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 is 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.
By any measure, Henry Rollins is a sell out.
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.