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Weekly Alibi More Than Noise

By Mary Walling Blackburn

OCTOBER 25, 1999: 

The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise by Craig O'Hara (AK Press), paper, $12

It is a particularly schizophrenic American pop culture that persuades its callow youth to purchase both Lionel Ritchie and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts in one fell swoop. I know. I did. Both smooth croonin' dental chair lullabies and bad ass, cradle-robbin' badgirl melodies made sense at age nine. So I betray my non-punk tendencies. I cannot cite long band genealogies in a single breath, or list those who have "sold out to the man." Co-opted punk fashion does not stir me with its supposed finger to the establishment: fraternity boys sport dye jobs and SUVs, sorority girls flash piercings and cell phones, punk girls have trust funds and sexist punk boyfriends. Where's the rebellion? Is this what punk boils down to, fashion and music? According to Craig O'Hara, no.

Media misrepresentations have clouded the public's ability to grasp just what the political nature and social concerns of punk are. O'Hara succinctly outlines the basic tenets of punk thinking in terms an aspiring suburban youth or a bewildered grandparent could understand. Anarchism is revealed to be not so much about destroying everything in sight as it is about attempting to effect change and create a society not based on greed and class division. The fractured skinhead movement and the Straight Edge contingent are deconstructed and excommunicated. The DIY ethic encourages those within the punk communities to create an independent economic system that tries not to produce useless products and sell them at inflated prices.

All this talk of an honest penny and doing good to one's fellow human starts me thinking of Lincoln in his log homestead, of punks as rosy-cheeked modern day pioneers with consciences, but somehow I don't think that's quite the image they're striving for. If O'Hara were a little less strung out on providing those copious lists of band names, The Philosophy of Punk would have been even more compelling. Instead of political pioneers, perhaps I would have been comparing them to old Joan Jett: rough and tough and sweet enough to warm a nine-year-old's heart.

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