Great Debate: Is Punk Rock Dead?

Is Punk dead?

Punk is as dead as three out of four Ramones..

-- J.P. Gorman

Punk rock isn’t any more alive and thriving today than psychedelic rock or new wave. As far as the broader culture is concerned, it’s been dead for awhile and it ain’t coming back.

Punk arose out of a very specific time and a very specific attitude. The self-satisfied winners of World War II let their culture run amok for a generation; thirty years after the War, the indulgence had gotten so out of hand that those on the bottom refused to stand by and let the popular garbage on top define them as people.

So they started wearing chains as accessories with purple hair and multiple piercings, studded leather jackets and combat boots. Musicians cranked up their amps, took amphetamines, and banged out fast songs about sniffing glue and destroying the system that put them in their position. Those attending shows invented slam-dancing and gave the finger to or spit at the band and each other. Thus, punk was born, and for a long time it was the only honest cultural force going.

A lot of sand has gone through the hourglass since then, though. Look no further than the coming thirtieth anniversary “special,” and entirely soulless, re-release of Anarchy in the U.K.. Or acknowledge that three-fourths of the original Ramones are dead.

Like hippies and beatniks, punks are cultural artifacts these days, foot soldiers from a bye-gone era, wearing a dog-collar and fighting that good fight even though many of their generals died of heroin overdoses long ago. People with tattoos and pierced noses still play music influenced by punk. But it’s not punk: it’s pop-punk, or dance-punk, or the dreaded emo.

The movement needn’t die, however: it’s just that the second coming of Punk will sound absolutely nothing like the first.

And nothing would be more punk than that.

Punk never dies.

-- Michael Fraiman

Punk’s not dead; just some of the people are.

I could write 300 words on how the soul of punk music will never die, people still listen to the Sex Pistols, etc., but that’s a bit trite. (Trite, as the old saying goes, but nonetheless true.) The real issue to raise is not only that people continually listen to classic punk like the Ramones, Sex Pistols, the Clash, Bad Brains, and so forth, but that they keep picking up guitars and making music and wishing that they were those bands. The idolization of the music hasn’t died down one bit, and that’s what’s given us Green Day, against me! and the Dropkick Murphys.

Punk can’t be dead because good punk bands still exist. Look in the seedy venues of downtown Toronto and you’ll find a hardcore punk show every once in a while. It’s not just the soul of it that's still alive—it’s the fans, too.

Granted: the genre is less popular than it once was. And beyond even that, a lot of terrible music, like Simple Plan, Sum 41, Good Charlotte, and the later work of NOFX or the Offspring are what popularize “punk” today. That’s just not right. So maybe people think that the punk genre is diminishing in quality, but then you can listen to against me!’s Reinventing Axel Rose and remember that all hope is not lost.

A brief anecdote: at the Rogers Picnic a few weeks ago, Bad Brains, pioneers of hardcore punk, played a rare live show. The amount of Mohawk-ridden, shirtless moshers who showed up specifically for Bad Brains and left right after, in Toronto alone, earns the true statement of “Punk is not dead.”

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