Growing up in the absence of a dream
There are no appeals for a compassionate government or programs for a re-evaluation of values from this crowd--that would imply hope for a better world. These are just kids hanging out, acting cool, gasping between cigarette puffs for those last breaths of pleasure before the big one drops and kills us all. Across the street at the Uptown Theater, their elders are into another version of cool, munching on croissants and checking into a past made perfect on celluloid.
With little sense of history before 1977, when the Sex Pistols broke and John Lydon proclaimed, "no future and England's dreamin'," these McPunks live for now and beyond. Mostly for now.
Garage, a partnership headed by 17 year-old Michelle Strauss and 20-year- old Scott Walker, has filled the breach and brought hardcore shows to Whittier Park.
Of course, neither would freely admit to leading the group since they expressly look down on hierarchical structures of any kind. But the least they could admit is that they do a lot of the work.
Garage is not a money-making operation. The group made $1.75 on one show and all told is about $300 in the hole. A lot of kids find a way to get in without paying, but Garage isn't in the mood to press the issue. If this debt thing gets too steep, there is little chance Garage will disband, for the integrity of this art life-style must not be compromised. Garage members, unlike some who would call themselves punks, see art and music not as a means of profit but as a way to bring their friends together and communicate with them.
"We'll just keep having shows," Strauss said one night while discussing the financial situation as the opening band set up at Whittier Park Auditorium. "We'll keep owing money."
At this point a fascinating lad named Mark piped in, weaving the wisdom of
Dead Kennedys' singer Jello Biafra with his own home- spun philosophy. Mark is a
man of commerce who operates a store owned by his parents and refuses to divulge
his last name for fear that the FBI is on his tail--"l used to do art mail and
one time some people told me to send them some shit in the mail, so I sent some
feces." This 19-year-old has little regard for idle art students or rich-kid
"posers" who wear black leather jackets on steaming summer nights so they can
look like punks.
"There are two schools of art," he said.
"Those who take it seriously and those who use it as a weapon. Art is not an art unless it is used as a weapon. That's what JelIo Biafra said, I think in 1981. If you start making money on art, then quit. I see a lot of art students around who are just spending their parents' money and fucking off. I like the title of an Outcry song to describe it--'Land of 10,000 Fakes.' Outcry is a real young band. I think one of them has a driver's license."
"I feel that punk is dead completely," said teenaged Heather LaFaye, who is into the "bat-cave" bands who started in England, probably two years ago. They're into black, spiders and white makeup. I'm not into hardcore or the '77 punk scene. I think calling yourself punk in this day and age is totally ridiculous."
"It's not so much a look, not so much an attitude," said Mark, who calls
himself a punk.
But his Steve Martinish looks and responsible attitude fly in the face of a stereotype that punks look decadent and act angrily against a world that has never tried to work together.
"It's not 'Let's get violent' just for the hell of it anymore. Nobody knows what the term 'punk' means, but it's a word people use for a style that they can't define any other way."
"Anything that's new music or new fashion immediately has that term tossed into it," said Joe Martin, a guitarist for Dark Carnival, one of the more popular local bands with this group. "But the word doesn't really mean any- thing."
About the only thing punk means around here is a tight-knit group of kids who are disenchanted with mainstream life and joined together in a lifestyle of dress, music and cooperation. Many of them have been beaten up several times, and some say that they dress up in hard-ass leather jackets and studded bracelets so people won't mess with them anymore. Even the names of the bands--Skull Fuck, Crib Death, Duck Kicking Vulture, Tales of Terror, Crisis of Conformity, Fatal Myth--are calculated to arouse the fear of outsiders and discourage their involvement.
"I just like the close group of friends who follow it," said Jeff Japs, explaining why he helped Garage put on some of it's first hard core shows. "At this show tonight pretty much everybody here knows everybody else. The band names keep people away who don't enjoy the camaraderie. It keeps the idiots away who don't know any better Like, a lot of people are put off by the name 'Dead Kennedys.' But the name really is just about the death of the American Dream" like the term "punk," the term "American Dream ' has no real meaning for many of these kids. Both concepts have degenerated a great deal, even since 1977.
"I think people do this be cause they are bored" LaFaye said. "They're trying to have fun. Using drugs, getting into music, drinking those are my primary ways of getting around boredom. There are other ways, there are a number of other ways. But I can't afford them. I'd like to go to college and be a fashion designer But I don't have enough money to buy a sewing machine or go to college. I've found that going to First Avenue doesn't cure the boredom either."
Cecily Helgesen Lowe, 17, just shaved her head. She too has found that the only alternatives to her lifestyle are endless boredom or endless hassle. She just quit South High School and plans to finish her diploma at the University.
"I wore dreadlocks in high school, and when I went to the bathroom some of the other girls would turn off the lights and start beating me up," she said. "I guess they thought no one would sympathize with me. The place is a medium-security prison. The girls just had aggressions they had to take out. I guess they wanted to find out if my blood was green."
Unlike most groups of kids, the crowd that gathers at Whittier Park for hardcore shows accepts and includes all types of individuals.
Some have worldly ambitions, others don't know what they want to do with their lives.
Some enjoy doing heroin and staring at white walls, others don't even smoke Cigarettes or drink beer. Some understand the value of education, others are so put off by the busybody ethic and callow cliques that pervade high schools everywhere that they never want to see another classroom. What brings them to Whittier Park and each other's houses is the lure of togetherness and understanding that they can't get anywhere else.
The kids generally have little money and must work together so they can produce for each other the things they feel make their lives worth living--sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
They would like the other fragments of society to cooperate as their fragment has. That's part of what youthful idealism is all about. It's been the same way for years.
"Society is fucked," 19-year-old Shelly Hribar said. "What's wrong with it? Well, I don't know many people who are satisfied with their lives. Instead of growing our hair and saying 'Fuck society' like they did in the '60s, we cut our hair off and say 'Fuck society.'"
As with all movements, there are those involved who just dig the scenery but lack the conviction to understand what it all means.
They are the thugs, the graffiti writers who deface the edifices of room-and-pop stores around town. Their bluff is easy to call, and most of the kids at Whittier Park have nothing to gain from them except negative examples.
"Some of the punks are using this as an excuse to go around and be violent," Hribar said.
"Nothing is going to get done by spray painting" Mark said. "That's not the way to change things. People like the Circle Jerks, say, 'question authority.' I think you should look at it from the inside out and say, Question authority when it becomes you.' Like, l run my parents' store, and when I do, then I am authority. So I always watch myself and make sure that I'm treating people fairly."
Priorities like treating people fairly and depending on one another somehow have always found ways to be construed as radical in practice. A polarized, fragmented world has made trust a very rare attitude indeed. When people can no longer trust each other, serve their own integrity. The punks, even when lost in their hopeful haze, see little chance for a trustworthy society. They are settling for integrity among themselves.