I HAVE BECOMETH THE CRO-MAGS GUY
I HAVE BECOMETH THE CRO-MAGS GUY
I never thought I’d be that guy. And then I woke up one day… and I was.
Some indeterminable amount of time had passed. Some set of circumstances had taken place. And I had become that guy, the one I’d sworn I’d never allow myself to become.
You know the guy I’m talking about, right?
The guy that clings relentlessly to the past, that is moored in contempt of what’s happening now, that dismisses anything current as blasé, rehashed, an aping of what’s already taken place.
We all know that guy, or some version of him.
The Cro-Mags guy.
You know him. The guy who adheres fervently to the past. The Cro-Mags guy. The Misfits guy. The Ramones guy. As in, “Eh, the Ramones did it better.” As in, “That band? They’re just doing what the Ramones did forty years ago.” Right? That guy? And like I said, you can sub out the Ramones for nearly any band, provided one thing: dudes like this – and it’s almost always dudes – always insist that the past was better.
“The Clash? Last real punk band.”
“Dude, punk died in ‘91. Fucking Nirvana killed it dead.”
“Shit hasn’t been dangerous since GG Allin.”
As a younger kid I’d hear these guys talk, read their interviews in zines, watch them in documentaries. I’d think about the dismissiveness necessary to voice something like that, when all around me I saw a vibrant, active scene. Yes, a scene with problems, sure – but certainly one just as rad as the often violent, reactionary good old days these dudes were pining for.
“PC bullshit killed punk. It was about saying ‘fuck you’ to everybody, and then all of the sudden there were all these rules.”
“Shit like Feederz, the Mentors – it was just in your face, offensive for the sake of it. That’s punk.”
“There hasn’t been a punk record since Age of Quarrel.”
Can you imagine having the bedrock of your culture be reliant on the fucking Mentors? Yeesh. But as a younger kid, it happened. And I’d listen to these guys as they tilled the ashes of the past and I swore up and down that it’d never happen to me. Punk lit me up, buoyed me. Saved my ass. I swore I’d never become that rooted to the past, never become anchored to what had been. Never become some old-ass ghost walking up and down the same hallway, rattling my chains, pining for what used to be.
My first show was going to be Type-O Negative and the Exploited at a venue in Portland that’s long since been waylaid to the mercilessness of time. This was probably 1991. Long time ago. I was just a little kid. I grew up in a small coastal town in Oregon; my peers – and by peers I mean those kids a few years older than you that kind of steer the ship a little bit, that turn out to kind of guide you in figuring out punk – were few and far between. There were not many of us. But a few.
I think back to those days when I was just getting into this thing, back when you had those few people helping you out. There weren’t a lot of other clues out there – the random Holy Grail-like issue of Maximum Rocknroll you came across and read to tatters, the liner notes and thank you lists in albums, the back of Thrasher magazine with those ads for t-shirts. There were not a lot of cultural waypoints back then – you had to keep your ear to the ground. Even then, there were things that gelled and things that didn’t, sonically speaking, and it’s all relative. It’s all based of that weird-ass collective potpourri of chance, experience, luck, and preference.
For some reason known only to my inner ear, I’ve always thought DRI was boring as hell, but I love almost everything Cryptic Slaughter ever did. Poison Idea was meh, but the Lazy Cowgirls live LP is phenomenal. Jerry’s Kids were at their best when covering La Peste. You know what I’m saying? There were tons of arguably formative bands – those same bands that the older generation says are integral to punk – that just flew right over my head as a kid: Gang Green, Minutemen, 7 Seconds, Youth Of Today, TSOL. Eh. It all just fell flat. But then Attitude Adjustment, Bad Brains, Christ On Parade, Subhumans, Operation Ivy: that shit sang in the blood, floored me.
We’re at the mercy of chance, experience, luck, preference.
