This in an essay about understanding and exploring who I am, my attraction to and love of punk and how it’s ethos fits into my life and my self definition of who I am…
This is not an attempt to convince anyone how “punk” I am. It’s purely self-exploration, being myself and understanding why I’m this way.
Punk to me is not defined by the look or even the music, but by the attitude of fighting back against a society you don’t agree with or subscribe to and not caring that you don’t fit into it. The music and the fashion was an extension of the attitude, a form of self-expression. Most punks have artistic temperaments, which is why they don’t fit in to a mold, as artistic people are individuals, and find ways to communicate that, even if it was just with their hairstyle.
I was brought up to believe things in our society are “supposed” to be a certain way and that everyone was expected to do certain things to be functioning members of society. It all started for me with having to get up early to go to school every day. Also, in my household, having to get up early to go to church every Sunday (something I always hated and always fought.)
Today, I have everything I want and need, exactly as I have designed and wanted it, and I am not living my life like the rest of average society at all. (Remember those commercials for Milk, when a kid is an outcast, being picked on or ugly or whatever, and they drink Milk and grow up to be glorious? I feel like that all the time. Also I don’t drink Milk. I think it’s gross.)
I don’t hold a “regular job” or have one set career I focus all my energy on. I rarely get out of bed before noon and rarely go to bed before 3am. I go out on weeknights. I see lots of live music. I have my days free to go to the beach, work out, write, go on a long sunny walk through the city, get my personal business done when there are no crowds and lines, while the rest of regular society are stuck in an office. I live alone and have an awesome dog, even though there are no dogs allowed in my building. (I found a way to buck the system and got a legal service tag to get my way). I support myself and don’t need assistance. I feel happy with my choices. I don’t want to fit in to this society. I don’t like the way it’s designed. I’m not happy with the mold. It’s designed to be no fun.
Being American (by birth), I will start with the American punk movement… Historically, in my opinion, the first real Punk bands were MC5 and Iggy Pop, who came just before people like the Ramones and Richard Hell, The Dead Boys and everyone at CBGBs. For the American Punks, I didn’t necessarily see punk as a social movement, but rather one about art and expression, (peppered with drugs). It was about being attracted to certain art and artistic expression, and the other weirdos who were also attracted to that, who all came together to be a scene and community. (Andy Warhol was the center of the one just before them, which overlapped into the American Punk movement. I was always very enamored with the Warhol scene.) I wasn’t there obviously; so this is just my humble take on it as someone who admires and is also attracted to their world at the time and what they were doing…
I have been really inspired by the English punk movement so much more though, because their movement, although also about art and expression, and being attracted to it and all the weirdos it brought; was really about fighting social repression and existing society standards. The way their society was set up was for them to not have the means to have a future and get anywhere in life, which is why the Sex Pistols sang about “No Future” and The Clash and others sang about “Career Opportunities… to keep you off the dole” (their welfare system). The regular common people didn’t have the means to become educated successful functioning members of society. (And who would want to be those people anyway?) They had the rich stuffy upper crust of society and then the working class, with no real middle class. Americans at the time probably didn’t understand this concept the way that we can today.
The original English Punks were fighting those societal confinements, and the ones who made the weapon in the fight their artistic expression of punk music or the love of it, actually found an unconventional way to crawl out of it.
As a young kid of 10, I first saw (The Ramones movie) Rock and Roll High School, and I didn’t know it was “punk,” but I loved it and was very attracted to it. I actually thought it was just a movie; I had NO IDEA that the Ramones were a real band. I picked it out at the video store because I was attracted to the cover, and my little fifth grade girlfriend and I had a sleepover and watched it twice in a row because we loved it so much. I still didn’t find out The Ramones were a real band for like 2 or 3 years after that. I didn’t have older siblings, went to Christian School and lived in a suburban bubble that my parents created, so I was pretty isolated from what was happening in the outside world for a while.
