The Punk Rock Show

The Punk Rock Show

There’s a house show nearly every weekend night, and nearly every weekend night you can find me in the basement of some house where I don’t belong. The truth is, I really don’t think that anyone should belong in the basement of a house at any time.

The basement is an irrelevant sort of place. It’s bare, cold, dark, and underground. But it is important: The basement is the foundation of the house. It’s unusual we don’t spend more time or care down there, at least finishing it with carpet, painted walls, couches, a TV, or whatever else makes us comfortable in a cube. Is it because we aren’t comfortable down there? Do we need a place to throw out our old junk that we don’t use anymore or don’t care about?

I really don’t think that anyone should belong in the basement of a house at any time. And this right here is the problem.

Don’t you dare try to tell me what “punk” is. It’s an attitude. No, I think it’s a fashion. How can it be a fashion? It’s definitely the sound; it’s always been about the sound. No, it’s a reaction. But anything can sound like anything. It’s got to be the message. Isn’t it about the friends? Well I still think it’s an attitude.

The roots of the punk rock movement took hold in the 1960s and 1970s with protopunk bands such as the New York Dolls, Velvet Underground, the Ramones, the Stooges, MC5, and the Sex Pistols. Punk emerged as a backlash, not a cause. Economic decline of the late 1970s and early 80s, high unemployment rates, the Vietnam War, and civil rights movements were factors that drastically changed the culture of baby boomers. Frustrated and going nowhere fast, teens and young adults had to outlet their feelings and aggression in some way. Though they were not trained in music and by no means musically talented, these “punks” picked up drums, electric bass, and guitar. They formed bands and the only rule was to have no rules. Their music wasn’t like the explosion of talent of Pink Floyd, CCR, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles. It seems to be the very opposite. They stripped music of its creativity and ingenuity. Their music was raw, fast, short, and without the long drawn-out guitar solos of Shine on You Crazy Diamond or Robert Plant screaming his head off about love.

It’s unclear when punk became an accessory to attitude because quickly, privileged teens were acting like they had something to be mad about. Punk rock became a trend, sort of like the flappers or disco. And with its popularity, a whole lot of unspoken requisites became law to being “punk” as a person. Let’s look at the ideal punk rocker. They are poor, got to be poor. Cannot be too attractive, cannot be well-groomed, and doesn’t have a job (or at least a good paying one). They are angry, they have something to say, they wear clothes that aren’t trendy, they smoke cigarettes, they do drugs, they have something to say, they slam dance, they have a terrible haircut, they read the news, they have something to say. And no one is listening.

And like Milo from the Descendents says, “I want to be stereotyped, I want to be classified,” of course you can always fake it. Punk rock is now like that themed party your annoying friends always want to throw. There is, ‘How to Look Like a Punk: 11 Steps (with Pictures) on, “How to look like a punk” YouTube tutorials, and even a “How to Dress like a Punk Rocker Over 40” article of an author who wrote a book on punk wanting to know how to dress like a punk for her book tour (anyone that truly knows anything about punk rock knows that dressing a certain way won’t earn respect).

We can wrap up this short digression by understanding that punk rock was reactionary to social conditions and, due to its explosion of popularity, became something that could be capitalized as trendy. Now we can head back down underground and into the basement.

I don’t know if punk rock concerts were called “punk rock shows” or “punk rock concerts” by the people in the scene a few decades ago, but I do know that they don’t call them that today. Now they’re just “shows.” What does “show” mean? (Why do I keep putting things in “quotation marks?”). There are many definitions of the word including: to make known to, to inform, to prove, and to present or perform as a public entertainment or spectacle.

I believe there is a correlation between all these definitions and the nature of the show itself.

It’s 11:00 pm (I’m a half hour late) and the music can barely be heard from outside. I walk past the lone man on the porch smoking a cigarette casually. He doesn’t look at me so I ignore him. I reach for the knob, turn, and push myself in. There is an explosion of laughter, light, and people enjoying themselves in the company of others. People look at me and smile. I smile. I slowly work my way through the crowd of people. I get shoved. I shove back. I work myself to the back porch. The girl I gave a shot of Fireball to before walking over to the show offers me a beer she stole from the house’s kitchen, I accept it. I am a shadow who validates the other’s feelings. The brighter they are, the more pulsating my reflection becomes. There is a reaction to every action.