So, first show was gonna be the Exploited and Type-O Negative. I still listen to the Exploited sometimes, but I make no bones about the fact that they are dumb and violent. I generally like smart punk, and they are not remotely the sharpest dudes ever to pen a record. Still, “Alternative”? Good song. Type-O Negative, on the other hand, even as a kid, rang out as a terrible, terrible band. (Let us not forget that previous to that band, the guitarist had formed Carnivore, who are the embodiment of shittiness and sketchy, fucked up politics.) But hey, it was 1991, the Exploited were playing Portland, and that was enough for me. I drove up with a few of those older kids, excited about my first show. It was gonna be a pretty big deal – the venue held hundreds, anyway. Big show for someone from a little coastal town. We drove the few hours up to Portland.
And when we got to the venue we were told the show was cancelled. The story was that Wattie from the Exploited had reportedly overdosed earlier that day and was in the hospital. To this day I have no idea if that’s true or not, but that’s what was circulating, and regardless of the rumors, the show was cancelled. We got our money back, dejectedly headed home.
Chance, experience, luck, preference.
A few months later, I went to my first show at a coffee shop in Corvallis, Oregon. It cost three bucks to get in. Gas Huffer, Crackerbash, Lupo played. I still have records from all of them. It was an amazing show. The “light show” consisted of a guy on speed spinning a pair of glow sticks around on a string, something he did at apparently every show! A girl in college invited me to a party! It was rad: inclusive, fun, cheap, friendly. Things that to this day inform my vision of what punk could be.
When I think back to the idea that that Exploited show could’ve been my first exposure to live punk, I shudder. I mean, can you imagine? Christ. A wimp like me going to a Type-O Negative show? And feeling a part of? I’d have gotten killed! I’d have been demolished! At the least, I would’ve most likely been turned off by the fug of machismo and boneheadedness that permeated so much of the scene at that time. (And still does to this day.) So yeah, I think back and I’m profoundly grateful to have had my little garage / indie introduction to punk instead. I don’t know if I’d have stuck around for as long, or become so fiercely in love with this thing if that first show hadn’t gotten cancelled. Like I said, chance and experience and luck and preference seem to be what forms us.
And now? Well over two decades later? I’m still involved in punk, sure. I play music occasionally, do tons of merch and album designs for bands, regularly write reviews and columns for zines and websites. Even manage to drag my ass out to shows sometimes. Sure thing.
But make no mistake, the pulse is different. The fire is different.
When I was a kid, punk felt like a life or death deal. It felt like a buoy, one of the few things propping me up, keeping me upright in the world. Possibly literally, you know what I mean? And that’s not something that should be downplayed, and it’s something I remain grateful for. Those songs as a kid, as a young man trying to stumble my way through the world, spoke to me a in a way that so little else did. They informed me. They guided me. Waypoints.
And while that still remains true to a degree, my world’s changed. (It’d be scary if it hadn’t, right?) That fire I mentioned – maybe other people can sustain that for decades, and find that music is enough to hold them up for that long, but that wasn’t the case for me. It’s not a question of “abandoning” punk, or “leaving” it – something that’s oftentimes broached by both sides of that argument with scorn. It’s just a question of broadening horizons, of finding other things that fulfill you, and even – hopefully – letting that coal-bright fire bank a little bit.
Let it slow down, become something that isn’t quite so intense.
All this is to say that while I still listen to new albums a decent amount, and that bands still move me and all that… I understand the Cro-Mags guy.
I actually might be the Cro-Mags guy. Some version of him.
Because the Cro-Mags guy, when you think about it, he’s not just talking about the Cro-Mags when he says that stuff. We’re not just talking about the music, really – we’re talking about allll the stuff that went along with it. That sense that the music propped us up, that it thrummed down our spines, allowed us that sense of belonging after a long time of feeling like I didn’t belong. That sense of finally finding a home. Of youth and joy and finally, after a long silence, finding people that said things that you yourself had said. To me, that’s what the Cro-Mags guy is talking about. The music, sure, but all of the stuff that goes along with the music too.
So yeah, I listen to a lot of old shit because it still pops me in the kidney just a bit. It still sets my teeth on edge, sets my leg going up and down. Some of the shit that I like is admittedly pretty bad – again, I lived through ‘90s screamo and pop punk and there’s some woefully grievous missteps there – but when I think back on it, that three dollar coffee shop show changed my life. It set me on a path. That shit was life-altering, when you think about it. And sure, there’s been punk records that’ve come out since Midwestern Songs of the Americas, but are they as good?