“What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.” -Adolph Hitler
That quote started my 12th grade final term paper. It was called (don’t laugh) “We All Want to Change the World.” The thesis statement was: “The world has become apathetic and ignorant to its own problems, so the youth of the seventies and eighties created the Punk Rock counterculture to inform the world of its problems and to attempt to create a better living environment.”
The only punk rock music I really got into was the Dead Kennedys. A great guy I knew in high school, Jason, loaned me the records Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death and In God We Trust, Inc. I put them on cassette and listened over and over. Jello Biafra’s lyrics championed the outcast. Living in a small, rural community in the South gave me plenty of reasons to want to be cast out. There is a strange comfort in these lyrics from “In Sight,” “We never talk to him/ He never looks quite right/ He laughs at us, so we must beat him up/ What he sees escapes our sight.” (As a grade-schooler, I was deeply moved by “The Fool on the Hill,” which had the same theme: it’s okay to be different.)
(Going to high school in Appomattox really wasn’t so bad. Everyone pretty much stayed out of my way. I pissed some people off in my campaign for Student Council Vice President, but I never got beat up.)
Another great guy, Tony, gave me my first copy of Maximumrocknroll. I was fascinated as I flipped through the pages in study hall. Maximumrocknroll was a non-profit magazine, newsprint, with columns, interviews, reviews, and—my favorite—letters. There were a lot of cool advertisements in Maximumrocknroll.
One time, I ordered some buttons and a t-shirt from an ad in Maximumrocknroll. The buttons said things like, “The Moral Majority is Neither” and “Military Intelligence is a Contradiction in Terms.” The T-shirt had a picture of gravestones at Arlington Cemetery and the words “You don’t die for your country…your country kills you.”
My fascination with punk culture lasted well into my twenties. I published some zines. While not “punk,” they were part of a broader counterculture, a counterculture that barely existed. It was a fucking shame that the Maximumrocknroll contingent would only be associated with artists who were what they considered “punk.” I read a letter in which some guy was complaining that Maximumrocknroll gave his record a bad review because it had an acoustic guitar on it.
Then there’s this business of “selling out.” It was South Park where selling out was defined as: “If you work in the entertainment business, and you make any money at all, you’re a sell out.”
I had always considered that the term “selling out” is about people who make a name for themselves in the punk community, and then sign with a major label. It’s like a betrayal. For me, I haven’t made much of a name for myself in any arena, and the matter of signing with a major label is completely irrelevant—I can’t give my totally DIY EP away.
My opinion is that the day I signed up for a Kroger card is the day I sold out. In Nashville, Kroger was the worst run grocery store I’ve ever known. Trading information regarding my purchases with such a crummy business for a discount on groceries…
There are over fifty issues of Maximumrocknroll in the attic. I thought about trying to sell them, but I figure they’ll be good for starting fires once civilization collapses.
There is a lot of philosophical common ground between punk culture and myself. I wouldn’t be the person I am without it. However, while I may have for a while in high school, I do not regard myself as “punk.” My acoustic guitar just sounds too awesome.