Loitering and Benevolence, by Daryl Gussin

Apr 20, 2023

What is easier to dismiss than the fresh-faced ideals of a young punk? “A phase.” “A rebellious rite of passage.” Untested and playing a minor role in a performance they’re only superficially familiar with. They can be rude, unpredictable, and have no qualms with drinking all your beer. But beneath the acne and the attitude is something that became a part of all of us. And when it became a part of us, we took it for granted. And when we took it for granted, we lost it. Since that time we’ve filled our fucking brains with so much useless information about mediocre bands, but a rookie year punk only knows one thing: they finally found something they belong to, they finally found their home. And that journey that we’ve all walked since then, it’s been rough, and it has not been easy, and it’s never going to get easier, but even alone in a cornfield in Kansas, with nary a distortion pedal in sight, I’m still that kid who found something he believed in. And the fact is from that point, you–as I–have had to personally deal with a lot of the bullshit that comes along with it.

* * *

I followed the mass migration into the parking lot from the show that was being hosted by the local Unitarian church. The departure had been sparked by conflicting ideas on how one should “dance” at a punk show, drunk punk idiots and straight-edge bros were going to settle the debate in a good ol’ fashioned fist fight out under the beautiful, crisp November sky. I thought myself to be seasoned and wise at twenty years old and felt like I could reason with the dueling teenage rejects. I rapidly approached to put forward my message of unity. The sentence that was intended to be said was, “I’m sick of going to shows and seeing hardcore kids two-step and punks mosh and this resulting in fights.” All I could get out of my mouth was, “I’m sick of going to shows and seeing hardcore kids two-step—” before there were a half dozen X’ed up boys in gym shorts getting in my face. Looking over their heads I saw my friend who organized the show cracking up as he watched me attempt to explain what I had initially been trying to say. Their voices drowning me out before they were eventually distracted by another confrontation.

* * *

If you’re invalidating someone based on their aesthetics, you’ve missed the whole point of all of this. Punk fashion was supposed to instigate not insulate. And if you’re going to slag other scenes so you can feel like your shit is the real shit. The unfortunate news is that your shit probably isn’t the real shit. We’ve spent so much time unlearning the dirty lessons society taught us that we overlooked the bullshit we picked up from punk. What was internalized while we were obsessed with larger issues. Shitty behavior went unexamined and became normalized. The jealousy over others’ success and talent. Highly competitive attitudes about show attendance and record sales. And there’s just no way social media helped any of these inherent issues, giving access to analytics that were decorational at best, and at worst tools of subjugation. Everyone thinks they’re the middle ground between the posers and the elitists. Well, you’re both and you’re neither, so you might as well erase both words from your brain, because who cares what the elitists think, and if you’re scrutinizing someone because you think they’re a “poser,” that’s just elitist behavior. Accept the fact that everyone is on their own separate track with a minutia of details you’ll never fully understand. No one’s actions are rooted in your life experiences, or vice versa.

* * *

On the morning of my 27th birthday I received a voicemail from Sam. I thought Sam was a friend. Apparently I was wrong. I had made a joking remark in a record review of his band and he took it personally. He made threats of violence and I backtracked. Apologized. We talked on the phone a couple times over the course of the next days, but nothing seemed to be resolved. It rattled me. It made me question everything I was doing. Had I opened myself up too much? Been too honest? Not been honest enough? Before, I had been at ease with putting my home address on the backs of records and in zines. Letting strangers into my house for shows. I had upset plenty of people over the years, but this hit me differently. It caught me off guard and it made me feel unsafe. I tried to not let it prevent me from what I would have previously done, but in some cases the weight was just too much. It took a long time to shake. “Who would want to be friends with someone like that?” I was asked. “I thought me and him were friends.”

* * *

Is this the end trajectory for this subculture? Jaded disillusion? A ritualistic mass burnout pact? But instead of cyanide and Kool-Aid, it’s trending NPR playlists or worse, the avant-garde?! I believe the answer is no. There are problems, and there are shit people, and there are plenty of people with problems. There are broken dreams and credit card debt, but beyond all that is the fact that there’s still the possibility and the freedom to create. And the rules that we seem to adhere to with religious fervor? Most of them never existed in the first place. We were socialized and we followed suit to escape the ridicule of people who were also very young, and struggling as well. We conformed while we were flying our freak flags as high as the Aquanet would allow. And when you look back and think about the people who lowered the bar and affected us in such negative ways, they’ve likely moved on. They didn’t buckle down and get serious about this stuff. They didn’t invest their hearts or their time into creating anything. They shit on everything and everyone and then they left. A wake of damage as their legacy. But we’re all still here. You’re reading this right now. Your beliefs have been put to the test, and you didn’t back down.

* * *

We had spent a whole month learning a set of Dead Milkmen songs to drive three hours to San Luis Obispo to play a Halloween party. We got there in time to see Ghost Porn absolutely kill a Cramps set. It was a tiny living room and the introduction of a whip was exhilarating because it was legitimately scary. I stood in the back while the occupants of the room communally swayed back and forth, frenetic and glacial. The plan was to borrow equipment, and I’m not sure what happened between the sets, but when we plugged our instruments in, the enchanting composure of the previous performance had been substituted for noise and feedback. The drums in a dilapidated state, the amps unruly; four weeks of learning and practicing had led us to a moment of utter confusion. Without any other options we started into the first song and realized it didn’t even matter the proficiency of which we could play the songs. We were staring face to face with a mob of costumed freaks singing along at the top of their lungs. We bashed away, and while playing “Punk Rock Girl” I accomplished a personal goal of mine: I jumped off a bass drum into the crowd while playing an instrument.

* * *

This isn’t a call to arms to buy more records, or a return to our roots of mixtapes and attending every single show. But we do have to stay creative. We can be productive, and we can adapt. We can let the walls down, and tread new paths. Think back to your rookie year and know that the weird ass kid who was so excited to be apart of something special is still you. We fought the law and the law won, we served nineteen years for Richie Dagger’s crime. This fight was for your own undiluted creative freedom. Don’t succumb to the artificial parameters that the scene police and profiteers want you to think exists. Fight back. Fight hard. And do whatever the fuck you want.

* * *

Daryl Gussin is the managing editor of Razorcake, where his writing and interviews can be found on a regular basis. Keep up with his other creative pursuits here-
darylhq.bigcartel.com

Stop sign illustration by Marcos Siref, marcossiref.com

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