We’re all a little punk

Graffiti wall
In the case of punk rock, the rebels haven’t gone anywhere. Our editor believes they just dress a little different these days. | Image: Robert Anasch

So I’m not sure I agree with this week’s cover. 

Let me preface by saying I love the cover artwork as it’s yet another banger by our art director John Montesano – I’m specifically referring to the part about not being punk. 

That’s because I think we’re all a little punk – at what level simply varies on your commitment. There’s no doubt punk life has influenced today’s mainstream pop culture and has infiltrated various genres of music. 

Just 20 years ago, rappers were wearing Coogi, Fubu, Karl Kani and Timberland boots. Now it’s all skinny jeans, graphic Ts and high-top Vans. Google Lil Wayne and his volume of work over the last 10 years as Exhibit A. I’m a 90s kid, so I grew up really loving old school hip-hop, gangsta rap and Uncle Luke inciting women to “pop pussy.” 

Not that I ever really knew what that meant at the time, I just thought the sample beat was unreal.

But in the same hand, I was pirating songs by Bad Brains, Green Day and Operation Ivy off Napster. I think to live in Philadelphia too and having places like the TLA and Trocadero foster the punk scene even after its heyday as a mecca for the sound made it just as much of the culture as anything else. 

The February 6 cover of Philadelphia Weekly. | Design: John Montesano

There’s something about having to “be” or “look” a certain way to be considered a type that I never got down with. Like in middle and high school when skaters referred to people down with that subculture but afraid to break their arm doing ollies “posers,” just for wearing Etnies sweatshirts and Stussy skate shoes. 

Or the 1980s-90s culture that circulated around having a fresh pair of Jordan’s or Air Force Ones on your feet.

I didn’t have my first pair of Js until I was in my 20s, not because I didn’t want them, but I lived in a time when kids were literally dying in Philly streets over Js they spent weeks or months saving up for. 

But back to punk. There’s something about its close relationship to rock and reggae that always did it for me. See I wasn’t really a Black Flag, Ramones, Rancid kind of punk lover over Offspring, Sonic Youth and Blondie. Actually, I clearly remember Debbie Harry being my first white girl crush, so it actually might have been more the attraction than being into songs like “Call Me,” or “Rapture.”

I think there’s something about a genre of music that people can relate to and identify themselves with and that’s subsequently what you define yourself as. I think the writer of this week’s piece, newcomer G.D. Hoffman, accurately explains what a lot of us see every day in the heavily-tattooed, all-black donning residents of our city but I think the idea that they aren’t punk or can’t relate to that true punk life because they didn’t live it is extreme.

However, Hoffman had me laughing my ass off with this narrative about his neighbor. 

“My neighbor has the look, I guess. [The] monochromatic unfinished-looking tattoos, wears all black, and does hair like Debbie Harry. But a week after [moving] in, a note [was left] demanding we respect quiet hours. No dancing late at night, no music at all, and step delicately in the stairs if you can. I didn’t think that was very punk.”

It’s not. What that is is something I readily refer to as “woke hipster,” another demographic you can find all across this city as well. 

Oftentimes, sadly, there’s a confusion between the two.

I guess what I’m getting at is that people who pay homage to a great time in music history have a look that varies all over the spectrum. In the case of punk, I guarantee you’ll find as many J. Crew button-down wearers (myself included) as you would people wearing perfectly distressed leather jackets, with band pins of The Germs, MC5 and NOFX affixed to them.

I mean, shit, I’ve never painted my fingernails black and I love all three. 

  • Kerith Gabriel's Headshot

    Kerith Gabriel is the former editor-in-chief at Philadelphia Weekly but somehow hasn’t figured out that means he doesn’t have to write nearly as much. As a routine contributor, journalism has been in his blood since his beginnings as a sports writer over a decade ago for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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