Mess Me Up

By Steven Strange
Steve's Japanese coverage has been pre-empted for this month due to his attempting to graduate from school. Hopefully, he'll be over this whole "college" thing and be back with the program next month. Instead, he offers this alternative column entitled:
"Moving Away From the Pulsebeat"

Hi, my name is Steve Strange and welcome to what is sure to be an ill executed, rambling mumble fuck of a column. You see, unlike all of the other Terminal Boredom staff (at least to my knowledge), I'm a full time student, pursuing what is sure to be an economically rewarding degree in "Japanese Language And Literature" at the University of Minnesota. Since, as many of you may know, Japanese is a pretty hard language to learn and I'm taking a whole mess of other equally demanding courses at the moment, my free time is pretty scarce. Add to that the fact that I'm a perfectionist who can't stand getting bad grades (despite knowing full well that grades represent dick in the real world) and you get an overworked, overtaxed, stressed to the max dude who probably can't write a column for shit in his current frame of mind. That should be okay though; at least it won't be as bad as one of Shawn Abnoxious' old columns. Cue cymbal crash.

Now that I've got the disclaimer/apology out of the way, let's get down to the nitty gritty. Since I really don't have time to think out a coherent, entertaining idea for a column, I'm gonna sink to one of the lowest, most self-referential tricks in all of zinedom: the "response-to-another-columnist's-column-column." Specifically, I'd like to respond to Eric Lastname's column from last issue concerning the lack of "danger" in punk rock today. Eric's main gripe was with the lack of genuinely "dangerous" bands in the modern punk scene, and the abundance of wannabe bands that follow the pattern for "danger"set forth by pioneers like Iggy and Stiv with all of the originality and inspiration it takes to draw a paint by numbers landscape. Some examples he gave of truly dangerous bands that eschew this slippery slope were the Hunches, Clone Defects and the Piranhas. Of all of these bands, the only one I can agree with Eric on as being actually dangerous is the Piranhas. After all, it could be lethal to operate heavy machinery while playing that snooze fest they put out on In the Red last year. As far as the Clone Defects go, yeah they were a great band and all, but dangerous? I don't think so. When I saw them last summer they didn't seem threatening in the least. They were just a really rockin' band whose singer happened to act a bit wacky when they played. Timmy's schtick with the alien mask reminded me of something Rev. Norb might have done with Boris the Sprinkler had he gotten his hands on something a little harder than Sweet Tarts before the show. If anything, the other eight people in attendance just got bored because they played a looooooong ass time (I was firmly into all of it however). Nobody felt threatened in the slightest though.

Which brings me to my point: danger as an aesthetic end unto itself is dead. GG Allin made a career of marketing himself as dangerous (which in the literal sense of the term he might have been. I know I wouldn't want that fucker's shit on me!!!) but after a point even that just became convention. What made Iggy truly dangerous (in the aesthetic sense of the term) was that he was using his body as a tool to engage the audience in a visceral experience of the uninhibited Id at the core of rock n roll. Hoisting benches overhead, chasing audience members around, and rolling around in glass were all things that had never been done before, and consequently they made a huge impact upon an audience who had never conceived of a rock n roll band breaking the unwritten contract between band and audience by actually threatening them physically. The audience at a punk rock show in 2004 is light years removed from such an audience. We've all read the accounts of Iggy's antics from thirty years ago in "Please Kill Me." In addition to this we've also been taught countless lessons in how to be dangerous from stories about bands like Black Flag and the Dead Boys. That's not to mention that most of these stories occurred while the majority of us were either playing with He-Man action figures or weren't yet even a twinkle in our father's eye. Face it: no matter how much some may try to convince themselves, all of the "dangerous" stage antics you can think of were already attempted twenty years ago. Everything since is just painting by numbers in an attempt to affect a connection with past glories. It's like trying to dress the part of a seventies punk rocker nowadays. The form is so institutionalized that the meaning has changed completely from it's original intent. If you've got a ton of cash you can maybe buy Iggy's "Raw Power" jacket off of Long Gone, but once you put it on you're not gonna be transfigured by the essence of Iggy. Hell, you'll probably just get Stan Lee's funk on you. Likewise, you can roll around in all the broken bottles you want and you'll still miss the point entirely (as Eric stated in his column). All you'll get is a bunch of stitches and a disapproving scowl when you tell the doctor how you cut yourself.

A few years back I saw a local band whose singer stood in the crowd with duct tape over his eyes for one song and cavorted around like an epileptic retard on crank; doubtlessly in an attempt to be "dangerous" and "crazy." The results were about as pathetic as you'd imagine, with the crowd parting for this would-be Moses of Mayhem like a punk rock Red Sea. Even he had to admit it was a pretty silly idea after the fact.

I believe what lies at the root of this desire for danger is a fact that none of us really wants to say out loud, but eventually has gotta come bubbling to the surface: namely that in the year 2004 rock n roll, even punk rock, is about as archaic as Jazz or Polka. Even though tons of people are still into it, the fact is rock n roll is much too firmly rooted in convention, and it's appeal is much too limited, to be considered anything else. The teenagers of today were born years after the late seventies, to them punk rock is as remote as the hippies of the sixties were to our generation. Rock n roll's fanbase is generally getting older, and it doesn't seem like the younger generation is as full of "replacement rockers" as was the case even ten years ago. Don't take this to mean that I'm pulling a Spin and calling the death knell for rock; far from it. In fact, I still believe rock n roll is the most exciting form of music around today, it's just that I don't kid myself by thinking that it's anything but a series of musical clichés that new bands keep managing to breathe life into. For instance, the lyrical matter of most punk songs is so formulaic it's hardly worth pointing out. Suffice to say singing about hate, apathy, losing control, "bad girls," sniffin' glue, and anything you do or don't "wanna" do are all lyrical conventions that were already canonized twenty five years ago. These themes have been sung about a thousand times before, yet when the right band uses them it can still be magic…as the records of bands like Teengenerate, Rip Offs, Real Losers, and Reds so brilliantly attest to. The reason we can dig and relate to these band's lyrics is because after years of listening to punk rock we've developed a fetish for it's lyrical archetypes. The idea of punk rock as something "dangerous" has been likewise canonized, which if you think about it negates the original intent behind the "dangerous" aesthetic, i.e. SHAKING THINGS UP!!! All of the groups who are so faithfully following the chapter of the punk rock rulebook that calls for a band to be "dangerous" and "fucked up" are just buying into the status quo by enacting their established roles as faithfully as a wannabe-thug rapper, a redneck country singer with his American flag guitar, or a junkie jazz drummer. It's getting pretty late and I'm fading fast, but what I'm trying to say here is that all punk rock is about in this day and age is just HAVING FUN, and that's it. If you're looking for danger man, you'd have just as much luck checking out a sixty five year old lady doing a hoarse rendition of "Piano Man" in some smoky lounge, or a bunch of forty year old dudes from the suburbs playing Lynyrd Skynyrd covers at a VFW, as you would at a punk rock show. Me? I'll be content just to keep listening to the Boys when my grandkids think of rock as a relic of a distant past.

Steven Strange
1115 Paul Parkway #102
Minneapolis, MN 55434