Punk Music and Age

When I was in middle school in Oregon I was introduced to the concept of non-worship Christian music for the first time. Up until that time the only English music we listened to was Oldies and 70s music. I’d catch a pop or rap song here or there – mostly because the public school buses I rode would listen to the pop or rap stations – but that was it. I think it was like 10% shielding us from the “bad messages in pop music” and 90% my parents just listening to what they enjoyed – which was the music they grew up with. And since those stations were always on when we were growing up, that’s what we grew to like. It’s why I’m the only person in the circle of friends in my age group that knows all the Doo-Wop standards.

While my parents often didn’t like like the Christian music I discovered in terms of music – they weren’t fans of rap or alternative rock, they were supportive of me listening to it because of the positive messages. It was there in Oregon that I came across punk music for the first time via MxPx. The album Teenage Politics seemed written just for me and when I borrowed it from the youth ministry’s library, I listened to it non-stop for a week. (If the tech had been widespread at the time, I would have definitely ripped it to my computer)

MxPx - Teenage Politics cover
MxPx – Teenage Politics cover

As you can hear above, the protagonist in the song bemoans the older generation’s inability to remember what it means to be a teenager. That the very urges and actions they wish for teens to refrain from are the same things THEY did as teenagers. The protagonist also echos the call of all those who feel disenfranchised, especially teenagers – the need to feel respected. That respect means not always dictating action – sometimes you have to allow the teen to convince you that they know what they’re doing. Even as a kid I was able to get the punchline at the end of the song. Although I didn’t particularly have this feeling, it is considered universal for teens to think their parents are so square that there’s no way they were ever hip. The teen will always be hip, he will never become dull like his parent. And, straying from cool/uncool – there are many things our parents tell us to do that seems strange if unexplained and so it’s easy to say you’ll never do those things. However, as we all, know – we tend to become our parents (to some degree). So it’s a pointless refrain that many generations have promised in vain to never be like their parents.

But this track and nearly all of their early records are hard to listen to as a father in his thirties. (Just as ridiculous as Will Smith’s Parents Just Don’t Understand) They sound as whiny and petulant as Ariel in The Little Mermaid – “I’m not a child, father! I’m sixteen years old!” And, in Part of Your World “Betcha on land they don’t reprimand their daughters.” Even more adult punk rock like the songs from the 70s and 80s just sound ridiculous to me in my thirties. It’s like a mean-spirited version of high school and college idealism. You can fix the world -these stupid adults just need to get their heads out of their asses and listen to me.

Interestingly, I only found out this year that, like V for Vendetta, the punk rock albums of the 70s and 80s were a reaction to Margaret Thatcher’s England and, when it came over here, Ronald Reagan’s America. Both were seen a huge conservative swings as well as a move away from youth concerns and towards concerns of the older businessmen. Once I knew that, this SNL skit actually made sense and became a LOT funnier!

That SNL skit provides great examples of the childishness of punk music. Sure, as a young adult it makes sense to rail indiscriminately against the cops. All they seem to want to do is stop kids from enjoying themselves. And the are the most tangible representation of “the man” or government’s reach into your life. As an older adult you realize the benefits of cops in keeping the peace and allowing you to have the peace of mind to let your kids safely walk the streets of the neighborhood. It feels nice to not have to worry constantly about vandalism and burglary. That doesn’t mean that being older means you have to take police abuses in stride. You should still call for justice when cops abuse their power. But, generally speaking for the average American, most of the time the cops are a positive influence and help keep the low key bad guys from running rampant.

Of course the main object of fun in the clip is the Prime Minister and the opinions punk bands were supposed to have of her. While it’s a time-honored tradition in countries that allow for political speech to curse out politicians – especially from the other party – it’s again something that changes with age. The more presidents you live through, the more you realize they’re all just slightly to the left or right of the same pole. Eg: Bush vs Obama on Guantanamo, Government Transparency, National Security issues, etc The type of man who’d run for office is the same no matter the color of his ticket.

I have been able to listen to later MxPx albums. Those have involved more introspective lyrics and a softer sound. It’s not to say that you can’t rock out when you’re older. There’s nothing like listening to a rockin’ song while driving or working out in the yard to really get the juices flowing. (And I’m really diggin’ noise pop band Sleigh Bells) But in the same way that I came to vehemently dislike most rock and roll Christmas and Hymnal music, I think introspective music tends to go hand-in-hand with a more introspective sound. More rock and roll and less rock. I think to do otherwise is to force the brain to fight the contradictory urges the music gives you and just causes less enjoyment.

On a separate, but related, point, it’s probably not entirely coincidental that orchestra performances have older crowds. (And, yeah, I know tickets prices have something to do with that) I think when you’re younger you want to speed life up. Summers can seem to take forever and you need to be older so you can do stuff – drive, watch rated R movies, buy whatever you want, get married, make big money, etc Although I’ve never actively been against classical music, I find myself listening to a lot more of it alongside rap, rock, and indie music. When you’re older you want life to go more slowly – each year brings more age-related unpleasantness and brings you closer to death. Why hurry to get there?