New York magazine's Alex Morris recently spent some quality time with the latest crop of NYC gutter punks, those unwashed Sid Vicious wannabes who crowd St. Mark's Place every summer, begging for change and literally stinking up many of the punk and hardcore shows. Here's a typical paragraph, giving Suvy, the star of the article, plenty of space to express his deepest thoughts:
Punk, says Suvy, is "the only view that makes sense to me." Work is for yuppies. Rent is for yuppies. Shelter is a basic human right. The government is bullshit. Corporations are bullshit. He "fucks capitalism" by pissing in the corner of the Dunkin' Donuts.
Wow, dude, that'll show those capitalists—or at least the poor employees responsible for cleaning up the mess. Here's Morris on two of Suvy's supporting players:
Alex goes to college, but during summer break he comes down to the city from Westchester to get stoned. Toast lives in Queens and wears Armani glasses and calls himself Toast "because I'm always toasted." They're both house punks, meaning that they have homes they sleep in every night and at least some money, and for this the squatter kids—even the ones from the city who can go home when it rains or if they need a good meal—find them both slightly suspicious and also intermittently useful for buying things like beer and weed. But make no mistake: A house punk is not a punk punk. They water down what's left of the scene.
"A house punk is not a punk punk." Did Morris actually type that sentence? Since when was homelessness a job requirement? Lefty favorite Joe Strummer (of the Clash) was the son of a diplomat, for heaven's sake, educated in boarding school. And what about New Jersey's hardest working band, the Misfits? Brothers Jerry Only and Doyle (bassist and guitarist, respectively) put in 12-hour days at their father's machine shop while singer Glenn Danzig ran the band's mail order Fiend Club business. Those guys definitely weren't squatting in Tompkins Square Park. Hell, even end of days Sid Vicious had a bed at the Chelsea Hotel.
This whole notion of watering down the scene reminds me of the lefties I used to know who thought historian Howard Zinn was more important than the immortal band Black Flag. For these types, let's call them P.C. punks, left-wing politics weren't just encouraged, they were required. I once actually argued with someone who said that guitarist Johnny Ramone didn't count since he was a Republican. Johnny's band (the Ramones) basically set the musical template followed by every punk rocker for the last three decades. If he doesn't count, nobody does.
Along the same lines, it's always interesting to remind the P.C. crowd that the Bad Brains, the legendary Afro-punks who combined Rastafarianism, reggae, and hardcore, also happened to be virulent homophobes. As Steve Blush records in his great oral history American Hardcore, Bad Brains's singer H.R. let loose with the occasional sermon, including, "We're in Babylon! This is holy Hell! San Francisco is Babylon! All these faggots and bald-headed women running around!" Try to squeeze that into A People's History of the United States!
All of this gets at one of the key problems with the New York piece. Morris buys into the idea of an "authentic" punk identity when the reality is an incoherent and frequently contradictory mess, blending music, attitude, and, yes, sometimes some pretty ridiculous politics. But not always.
For more reason punk coverage, check out Brian Doherty and Nick Gillespie on the P.C. eulogizing of Joey Ramone, Radley Balko on Los Lobos's L.A. punk origins, and Tim Cavanaugh on how the Clash's "Sandinista! sucks a million times more than Combat Rock."