since I wasn’t into sports, cars, or getting fucked up, punk rock validated all those feelings I was having. Through those records I no longer felt alone. Shortly after that we saw our first show, Black Flag in Topeka. It was completely life changing. I had found my place. A place that welcomed those who felt, looked and acted different. Not long after that we discovered the Outhouse in Lawrence where we spent the rest of our formative years and beyond. For me the music I had been listening to that was telling me it’s ok be different, it’s ok to be yourself had now manifested itself into an actual physical thing.. the Lawrence Kansas scene.