8 min read

Faces Of Punk

Faces Of Punk

Despite my dim view of the human soul, I do try to assume the reasonable best of humans online. This is not contradictory to my general belief system. I think we are all inherently deeply flawed, but I also believe our total incompetence at being fully human is not for lack of trying. With nothing to go on but avatars and bylines, I try to believe that few wish to do any specific harm; that their stated intention is their actual intention. Or, if their real intention is different than the stated intention, it’s because the actual intention is to be amusing rather than malicious. I realize that, in the face of trolls and twitter, this is naive. But it’s how I need to operate.

Which brings us to People Magazine’sFaces of the 2021 Punk Rock Scene.”

“Faces of the 2021 Punk Rock Scene” was the name of a recent online pictorial posted on the site of People Magazine, AKA: the Rolling Stone Magazine to Us Weekly’s SPIN (or, if we’re aiming to stay consistent with People’s newfound love of punk; the Maximum RnR to Us Weekly’s Razorcake). The pictorial consisted of photos of the cinema verite actress Kourtney Kardashian, Kourtney’s kourtesan Travis Barker, the pop punk stylist Machine Gun Kelly, Gun Kelly’s partner Megan Fox, serially well-intentioned pop chameleon Miley Cyrus, the weirdly influential singer Avril Lavigne… and a number of dubiously named young people; all of whom apparently exist, at least theoretically, somewhere on the metaphysical spectrum of potentiality to actuality.

As the pictorial’s title makes clear, People Magazine’s thesis was that these celebrities (or as comicbook movie fans would call them, “these modern myths”), based on both attitude and aesthetic, represent the newest iteration of the nearly half century old youth subculture known as “punk.” As only one of the celebrities in question, Travis Barker, have what is commonly accepted as a “punk rock CV,” the online response to the pictorial was as predictable as it was predictable. Ranging from bemusement to outrage to existential despair, alt types and media types and alt-media types alike found common cause in a unanimous gnashing of online teeth. It was as if a publications as staid as Rolling Stone had dared to put Nirvana on its cover, or someone had formed a boy band of style obsessed hipsters and staged a maritime major label junket during Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee for no other reason than callow shock value. If a four-decades-old fad could have so little meaning to the gormless editorial staff of People Magazine, what could anything mean? The dual antithesis of punk, nihilism and crass commercial vulgarity, had taken over and soon, it was reasonably assumed, all of punk’s ideals would be put in the service of selling mid-tier cruise lines and butter.

And who the fuck was “Jxdn.” While the TikTok maven’s name was perhaps a nod to the tradition amongst straight edgers of using an “X” on either end of their usernames to signify adherence to the puritan lifestyle or, coupled with the inscrutable use of text to obscure the Doc Martin boots his photo was ostensibly hawking, a nod to the anti-band name stylings of Mobile, Alabama’s XBXRX…there’s little outside evidence to support either of these theories. More likely, Jxdn (and his “Face of Punk” counterpart Nessa Barrett) was just some baby jerk, entirely devoid of punk credibility, who’d never once played the Los Angeles Library wearing a Bikini Kill t-shirt. And so the punks, whether a punk editor at Pitchfork or a punk columnist for Substack, were forced to click on yet another encroachment of their cultural integrity by “The Man.” With this pictorial, whether blame was placed on a clueless Zoomer intern or the cynicism of a Millennial and/or Boomer editorial board, People Magazine had crossed a line.

As the Circle Jerks famously sang in the Emilio Estevez vehicle, Repo Man, “the shit” had “hit the fan.”

Or, as The Dirty Projectors sang in 2007’s “Rise Above”: “society’s arms/they think they’re smart.”

The fact that nobody quoted “Boxcar” can only be considered a miracle on par with the parting of the Red Sea.

What People Magazine's exact intentions were, in running this celebratory hodgepodge of Questioning Authority and Mean People Sucking, is as unknowable as any human heart. But, say what you will about any of the hand-models-but-for-faces-and-bodies that were featured in the pictorial, “cynical” is not the word I’d apply to any of them as individuals. Travis Barker, the drummer for the Baby-Lego-Block-Descendents outfit Blink-182 (and sevengali of the pop-punk revival everybody in the music media seemed perfectly OK with a week ago), is nothing if not sincere. Judging from his musical output and  his recent Rolling Stone interview, he may be nothing but sincere. A fleshy 808 with a platitudinous crawl running across his chest in olde english script. The same assumption of touched-by-God innocence can be applied to Machine Gun Kelly, any given Kardashian, and presumably all the other sitcom scions and/or sticker book lip syncers offered up by People Magazine as the 21st Century’s platonic ideal of rattitude. Would we call a Hot Topic t-shirt model “cynical?” A baby in a Ramones onesie? A potted hydrangea?

At the end of the day, is punk simply unavailable to the seemingly shallow and deeply lucky?

The name of the pictorial has since been changed to “Celebs Who Embrace Punk Rock Style” (though, thankfully for all of us who miss true camp, the URL remains) and the caption calling Travis Barker “the godfather of punk” has disappeared. Whether this is a result of online outrage is unknown. But it can probably be safely assumed. (The pictorial’s author currently has their Twitter account set to private, and one truly hopes that this is unrelated to the backlash.)

