“Punk is dead.”
Or maybe, “Punk’s not dead.”
Either way, I’ve heard either of these phrases for as long as I’ve been into punk and neither means a goddamn thing. They’re provocative in a meaningless way – a response to a question asked by a strawman that doesn’t exist. The truth is that punk cycles through mainstream consciousness periodically the same way fringe sports like cycling or pro wrestling do. Punk is a subculture with a loyal, dedicated fanbase that occasionally, through some temporary capture of fleeting zeitgeist, filters its way up the normies. When I was younger, I hated when bands I liked went mainstream. Now that I’m older, it’s fun.
Conversations about punk rock in 2021 require a lot less preamble and exposition than they did even two years ago. A lot of this is thanks to Travis Barker who seems to be like some modern day punk rock Johnny Appleseed. Machine Gun Kelly, Olivia Rodrigo, and KennyHoopla – all on this year’s playlist – all owe a debt in some measure to Travis Barker for their recent sonic pivots. And thank god!
Punk rock is catharsis. It’s a recognition that the world is in many ways fucked, but also the recognition that if you turn the volume all the way up and scream your feelings over some loud ass drums and distorted guitar riffs that maybe you’ll feel a bit better. I certainly do! And while 2021 is still a nightmare hellscape in many ways, it’s a DRAMATIC improvement over 2020, and much of the repressed, frustrated energy of last year is finding its way to a release valve. At least in terms of music.
I have 13 punk mixes in my library. This year’s playlist could almost be #14. The aforementioned MGK/Rodrigo/Hoopla trio is in there alongside new stuff from legacy band The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, a few deep cuts from punk stalwarts Green Day and Lars Frederiksen, and cool shit I happened to discover this year like Neck Deep and Touche Amore. Also on here is Denver supergroup Record Thieves with their song “Sacrifice” which might be my favorite song released in the last 12 months.
Turning 40 is weird. For the first time in my entire life, I feel a hard disconnect from my youth. It dawned me around my 20th (21st, technically) high school reunion because 20 years removed, graduation represents the approximate midpoint of our lives. We lived half our lives as kids, then spent the next half learning to be adults. Enough time has passed, I don’t have to TRY to be an adult in the least anymore. It’s my default gear.
What’s interesting is that abstractly this feels like it should be more depressing than it is, considering the lamentations you read from people mourning their own loss of youth. In many ways, adulthood is far preferable to youth. I’m fortunate that I’ve been happily married for nearly 12 years, and totally off the market for nearly 17, so the trappings and anxiety of chasing romantic partnership are a relic of the distant past. I’m established inside my own business which means I don’t have the chronic career anxiety that plagued me as a younger man. I have money. I have experience. I have perspective. I have an abundance of resolve that has not failed me yet and the knowledge I can lean on that and uncanny resourcefulness to solve virtually any problem put in front of me.
I don’t want to get too self-assured here because I know how quickly the tides can turn as evidenced by my absolutely miserable 2019. Suffice to say, I feel like I know myself better than I have at any point in my life up until now. I have never been less concerned with pleasing people whose opinion holds no value to me. I am comfortable in my tastes and my choices. I am at ease in my own skin, which has caused the negative self-talk in my head to be muted in a way that is both refreshing and disorienting. I actually fully like myself most of the time. What a trip!
I wrote in a recent post about how turning 40 represents one formally aging out of the dominant cultural demographic (and also how young people look fucking stupid in their high-waisted pants). The irony for me is that in terms of music, I’ll likely never be this close to the current zeitgeist ever again. Punk is on an upswing in 2021, and who knows where it goes from here. I’ll enjoy the ride as long as it lasts, but inevitably the scene will fuck back off to the underground for club shows and anachronistic soundtrack appearances on hot new shows on an ever-growing number of streaming platforms.
And that’s fine with me. My wife, my best friend, and I have all said we want to be the old ass motherfuckers standing in the back of the club as sweaty 20 year-olds shout urgently about injustices both personal and cultural while slamming into each other in front of us. You know, like the same old ass motherfuckers we used to make fun of half a lifetime ago.
When you’re young, aging is terrifying. But then, so is most everything, so why should aging be any different? As you go through it, you realize age in many ways is freedom. The baggage I used to carry has fallen away in ways I barely even bothered to notice. And sure, my body hurts more and I can’t lose weight with nearly the speed I could a decade ago, but those are small prices to pay for the psychological liberty of truly not giving a fuck about that which does not matter.
Some of this has been aided by making good choices. It’s been nearly two years since I had a cigarette, and I very much don’t miss smoking. I’ve been working out three times a week at Orangetheory Fitness since last November and feel healthier and more athletic than I have in a decade. And for the first time since I can’t even remember when, I’m consistently taking time to enjoy myself.
A couple of weeks ago Kristin and I were consistently having to drive the girls 40 minutes each way to day camps in Arvada. Yes, this mostly sucked made worse by the fact that I haven’t had a commute of any sort in more than 6 years, and thus, have no rhythmic patience for these trips. But one day after finishing my work, having lunch with a friend, former colleague and client, and feeling great about myself, I spent $12 and played 9 holes on the Par 3 course about 10 minutes from the day camp.
I’m not sure I would have made that choice a year ago. Somewhere inside me is a frayed wire that lectures me that unless EVERYONE is having a good time, I can’t have one either. I have always resented that voice, and have finally used that resentment to cast it out. Work hard. Meet your obligations. When those are done – do literally whatever the fuck you want, find some goddamn joy, and fuck everyone else. That’s one of the reasons you wanted to work for yourself, isn’t it? Learn to enjoy yourself!
Like I said, age is freedom and I’m finally learning that. Enjoy this year’s mix, and be sure to turn it way the fuck up. Because musical volume is one thing my advancing age cannot seem to cure.
- “brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo
- “Reminders” by Touche Amore
- “hollywood sucks” by KennyHoopla & Travis Barker
- “Little Rude Girl” by Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards
- “J.A.R.” by Green Day
- “I Don’t Believe in Anything” by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones
- “I Think I’m OKAY” by Machine Gun Kelly, YUNGBLUD & Travis Barker
- “King Kunta” by Kendrick Lamar
- “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys
- “good 4 u” by Olivia Rodrigo
- “WALK YOU HOME” by Bishop Briggs
- “Gold Steps” by Neck Deep
- “Slow Heart” by TWIN XL
- “Sacrifice” by Record Thieves
- “Happy Endings (feat. iann dior and UPSAHL)” by Mike Shinoda
- “1 Last Cigarette” by The Band CAMINO
- “You Know We Can’t Go Back” by Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
- “Sedona” by Houndmouth
- “Ooh La La (Live)” by Redbird