No Future: The Conception and Evolution of Punk Music and Culture in the United States and Great Britain from 1965 to the Present
Western Civ

Research Report
Web Resources


[Lead singer Greg Graffin of the punk band Bad Religion at a show during the New America Tour, September 2000]             Punk "started out as a music-based subculture"; that much is agreed upon by all, whether they laud punk or deplore it (Leblanc 33). However, even from its very beginnings punk set itself up as being nearly impossible to write a history of, as "[c]entral to the punk philosophy is the anthem 'no future' (taken from the lyrics of 'God Save the Queen' 1976, a song by the Sex Pistols (most famous of the punk-rock bands)[, a] pessimistic attitude toward the future [that] is partially responsible for the lack of interest within punk culture in documenting the history of the movement" (Henry vii). In my presentation of the results of my research into the background of punk as both a music style and a cultural phenomenon, I have sought to preserve the original feeling of the punk movement. Tricia Henry states that "[p]unk was created by youths who identified themselves, not primarily as artists, but as bored working-class youths looking for entertainment" (117). I can think of no better way to exemplify this than through an article in a December 1976 issue of the punk fanzine Sideburns entitled, "PLAY'IN [sic] IN THE BAND...FIRST AND LAST IN A SERIES.........." in which the author displays a rough sketch of a guitar neck with the fingering for an A (with the caption "THIS IS A CHORD"), an E (caption: "THIS IS ANOTHER") and a G (caption: "THIS IS A THIRD") and the final pronouncement "NOW FORM A BAND."

Historical Background

            Prior to the inception of what is seen as the classic punk rock scene in England from a period of 1975 to 1979, there was a style of music becoming an underground success in the United States. Bands like the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, and the Ramones were part of this underground rock movement that was prevalent in the New York City nightclub scene from 1965 to 1975. It was this cultural exchange between the US and the UK over the middle of the 1970s that led to the formation of punk rock as we know it. Probably one of the earliest recognizable punk influences was Lou Reed and his band the Velvet Underground. Founded by Reed and John Cale in New York City in 1965, by November of that year the Velvet Underground was comprised of Reed (vocal, guitar, keyboards), Cale (bass, keyboards, viola), Sterling Morrison (guitar), and Maureen Tucker (drums). Velvet Underground songs like "Heroin," written from the point of view of a drug addict, and "Venus in Furs," which dealt with sadomasochism, "foreshadowed punk style in [their] deliberate departure from popular music trends" (Henry 11). It is also through the Velvet Underground that we best see punk's precursors' strong connection to avant-garde. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable (originally known as Andy Warhol, Up-tight and The Erupting Plastic Inevitable before settling on that name) was a series of mixed-media shows that "combined Velvet Underground, Nico [a former German fashion model with an aspiration to a vocal career who joined the Underground in 1967], Warhol's films, dancing, an elaborate light show, and often interviewing of the audience during performances" (Henry 22). Everything about the shows, from the bizarre lighting to the jarring music to the in-your-face, often blatantly sexual questions asked of the audience while their reactions were taped, was designed to have the largest possible shock value. This new standard of breaking down barriers between performer and audience while at the same time shocking mainstream sensibilities would become a staple of the punk rock concert.

            Just as instrumental to the formation of punk as the seminal bands were venues at which their kind of underground music would be welcomed. One such place was CBGB & OMFUG. Allegedly standing for Country Blue Grass, Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gourmandizers, CBGB was opened in March of 1974 at 315 Bowery in Manhattan's East Village by a man named Hilly Kristal. While Kristal originally intended to feature more country bands, he also ended up playing host to such punk precursors as Richard Hell, Patti Smith, and the Ramones. Hell was known for his distinctive style of dress and was often seen to sport purposely torn clothes held together with safety -- a style still in use by punks today -- and songs like "(I Belong to) The Blank Generation," the lyrics of which could be taken with either an optimistic "possibilities" interpretation or a cynical, pessimistic, "no future" viewpoint more common in the punk rock that eventually developed. Patti Smith, like many of the underground artists of the time, displayed simplicity of musical style; many of the songs she wrote before becoming a performance artist were poems set to music. Smith may also have been responsible for the first punk record: her "Hey Joe" single, released in 1974 (Henry 57). As with Hell and Smith, a pessimistic attitude and simplistic musical lines also characterized the music of the Ramones, whose very song titles "gave some indication of the anti-social subject matter employed by the band" (Henry 57).

