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.
I am a transplant here. As a child, I listened to a lot of 45’s of storybooks on a Fisher-Price record player we got for Christmas. Eventually us kids listened to records and cassettes from our parent’s collection. We were exposed to lots of different stuff: Motown, Reggae, Michael Jackson, Neil Young…As a pre-teen I listened to Prince on my Walkman. On weekends I would sneakily watch Yo! MTV Raps. I had to be sneaky about watching MTV in general lest my parents caught me watching it while something they might consider inappropriate was on. Through this program and classmates at school I learned about Heavy D, MC Lyte, Public Enemy, Young MC, Salt & Pepper, Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, and NWA. During this time I also got a full dose of pop, rock, old wave, and new wave.
By high school, my family had moved from a big city to a small town in Kansas. There was very little to do. My friends would hang out in basements and have impromptu gatherings. An excuse to dance and listen to cassettes and CD’s over and over again.
Toward the end of high school and the beginning of college, we would drive to Lawrence, a place that to our young minds and small town sensibilities had already achieved a quasi-mythical immanence through word-of-mouth. By this time I had heard the Ramones, Patti Smith, Violent Femmes, The Damned, Bauhaus, Skinny Puppy. I was thirsty for new music and eager to go to shows.
These trips were revelations. A seeming sanctuary for the weird or off-center. My friends and I would go to all-ages shows, house shows, browse record stores at places like Alley Cat and Kief’s. I was always on the lookout for bootlegs and interesting zines. We would donate plasma to earn money for concert tickets.
Once I moved to the area, I started to really become aware of the local music scene through concerts, show bills, local radio stations that featured local music programs. I cultivated a fandom for bands like Paw, Stick, Frogpond, Vitreous Humor, the Get Up Kids, Truck Stop Love. I burned a hole in my Exit 159 and Ultimate Fakebook CD’s. Uncle Dirty Toes, Glitter Kicks, the Urge, the Esoteric, Shiner, Billy Goat, Bubble Boys, Noise FM, Appleseed Cast, Mates of State, Danger Bob. One of my very first concerts was was the local hard-core-don’t-give-AF band Cocknoose (also on that bill was Crown of Thorns).
I was impressed with the diversity of musical styles and blending of genres that I heard as well as the sheer number of bands in the area. These groups seemed larger than life to me and doing things that I wanted to do - playing shows, making posters, cutting records, giving live performances on the radio. I sensed an overall feeling of “Don’t Give A Damn, Here I Am” from the scene and was learning that music was something that anyone could do with enough confidence to get on the stage and put your emotions on the line. Flash forward to today…..
Right now this is a vibrant and energized music and art scene where lots of different types of stuff brush up against each other. Punk rock, hip hop, glam, aggressive rock, experimental music and puppet shows, poetry and spoken word, all this stuff outpacing genres. There’s an incredible group of young artists in the area who are saying “enough!” and finding the empowerment and courage to do things on their own terms: “THIS is who I am - deal”.
I feel like there’s an overall resurgence, an urgency, something resonating in the air. Whatever it is, it’s very compelling.
Some of my favorite bands of all time have come out this region, and this era is no exception. I am in love with bands like Emmeline Twist, LK Ultra, Red Kate, Wick and the Tricks, Kawehi, Approach, Heidi Gluck’s music, the Toughies, CS Luxem, Life Coach, The Arsonists, The Bad Ideas, Kadesh Flow, Radkey, Vigil and Thieves, Robe Rage, Cuee, Mourning Ritual, Kaitlin Conroy’s music, Alex Kimball Williams. Some of the scene today includes generational legacies, like Lily Pryor who is really coming into her own as a performer and songwriter and is the daughter of Matt Pryor from the Get Up Kids for example.
There’s also this energy behind the scenes that doesn’t always get a lot of recognition. People like Fally Afani and I Heart Local Music, Paige Batson, Paul DeGeorge, Macey Webb, Jameelah Jones, Ray Bennett, Micah Anne Cox, Nicholas Ward, the crew behind Girls Rock Lawrence, all these great minds working tirelessly (and in most cases for little or no pay) to keep this scene going and to reshape it into an inclusive, diversified, impactful community of musicians, artists, and poets. There are new venues like Percolator and the White School House trying to bring back all-ages space. It’s an exciting time to be a music fan in Lawrence.
