By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The three members of Lower Caste Struggle sit hunched around a table, their eyes intense and their fingers fidgety. They scarf down pizza, suck down beer, exhale cigarette smoke, and pontificate about their young lives as punk rockers. Of the three band members, singer-guitarist Peter Yoass (not his real name, let it be known) is the oldest at 21, and he is also the most stereotypical-looking punk of the bunch.
On this day, his mohawk drapes over half his head, his studded leather jacket hides an Exploited T-shirt, and his wrists are adorned with studded bracelets that stretch almost to his elbow. The other two band members, Mike Stickboy and Cory Killduff, are almost clean-cut by comparison: Their hair is shorn close to their heads, and they look like nothing so much as kids cutting class.
In front of them on the cluttered table sits a copy of their Post-Fiend fanzine, a mail-order-only piece of gratis punk propaganda bass player Stickboy writes and distributes out of his Wylie home. This fourth issue is crammed with valuable information on how to make a Molotov cocktail ("The Essentials of Rioting"); a half-angry and half-apologetic letter from Zach Blair of Hagfish, which Stickboy had accused of selling out in a previous issue ("Hagfish Kisses Your Lame Ass"); a tribute to Kurt Cobain titled "Kurt Nobrain" featuring lots of tasteless poetry ("Roses are red/and so is Kurt's head"); something called "A Tribute to Class War"; and reviews of local and national punk recordings in which they refer to one band as "the biggest fucking jerkoff assholes in Dallas."
Post-Fiend reads like part punk manifesto, part paranoid screed, part hysterical bullshit, part Rancid love letter--an amalgam of attitude and politics, all agendas included and discounted on a whim, shocking because it's so up-front but dull because it's been done a thousand times before a long time ago. But such is the lot of the New Punk, the young kid who stumbled across the music of the '70s and discovered a brand new world of politics, rage, empowerment through music, and bad hair styles all over again. For these kids, it's like unleashing the genie from the bottle or opening a time capsule to find nothing has changed.
Yoass is one of those kids: He was the self-proclaimed "reject" in school, the outsider all the kids "always picked on and made fun of," he says now. But "in seventh grade I got a Dead Kennedys tape, and it really moved me. I started reading about the punk movement and what it's all about. I found out that punk is about changing society, changing the government that is full of schemes, and to basically voice your opinions and make people aware of what's going on."
Seventeen-year-old Lower Caste Struggle drummer Killduff came to punk even more second-hand, through a tape by local hard-core rockers Bad Hair Day. Before he joined Lower Caste Struggle, he explains, he was in a band that was "apathetic, kinda Nirvana," but that was because he had never experienced "real punk."
"I was really sold when I first heard the Bad Hair Day tape," he says. "I realized that I can convey a message in my music instead of just playing. When we play our shows we try not to be just the entertainment for the night. I want people to leave our shows thinking, feeling disturbed, and to go act on something."
With amusement, he tells a story about the time his mother discovered just what he was singing about--you know, revolution and shitty parents and stuff.
"One night I was sleeping, and my mom wakes me up," he recounts. "It's three in the morning, and she asks me, 'Are you a subversive?' She's afraid that one day she'll read about me driving a truckful of dynamite into a building." He laughs.
Punk was dead before Cory Killduff was born.
On January 14, 1978, Johnny Rotten walked off the stage of the Winterland in San Francisco with a sneering farewell: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" With that piss-off kiss-off, the man who wrote the book on punk rock shut it for good. The Antichrist resumed his Christian name, and that was the end of punk rock.
In retrospect, it was inevitable that the Sex Pistols and their spawn should burn up fast like a comet, after they shot to the sky in an angry fireball of anarchy, rage, gob, and a bunch of unforgettable songs. Punk was meant to live fast, die young, and leave a rotten corpse. It wasn't supposed to grow old and toothless and sophisticated, and though "punk" never disappeared from the musical lexicon and actually flourished in the late '70s and early '80s with the commercial success of the Clash, the SST-Los Angeles scene of the early '80s, and the New York City hardcore world of CBGBs, the word "punk" has often been misused as a catchphrase to describe disguised metal, misplaced adolescent hormones, and sloppy musicianship. Terms like "modern rock," "post-punk," "post-modern," "indie-rock," and "alternative" (to what, exactly?) flooded a marketplace feebly trying to disguise music that in most cases was passionless, soulless, derivative, trivial.