Now, I have to properly set this up. I'm not a "punk." I've been called a "punk-ass," but that' s something completely different. I have an appreciation for some music that has been considered "punk" or "punk rock," but I do not proclaim to actually be one. I have a few Clash CDs, a couple of Sex Pistols recording and, from there, it's sparse at best. I write this purely as an observer.
My uncle was in town and he was to play a benefit show for a local kid who was tragically killed ten years ago when he was run over by a vehicle driven. The event has made the young man who was killed in the event an international hero in the punk community because the event magnified the clash between the preps and the punks. I do not wish to write on this because I can not intelligently speak on it, plus, I would never dispute how sad the event is. It's just necessary you know this before I go on.
Back to the story...My uncle, who is a talented bassist, was in town to play a benefit show and he sent me an email the day of the show announcing the time and place. I was game...always. The admission was $5.00 with a can of food or $7.00 otherwise. Piece of cake.
Donovan asked me to show up at about 10:30 because he was certain he wouldn't play any earlier. So I stroll up at about 10:20 at the large building housing the event. When I walk in, I'm hit with the pugnant smell of cigarette smoke and a mustiness that recalled the smell of an old bathrobe.
When I walk into the main room, I see assorted individuals lining the outside of the room--most of them in fairly typical punk garb. It was the "punk" you read about in old magazines. Somewhat disorderly. Clothes safety-pinned together. Mohawks. Eyeliner. Bad attitudes. Big black boots. It kinda reminded me of those old men who live as bikers on the weekend. A kinda fantasy. Now, I don't know what real punk is, but it seemed that such vanity and posing that I was witnessing was not punk. But, again, I'm on the outside.
I find my uncle and some of his buddies and we sit at the back and watch the event go down in front of us--waiting for Donovan's chance to play. Perched on a barstool, I just sat back and observed.
The event, for the most part, recalled the contained disorder of a 5 year-old's birthday party. Like, there was no disputing that things could go wrong, but they didn't. You almost wish something did. Like you wished that one of the kids jumping up and down in front of the stage acting "punk" with their hands in the air and stomping in circles in their dirty pair of Nikes actually slipped, fell and broke something. Not paralysis, but something that would slow them down. You wanted a fight to break out. That might make for a more authentic punk experience.
I, like a traveller in a foreign land, wanted to ensure I was getting the real punk experience. And, rather, what I witnessed was more like a "punk gallery." A look-but-don't-touch experience where the "individuals" more represented punk than were punk. The band that played was annoying, but at least harmonic. They ended with a rousing version of the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop"--which caused some of the nearby punks to sing along and actually move away from the outside wall. For some, this would be the most excitement they'd show all night. I suppose it's more punk to be unappreciative and emotionless.
The next band that would come up with top off my truly "near-punk" experience. Some kid who was visibly stupid with drunkeness walked onto the stage with a drummer and a guitarist. The singer shouts a few inaudible things into the mic and then they go into a super-fast version of, guess what, "Blitzkrieg Bop" by the Ramones. What the?
And, not only that, the guitarist and drummer were flying through it so fast that the singer couldn't keep up with his "Hey! Ho! Let's Go!" He was anywhere from a half-beat to a full beat off. Of course, maybe to him, this was what punk was. Then, in frustration, he goes into full-on, throat-ruining screams. The crowd sat in boredom as instructed by their creed. I sat in amazement that anyone would tolerate such bullshit. I was about to bumrush the stage. It was horrible.
My uncle sat with his head in his hands just waiting to play.
A series of minute-and-a-half assaults called "songs" would follow and would end with this kid just screaming and wailing. Then, when his throat and lungs were expensed, he would invite up two mohawks to help him with some back-up screaming--sometimes all at the same time.
Lucky I didn't bring my lovely wife. She would've not tolerated this as "entertainment." Of course, I guess I barely did.
Then, at about midnight, my uncle took the stage with Perry on drums and Dustin on the Fender Rhodes. My uncle makes a quick announcement and dedication of his set: "Some call what I do 'death jazz,' but I just want to do something different. I want to put the 'F-U' back into jazz." They then launch into what would be the highlight of the evening for me. In fact, you're deaf if it wasn't the highlight for you too because they col' wrecked it.
During the first heavily percussive composition, one of the kids who was jumping around all night came up to the front of the stage and began headbanging with his devil-horns in the air. He would end his moronic dance with a "Hell yeah!" which Donovan cooly ignored and kept playing. Donovan's an older head who doesn't bullshit anymore and scream things at shows. As he played there, the louder areas of the room grew silent, heads began to turn toward the stage and all attention began to, for the first time of the night, gravitate toward the stage. He was like that old(er) spirit that commanded everyone's attention. And he didn't disappoint.
He played for about forty minutes and it was a jaw-dropping set. Dustin killed it on the keys and Perry's playing was improved from as little as a year ago. It reminded me how lucky I am to have such incredibly talented musicians in the family. For me, there were only three musicians who played that night--the rest were like circus performers dressed like Sid Vicious. And there was only one true "punk" and that was Uncle Donovan who showed those younguns how to bravely and unapologetically do your own damn thing with silent confidence and unabashed individualism.