My kids don’t understand the punk rock.
They ask me, “why’d you dress like that?” “why was your hair that ugly color?” They say “that style made you look like a skunk” or “a homeless person.” Or they scream, “turn that music down”.
There is no appreciation for the genius of Jawbreaker in this household.
I try to explain.
Yes, we were cynical about the government and authority figures. Some of us were nihilists. Some of us were poets. Some of us were vandals and thieves but we were fighting the robber barons, don’t you see?
A lot of us were damn nice people, thoughtful and caring, concerned about animals and other people.
We yelled “Smash the state”, we yelled “Flex your head”, we screamed “No Future!” We wouldn’t have shouted so loud if we hadn’t wanted things to change. For the better.
And even though we wore black and broke things on occasion and threw ourselves into thrashing pits of human fists and desperation, I look back on it, at my great age, and I think, how much we loved life and embraced it and raged at it, and fought injustice, and how much we loved each other, desperately.
Life was something you grabbed by the neck and you didn’t let go no matter how much it hurt.
We felt every little thing.
Visceral, right? Like a punch in the guts.
Everything was raw and piercing and beautiful. So very beautiful in its ugliness and despair, the dichotomies all around us, staggering, impossible to ignore– but this we said was life, this was living. Living so hard you could taste it in the back of your throat and sometimes you had to hawk it out again.
I think about the things we did, the risks we took- hopping trains, jumping off buildings,doing too many drugs, drinking till we puked, ending fights, taking on the cops, standing up to the skinheads. We just embraced it all, we took it inside, and we etched it into our skin, our muscles and veins, our scalps. The filthy sidewalks, the crappy squats, the boredom, the squalor because these were our raw materials. From this we could make something better as long as we stayed open to everything.
“We were a tribe,” I tell my children. Even if we knew each other only as Rat or Boots or Question Mark, we knew each other. We had the same scars. “You could go anywhere in the country, maybe even the world” I told them, “and you could meet someone who knew someone who knew someone you knew. And that person would give you a place to stay, a meal, a beer.”
I am amazed that most of us are still here. Those who aren’t are missed every day because we lived through it all together. You don’t get to share something like that with many people in your life. And if you didn’t experience it then you can’t really understand.
“But what was it all about, Mom?”
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