Lessons Punk Rock Can Teach The Church
*This is the first entry of a series. I’m not sure how long it’ll be, but certainly a week long.
Punk started in the mid-70’s.
It didn’t hit my radar until the early 80’s. Tim Arceneaux, game room employee at the Cobb’s Hoover Square 6 Theatres, lent me a couple of the tapes his older brother–off at college, hence, one step closer to new music exposure than we were–made for him. I was hooked from the first note of Social Distortion’s “Mommy’s Little Monster.” So, it’s safe to say I got to the game late.
Much of my exposure to music was because everybody else listened to it. I mean, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were telling folks to go their own way and I didn’t even know what that way was. K.C. and the Sunshine Band were telling me to do a little dance, make a little love and get down tonight, and I don’t like dancing and being 13 limits your ability for the last two, well, I couldn’t really relate. And, I’m not sure I knew Peter Frampton or what he might be feeling, so I can’t say that I ever felt like he did. I’m pretty sure I didn’t, though.
I liked the music of my youth. I just didn’t relate.
Then my dad died. Unexpectedly. Anger set in.
The seeds planted by Kiss (again, while I understood the sentiment behind rock and rolling all night and partying ev-uh-ree day, when you have a 11PM curfew on the weekends, well, that puts the kibosh on most of that) grew into a musical sedative. Whatever the day threw at you, there was nothing that…
…Vincent Price reading Revelation at the beginning of Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast.”
…the horn at the beginning of Van Halen’s “Running With The Devil.”
…the bell tolling at the beginning of AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells.”
…the conductor calling “all aboard” introducing us to Ozzy Ozbourne’s “Crazy Train.”
…couldn’t sedate. Just put softball sized headphones on and there was music that agreed with how you felt.
Again. I couldn’t relate. I mean…I wasn’t a practicing (or even pretending) Satanist. I couldn’t figure out how finding out the simple life not being so simple led to running with the devil or even what that meant, exactly. In my suburban existence, I wasn’t even seeing millions of people living as fo-ow-ow-oes. I just knew the music agreed with me.
Enter Tim Arceneaux. Better late than never. With more than sedation. Tim’s mix tapes were fuel. They channeled anger at things you should be angry about…or made you wonder why somebody else was so worked up over something you didn’t see as a big deal. But it was music that was about something. Finally. I was all in, man. All in.
Granted. I missed most of whatever it is that falls under the category of “the punk movement.” I never saw the Ramones at CBGB’s or caught the Sex Pistols on the Thames screaming at the Queen, or ever saw the Clash show at the Black Swan. I never felt the need to put a safety pin through my cheek or draw an “anarchy A” on the back of my newly purchased (at the mall, most likely) leather jacket or even grow a liberty spike mohawk. I guess I never really understood how a look made you part of an audible movement. I did order Dr. Martens from London only to have them banned by my school to keep us suburban kids from footwear-inspired anarchy. That was about as far as I got in the “punk movement.”
Except for the music.
Which was the most important part.
See, music had gotten a little fat and happy in the 70’s. Boston was selling a gazillion records. Well, one record a gazillion times. Something called Electric Light Orchestra was elaborate and big. Pink Floyd was making some sort of statement with The Wall, which mostly seemed that statement was to get stoners and drunks to midnight movies. The Eagles were huge and selling out arenas. There was money to be made and a formula for making it. Plenty were following it.
Which is why I took ownership in the punk movement: They didn’t follow “the rules.”
The music didn’t have to be accessible. It just had to be about something.
It didn’t have to have technical excellence. You just had to believe in what you said.
There didn’t have to be light shows and world tours. Just load up in a van and borrow each other’s amps.
You didn’t need arenas. Any old club that can cram 150 people at $5 per head and someone you could trust to take up the cash and you could have a great show.
Punk stripped away pretension.
Punk wasn’t about entertainment, but rather a message.
Punk was of the people by the people.
Punk was about making you re-think the status quo.
Punk was a reaction that caused proactive involvement.
I could go on.
Now…I don’t want to over-romanticize this. There’s been more romantic drivel about the punk movement in the last 30 years than there has been about baseball in 100. That’s a lot. I mean, punk imploded on itself because you can only deconstruct for so long and after a few years you’ve torn everything apart.
And your best solution is anarchy? Really? The best you’ve got? No wonder people left disillusioned. Which led to bands like Bon Jovi & Poison getting popular, but I digress. The bottom line is that punk failed as a both a musical force and a societal movement. I find both to be good things.
But, punk, and it’s cousin grunge, did a lot of things that drew me to both movements.
And I got to thinking about what drew me to those movements.
And I began to wonder what would happen if you took the IDEALS of those movements and applied them to the Church.
See, I think the church in America today (and, by extension, my area’s churches, and even further, my own church) has a lot of similarities to the mainstream music scene in the 70’s and early ’80’s. Fat. Happy. Content with the formula. I could go on.
But X, Fear, Black Flag, Social Distortion, the Germs, and later bands like Pennywise, were on to something. Goes without saying that the Ramones, Sex Pistols & Clash were on board before them, too.
And I want to tap into that something over the next few days as I compare and contrast the movement of punk and the state of the Church in America as I see it.
The music may only involved barre chords at a machine gun pace.
The singing may not be that great.
There may not be polished banter between songs.
We may be crammed in this sweaty club and the P.A. may go out.
You may get punched or stomped in the mix.
But this’ll be about something, man.
Feel free to agree or disagree.
But I won’t let you ignore it.
And I hope I eventually have the integrity NOT to sell it to the folks at Guitar Hero 30 years from now.