07 August 2007

Postcard Punx

I've long been bemused by the time capsule kids who dress up in picture-perfect representations of punk fashion circa 1982, and I've grown steadily more bemused in recent years as the costumes grow ever more precise and formulaic even as the kids wearing them grow farther and farther removed from the time period that spawned them.

I guess the equivalent would be if my late-60s gang of late teenage/early 20-somethings had spurned the hippie look in favor of dressing up in zoot suits and rocking out to Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. I mean, what prompts kids to slavishly perpetuate an era that ended before most of them were born? And by the way, why 1982 punk style and not 1977? I think I know the answer to the latter question: by 82 there were more spikes and studs and bondage trousers, i.e., the overall look was more preeningly peacock-like than the Sex Pistols/Clash era style, which tended more toward the generally disheveled and in some cases could even be mistaken for the early hippie look.

Anyway, there's quite a little aggregation of postcard punks who hang around - some might say infest - St. Mark's Place and Tompkins Square Park, and while some of them have been there so long they've gone feral, the majority, I suspect, commute in from the suburbs to destroy society on the weekends. I've actually overheard a couple of them calling their mothers in Connecticut to let them know they'd arrived safely in the city.

They do - even the weekenders - tend to affect a rather grubby look and a fractious demeanor, and one such lad swaggered - as much as a scrawny 17 year old wearing a heavy spiked leather vest on the hottest day of the year can swagger - into the pizza joint on the corner of St. Marks and Avenue A, where I was quietly enjoying my dinner.

"Yo," he barked at the counterman, "Let me use your restroom."

"We don't got no restroom," he was told.

"Yo, don't tell me that, I know you got a restroom, c'mon, man, what do I gotta do, buy something? A Coke or something? Hey, I'll just give you a dollar if you let me use it. A dollar and a half. Cash, man."

The counter guy stared silently at him with that blank look that New Yorkers seem to reserve for the most obtuse out-of-towners. The kid fumbled for something to say, and I, thinking I could maybe break the impasse, said, "Hey, you know there's a public restroom right over there across the street," pointing in the direction of Tompkins Square Park.

The kid, who clearly hailed from what they used to call "a good home" even if he hadn't washed his baby face in a couple days, seemed taken aback, as if he were debating what the appropriately punk response should be. He briefly toyed - at least it looked like it - with the idea of telling me to go fuck myself or threatening to stab me, but then his face softened, and he spoke softly, the way he might if he were addressing his favorite teacher back at Darien High School: "Oh, I know about that restroom. But those toilets are so dirty."

2 comments:

Brooklyn Kitchen said...

Ha! That's a good story. I see them around too. Am always amused by their clothes adorned with patches of long-gone bands, wonder why the throw-back to the bygone days of punk. But then I realized that there is no music-of-rebellion anymore, nothing for them that's aggressively anti-authoritarian, that isn't consumed by corporate money, other than the pop-wannabes that are chomping to sell out to the dollar but haven't quite made it yet. Where can these kids turn that offers any coherent resistance, something that offers them even the vaguest sense of comradeship. All these post-post-modern punx have is the old stuff and the dreams of days gone by. Because the spirit of early 80s hardcore has been suched out of the world, the blazed trails have become obscured by the jungle of monetary mediocrity, there's really no place else to go. In a way I feel sorry for them. They're dressing and acting like that because these kids are longing for a broken and dead dream, and it unaccessible, 25 years back in time.

DK said...

Oh for God's sake, there are plenty of punk bands out there who aren't sucking on the corporate teat. I Object, Career Suicide, Government Warning, Social Circkle, and the Nitz are just a few off the top of my head.

If there's anything more annoying than the clueless, teenage postcard punks, it's the equally clueless thirtysomethings who've been whining that punk is dead since Minor Threat stopped playing. Do they really feel that way, or are they just bitter because the punk scene sped past them instead of dying when they got bored with it? I'm sure it's an incredible hardship that they don't get to be all cool and iconic, but pardon me for being sick of it.