The Null Device

Punk Rock is Bullshit

Punk Rock Is Bullshit, a robust broadside against the ideology and cultural phenomenon of punk and its legacy, both in terms of the lumpen aesthetic conservatism of punk rock as a musical genre and the narrow, self-defeating and ultimately nihilistic nature of punk's ideal of that great subcultural holy grail, Authenticity:
I have friends in their mid-40s who don't even have a savings account because "saving money" never seemed punk rock. I can't count the number of small businesses I've seen fail because worrying about inventory or actually charging customers didn't seem very punk rock. I was once chastised for playing at a private Microsoft function by a guy who worked there, so disappointed was he that I would sell out by playing a corporate gig.
I'm not talking about punk-rock music, because I don't believe there is such a thing. Punk music is just rock music, and the best punk is halfway decent rock. Punk rock was nothing new in 1976, and it's nothing new today. The Beatles' cover of "Roll Over Beethoven" is more punk than 90 percent of all punk rock; the Ramones were way more conservative—musically and socially—than Sha Na Na; the Sex Pistols were just dumb David Bowie; The Clash was a world-music band and the direct antecedent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If anything, the mantle of "punk rock" was an umbrella to describe a reactionary retro-ness, a feeling that music was best played with old-fashioned dumb energy, simple to the point of being simplistic—which not coincidentally corresponded to the period of the widest proliferation of recreational drug use in world history. It was music to validate being too wasted to think.
What started out as teenage piss-taking at baby-boomer onanism quickly morphed into a humorless doctrine characterized by acute self-consciousness and boring conformism. We internalized its laundry list of pseudo-values—anti-establishmentarianism, anti-capitalism, libertarianism, anti-intellectualism, and self-abnegation disguised as humility—until we became merciless captors of our own lightheartedness, prisoners in a Panopticon who no longer needed a fence. After almost four decades of gorging on punk fashion, music, art, and attitude, we still grant it permanent "outsider" status. Its tired tropes and worn-out clichés are still celebrated as edgy and anti-authoritarian, above reproach and beyond criticism. Punk-rock culture is the ultimate slow-acting venom, dulling our expectations by narrowing the aperture of "cool" and neutering our taste by sneering at new flavors until every expression of actual individualism is corralled and expunged in favor of group-think conformity.

There are 3 comments on "Punk Rock is Bullshit":

Posted by: Greg Sun Mar 10 10:05:42 2013

I'm not going to wade through the comments so maybe someone has said this already. It's an interesting article but one that only could have been written in America. Seattle of all places!

Punk happened in Britain from about 76 to 79, at which time its founders pronounced it dead. It was taken up by Americans in the 80s and 90s and turned into a kind of generic distortion-pedal rock with the properties this guy is arguing against.

So there are (at least) two quite different punk movements, and unless authors make this clear it's hard to read a critique of "punk". This guy is critiquing 80s/90s US punk but throwing in the occasional reference to 70s UK punk (and the Ramones).

As the authors points out, American "punk" is almost indistinguishable from "rock" - a tired endlessly-recycling cult of guitars and hedonism.

In the US, the Beatles, Elvis or whoever might be punk. In the UK in 77 that would have been a weird thing to say. But regardless,

Posted by: acb Sun Mar 10 15:51:33 2013

Parts of the critique hold up for punk rock in the UK; stylistically, it was an ultra-conservative backlash, striking back at prog and hippie excesses with warmed-over Buddy Hollyisms plus rage. Politically, there is an element of dumb reaction. IMHO, the fertile ashes of post-punk is where things (in places) started to get interesting.

Posted by: acb Sun Mar 10 15:52:34 2013

Simon Reynolds (a UK writer) made the same points about punk's inherent conservatism in Retromania.