We’ve all got that one friend, unless you’re dishonest or just really good at dissociating from other humans, who says and does dumb and sometimes really offensive shit primarily due to the lack of an ability to think what they’re saying or doing all the way through to its logical conclusion. However, it’s more outrageous when it comes from someone even slightly unexpected. As we’ve seen recently, though, there are a lot, A LOT, of those “dumb friends” in the aging punk and hard rock community.
The Warped Tour has, as per usual, a lot of acts on it this summer as well as other attached outfits, some representing efforts to make change in society. One of those efforts on this particular edition of the sprawling summer tour are the folks from Safer Scenes. One of their largest stage allies is the band War on Women who are fronted by Shawna Potter (whom we interviewed prior to the start of the band’s run on the tour). The tour is also well known for the sometimes questionable behavior of some of the men on stage as well as in the crowd. This is part of why this band and this organization were asked to take part. In that previous conversation we specifically anticipated the exact kind of “trouble” that arose when the Dickies chose to show their asses when confronted, and by confronted we mean someone held up a sign in a crowd, about their rather childish antics in the name of thumbing their noses at…. something or other but particularly at the umbrage they’ve taken at being told that women deserve space in the punk scene as well. THE SHOCK! THE HORROR!
By now most know that Noodles of the Offspring and Jesse Hughes from Eagles of Death Metal decided to open their mouths and proceed to insert both feet in defending a band that 1) has never asked to be defended in the first damn place and 2) has founded their entire image on shocking audiences and tantalizing teenage (white) male fantasies so much so that it’s quite clear that at 50-something they, as a unit, have yet to grow the fuck up. But I suppose as long as the aging punkers that I’ve sometimes rubbed elbows with continue to want to re-live their nostalgic, snotty, and stupid youth and will put up the cash to do so, then some promoter is going to be content to take the money and run.
That said, the Dickies are off of Warped Tour now, whether it was by being booted off of a tour that they should, frankly, have never been on in the first place, or that they were already leaving anyway is only slightly relevant at this point. Kind of like this band themselves. Now, no one is about to compare their act to G.G. Allin in sheer offensiveness but they did their level best in directly going after a female member of the tour crew who had gotten sick of their schtick after several days of it and decided wading into the crowd with a sign was their best mode of recourse. Fair dues to her, as well, as I’ve never been able to stomach more than 15 minutes of their ridiculousness. But now, here we are with all of the aging punk rockers up in arms about “what punk means”. So, let’s briefly get into that, yes?
The Ramones will inevitably get rolled out for their song “Beat on the Brat” which, yes, in 2017 is absolutely offensive. Was it in 1970blah or 1980harrumph when it came out? Yeah…. Sort of, but mostly it was meant to shock your parents. Society eventually evolved, though, and more crucially, most people of that era grew the hell up. The confrontational die was cast in American punk to fight against pretty much everything because, outside of Reagan, it was an overall discontentment with the comfort of normality and the “excess” of the late 70s and early 80s that drove bands from NYC to LA to lash out in their own peculiar ways. The Dickies were one of those bands. They weren’t even really one of the better bands to do it, either. They just kind of hung around longer than the rest, content to be a bunch of creepy granddads on today’s scene.
Contrasting this with the political punk and very real resistance music happening in Europe and elsewhere in the world (and England, your racist Oi scene isn’t going unnoticed here but we’re setting that aside for this particular moment) shows that, like much else about shared American culture, there’s a profound lack of perspective and a massive amplification of extended adolescence. Said adolescence came to the fore as middle-aged dudes from the Offspring, Screeching Weasel, and, only mildly shockingly, Eagles of Death Metal, showed up in defense of this band and particularly these specific actions.
When your crew of defenders includes Noodles, who, mind you, tweeted about misogyny not that long ago (see below), Ben Weasel (I’ll just leave this here to remind you of his ire), and Jesse Hughes showing just how oblivious one man can be by being unable to draw the straight line that runs from misogyny to the incident at the Bataclan, I’m going to say you probably aren’t going to win a lot of points with people who, ya know, aren’t aging hetero white men who still think punk is all about peeing on crowds and “jokes” about molesting teenagers. The dangerous part in their specific actions, though, lies in the fact that they, much more so than the band that acted this way, still carry a certain amount of relevance to their targeted audience includes not only many coming-of-age young males but other demographics as well. That musicians who are popular beyond the narrow scope of the offending party here, not only defended but condoned these actions, serves as a signal to their fans that this kind of behavior is not only ok but something worth praising reinforces decades of misogyny in a scene that really didn’t need more of it.
But, see, here’s the thing: punk was always supposed to be better than this. It’s always been offensive and it always will be to someone. On that point, some of this backlash is correct. However, one of the other foundational points of punk is inclusivity. That inclusivity even allowed space for jackasses like the above to survive and thrive. Now they’re just everyone’s drunk uncle at Thanksgiving who are super offended that someone else might want some space in this scene for themselves.
We are supposed to be the community that outcasts come to in order to find a safe haven from “normal” society. The way that scenes came together in the 80s when we were dying off from drug overdoses or how we responded to tough guys and racists in the 90s or how we’ve responded, by and large, to homophobia in the 2000s and beyond, is something to value. But the strange and tenuous dichotomy of “fuck you” and “welcome, fellow stranger/struggler/weirdo” that has always marked the duality of punk is something that, once again, needs to be grappled with if punk is going to evolve once more as dinosaurs like me and Noodles and Hughes and Weasel and, yes, the Dickies, will die while the next generation forms this scene for and by themselves. Will it become a place of welcome respite for our downtrodden and rebellious or will it get stuck in the mire of white manchild culture that still find dick and fart jokes (and much worse) to be high entertainment and expressions of their own raging against a machine that bestows quite a bit of privilege upon them?
And, at some point, punk promoters like Warped’s Kevin Lyman have to reconcile this duality within themselves as we continue to grow up, which often means leaving behind childish friends.