When I began to see images of English Punks, I was instantly attracted to them in a way I didn’t understand at the time. My parents took me to London for a business trip my dad had when I was 12. This was at the height of Duran Duran and Culture Club fame in the states, so the early to mid 80s. I was this little “Valley Girl” from Dallas, Texas, but the moment I saw a Goth woman with 20 earrings lining each year, I was attracted. When I saw guys with Mohawks, I wanted to run away and be with them. I will never forget the guy with the purple Mohawk I saw at the airport when we were leaving to go back home. I was lovelorn-obsessed in my mind for a long time over him, and there was no going back. I saw something I identified with, and all these years later, to my mother’s dismay, it was not a phase.
Looking back, I think I was attracted to the English Punks because they looked so weird compared to everyone around them, and they seemed not to care. Also there was such artistry and artistic expression in their cultivated look. If you watch the Sex Pistols movie, “The Filth and the Fury,” Johnny Rotten couldn’t afford “punk clothes,” so he brilliantly and artistically used safety pins all over his clothes to hold them together and it looked amazing… the Do-it-yourself (DIY) ethos. There is one jacket I saw him wear in that film that he made that was a work of art like no other to me. So I think what attracted me to English Punks was the artistic expression, and later when I heard the music and came to understand the message, I identified with the fight against societal norms. I still hate societal norms today. I feel grateful to be an adult now and be able to choose my own choices and live exactly how I want to. Fuck societal norms. I will do things my way. (It makes perfect sense why Sid Vicious covered Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”)
It’s up to each one of us to decide what “my way” means for us. For me, I never have a typical workweek and no early morning hours (because I hate them). Every week and every month is different than the one before it, and that is how I like it. A lot of people would stress out over living like that, but when you value your time, freedom, and happiness over money, designing your own way to live is amazing. I honestly want to work as little as possible and make the most money in the smallest window of time doing something I don’t hate, and that’s my reality, and how I make my choices. This makes me a bit of a weirdo in the context of societal norms. I’m cool with that. Also the driving force in my happiness since my earliest memory has been music. Finding a way to be involved with music without being a musician makes me happy.
Today, I make a living bartending at live music venues a few nights a week, Doing PR/ Publicity as a self employed independent contractor for a huge annual Rockabilly Music Festival, and running my own business doing Hair Extensions, which I taught myself because they don’t actually teach it in Cosmetology School. (Hair Extensions were something I wanted to know how to do and taught myself—DIY and I made a business out of it, where I also designed the website for myself having never done it before.) I work anywhere from 15 to 30 hours a week maximum. No 40+ hour workweeks for me.
It took me 40 years to get to the place where I feel real happiness and contentment over my choices and where I am in life. I have no clear plan for the future, but I don’t really worry about it because I know I will always be okay. I know how to hustle when the time comes and I have to, and I know how to be humble enough to do something very unglamorous when necessary. I don’t care about professional recognition or accolades, or if anyone is impressed by what I’m doing with my life. Putting my own happiness first and not worrying if I fit in to the way society dictates it is supposed to be is my divine serenity.
There are a lot of choices I’ve made to get here, and all of them have been because I have to be me and I can’t fight who I am to the core. Although my parents groomed me to be a certain way and I really tried the best I could to follow their lead, I always ended up going a different direction because I don’t do well being led. It doesn’t work for me. I’ll just run off a different way. I constantly tried to get back on course, and I constantly ended up on an alternate route. Sometimes it wasn’t even my conscience decision, just the universe guiding me elsewhere. A lot of my life since a very young age has been trying to get out of doing things the way I’m expected to do them.
My mother tells me a story about me at age 5 that I have no recollection of, but I love the story because it clearly states I was always this way, since before I can remember. She said she could never get me to wear anything she picked out for me without an argument. She went to the school kindergarten counselor for advice and was told to pick out 3 outfits, lay them on the bed for me, and let me choose one. According to my mother, my response to this was, “No, I want to wear something from the closet.”
