When Avril Lavigne came out in 2002, I wasn’t too horrified. She was a good alternative to “artists” like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera who all seemed like copy cat sell outs. Lavigne, at least, seemed to have a little faux-punk edge and didn’t dress in as little clothes as possible. So I was alright with her, though I would never, ever have called her punk.
Yet, Lavigne is not the only musician who claims to exist within the punk genre, despite heavy pop overtones. There’s also Paramore. Even one of my favorite bands The Dollyrots is as much pop as it is punk.
Once upon a time, punk was the rebel child of rock ‘n’ roll. Rock had become too tame, too formulaic. As Carola Dibbell noted in the essay “Inside Was Us: Women & Punk”, the recipe for punk: “throw acid at rock & roll and construct a genre out of what was left.” Punk was rock’s three-chord sibling. A genre that built more than just music, it built an entire culture after it. Young people thrived in the punk scene, going to shows, making their own band T-shirts and writing/publishing zines.
Punk ‘broke’ in the late 70s with bands like The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Slits, X Ray Spex and lived only a short while, soon to be replaced by new wave. In the 90s, punk came back with a vengeance, this time with some feminist bite. Bands like Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy, L7, Babes in Toyland and Hole screamed their lyrics, played their own instruments and tore into the underground punk scene. Both of these scenes shared an underlying sense of a d0-it-yourself flavor–of beginning musicians making music because they loved it and writing songs that had messages that mattered. They were the counterculture.
Today, punk is way too pop to be part of the counterculture-at least the punk that mainstream culture identifies as punk. Sure, there are plenty of bands out there that are punk in the old sense of DIY culture, raw, edgy, gritty musical qualities…they’re not all like the glossed over pop-centric pop-punk anthems like “My Best Friend’s Hot” (The Dollyrots), and “Misery Business” (Paramore).
Just look a little farther underground and you’ll find punk-rock-gems like Doll Stake, from the UK. Their song “So I Married an Axe Murderer” harkens back to ye-olde days of punk, where punk was indeed the stuff parents forbade their children to listen to. It’s gritty. It’s raw. Listening to Doll Stake will make you think of your L7 and 7 Year Bitch albums, which you’ll immediately have to dig out. It’ll make you dig out any old zines you happen to have around your house from years of collected said publications and maybe even make you start one. It’ll make you think-Hey, this is cool! I should learn an instrument and form my own kickass band.
There’s something inspiring about punk that the new pop/punk cannot and will never capture. While The Dollyrots interchange a few political references into songs filled with boyfriends, leaving LA and being awesome, they’ll never quite catch the dark, dank, CBGB-esque sound that so characterized The Ramones, Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy and so many of their other forerunners. They can try. And Paramore can try to promise starting a riot, but let’s face it: they will never stand up to bands like Bikini Kill and other Riot Grrrl bands that REALLY DID start a revolution. Face it Paramore fans: RIOT GRRRL will be in all the good music histories. Paramore will be a footnote, if even that.
So, here’s a salute to all bands-past, present and future, who hold true to the ideals of punk, and keep kicking at the music industry which tries to meld music into a recognizable and easily consumed product.
(P.S. keep in mind, I LOVE THE DOLLYROTS….they just aren’t true punk in the old-school sense. but Joan Jett loves them too, and really, shouldn’t that be enough? 😉 )