            Another important band in the history of punk rock was the New York Dolls. While they never moved far beyond their New York City sphere of influence, certain aspects of the band had significant impact on the development of punk music and culture. Their music was a blend of both the current trends in "boy-girl" themed pop music and pessimistic social commentary. The Dolls were also known for "manic screaming" of lyrics, a foreshadowing of a similar trend in punk to follow (Henry 42). More outrageous, however, was their wardrobe, which was decidedly androgynous. When Malcolm McLaren became their manager in October 1974, he pushed the group even further to the fringes, including an ill-fated concert with Communist-themed clothes and props. Said Bob Gruen, "If you wanted to work in the music business, you didn't go round admitting that you saw the New York Dolls. That was like admitting that you had friends who were homosexual. It was not popular in the mainstream" (Savage 61).

            A relatively short-lived movement, spanning from about 1972-75, glitter rock nonetheless had its impact on the beginnings of punk, too. Glitter rock, also known as glam rock, "confus[ed] traditional images of gender distinction and incorporat[ed] subject matter deemed offensive to the general public. As an affront to mainstream to sensibilities, these elements of glitter rock were appropriated and elaborated upon by later punk rockers and provided much of the material from which punk drew its specific symbols of rebellion" (Henry 31). Glitter rock served as a bridge between mainstream culture and the extreme subculture scene that would become punk in the mid-1970s, presenting socially unacceptable (or at least non-mainstream) ideas in the context of music that sounded familiar, for the most part adhering to established musical forms (Henry 33). As did the New York Dolls, glitter rockers used their appearance to shock, often challenging sexual norms of dress and interaction. One of the forerunners of the glitter rock movement was David Bowie. His series of androgynous stage characters, which he dressed and acted as both on and off the stage, were emulated by fans, especially the character Ziggy Stardust. Bowie's public announcement of his bisexuality on the 22nd of January, 1972, was just one more step. However, despite these early anti-establishment, pro-gay rights leanings of precursors to punk, the same sentiments were not always reflected in punk itself. While punk adopted the idea of using appearance to shock and make a social statement (as well as androgyny, especially on the part of female punks), punk for the most part remained a heterosexual stronghold.

            One thing that tied together all of these pseudo- and proto-punk forms of music was their departure from the optimistically or romantically themed mainstream pop music of the time. Quite the opposite, in fact; these groups displayed pessimism in some cases to the point of nihilism. It was in this dissatisfaction with the state of life that lead to much of the politically charged music that punk has become known for, as "English youth of the day -- working class youth -- who participated in identified 'youth-revolt' groups… perceived a future of diminished expectations" (Moore 25). In 1976, economic conditions were the worst they'd been since 1940; in June, 1,501,976 (6.4% of the population) were unemployed in Britain and the pound dropped to $1.70. The socio-economic climate was ripe for the politically charged, working class, distrustful or downright angry message of punk rock. Artists such as Reed and Bowie weren't afraid to include social commentary both in their lyrics and their actions on and off stage. Punk rock as a whole, then, has become defined by its strong ties to socialism, its social commentaries, and its sympathies with working class unrest. Punk was to become the haven of the new generation.