Now that the opening band stopped playing, the shows really starts. People shuffle their way through the mysterious door that leads underground: the basement. I’m still on the first level of the house but not yet at the show. I’m among the outliers, the bystanders, the sober, and the ones who have very little interest in any kind of show. I’m among the “too stoned to communicate,” the insecure, and the anticipators of tonight’s attraction. But dotted among the edges, those who burn the brightest of them all, are the ones who had just emerged from the basement. Smiles light their faces, they stride with confidence, and they laugh with ease. I’m curious so I reach for yet another knob, turn, but this time I pull. I carefully work myself down the stairs like I had invited myself into a private party. Music consumes any silence or thought of mine. I am no longer granted any license to self. I am welcomed. No, I am initiated.

[Read the following at 1.5x speed]

The next band starts and nobody is dancing. Why do I feel that people need to be dancing? Why do we even dance in the first place? I want to have fun so why aren’t I having fun? No, no, it can’t be me. It must be them. I’m feeling a sense of urgency and they’re feeling hesitation. I need to start an action so I grab the girl’s shoulder standing next to me, “Let’s dance!” She smiles and accepts (duh, I’m charming). We dance. A few people start to dance. The whole floor is dancing. There’s a circle pit in the middle, there’s nearly a sea of crushed Keystone Light cans below our feet, and people helping each other up as they struggle to regain their footing on the slippery floor of spilled, cheap, shitty beer.

So what is this “show?” What is this spectacle? Notice that I didn’t even talk about the quality of music, what it sounded like, or what the amplified words said to me. I guess I didn’t care. It’s something we don’t think about or like to admit. The “show” isn’t for musicians because they are not the performers. We, the crowd, are the performers. We dance, we sing to the songs we know instinctively, we watch out for one another, we like to prove we’re having a good time, we desire to have a good time not by the music but by the validations of the people standing right next to us.

The music caters to us as a community and our desires. We need instant gratification. According to Jeremy Brent in his article “The desire for community: Illusion, confusion, and paradox,” “Community is the continually reproduced desire to overcome the adversity of social life, and it is community as desire rather than community as social object which commands engagement.” This means that we desire community for the sake of escaping our problems. There are many habits of a punk rock show that prove this. First, people get wasted on alcohol. Alcohol is consumed as an anti-depressant or a mind-altering drug. The only reasoning to alter the mind is because the current state of mind isn’t sufficient enough. Second, people are excited to be together with those of a like mind or around those experiencing the same things we are experiencing. It creates a kind of social bond we may not have above ground. Third, people slam dance. Slam dancing is basically self-inflicted bodily harm by the use of others self-inflicting bodily harm. This makes it innocent and fun.

But take away the people and it’s a person slamming against a wall in which case we would probably be concerned for their mental stability. Would we not be worried for someone getting drunk all by themselves? What if someone we knew was always comfortable with being alone? Once the community of others is taken away, what is left is pathetic, depressed, and unstable. The community is therefore a necessity because it masks an individual’s escape from social life, as Brent puts it, with fun and music.

Call me pessimistic but I guarantee that the ones who look like they’re having the most fun have got the biggest problems. Smoke a cigarette with them on the back porch and in a few minutes you’ll be a therapist.

I really don’t think that anyone should belong in the basement of a house at any time. Some people need the basement and failure to recognize this is idealistic. I need the basement on weekend nights and I know my friends need it too. The basement is the congregation area of our desires; it is our community. Being underground makes us feel detached and if I want a little alcohol to be comfortable with that it’s fine by me. Sometimes basements are dark, cold, and bare but that’s the reality we have to face. It’s as much as a confrontation of social life as it is an escape because I refuse to be a coward for following my desires and wanting to be around others; that’s what being “punk” is all about.

About the Author

Corbin Kenaley

Guest Contributor