The Myth of Punks Past | Letters | Chicago Reader

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The Myth of Punks Past

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I won't judge Jessica Hopper's review of Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation on the album itself, since that wasn't her intention in the first place ["The Fountain of Sonic Youth," June 15]. Hopper's criticisms on the "reissue" album and its evocation to recall the fountain of perpetual youth is quite bizarre if not lacking in any substance.

Yes, people grow older. Yes, albums become touchstones of people's lives. And, yes, some of us (without apprehensions or misgiving I might add) enjoy reliving past times through the music--the very soundtrack--that evinced those affective moments we like to recall as memorable or, in the least, remembered (be they in the many guises of angst, love, hate, fear, paranoia, etc).

Hopper can't seem to untangle the many threads she weaves throughout her article, and many of her arguments are historically telescopic if not quite offensive. For example, she partakes in the very superficial nostalgia she abhors in the reissue album and the reunion tour by making grand claims for musical genres.

Having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 90s, I orbited around the early 90s East Bay "punk" scene. I say orbited because many of my friends were of the 924 Gilman habitues. These memories, these bands, and their music still formed my musical tastes, political convictions, and enthusiasm for the music's energy. As to whether Bay Area punk was "punk" at all is another question.

Needless to say, "punk" elicits many myths, if not nostalgic notions of its historic rise. When Hopper claims that the genre is "nihilistic music made by angry kids, and its nature is to die, to be extinguished, to destroy itself" is historically false and a romanticized version of punk. If this were the case, none of the albums, bands, or histories that is punk would be remembered, listened to, or spoken about.

Many "angry kids" pressed their own LPs (or created their own labels, or just created tapes!) and photocopied their own press releases. This was so in the 70s UK as well as in 90s Berkeley. The collective Punks With Presses even took this form of self-promotion as a business model (which was helped in part by Cinder Block of the band Tilt) and created a whole network of artists to help bands promote themselves in Berkeley and the Bay Area.

To claim that punk was to "destroy itself" is a historically romantic notion. In this respect, Hopper isn't above the "middle-aged men" at a Dinosaur Jr show who pejoratively wear "ragged relic T-shirts." She's right next to them bemoaning that we can't move on, precisely because the "nostalgia" she writes about is a complete myth!

If growing older and if history is such a bad thing, why listen to past released albums at all? Why bother restoring and remastering fragile audio material? Why bother archiving activities of any musical community? Why bother with music at all?

We all get old and time moves on. That being said, I quote Brian Edge, editor of 924 Gilman, a photographic and oral history of that very venue that spawned punk in the Bay Area, "it's not your age or experience that matters most, it's your dedication and enthusiasm."

Farris Wahbeh

Lakeview ¯

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