A day in the life of a Punk
This is a story; its even somewhat true, about my initiation into the world of punk. In the late seventies I was actually a hippie, or something like a hippie. I had shoulder length hair, a shitty attitude, and a black leather jacket. I was not a peace-love hippie; I was a smash-the-state/weather-underground type hippie. Ever heard of John Sinclair? Anyway I felt I was surrounded by lameness. I was always stoned. When Punk arrived I was ready!
There was a time when punk was considered extremely extreme. A time before Hardcore Punk, which was to be even more extreme. The term Hardcore is a reference to something that is somehow more intense than the ordinary. A Hardcore fisherman would perhaps be someone who went fishing every day. This person would be much more intense, or hardcore, than an ordinary slob who considers fishing to be exercise and has an extra tackle box filled with beer.
You may be familiar with Hardcore pornography. Extremely familiar. One might even say intimately familiar with it. Hardcore porn is much more fun than the Softcore variety. And so it is with Punk Rock. Hardcore Punk being much more intense and enjoyable than the ordinary, garden variety, Punk Rock. I mean to say, why look at a photo of bare breasts when you can see a video of a truly talented lady in action. Alas, dear reader, the only reason would be because all you had to work with was the Christmas 1957 edition of Playboy and your sisters soiled panties.
Such is the way of things. In the immortal words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Do what you can, with what you have, right where you are. Okay?
Without straying any further from the point I ask you to consider a time before Hardcore punk when all that was available was ordinary, garden variety, punk. The Sex Pistols, the Clash, X-Ray Specs, Plastic Bertrand, and the like were the order of the day. The time would be 1979 or so.
I must give pause for a moment to mention that the seventies did not really exist. The Sixties were so damn much fun that many people wanted to just keep them going. The seventies therefore were stunted from birth. A feeble attempt at a Disco phenomenon was made, but it was largely contained in expensive nightclubs. Around the late seventies this hippie crap got really tired out. The flowers, love, and peace concept was no longer applicable. By the late seventies the general populace had lived their entire lives under threat of nuclear devastation. The cold war was like a bad sitcom, always there, never wanted.
Punk rock then could be said to be a reaction to the extended influences of the sixties. But enough of my amateur sociological analyses. This essay is being written to give you, fair reader, an idea of what it was like for me (your humble narrator) to experience punk prior to hardcore. I will attempt to covey this by subjecting you to a day of my life at the time. The experience is not meant to be entirely accurate but to convey the feeling of the times. I will be using the names of real people and I ask if any such person reads this please do not take offense. Regardless of how much offensiveness may have been in fashion at the time, none has been intended here.
Let me take you to Ann Arbor, Michigan in the winter of 1979. It was a particularly harsh winter. Michigan winters are never really that mild. I was awakened by my fucking alarm clock. I had placed it strategically just out of arms reach. It was deathly cold in the small room on the second floor of the house on Main Street. My roommate had decided not to pay MichiCon (Michigan Consolidated Gas) and they responded by shutting off our gas in the dead of winter, we still had electricity though. A small cocoon of blankets held back the brutality of the Michigan winter. I switched on the hotplate next to my bed so that the room would warm up a little. I then pulled my jeans under the covers with me to warm them up. Fucking alarm clock. Damn it was cold.
Braving the cold air, a brutal swipe and the alarm clock was silenced for another day. Shit, what time is it? 7:45. Damn, my first class starts at eight. I put my pants on while I was still in bed. The hotplate had warmed the room a few degrees. Shirt. I needed a shirt. My country for a shirt! I pulled on a horizontally striped T-shirt that was just plain ugly. It looked like something Pugsley, on the old Addams Family TV show would wear. I did much of my clothes shopping in the drop bin of the Salvation Army. Occasionally I found some real gems of attire. I usually chose the least fashionable clothes I could find. I pulled on my boots.
Grab my leather and get moving. A good plan, only my head didnt seem to like the bit about moving very much. Okay, last night I was up until about two drinking vodka and grapefruit juice. Thats not so very unusual, why was I being subjected to such a debilitating hangover. Damn. I was working evenings as a dishwasher at the Stagedoor, a restaurant in a hotel. I usually came home from work around midnight and the partying was so loud that I couldnt sleep so I would join them and drink and be stupid. It was great fun most of the time.
Steaming piss cascaded like a fountain into the frigid waters of the stained bowl. I am amazed that the water never actually froze in there. I could hear giggles coming from Daves room, female giggles. Dave had a space heater, so all the women hung out in his room. I just had a hotplate.
I went downstairs and there was Bruce, affectionately known as Brucifer. Brucifer had moved into a chair in the living room after a party a few weeks ago. The party had never really actually stopped. After the raging party several punks passed out and when they woke up, around noon the next day, they started drinking again. Other people would drop by and join them and the drinking continued throughout the night. Some of the first punks left to be replaced by others, who passed out, woke up around noon the next day, and started drinking.