[Johnny Rotten opens a beer at the camera as the rest of the Sex Pistols sneer on.]             What's often referred to as "classic punk" is often considered to have appeared for the first time in England in 1976. Says Henry, "the irony, pessimism, and amateur style of the music took on overt social and political implications, and British punk became as self-consciously proletarian as it was aesthetic" (ix). This style is exemplified in the British band the Sex Pistols, considered by many to be the first true punk band. Responsible for their creation was Malcolm McLaren, the former manager of the New York Dolls. McLaren was the owner of number 430 on King's Road, an area of London known for its shops. 430 went through a number of iterations over the years that McLaren owned it. He opened it in 1971 as Let It Rock, selling Teddy Boy clothes and old 45s. When in '73 he switched over to biker and youth gang themed clothing and accessories, McLaren changed the name to Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die, a slogan that had been taken up by American bikers after the death of James Dean that had also been adopted by one of his employees/clothing designers. While McLaren eventually settled on Seditionaries in 1977, it was the shop that opened in 1974 that had the greatest impact on punk. Sex sold bondage gear, nonmarital aids, and counterculture wear -- all manner of clothing that would come to define the punk aesthetic. It was through this store that Malcolm McLaren was able to come into contact with the men who would become the Sex Pistols. The original members of the band, lead singer John Lydon (known by his stage name Johnny Rotten), guitarist Steve Jones, bassist Glen Matlock, and drummer Paul Cook, were all either employed at Sex or were regulars there. They were "[f]our strays, misfits, punks, with only a rudimentary understanding of music, thrown together by fortuitous accident, under the guidance of a clothing salesman" (Henry 65). Their first single, "Anarchy in the UK," resulted in their being dropped by EMI, their record label at the time. In between then and their next release, "God Save the Queen," bassist Matlock was replaced by John Simon Beverly, more commonly known by the stage name Sid Vicious, in February of 1977. While the Sex Pistols' songs were credited to the whole group, Lydon was responsible for most of them. It was, in fact, Rotten and Vicious for whom the band was best known, possibly for their performance style during concerts.

            The Pistols' first concert was as an opener for the band Bazooka Joe at St. Martin's Art College in November 1975. The audience booed them and the plug was pulled after only 10 minutes. The next night, at the Central School of Art, they were asked to leave after a half an hour. This trend continued as through December the Pistols played a series of gigs by pretending to be the official opening bands for a number of other acts. After their first big gig in February of 1976 at a party thrown by Andrew Logan, the reviews in the papers agreed that the Sex Pistols were "vulgar and untalented" (Henry 79). However, as the saying goes there is no such thing as bad press, and this apparent condemnation of their style brought them into the public eye, gaining them a growing group of devoted young fans. Through much of early '76, the Sex Pistols moved performances around the London area, being banned at a chain of venues in the process for "fighting onstage and brawling with the audience" (Henry 79). It was that summer when they gained a regular Tuesday night position at the 100 Club that their popularity really skyrocketed. It was also during this time that much of punk fashion became set. However, that September at a music festival at the 100 Club that the Sex Pistols headlined, a glass that may or may not have been thrown by Sid Vicious shattered against a post, blinding a girl in one eye, and resulting in the management of the club banning all punks bands. While this incident did bring a lot of negative attention to the movement, it also brought many bands, including the Sex Pistols, to the attention of the recording industry. The Pistols were signed by EMI in October and "Anarchy in the UK" was released on November 26. After an appearance on Britain's Today Show, they were dropped by the label; "Anarchy" was banned from the radio after a mere 5 plays. In March of 1977, after the replacement of Matlock with Vicious, the Sex Pistols were again signed by a major record label; this time it was A&M Records. They were dropped by this label, too, however, after pressure from other A&M artists, and the release of their next single was cancelled. However, as they were quickly picked up by the smaller, more experimental label Virgin Records, "God Save the Queen" was released in May only a few months after the original anticipated release date. Five days after its release, "God Save the Queen" was banned by the BBC, but it "nevertheless met with enormous popularity and made number one on nearly all the British music charts -- even those of the BBC, which continued to ban it, marking its ascendance by blank spaces" (Henry 88). Similar popularity was enjoyed by the Sex Pistols' next two singles, "Pretty Vacant" in July and "Holiday in the Sun" in October. Soon after "Holiday" came out, the Sex Pistols first album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, was also released. This was also the first Sex Pistols recording that was also issued in the United States. The album's great popularity both in Great Britain and the US despite the fact that many major retailers refused to carry it resulted in the scheduling of a nineteen-show American tour.