Being an only child living in an isolated suburban bubble, I honestly tried very hard in the beginning to fit in and do what I was guided to do. Even though I always had plenty of friends, I always found fitting in to be a real struggle and I’ve felt like an outsider for as long as I can remember. Around age 14-15, I started to embrace the music I loved as a driving force in my life and started to dress accordingly. Since that began, I have felt the most at home in my own skin. When I try to “tone down” my look for a job or some event, it never quite looks or feels right. Even if I’m in a uniform, I feel different than the majority of people around me. Many other people’s choices, which are socially acceptable norms, I actually find abhorrent.
Outside of Society… (Patti Smith reference)
The first obvious norm I can’t identify at all with is getting married and having kids. I have never ever wanted that. It sounds terrible to me. Still at 40, I don’t want kids, and don’t particularly like being around them. I would rather have a drink and have uncensored conversations. I live next door to a 2 year old, who is cute as a button to look at, but I want him to shut the fuck up and I hate the baby smell I can smell at the neighbor’s front door right next to mine. Yuck, babies. Yuck.
The next thing is working in an office, or working in the morning at all, 8-5, 9:30 to 5:30, even 10-6 sounds pretty yucky to me. I would rather serve those yahoos some drinks at the end of your workweek than have to be stuck with those people all week. I like that the music is so loud everywhere I work that I can pretend I can’t talk to them except to take their order and get their money. Next!
Climbing to the top of the corporate ladder… not for me. I don’t want to work all the time and be defined by my career success. I want to do the things I love and if that ends up in success it is an added bonus, but doesn’t change my commitment to putting my happiness before what society considers success.
Going to sporting events… oh how patriotic. NO THANKS. The cheering and group mentality annoys me. I spent my early youth alone in a room drawing to occupy my time, then when I got a little older, I really tried going to the football games at school with friends to have a social life, but could never find myself caring about it. I meant to care. I just couldn’t. I would rather do almost anything than go to a sports event. This is a huge part of our society! And I just cannot get myself to care the slightest bit about it.
I also hate and refuse the idea of participating in Jury Duty. If I don’t live my daily life up and out of the house at 8am, I am not going to do it to participate in something I am forced to participate in. I don’t want to deal with other people’s legal problems. I manage to keep my problems away from the court system, and I don’t want any dealings with it… especially in the morning! I work late nights to earn a living and this stupid societal norm does not fit in with my lifestyle.
The way Americans eat… I hate it. I grew up eating all the traditional holiday meals with turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and other things filled with butter, pies and cakes, red meat, hot dogs and hamburgers and French fries, McDonalds and Burger King, processed foods like Doritos and Fritos and Oscar Mayer wieners filled with cheese, Chips a Ahoy and Oreos, Coca Cola, Pop Tarts, and cereals like Captain Crunch and Fruity Pebbles. I cannot believe this is how some Americans actually still eat. I would rather starve than put any of that into my body. I grew up on all this, but as soon as I got old enough to make my own choices about what I eat, and I began to understand more about the food, I made major changes. I hate traditional American diner food. I will not eat it. I mostly eat organic fruits and vegetables, fish, beans, nuts and Greek yogurt. I feel better than ever, but it can be difficult to eat out at times. I’m a food outsider too… oh well!
A lot of friends who live in other places than me, who haven’t seen me in years comment on my facebook that I “don’t age”… Well, I wish that was true! But the reason I think I hear this so often is that because I live how I want, so I don’t carry the stress and have it age me, that I did in the past when I held full time jobs that made me feel drained. I don’t eat out a lot and fill myself full of god knows what. I have time to take walks for enjoyment, and not just to rush to work. Being in charge of your own happiness is the best way to live and keeps you looking young.
I don’t mean to knock other people who have “real jobs” they like, or having kids, if that makes them happy. Those things are just not what I choose to do. I’m fully aware that my friends with office jobs may have a big chunk of money to retire on, and I may not. I am okay with the idea of being the 60 year old lady in the weird flashy outfit walking my dog through San Francisco, doing god knows what job. Not knowing my future is okay with me, because I live for today.
Happiness is…DOING WHATEVER MAKES YOU HAPPY! I don’t care what the rest of society is doing or thinking. This is why I think I’m a Punk.