“Punk rock is just another word for freedom.” – Patti Smith
“…the whole philosophy of punk rock: taking everything that’s shitty, and celebrating it and making it good.” – Legs McNeil, founder of Punk magazine
In conclusion, there is no conclusion. Having spent the past eight months sniffing the fumes of punk rock, I learned a few things. I learned that the Ramones were once mistaken for “retarded boys” at a gas station in rural Texas. I learned that punk’s preferred tartan plaid has always been the personal plaid of Queen Elizabeth II. But most importantly, I learned that to answer my own essential question, “why does punk matter,” would be the least punk thing that I could do. Although I have proclaimed myself a punk aficionado, I remain outside the unabashedly inside joke of punk rock. I have no authority to define punk, but even if I did, I wouldn’t want to. As soon as punk has a dictionary definition, it becomes unclear whether meeting its own expectations is punk, unpunk, or some other variation on the word “punk.” Punk rock’s power lies in its amorphous existence. By the end of Great Britain’s year of punk, 1977, the musical counterculture mirrored a black hole collapsing in on itself. The media, the government, and every World War II romanticist in between, took it upon themselves to decide what punk rock was for the sole purpose of annihilating it. What they did instead was amplify its inherent paradox: punk is provocative, but with provocation comes reaction, and with reaction comes opinion, and not just from the punks. Subsequent celebrity and commercialization entered its bloodstream like a lethal injection. Punk evolved into a kamikaze mission, running full speed at a brick wall; its decimation was inevitable. All it could hope was that its imminent implosion was as loud and obnoxious as possible.
I will, however, say this: punk doesn’t die–it reincarnates. It rises out of its own ashes, rebels against its previous self, which is the very reason why we get GLAM, PUNK, NEW WAVE, and GRUNGE. I refuse to define punk for you; I’ll leave that to Patti Smith and Legs McNeil, the original punk writer.