I turned out a punk
In 1979 I was fifteen years old living in small-town Canada, and a revolution was taking place. The only things that really matters when you’re fifteen and stuck between wanting to make a difference, and being different are music, girls, getting into trouble, and music. Yes, music was very important.
Popular music in the mid-seventies was filled with gesticulating middle-aged shamans who sang songs our parents knew the words to. Or, bands with their fifteen minute guitar solos and light shows, performing self-indulgent ego-maniacal noise, in stadiums filled with thousands of stunned concert-goers, while clouds of suspicious substances hovered above.
Thanks goodness for the revolution.
I don’t know how it started, there are some debates over that; I’m just glad that it did, after all, something had to happen. They called it Punk rock, and it was angry and fresh and noisy. It had nothing to do with our parent’s music, and, even less to do with rich long-haired guitar players prancing around a stage wearing waist-high boots pretending to be one of us. It was a revolution that sprung up from a bunch of people, mostly young people, who wanted something different. They, I mean we, because you bet, I was right there, with my spiked haircut and ripped Clash T-shirt, wanted to hear something that was ours, and you know what, we got it. We got the angry young men from England who played so hard and fast, and got you so excited inside that you thought your heart was going to break out of your chest. And, we got the men and women on this side of the pond who picked up the mantle of The New York Dolls and MC 5 and turned it into their own anarchist’s call.
It was an exciting time to be fifteen, even if there were only nine or ten of us in our little town who knew what was really happening. It was needed. Punk was needed. The young people of my generation needed it. We needed it so that we could stake our claim, and have something that was ours. The people who didn’t like it needed it because at the time there was no contrast, everything was becoming samer and samer, and that’s an awfully bad thing to happen to a creative medium. We need contrast. We need to have reds and purples and blues and greens, and indifferences and conflicts. And, the music industry needed it because it was in desperate need of a shake-up. The system for finding and managing and promoting artists had become so systematic, so formulaic that if you didn’t fit into the cookie cutter mould you weren’t going to be able to express yourself to a larger audience.
Well, Punk Rock, and Punks in particular, came in and kicked the walls out of the recording studios, and changed the way the industry worked. Fast forward now thirty years and take a look at what’s happening in the publishing industry. It’s old news now, but with the advent of Amazon, the artists, or authors rather, can find their audience without the assistance of traditional publishers. And guess what? There is some exceptionally good writing being self-published.
Now, this particular revolution is different from the one that happened in music in the late seventies for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the way that we read books is changing. Just how fast it’s changing, again, is up for debate, but there’s no doubt that it is indeed changing. We’re reading on our e-readers, tablets, and laptops, and because of this we’re not spending as much money in regular bookstores. Just to be clear, I’m not endorsing e-books over the comfortable feel of a real book with paper between the covers. In fact, I love the feeling of books, and I hope they’re always around, but the fact remains that the world is changing, and people are beginning to read differently. So, when the music that the punks were making in the clubs and pubs was attracting hundreds and sometimes thousands of excited young people, they still needed the companies that produced vinyl records. Do writers today need traditional publishers to reach a large audience? I don’t know, maybe, but for now we’re getting a lot of our work out there, to the readers, without them.
This particular revolution isn’t so much about changing the way the world reads, or even circumventing publishing houses. It’s more about saying, “I have something that people want to read, and I’m going to get it to them any way I can.” It’s what Sid Vicious and Joe Keithley and Wendy O. Williams did thirty years ago. They showed the gatekeepers, the guardians of the public’s taste buds, that they had something that people wanted to hear, and they were loud enough and talented enough that they found a way to get it out there.
And lastly, the new punks, unlike the punks of the seventies, aren’t out breaking windows and setting fires to garbage containers, or at least most of them aren’t. Authors, being the scholarly lot that we are, sit at our computers, changing the world by typing on keyboards, moving our mouse, and clicking where appropriate.
So, I challenge you to try something this weekend, pull out your old Clash or Sex Pistols album, or maybe even find some of the newer punk music like Against Me or The Gaslight Anthem. Play it as loud as you can without any regard for your neighbours, then, go onto www.amazon.com and sample some of the great writing that is available from any of the “Indie” or “Punk” authors out there. Do it, and tell me that you don’t feel like you’re part of the revolution.
I’ll be here, while you’re annoying your neighbours, working on my next novel, pretending that I’m a punk again, and resisting the temptation to shove a safety pin through the fleshy part of my cheek. Yep, I’ll be resisting that temptation for sure. I’m still a punk though, really. I am one.