Brucifer had a hair blow dryer that he would keep on under a blanket in his chair. Punk ingenuity at its finest. Still and all Brucifer was a pleasant and good-humored fellow. Too bad he was fond of smoking cigars. I bid a good morning to Brucifer, who was soundly passed out with a cigar butt still in his hand, and left.
I pulled my leather jacket tight around my neck as I hurried to school. The snow crunched under my boots as I made my way the few blocks it took to get me to school. I usually had just enough time to smoke a cigarette on the way. At forty-five cents a pack, smoking was one of the luxuries I could afford.
The warmth of the school was always a welcome thing. It can be a little painful at first, but it almost makes it worthwhile being in school. I was ten minutes late for my Biology class. I made my way to my usual seat in the back without much commotion. Everybody was used to me showing up ten or fifteen minutes late. I took out my math homework and started to do it. Eventually the class ended. Mitochondria? That might be a cool name for a band. No. Dangling Ganglion? Possibly.
In those days, at Community High School, you could smoke in the hallways. Each school was allowed a smoking lounge, and CHS designated its hallways the smoking lounge. Classes started on the hour with a ten-minute break in between each class. The students would hang around, smoke, pitch pennies or play cards. It was a very relaxed atmosphere.
Earthworks was a small school that had merged with Commie High at the beginning of the year. Earthworks had about thirty students. The students were all kind of weird and usually stayed together. Peter Groebner was an Earthworks student who lived with me on Main Street. He was very worldly; he had lived for a time in New York and had wonderful stories to tell. He was really a PUNK. I mean, he was a punk by design. I was kind of a punk by accident. I think Pete Groebner had more to do with bringing punk to Ann Arbor than anyone else I know. Peter turned me on to the Sex Pistols, and Generation X, the Clash and a host of other wonderful bands. It was great for me because all of a sudden it became very cool to be a fucking loser. Being a loser was something I was really good at. If being a loser had been an event in the 1980 Olympics I would have won the gold medal. Instead of the Star Spangled Banner they would have had to play I Wanna be Me. I loved Punk, it just fit me perfectly.
Just so you know where I am coming from, my home life growing up was pretty violent. I got beat up a lot and I beat up my little brother, who is actually a very cool person. Sorry that I did that to you Mike. I was an asshole. Also there was this credible threat of nuclear death hanging over my head. The cold war was having some of its best years. So I was not overly concerned with my future. I was also very angry at society and God for not keeping me from the violence of my early days. I rejected and rebelled against God, society and pretty much anything I could find. I moved out of my parents house at age 15, then moved back at age 16 and out for good at age 17. I was, and am, a survivor.
Yeah, punk fit me perfectly. I drank it in. I loved it. I was very comfortable with the violence. It was just like home to me. The really good news was that I was not alone. There were large numbers of teenagers who were completely disaffected, disgruntled, disenchanted, disenfranchised, disrespectful, disgusted and just plain pissed off. So we would get together and have parties. That, dear reader, is what this story is all about.
I was smoking a joint in the fire escape (which I considered my private office at Commie high school) with a few friends when I was asked about a party that was scheduled at my house for later that evening. I had no idea that there was going to be a party, but it was highly likely as there was a party there pretty much every night. I was informed that this would be no ordinary party but that there would be bands there. Two punk bands to be exact. One of them was Petes band. I didnt even know Pete had a band. Cool.
Throughout the day I received more inquiries about the party. I actually just started to invite people. I guess I could do that. I lived there. By the end of the day it was the talk of the school.
After School I would usually ask someone if they wanted to go get high. I would go to their house if possible. I would then proceed to get quite stoned and ask if I could take a shower and raid the refrigerator. I managed to do this three or four times a week and so I kept fairly clean and well fed. I could also eat at work, which was nice. My single fringe benefit.
I remember showing up at the house and seeing Pete hanging some plastic sheets from the ceiling to the floor and writing "Factory Sealed For Your Protection" in large marker on them. The bands were to play behind the plastic so people couldnt throw things at them or something. Anyway it looked really cool. I found out that the party was called because we had just been evicted. Our security deposit had long been considered lost. Thus, there was a complete absence of any reason NOT to have a party and it WAS Friday so the cry went out throughout the land Party at Main Street.
My little room. My dinky, small, minute, infinitesimal room was not very large. I went there and did some bong hits. There was room for a small mattress, a chair with my hot plate, and a dresser. Perched on top of the dresser was the evil alarm clock, the radio of which was my sole source of music. Dave had a stereo. Thats why all the girls hung out in his room. His room was also larger and he had a queen size bed. Luckily he usually played his stereo loud enough that I didnt really need one in my room.