Most of this music stuff is hard work, low pay, and not glamorous. The simplest thing you can do to help support the local scene is to go to the shows, enthusiastically pay the cover, tip well, buy merch, share the music you love with friends, and dance like there’s no tomorrow.
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!
In 1996, my friends and I decided to leave Dallas, my on and off homeless home at the time. We loved it there: any place that wasn’t Oklahoma, but it was time to move on. We had to split up, because hitching a ride with five people was too many, so they split up by alpha male, and beta male, I of course traveling with the “betas.” In all fairness, I was not an alpha. I was a closeted trans woman in a homeless crust punk suit.
I wasn’t allowed to sleep on anyone’s couches in Lawrence anymore, so I started sleeping in a shed that was in front of a gas station, I’d pass out listening to Tom Waits or The Pogues on a walkman. This was me being macho, I guess. We tend to try to fake our way into what society tells us to be. It was way too cold, so in November, I ended up sleeping under the bridge with about eight or nine friends. We had two fires going, and since everyone had food stamps, all of our perishables sat outside. It was so cold down by the river that we didn’t have to worry about it going bad. We were down there for about a month. Everybody trickled out of Lawrence, leaving just my friend and me. Then we decided to go. I must have found a floor to sleep on. It’s a pretty big blur at that time. The only way to deal with the horror of waking up at four in the morning in twenty degree weather was to drink yourself completely numb. Christina and I were downtown the day after we moved out. A police officer asked us to identify the man who hung himself right there under the bridge where we slept, where we lived. He must have killed himself the day we left. We didn’t recognize his clothes in the pictures. He wasn’t a punk, he was just an older homeless man, we hoped somebody would know who he was.
I felt like I was invisible. I hopped trains, I hitchhiked, I was hospitalized from alcohol-involved accidents. Punk was a way to make friends with the people I thought shared the same interests. That dissolved around me, becoming just a group of broken men, mostly, telling racist jokes around a campfire, drinking too much, and hazing the weaker elements of the group. I was in a very dirty frat, and in a few years, I would be completely over the mystique of being a homeless squatter punk. It was going to kill me; it tried to kill me more than once.
At age 25 I fell in love, got my first job, and started my life over. By age 30 I began telling everyone I was going to transition from perceived male to female. This went over like a lead balloon. If quitting drinking made me isolated, transitioning made it impossible to maintain old friendships. I was ostracized by most of my peers, which was fine; because I finally knew who I was for the first time. I’m in a much warmer place now. My gender markers are fixed. I live in a historic city, where I can accomplish much good by showing young trans kids they can also find the courage to make the change. Punk is dumb, punk is dirty, but punk makes you strong, and the marginalized people of the world need strength, now more than ever.
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, OneSideDummy. I got CDs and posters from the Casualties, Flogging 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 don't remember how old I was the first time I saw Siouxsie Sioux or Joe Strummer. MTV still showed music videos and we lived in the white house on High Street. All I know is that it was the most glorious thing I'd ever seen. That's how I remember stuff, by house or by school because we moved around a lot.
When we lived in the red and white house out north, it was my second junior high and it was THE WORST. I went from a city four year to a country three year and god help you if you were poor, ugly and strange, of which I've always been all three. I can't really put into words how horrific it was. Most days ended in some kind of fight and getting yanked into an office and getting your parents called. It was miserable. I was beyond miserable, but I could go home and put my music on and disappear. It worked. That's where I met Kliph (Scurlock). I think it was a writing class? I don't remember. He was as nerdy and as into music as I was, so we hit it off right away. Mark Banks was in that class as well. Later guitarist for Emotional Feedback here in Topeka. They still have a cult following.
High school wasn't any better. Mean girls and jocks. I still didn't have the right jeans or the right body or the right hair. No mall bangs on this girl. Nnnnnope. I remember a world g class with the popular long hairs getting tormented with spitballs and one of them that sat in front of me doing the one cheek sneak for my benefit. The punk lunch table was the only relief during lunch. Eat and go outside. Get away from the "cool" kids.
If any of this sounds familiar, it's because yeah, I went to high school with Shane Thirteen. He showed up junior year and there was damn near a riot. Ask him about the rat head and leather jacket sometime. That motherfucker has had my back for thirty years now, and even (especially) then he wouldn't think twice about taking care of someone who was giving any of his friends hassle.