Some might argue that those of us who trade in branded content, Big Tech money laundering, and Pinegrove apologia aren’t in a position to judge what is and what is not punk. Some might argue that declining to revel in weird over-culture forays into punk cluelessness (both sincere and trolling) is to misunderstand much of what makes punk so sublimely, idiotically pleasurable. Some might argue to simply let punk be everything punk can contain; the discourse, the fashion, the lifestyle and the brand, the puritanical impulses and Salem-esque hysteria, the truth and the new wave. Or, failing that, some might argue in favor of keeping it simple. Everyone agree to just have punk be as it is at its very least...a historical blip, a mere and delightful genre, bands that sound like the music coming from disaffected urban youth with guitars from (roughly) ‘76 to (roughly) ‘82. Some might argue that this endlessly recurring splitting-of and smooshing-together-of differences and historical divergences, this endless parsing of punk degrees, is squaresville bordering on Cop Town. That it's just another mode of hobbyism, based on faulty readings of civil war reenactments (let alone readings of the war itself).

Not me though. I’m cool as a cucumber. Docile as a lamb. A Green Day song playing from a porch boombox on a warm Summer afternoon. A big butt and a smile that you can trust, bumming a ride on the rock and roller coaster. I haven’t seen a contract since before COVID, but my new stomp boots are to La Di Die for.

Let’s talk about some new albums!

Melissa S/T (Flesh Prison) Black metal/blackened crust/blackout depression-core by Nuke York daredevils. Noted wild urban existence documentarian, Jane Pain, joins members of Hank Wood & The Hammerheads, Conduit, and Children With Dog Feet to make a cretinous, repetitious, thrillingly/amiably climbing racket. If Flipper was raised on the mean streets of Blashyrkh instead of San Francisco and learned everything it knew about song dynamics from the avalanche that killed its parents. Depending on your medication, this is either piledriver music or ASMR. Works equally swell as either. A top notch debut, by and for glamorous hellspawn.

Best Available Technology Better2Never EP (Euphonic Rhythms) Another slab of ambient mind funk from Abundant Living’s favorite UK hip hop adjacent musique concrete communards. I don’t know who’s in the band and who’s in the label and I don’t know that it matters. Does the waterfall care if I consider it separate from the river? Anyway, this is perverted nature music. Static over ponds. Weirdly hopeful like an audible heartbeat in the ICU. I want to say it’s Coil stripped down to its beats, but I’m aware that’s veering into just amusing myself. But it’s also true, as far as music criticism goes. Also, Best Available Technology has a song called “Problematique,” which, regardless how one might feel about the excellent ambient silver mine chime ‘n’ drone of the music itself, is a solid song title.

Sial Zaman Edan (La Vida Es Un Mus) Singapore’s Sial give us a black hole blast of (kinda) motorik spacecore. The label compares it to Hawkwind, which I guess means “kinda/sorta like Destino Final with crazier drumming and a lot more wooooooshing” (I only know a couple Hawkwind songs), and Cress, which is both apt and the kind of leftfield "ask a punk" comparison I truly value in the subculture. Whatever. Cress rules. Destino Final rules. This 7” absolutely rules. Regardless of the comparisons, Sial sound, more than anything, entirely like themselves. Sheet after sheet of acidic guitar and synth over drum that run through every known and unknown iteration of “gallop,” while Sial’s singer kicks over every last coffin in their psychic crypt. If Sam Black Church’s cover of “Disco Inferno” hadn’t sucked, it’d have been this. Four-on-the-floor, against the world!

Les Filles de Illghadad At Pioneer Works (Sahel Sounds) “Live album by guitar heroes” isn’t a phrase that, generally speaking, fills my soul with electrified joy. I don’t much care about skill and guitarists, left to their own devices, always seem to want to play all the notes, many of which would be better off left on the unexplored second discs of My Morning Jacket bootlegs. But there are exceptions, and I preordered this collection of throbbing pulse beats and silvery guitar heroics the day it was announced, way back in 2020. Les Filles de Illghadad are masters of a meditative folk rock that sprawls and sinews, never wearing out its welcome even as the songs approach the ten minute mark. As pensive as it is transportive, the band’s music builds and explores its own singular landscape till the accompanying daydream is as heartwrenching as the architecture supporting it. Also, and this may just be me, it helps that Les Filles has calls and responses a Connecticut youth crew band would give their last varsity letter for.  

Canal Irreal s/t (Beach Impediment Records) Martin Sorrondeguy (Los Crudos, Limp Wrist) is, if you’ll forgive a brief retreat into canonical hierarchies, easily easily one of the top five punk/hardcore singers of all time. And at the risk of indulging in even greater amounts of hyperbole, this lil’ fucker is one of the best things he’s done. I didn’t even know I’d always dreamed of them doing a Pacific Northwest-style dark/death rock album but, you know, we always forget our coolest dreams. This is a masterful, monster-driven, freight train of an album; bop upon bop of furious stabs of tension and release. I can’t wait for the People Magazine pictorial of Sorrondeguy and crew (members of Sin Orden) showing off their neck tattoos, which are undoubtedly gorgeous.

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