I had a shitty little acoustic guitar that I would write songs on when I was stoned. I learned to play by watching other people play and asking them what kind of chord they were playing and then I would try it. I never had an actual Guitar Lesson in my life although I later taught a few. I took part of a Diminished 7th chord and combined it with an Augmented 9th chord and developed the Demented 16th chord. Few people ever appreciated my musical genius. I had a lot of fun though. I was able to give vent to my angst.
The guests started to arrive early, they were unannounced and virtually none of them had given the slightest RSVP. The masses of people who attended that evening were all there to crash the party. Can you imagine the rudeness. A bunch of heathens. The good news is that most of them brought booze. The amount of alcohol consumed that evening was staggering. And that was before eight PM.
I remember the bands starting around nine or so. The place was packed. People were pogo dancing. For the uninitiated, pogo dancing is just kind of jumping up and down. The Hardcore Punk scene has given up any form of dancing in favor of the pit and stage diving. Back in 1979 we did the pogo, eventually we skanked, however at this party the pogo was what was happening.
The bands were great. I could not hear a single word or lyric of any kind although there was some sort of vocal noise that was part of the solid wall of sound. The plastic did not last long and the bands and the crowd became one and no one was protected by factory sealing. Most people were sweating in spite of the fact that is was probably close to 30 degrees below zero and there was no heat.
I went to upstairs to take a piss as I was extremely full of beer and needed to release a bit of it. The bathroom was locked and six or eight people were fucking in there. I doubted they would be done soon. I went out the back door to take a piss. There, passed out in the garbage, was the drummer of the band. So who was playing drums? I doubt I will ever know. Anyway, as he was face down I figured he would not be choking on his puke and so I left him there. I relieved myself in front of God, my country, and anybody that cared to watch. I squeezed my way back in the house. I went downstairs and was let into a room where certain individuals were shooting up. It was a very private occasion when people shot up. The fact that I was let in showed that I had a certain social standing in the community. They also knew that weed was my drug of choice. I was a complete burn out. I wasnít going to ask for any of their smack.
The basement scene was just a little too mellow for me and I went back upstairs where the band was just finishing up. Some lively youngsters were up on the roof hurling curses at the citizens of Ann Arbor who were probably out buying Christmas presents for their children. I helped pack up the band equipment as much as I could considering the various chemicals warring for control of my brain. We then got down to some more serious drinking.
Eventually I went to my room and had a high level meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Actually they were more like Bonghit Chiefs of Staff rather than Joint Chiefs of Staff. Anyway it was a high level meeting. Things of great import were discussed, laughed about, and forgotten. Although not necessarily in that order.
The bathroom finally was open. There was blood in the sink. I have no idea why and doubt I will ever know. Casualties were mounting. Several punks were probably drunk to the point of being legally dead. Those who lacked methamphetamines were passed out. The hat was passed for more alcohol. I have always thought it was funny that as parties such as this progress, people who first profess to be completely broke somehow manage to find money after they are drunk. A run was made and the party continued.
At some point I passed out. I have developed a skill whereby I pass out before I puke. I was one of the few who did not hurl chunks at that little gathering. I would estimate there to have been eighty to one hundred people at that party. It was a three-bedroom house with only a single bathroom. It boasted a living room, a dining room, a kitchen, and a basement. It was carpeted for a day with wall-to-wall punks.
I awoke the next morning. Freezing cold. Fully clothed in my bed. I got out of bed because my bladder, if it had a gauge, would have read 30 percent past full. I stumbled into the bathroom and pissed into the bathtub. I was in no way capable of the accuracy needed to hit a target as small as a toilet. The sight of my piss mixing with the puke in the bathtub was horrible. The sight was not as bad as the smell of it. I decided I would probably just skip breakfast.
I went down stairs and was amazed to find the place in pretty much the same condition as it always was. It was a hell of a party and I donít think a single window was broken or any doors got ripped off the hinges. Broken glass and garbage littered the floor as well as the occasional punk. Brucifer was awake and in a surprisingly good mood. I was very grumpy and growled at him and proceeded to make myself a cup of tea. I sat in huddled in a corner, clutching my warm cup of tea, thinking of excuses to get out of working that evening. I had already used my most creative ones. Unfortunately my mind wasnít being very productive. Soon half a dozen punks regained consciousness and were looking to see if any alcohol was left. Surprisingly there were still a few beers and some vodka. I stuck with my tea. It was roughly eleven in the morning.
Shortly after noon the alcohol had run out and most of the people from the night before were awake. A collection was taken up and a run was made and eight crusty punks were facing a Saturday afternoon burdened by hangovers. Pete found a way to plug a stereo into a guitar amp and the sex pistols joined us in our misery. As we were there, sitting listening to the stereo, not moving much, there came a loud knock at the door. Pete answered, his spiked hair looking dangerous. It was the cops. We received a stern warning not to play the stereo too loud. JB