            The delays in obtaining visas due to band members' criminal records was only a grim foreshadowing of worse to come. Despite the legions of American fans, the band was still met by much of the same hostility from the American press as they had from the British. Tensions mounted among members of the band and between Rotten and McLaren. By the time the Sex Pistols reached their final US stop in San Francisco, the band was falling apart. On January 14 1978, after a show at the Winterland considered by many to be their worst ever, Johnny Rotten announced that he was leaving the band. Within three days the member of the band had all gone their separate ways. Jones and Cook attempted to carry on, but without Rotten and Vicious the band had lost much of its momentum and they gave up after only a few shows. Johnny Rotten reverted to his original name of Lydon and in April started another band, called Public Image, Limited or simply P.I.L. It was Sid Vicious, however, who stayed the most in the public eye. On 11 October 1978 his girlfriend Nancy Spungen was found stabbed to death in their room at New York's Chelsea Hotel. Vicious was charged with the murder. However, he never made it to trial. Barely more than a week after Nancy's death, Sid attempted suicide for the first time. While Nancy's murder to this day remains unsolved, one widely accepted theory supported especially by Sid Vicious's close friends and family is that it happened as a result of a failed suicide pact (Savage 510). If that was true, he did eventually carry through with his end of it; on February 1st, 1979, Sid Vicious died at his mother's home of a heroin overdose.

Research Report

            Prior to the mid-20th century, the term "punk" carried a variety of meanings, none of them positive. Some of them, such as "male homosexual" or "catamite" were sexual in nature. Others, including "hoodlum," "gangster," "ruffian," or "to punch or blow with a closed fist" carried with them connotations of violence. It came to be associated with a particular genre of music (and the people who listened to it) in 1975. Legs McNeil and John Holstrom, two young men from Cheshire, Connecticut, decided to start their own independent magazine dedicated to this new kind of underground music. (Such magazines, "publications devoted exclusively to topics of interest to punks, and generally related to the punk music scene," were known as fanzines or simply 'zines (Henry 93).) On television cop shows of the time such as Kojak and Beretta, the kind of people the pair identified with were always referred to as "dirty punks" so McNeil and Holstrom decided to adopt the term as their own, and their fanzine, Punk, was born. Issue one came out on the first day of 1976; there were 3,000 copies. When the last issue was put out in 1979, there were 25,000 copies being circulated internationally, 2,000 of which were subscriptions. Fanzines came onto the UK punk scene just a few months after their US counterparts with the release of Sniffin' Glue in July. While there were many similarities between American and British 'zines, there were also some obvious ways in which they differed. One of these was in length. For the time they coexisted, for example, issues of Punk were on average twice as long as those of Sniffin' Glue. However, Punk's articles were not all music-based; some featured poems, some were commentaries on public figures, and many were merely humorous. Sniffin' Glue, on the other hand, was entirely dedicated to punk music and culture. The most obvious difference, however, was probably in the design of the fanzines. Whereas Punk had a polished, almost professional feel, Sniffin' Glue maintained a scruffy, handwritten, slapped together look for the length of its publication. The basic differences inherent to these two particular fanzines carried through to the vast majority of the other 'zines in their respective countries. This "Do It Yourself" or DIY nature of punk so evident in the production of fanzines had a profound impact not only on the dissemination of information in the punk scene, but also on the music's very creation, production, and distribution.