Also around this time, my mother was spending long intervals in various hospital facilities around town. Undiagnosed bipolar. My dad worked all the time to keep the red and white roof over our head, so I raised my two younger siblings as my own children, basically. Cooking and cleaning and then falling back into my records at night. It was a slog, but no one else was going to do it.
I dropped out of college and worked at Uptown Entertainment (formerly Mother Earth) record store for many years. I'd probably still be there if it was open today, because I was with my tribe. Work all day and then head down to the Bottleneck at night. Fliers all over the walls. Vinyl. Real release dates. Band shirts. It was heaven. I told Jeff Fortier I was going to staple him to the wall if he didn't clean up his flier mess much to the delight of my gobsmacked 16 year old coworker (Sarah and yes, still friends to this day. Punk kids have loyalty like no others...even my own siblings. But I digress). That was the place I could be myself and not worry about a fucking thing.
I went to work for the man after the record store closed. When Joe died, I called in. Fuck the office. My hero was dead. Like we were talking about Saturday, this time of year rolls around and OUCH that shit still hurts.
The man fired me. My production was too low...I was doing the right thing instead of the easy, quick thing. And you know I told them about it. I worked for Singer and I hated it. The man isn't my people.
I'm falling back on the sewing my mom taught me at age six. I work with a lot of bands. I feel at home. Sara and Josh were just here and picked up Jazz's starter battle jacket. I hope he has an easier time than I did.
I moved out of my house during my senior year of high school. Up until this point I really wasn't going or hanging out with friends a lot, I hadn't been to many shows. I think the first one was The Dead Milkmen. We snuck in. For a while, I was living with some guys in their darkroom. I paid rent by cleaning the house for them (I don't think I did such a great job) Some of these guys were involved with the local radio station, KJHK, and they were friends with a lot of bands, so there were always parties at our house, or at someone's house, and there was always a band to see. I met a lot of punk kids at these parties, and we were friends with some of the MAP kids as well. I eventually moved in with a friend from school, we had sorta an open house policy I guess, we let pretty much anyone crash there if they needed..the windows were always unlocked for kids to crawl in and there were mattresses on the floor. We would hang out on porches, drink thunderbird and whiskey and do each other's hair, take pictures, talk. Even though there were a lot of house parties to crash, the Outhouse was where we really wanted to be. We'd get dressed up, pile into someone's car, bring some drinks and head east on 15th until we saw that cornfield. We'd wait and hang out till the bands started and be there all night. I saw some amazing bands there, that was a great time for me.
I remember one time a few of us decided to go to Hutchinson, Ks. because my friend said he knew a girl he we could stay with for a while. Well, we all piled on the back of a truck, in the winter, and drove there. it was stupid cold, we were under blankets and tarps and there was ice on the truck, it was so cold! We get there, and it turns out that it's the wrong house. Even though we all looked crazy with our torn up clothes and bright hair, the people let us in till we found someone who let us crash. We were there a week or so, all crammed in a tiny place sleeping on the floor and eating ramen everyday.
Love Garden had just opened, I was friends with the owners at the time and a bunch of us would hang out up there on the couches and listen to records. That was always a lot of fun, those guys always were super cool. I love art, I love creating art, whether it's an actual piece to display, or hair, clothing, etc. I think the scene at the time really fed that desire to be creative in every way for me, the music, the people, the friendships, the wild craziness of that time was important to me, it allowed me to feel comfortable with the way I saw myself.
Once I became pregnant with my daughter, I guess I sort of backed away from everything, I was really focussed on getting myself together and in a better place for her. I maintained a few of those friendships, several of the people I liked the most have died, and some moved. But those few years that I was so immersed in that little "scene" really made an impact on my life. I realized I could just let myself shine, the way I wanted to, and it was ok. I have so many great memories of the people I hung out with, the late night conversations, the dumpster diving, hair dye disasters, the parties and the bands, the fights and the laughter.
I wouldn't trade those years for anything.
“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.
