The venue smells like a junior high gymnasium, an abominable mix of cheap perfume and pubescent sweat.
My skin crawls every time some overly excited, sweat-soaked bop bumps in to me, and I momentarily see myself as the weird, overweight, mentally underdeveloped teenager down the block who used to play mountain with us when we were eight. I'm a big guy, and everyone here is just so fucking small. It's an 18-and-up show, but these kids look to me like they're 15 and act like they're 12.
I was never that small. I was never that annoying. Was I?
I can't help but notice the girl dancing in front of the stage. I've always loved ripped fishnets and combat boots, and her leopard-print miniskirt shakes in perfect time to the music in my head. "Leather jackets, stupid boyfriends, poor report cards, life is just a ball /Hi-top Chucks and bubblegum oh my gosh I'd love to love 'em all."
I avert my attention long enough to watch the band, and I'm impressed. Then I feel a little bitter-they're not old enough to legally drink, but they're touring the country, something I never experienced and likely won't.
The band stops and everyone starts milling around. I'm pissed this place has a no in-and-out policy and the kid at the door won't let me go outside to smoke. The stale air, smell and nicotine deprivation is making me sick to my stomach when I notice the girl I was checking out across the room. Up close I realize she's younger than I imagined-too young-and I feel downright criminal.
I bow my head in shame and realize I'm wearing torn Chucks, black pants and a band shirt, basically the same outfit I was probably wearing to a show 15 years ago. Back then I was even younger than the kids around me now.
In a rare moment of rock-show sobriety-rare because the venues I frequent a few nights a week serve beer-the little voice echoes in my head.
I'm way too old for this shit.
Winston Churchill said "If you are 20, and not a liberal, you have no heart. If you are 40, and not a conservative, you have no brains." I've also been told, and probably argued in favor of at some point, that "punk rock is for the young." In "My Generation," The Who sneers, "I hope I die before I get old." And '60s activist Jack Weinberg warned, "Never trust anyone over 30."
Churchill's words contain an underlying principle that runs through all these statements and can easily be applied to punk rock, though the cut-off age would likely be 30 or younger (depending on who is making the statement).
It doesn't have to be that clear of a day for me to peer across the horizon and look 30 straight in the eye, but punk rock and music in general still account for a disproportionate part of my life. And I'm not alone-I count among my close friends people between the ages of 18 and 40 who feel pretty much the same way and feel no shame about it.
And why should we? Punk is more than wearing stupid clothes and listening to shitty music-aspects most of us have long since moved past. It's a lifestyle, a worldview, a code of ethics and the basis for my morality. It influences the personal, professional and political decisions I make. It's been a major influence and cornerstone of my existence for more than half of my life.
Punk is a million things to a million people, and I'm not so deluded and self-aggrandizing that I'll attempt to put a solid definition to it. That goes against my own personal interpretation of punk, which includes a mandate to never take myself too seriously. At the risk of doing just that, I'll say it has given me the unique perspective that makes me who I am, which is something I'm more or less happy with, despite the little voice inside my head. It's given me self-confidence, a sense of humor and more good times than I can ever remember.
I had a conversation like this a few months ago with a good friend, who very happily stated that we're the first generation to really carry the music and ethos of our youth into adulthood.
The way I see it, that can't be a bad thing. Fuck brains, I'll keep the heart anytime.
Perhaps the fact so many people my age carry on this way can be interpreted as a scathing indictment of the X/Y Generations' refusal to accept the responsibilities of adulthood. Then again, perhaps it's a more serious estimation of today's society, and the reason so many of us now live an extended adolescence is because so many of us were deprived of a real childhood. Perhaps the American dream-happy marriage, solid career and nice things at 30-has been proven not only impossible, but an empty farce, nonexistent and unattainable.
Sometimes things get hard to explain. I went to my 10-year high school reunion last summer and people seemed entertained, but not too surprised, by the fact I accesorized my nice suit with the same ripped Chucks and some buttons. It seemed more surprising that half the girls there were in the final trimester of their second or third pregnancy. Good for them if it makes them happy. But that ain't what I'm looking for. Not yet, at least.
I've developed the view that punk rock is no longer exclusively the property of the young. Shit, seeing most of what passes for it nowadays makes me all the more inclined to keep it for myself, my friends and the few truly deserving that come along. Maybe someday I'll move on, sell out (or whatever the kids call it these days) and adopt a lifestyle more befitting a man my age.
But I just can't see it.Slowing down is inevitable, but I have a few good years left before I'm wearing a mohawk hairpiece and spinning Clash records every Tuesday night at the rock 'n' roll retirement home.