[Cover art from the Sex Pistols single "Anarchy in the UK" featured a torn-apart Union Jack held together with safety pins and decorated with cut-out, ransom-letter-esque text.]             Punk society "used many of the same revolutionary tactics employed by members of early avant-garde movements: unusual fashions; the blurring of boundaries between art and everyday life; juxtapositions of seemingly disparate objects and behaviors; intentional provocation of the audience; use of untrained performers; and drastic reorganization (or disorganization) of accepted performative styles and procedures" (Henry 1). Classifying punk purely as art, however, can be dangerous, as any positive claim for an artist is often read by the (in the case of punk, often hostile) public as a claim of intellectual complexity and therefore subjects the musician to the minute examination of every detail of his or her work except for its emotional impact, an essential aspect of punk music (Nehring 145). However, to say that punk is not art is to assume that all lyrics must be taken literally due to the fact that the writers and performers of punk music are not capable of anything deeper, which is clearly not the case (Nehring 167). It is important, therefore, to make the distinction that punk, while it bore many similarities to the avant-garde movement, was primarily (but not exclusively) a form not of artistic but social rebellion.

            Punk "deliberately cultivated an image of violence, deviance, and repugnance at the very inception of the subculture" (Leblanc 39). It was a "clear repudiation of corporate America's feel-good, 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' culture and its efforts to make everyone stupid" (Nehring 98). However, the anarchism of punk was focused at the personal level. It emphasized change through education rather than revolution. Most of all, "[p]unk drew lines: it divided the young from the old, the rich from the poor, then the young from the young, the old from the old, the rich from the rich, the poor from the poor, rock 'n' roll from rock 'n' roll" (Marcus 69). Nor was it simply a way of dressing or even a style of music; punk was about living the idea of rebellion against authority. "[L]oving punk in 1977 required a genuine bent for difference," said Nehring (xxii). There was a definite "us versus them" attitude prevalent throughout the movement since its inception, in no small part due to the ubiquitous rabid attacks on punk music -- and punks themselves -- by both the press and the public at large. Indeed, it was often the case that other punks became like family to those ostracized by their families because of their appearance or political beliefs. That is not to say that anyone and everyone was accepted, however; there was an amount of dedication required to be considered a true punk. People with, for instance, "convertible haircuts" that could be worn spiked up in punk style at a concert and then slicked back down for work on Monday were often seen as posers who wanted to have fun without any real commitment. Due to its strong ties to the working class in both the UK and America, punk was from the very beginning antibourgeoisie and anticapitalist. However, "Johnny Rotten never had any illusions about the Sex Pistols being an actual political force, or his ability to change society significantly in any meaningful way" (Henry 114). In fact, the punk attitude as a whole "combine[d] a hatred of apathy and a sense of urgency concerning everything related to punk culture, with an acute awareness of sociopolitical impotence, a belief that actions were inconsequential, that improvement of either self or society was at best elusive and at worst utterly futile" (Henry 97). Such dichotomy was almost to be expected from the kind of social movement that took things seen to the majority of people as defects and remade them into virtues. Nevertheless, the belief in the possibility of (or at least the necessity for) change was evident in punk songs. As a reaction against the against authoritarianism that emerged in the 1970s and increased throughout the '80s and '90s, punk was the last time that pop music of any kind or time had a "genuine radical impact" on any portion of its audience (Nehring xxvi), regardless of how big or small that percentage was. Punk was what happened when bands got rid of love songs and discovered what else there was to sing about (Marcus 77).

            Punk concerts, like much of the rest of the punk subculture, were an extreme departure from the established norm. Whereas previously there was always a buffer of space (and propriety) between performer and audience, there was now little or none. The Sex Pistols, for example, were known to go down into the crowd of people that crushed up against the stage still playing their instruments or singing, while fans would often interact with the band. Punk concerts "took place in small, crowded, low-budget spaces in notoriously rough neighborhoods. Performers, for the most part, had little or no technical training and possessed only very cheap and unsophisticated equipment. The decibel level was brutally high, and the attitudes of both performers and audience members were aggressive and often verged on violence" (Henry 3). Punk dance styles reflected the atmosphere of the performances. One of the best known styles, the pogo, essentially involves jumping up and down in a semi-rhythmic manner. It was allegedly invented by Sid Vicious himself before he joined the Sex Pistols as he, standing in the back of the hall, tried to get a better view of the band at the ill-fated 100 Club festival in the fall of 1976. Related to the basic pogo is the slam (or the thrash), which has pretty much become modern-day moshing. Slam dancing consists of taking the pogo and adding in elbows and knees thrashing about. While this may seem dangerous, there was no intent to harm behind it, the dance being a mere parody of the violence that seemed ubiquitous in punk culture.