Growing up in Nebraska in the ‘80s, my friends were always the odd ones: the nerds, the skate-punks, the misfits. In 1995, the spring after I graduated college, I moved to Lawrence. I came here to housesit for my high school girlfriend (who I had remained close friends with) but I had never been to Lawrence – shit, or Kansas for that matter – and I didn’t know anyone. Emily moved two days after I arrived but before she introduced me to two of her friends, Erin and Angel. I was 300 miles from my hometown. I was alone, I had no job and I was broke. Less than a week after I moved in, Erin and Angel knocked on my door unexpectedly and told me they were going to see their friends, Black Label, play a show in Columbia, Missouri – and I was coming with them. In one night I met a handful of people who didn’t care who I was or where I came from. We were all just trying to make the best of whatever situation we had found ourselves in. Emily’s last piece of advice to me was, “Mass St. is where all the bars are. Check them out if you want, or just go to the Replay because you are going to hang out there anyway.” She was right. That was back when they still served burgers and $1 PBRs. I had a small amount of savings and fell into a routine: beer and a burger for lunch, beer, burger for dinner, beer, then live music until they through me out. That was it. I had found a new family in my new town: a group of people who were just like the good friends I had left at home. To this day I still meet people because of that moment in time: friends of friends, people I met long ago (though we both forgot, or were in no state to remember), people I should have met 20 years ago but somehow didn’t. The ripple from that little splash in my personal timeline keeps growing outward. I was only supposed to live here for three months. It has been 24 years now and that is, in a large part, because of the people I met in my first few years here. I was in my early 20s, fresh out of school and learning who I really was for the first time. It turns out, I was exactly who I had always been: a nerd, a misfit, an odd one.
The punk scene has always represented, to me, a laid back place where it’s socially acceptable to be lame and strange and not have to always put on a performance for someone else (ironically, as I have played in a punk band for a few years now), but to follow the rules you and your friends have established for themselves. Long long ago I was a young weirdo, wearing shorts and Hawaiian shirts constantly, only listening to oldies and “Weird Al” and feeling very frustrated. I am still that person, but there are other facets now as well, mostly because of that one fateful afternoon in Orchestra class in 7th grade when I first heard Green Day’s Dookie and Slipknot’s self-titled major label debut. Thankfully, an inquisitive nature kept me from stagnating at that phase of development, but first hearing such nakedly aggressive and unapologetically “unsafe” (to my young perception anyway) lyrics and imagery and it was so fast…I was changed forever. A lot of people get introduced to the new music through their siblings but I was the oldest of two and had to blaze my own trail. There were a few years I mucked through the mainstream, ultra-produced schlock of the early 2000’s but, like any addiction, that light shit just leaves you wanting something harder…it was just gateway punk. And, most fortunately for me, my own burgeoning interests in 20th century music were rising on a trajectory parallel to the development of file-sharing technology and streaming services; the more I wanted to listen to something, the more avenues that presented themselves for me to consume it. During college, I got addicted to Torrenting music, sorting the wheat from the chaff, and then hunting down the bands I “discovered” and loved to see them live so I could pay them directly for the music and enjoyment they brought me. Having a place where you can freak out and scream and express yourself physically undoubtedly saved me by allowing me to have an acceptable place to lose my mind every once in a while without burdening those in my life that might not share my…negative and frenetic outlook. Some of the proudest work I have ever done creatively has been with my brothers in Stiff Middle Fingers. We started out as a cover band but, at the encouragement of our esteemed guitarist, we starting writing and performing original tunes…I started writing original tunes and lyrics. Overcoming the anxiety associated with putting yourself out there in the song-writing process can be daunting, especially when writing about personal shit, but the beauty of the genre is that’s what it is there for; unlike pop or country or other genres that have specific contours to their design or certain lyrical restraints, whether it be topical restrictions or dumbing down the lyrics to a specific level for mass consumption or whatever, there are NO such restrictions on punk. Stiff Little Fingers are different from Ramones are different from MC5 are different from The Bags are different from Black Flag (’77) are different from Black Flag (’86) are different from Flag are different from Devo are different from Wire are different from Minutemen are different from Descendents are different from All…well, you get the idea. Besides being uniquely your own voice, punk, to me, is mostly about deciding on building something, regardless of perceived judgment, that is an accurate and unflinching sculpture of the frustration and dismay the creator feels about being forced to play a societal game that has no instructions, makes no sense and has no end goal. Scream your heart out, take off your pants, moon the vice-president, get in peoples’ faces, EXPRESS YOURSELF! We’re all just dying, what’s the worst that could happen?