Punk's Not Dead: From Rebellion to Responsibility

by Laura Bock
Originally Published: 

I was never a girl who really fit the typical girl mold growing up. I knew I was always a bit different from my peers. I didn’t try to fit in or conform—I walked to the beat of a completely different drummer.

Deep down inside I hoped to one day find my tribe. You can imagine my happiness when I discovered the punk culture in the mid 1980s.

Punk was open and tolerant. Punk was outspoken and bold. Punk was me.

I jumped right in, head first, and have been immersed in this amazing culture ever since.

The ultimate in teenage rebellion, punk employed frank honesty, tirades about the establishment, along with general anger and dissatisfaction with the world. This was the main heartbeat for the beginnings of punk in England.

“And there is no future

In England’s dreaming”

God Save The Queen – Sex Pistols, 1977

The defiance of the 1970s and ’80s was fueled by massive unemployment and a housing crisis in England, and the conservative Reagan years in the U.S.

The Sex Pistols were the first band to come screaming out into the frontlines. Fronted by Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), they gave the middle finger to Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth, showing their dissatisfaction with social issues in England.

“Question authority

I’ll pay the price the future belongs to me

This is the time

This is the hour

The worlds our dowry

The glory and the power”

Question Authority – Circle Jerks, 1982

When I started my journey into the culture, I gravitated heavily toward the Sex Pistols and anything filled with the raucous themes of anger, dissatisfaction and frank honesty.

The Ramones from New York gave us young rebels something fun to shout about. Their tunes were catchy and you couldn’t help but dance (or pogo) when hearing their music. I loved the movie Rock and Roll High School starring The Ramones and P. J. Soles. Anarchy in the school—you couldn’t get any more punk rock than that!

As a teenage punk rock girl, I reveled in and embraced the rebellious nature of punk, as did most of my compadres around the world. For me, and I’m sure many others, the punk culture meant being true to myself. It gave voice to passion, and the courage to follow that passion, whatever it might be.

I found my passion in art and writing and pursued it with a wild abandon. I was filled with rage, dissatisfaction with the life I was expected to live—get a job, work until you retire, then enjoy life—and lots of anger at elders and family who wanted me to conform to these standards.

As John Lydon wrote in the Public Image Limited song, “Rise,” “Anger is an energy.” I found and employed that energy fighting against the norms—fashion, music and stereotypes. I didn’t want to “fit in” with my peers—and I didn’t. I was the punk rock girl, and my friends accepted me for who I was.

My family, however, didn’t embrace my punk rock style and attitude. My mother was enraged, and my father would just shake his head in disbelief. Sometimes I Ieft for school “normal” to appease my mother and would “punk out” when I got there. Self-expression meant a lot to me. I was bold, boisterous and blunt.

The Dead Milkmen song Punk Rock Girl came out in 1988. That was my theme song, and to this day, when I hear it on the Sirius XM 1st Wave station, I crank it and sing it loud and proud.

I wanted nothing more than to have a pair of combat boots. I had the black trench coat, black Chucks (Converse high tops), and a nice collection of band T-shirts—but to me the holy grail was a pair of beat-up combat boots. I asked my father to buy me a pair, and he said, “Join the Army, they’ll give you a pair.” I knew I wasn’t going to get his help in acquiring my boots.

When I found and bought a pair at a local flea market, the old man who sold them to me said, “You know, those boots walked on Nazi soil. They have a story.” Whether or not it was true, I channeled that militant energy whenever I wore my boots—they gave me badass confidence. In good punk rock fashion, when my trusty boots fell apart, I used black duct tape to fix them.

Punk meant unity.

I knew that at any given moment, when I was listening to my Sex Pistols, Ramones, The Dead Milkmen, PiL, Black Flag or Dead Kennedys cassette tapes, there was someone else doing the same as me somewhere in the world. That’s a feeling of unity.

As young punks, we were violent mainly through our words and actions, like giving the middle finger to those who pissed us off. We took out our frustrations by blasting our boom boxes, singing along loud and proud, and slam dancing at concerts.

Young and without a care in the world, disobedience and anarchy were our anthems of discontent. Nothing could stop us. We were the Blank Generation.

And then we had to grow up.

Punk’s not dead.

Just because we identified with punk didn’t mean we couldn’t make it out in the world on our own.

Soon our rebellious ways were replaced with being responsible adults, which equaled conformity. No! This can’t be—conformity is what we rallied and rebelled against! Our battle cry was “Never sell-out!” and I hate to admit I did just that, for a short time.

In an attempt to follow the social norm my family wanted for so many years, I gave up on my writing and art. One day I woke up miserable and unhappy, realizing I had abandoned my passions—and sold out.

I always swore I’d never be a stuffy and boring adult like my parents. I’m happy to say I kept that promise.

I am following my heart’s desire as a writer and artist, with all the passion I have inside of me. I want to make my teenage punk self proud that I did not completely sell out.

I traded in the old combat boots of my teen years for a pair of vintage four eyelet Doc Martens I bought at the Salvation Army for only $5. I still channel my badass punk rock energy when I wear my Docs—especially while working. My Docs are a constant reminder through my work day that my job just pays the bills and doesn’t define me.

Punk is so much more than the music. Punk is more than an attitude. Punk is a culture, a lifestyle and a way of free thinking.

The music has changed a lot over the years, and some sub-genres of punk became popular music: Green Day, Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance. The themes have changed to keep up with passing trends, but defiance seems to remain a common thread.

Today’s issues are more mainstream—global social and political injustices, corporate greed and ecological threats. It is socially acceptable today—and almost expected—for bands to have lyrics about dissatisfaction and rebellion.

“A world that sends you reeling from decimated dreams

Your misery and hate will kill us all.

So paint it black and take it back

Let’s shout it loud and clear

Defiant to the end we hear the call”

Welcome to the Black Parade – My Chemical Romance, 2006

Even though punk has gone mainstream, it’s nice to know the basic archetypes live on.

While we—the original punks of the 70s and 80s—might not sport mohawks or spiked and crazy colored hair, or wear leather, chains and combat boots (ok, so I still wear mine on occasion)—one thing remains constant: our bold character.

Sure, we’ve traded in our shouts of anarchy for shouts of peace in this world—although there were some of us who believed in anarchy for peace—but you’ll never take that passion from our hearts.

Those of us who were teenage punks are still very outspoken and honest with our feelings about life, politics, love and, of course, music. We have no fear of expressing ourselves. We are the artists, writers, musicians, visionaries, thinkers and doers in this world.

Responsible, healthy anarchy.

One thing I truly love are the punks my age (give or take 10 years), who have raised their children with the outspoken punk lifestyle and thinking.

I have a friend whose twenty-something daughter is deeply involved in fighting the good fight today against the social, racial, sexual and gender injustices and inequality of our country. Her style of modern-day anarchy is outspoken yet peaceful. She spreads the word and gathers followers online and attends peaceful protests and demonstrations. I know my friend is proud of her little anarchist, and so am I—of both of them.

As Henry Rollins, one of the most outspoken and celebrated punk icons ever, has demonstrated many times over the years since trading in his singing for traveling, spoken word tours and writing, there is so much more in the world to be passionate about.

It is our responsibility as the first generation of punks to educate, influence and shape this and future generations of young punk minds.

When you go along with stereotypes and put your life on cruise control, you are selling out. Find your passion, ignite the fire, and go after your dreams—but most of all, don’t forget to question things along the way.

“Questioning anything and everything, to me, is punk rock.” – Henry Rollins

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