[The Sex Pistols]             While it is true that punk always has been more about independence that style, the Sex Pistols themselves were started by Malcolm McLaren at least partially as an advertisement for his clothing. Punk fashion sprang off of that which he displayed. It was all about provocation, androgyny, and what was almost a sort of "anti-sexy" look. Fans came to Sex Pistols concerts wearing "plastic trash bags, bondage wear... Nazi regalia, slashed clothing held together with safety pins, multicolored hair spiked up with Vaseline, lurid makeup, and… safety pins worn through flesh" (Henry 79). For punks, physical appearance was a chance to make a statement, to get someone's attention. It cried, "Ask me what I think!" Contradiction, mockery, and irony, as well as being important parts of the music itself were also applied to the fashion. Fascist and Nazi symbols for the most part did not indicate a political or ideological affiliation with the groups but rather were intended to point out everything that was wrong with society (or at worst simply to shock). Punk fashion wasn't just about what one wore. It "included attitude as well as clothing. The lean, hungry look, and the dialect and slang of lower-class urban Britons was [sic] mandatory. The demeanor also included looking threatening and capable of violence" (Henry 80). Indeed, "violence was an expected element of performances. Beer bottles, glasses, 'permanently' affixed seating, and anything else available were hurled from both sides" (Henry 87). In fact, the "opportunities for wildness and assertion that punk brought with it reinvigorated the skinhead scene in England even though committed skins and punks did not always get along with each other" (Moore 45). Because "[t]he punk scene provided a bounded climate of tolerance within its subcultural bubble for those who affronted and rejected traditional society and cultivated the bizarre, particularly if their style or manifestation signaled destructiveness," there was a brief time when skinheads and punks attended some of the same concerts and frequented the same bars (Moore 51). Punk even absorbed some skinhead style of dress and ideology; the short period of coexistence resulted in punks adopting the formerly skinhead Doc Marten as common footwear and braces (suspenders) as accessories. The fascist leanings of much of the skinhead movement didn't stay with punk long, however, as a new splinter group was formed. Oi! music, named after a Cockney greeting, was performed by "bands [that] were claimed by skinheads as expressing the particular anger that they felt belonged uniquely to them, and sang of that anger with the steady, unvarying beat and usually shouted [with the] unmelodic forcefulness the skinheads usually preferred in their music" (Moore 47). While it was hard to draw distinctions between which bands were punk and which were Oi!, some groups had names and/or lyrics that were clearly misogynistic, racist, homophobic, or some combination thereof. Some within punk itself even declared themselves "Nazi punks" and wore their swastikas in with the original meaning intact. The egalitarian majority, however, quickly threw them out, and punks and skins once again went their separate ways.

