What Is Punk Anyway?

Anniversary show image from my online exhibit, “Unknown Band Opening For Daisycutter” T-Birds/Asbury Park, NJ

While the subject of my documentary is ‘women in punk’, discussions have focused largely on the meaning of punk. Ascribing a definition (as it relates to music and movement) has been hotly debated. Richard Hell opens ‘Punk 365‘ by stating, “Punk is pretty funny. It’s like reality itself, as exemplefied by the statement ‘This sentence is a lie’. It’s hard to be authentic.”

Equally polarizing as it can be uniting, the only constant is the growing ways it’s defined. I think it’s appropriately organic and endemic – punk has defied classification since coined by Dave Marsh in 1971. It’s precisely this constantly elusive state that allows punk to survive being truly co-opted and erased. Yet, I find most folks turn to the same devices when describing punk – Sex Pistols, tartan pants and three chord songs.

I find its curious, given the recent curatorial focus on the subject, that more haven’t followed the thread beyond these iconic totems to the more interesting aspects of what make this an immortal movement.

For me, the essence of punk is an age old reflection of preoccupations centered on war, economic imbalance, power struggles and consumerism. It’s carried out as ethos through action informed by centuries of activism based performance. Critical investigation, satire and constant expansive curiosity are a must. The modern day epitome is captured in Dada, one of the most irreverent, seemingly non-sensical expressions of outrage. It has since been heavily referenced thanks to modern means of documentation (photography, film and press).

When I first came across the term, it was in the context of some MRR review or other. While specifics elude me, its impact certainly created a shift in my perception. My eyes opened to the possibilities my instincts had only intimated. In my quest to identify and define my identity, I’d seek in earnest as much music, fashion, performance and exhibits I could get myself in/to. It honestly didn’t occur to me until I wrote an essay on identity how much my everyday passion had imprinted to an inseperable mesh of my expression.

Ultimately, I subscribe to the immortal words of D.Boon, “Punk is whatever we made it to be.”

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