            Despite the breeding ground it formed for fringe groups such as Nazi punks, anger was an essential part of punk music. Punks were "linked by knowing [they] were not alone in [their] outrage and refusal to conform and accept the status quo" (Nehring xxiii). Anger has a universal message despite a listener's personal experience; it unites members of a group against a common enemy. The "noise" of punk was in a way a commentary on culture and society -- this was what the whole world was like to them (Nehring 58). Not being able to understand lyrics gave the words potential and universality they otherwise might have lacked; screaming allowed expression without the opportunity to be contained in a sound bite or to have the words twisted. Anger and moral outrage also sometimes could simply not be contained in mere words. It is important at this point to note the difference between anger and (blind) rage. Anger is an emotion evoked by a certain state of affairs; it is a logical conclusion of the circumstances one is exposed to and not hate for hates own sake. The emotional makeup of the people is essential to hegemony; to maintain the status quo, the capacity for outrage must be suppressed. It is therefore in the best interests of the ruling class to demonize or ridicule anger in music, and this is exactly what happened in the case of punk. By condemning anger, the public pointed the blame towards the disenchanted, jaded young people who made up the punk subculture (Nehring xxi). Indeed, punks were often objects of contempt. Due to negative publicity from the first days of punk, the public had formed a negative opinion of the subculture in general. Punks were seen as unnatural and violent. The subtlety of the social critique inherent in their music and appearance was often lost, leaving only the deviance to be seen by those outside of the movement. While some parents of children interested in punk music and culture were supportive and encouraging, many more sought to "de-punk" their kids any way they could. Parents took tapes, clothes, and jewelry, burned posters, read diaries and journals, and monitored activities. More often that not, however, these sorts of oppressive actions merely served to harden the young punks' resolve; many were either kicked out of their homes or ran away of their own choice. This only perpetuated the negative portrayals of punks and the cycle continued. No one was interested in opening dialogues with a group as radical as punks were; the older generation's rejection of new generation's music was a missed chance to gain meaningful insight into problems that created such music (Nehring 99).

            Punk lost the public view through the late 1970s and most of the 1980s partly due to splintering within the group itself. Nazi punks, extreme leftist anarchists, and straightedge movements all developed within the original punk core. Punk became "hardcore" and more masculine. Through this decade or so, punk also became slightly more commercialized. The shock impact of the both the music and style of dress had been diminished by a combination of exposure and the co-opting of punk fashion by popular designers and the music by the music industry. However, Nehring argues, "Punk… continued to seem both vital and volatile for [so long] because its ideals of rebellion [had] always included self-awareness regarding incorporation" (Nehring 86). Bands often "sold out" to larger labels, sacrificing some independence and the respect of the more extreme punks in return for having their message spread further (and in some cases for monetary gains). The danger of commercializing punk lay in that music companies ran the risk of the music's message being taken seriously and bringing about the downfall of that which it spoke against. To say that defiance was now "trendy" was to ignore those who were in the past and continued to be influenced by punk.

Historical Significance

            In the over 25 years since its inception, while punk has definitely crystallized into a movement that is both artistic and social, public opinions of punks have not entirely stepped away from their original distaste for the subculture. Punks are given inferior service or not served at all; when they go into stores, store security or regular employees follow them despite the fact that there is no evidence showing that punks are more likely to engage in shoplifting or other petty crimes. In the face of these discriminations, it is currently (at least from a punk ideological standpoint) one of the most important times to be a punk, along with all the social responsibility that entails. America is "a plutocracy [where y]ou get as much health as you can pay for; you get as much "justice" as you can pay for; you get as much "democracy" as you can pay for in a world run by the wealthy and for the wealthy" (Nehring 150). Special interest groups and a few huge conglomerate corporations have dominated political institutions and the mass media, leading to a decline in the number of progressives actively participating in public forums. Says Nehring,

All manner of schizophrenia flows from the basic division of virtuous private property and oppressive public interest (which used to be "public good," but now that's an oxymoron). The much vaunted "consensus" means going along with whatever big business wants. Corporations deserve subsidies, but people on welfare need to get a job, say the politicians on page one, except we have to have millions unemployed, too, say the economists on the business page, or else competition for workers will unfortunately cause wages to rise, although competition in a free market is supposed to be good. As for who gets jobs, we have a "meritocracy" say the people who brought you Willie Horton ads, and "discrimination" is only suffered by white males, victims of a modest affirmative action that has supposedly eclipsed centuries of segregation and sexism. "Freedom," finally, refers only to business doing whatever it wants -- in a competitive "free" market actually devoted to cooperative activities such as price-fixing, eliminating competition through mergers and monopolization, and reducing wages and benefits for employees through assaults on organized labor and the maintenance of a reserve army of unemployed workers. The special interests (formerly the people) outside the ruling class -- especially the unruly poor -- need less freedom, though, and more policing of their values, if not universal incarceration. (151)
[Bad Religion's symbol, the "crossbuster" - CLICK ME!] Punk music today reflects these economic and social conditions. Where dress has ceased to shock, punks now shock with their actions and ideas. A good example of this is the logo of Bad Religion, a punk band that is still a vital part of the world punk scene as well as being widely recognized as being a major influence on many current bands. Known as the "crossbuster" for its resemblance to the logo of the Ghostbusters team in the movie Ghostbusters, it creates almost as much of an uproar among the public exposed to it as swastikas and other Nazi and fascist symbols did in the '70s. In Issue #11 of Bad Religion's online newsletter Bad Times, songwriter and lead singer Greg Graffin explains:
The crossbuster is a logo that has been a part of Bad Religion since the time of the debut EP of the band in 1980. It means something different to every person that wears it or draws it…. The crossbuster is NOT an anti-Christian campaign, it is NOT an anti-religion campaign. The crossbuster is a statement that you will not find religious moralizing, theological reasoning, or deist principles within the songs of Bad Religion. Just like the "No Parking" sign means that you won't find a free space here, but you are free to park somewhere else… The reason we use the cross is because we come from a Christian country, and we are most familiar with people who call themselves Christian. So in a sense we are criticizing a way of life that we ourselves have to deal with every day, American society… The name Bad Religion is a provocative one. The most important thing to acknowledge is that we use the word "Religion" as a metaphor for any prescriptive, codified system that restricts one's freedom and behavior...and we think this is bad. At first this might seem like we are suggesting anarchy, but that is not really our goal. We do believe in moral behavior, we just don't think that the traditional religions are the only place that we learn our morals… Many things can be bad religions, such as economic systems, political systems, penal systems, basically anything that people blindly subscribe to without understanding or caring about it's [sic] implications.
This rejection of established norms, values, and the institutions that they are based upon is central to punk in today's society. While it may be true that "[p]unk began with fake culture, a product of McLaren's fashion sense, his dreams of glory, his hunch that the marketing of sado-masochistic fantasies might lead the way to the next big thing," punk has since evolved into a thriving subculture (Marcus 69). As long as there are social issues that beg the attention of forward-thinking people, there will be punk rock songs, bands to sing them, and punks to listen and carry out the message.


Henry, Tricia. Break All Rules! Punk Rock and the Making of a Style. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1989.

Leblanc, Lauraine. Pretty in Punk: Girls' Gender Resistance in a Boys' Subculture. Piscataway: Rutgers University Press, 1999.

Marcus, Greil. Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Moore, Jack B. Skinheads Shaved for Battle: A Cultural History of American Skinheads. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1993.

Nehring, Neil. Popular Music, Gender, and Postmodernism: Anger Is an Energy. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 1997.

Savage, Jon. England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.

Web Resources

House of the Rising Punk - A directory of punk rock sites on the internet filed by: Bands, Labels, Zines, Stores, Shows, and Misc. - A site featuring resources on Anarchism.

Popshot - An online 'zine dedicated to punk rock, politics, and culture. - Features articles, album reviews, band interviews, links to other sites (including Brainchild, a group of forums shared among several webzines), and more. - A still-under-construction site that is nonetheless a good source of current happenings in the punk scene; features articles, reviews, and interviews. - A bi-monthly magazine dedicated to music, culture and politics.

Punks in Science - A website with the lofty ambition of creating a network of all punks worldwide who have an interest in science.

Spunk Library - An online library that collects and distribues electronic literature with an emphasis on anarchism and related issues.

WorldWidePunks - A collection of websites that all deal with punk related material, including punk bands, music, news, philosophy, trends, and more.

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