Everything I know I learned from punk rock.
I don’t generally talk about this because I’m saving the subject for a
book I want to write, but then again, it could be one of those dozens
of other things that we spend our entire lives telling ourselves we’re
going to do, some day, some time, when we have the money, and then we
just die thinking “oh if only I had the time to accomplish…”
I digress, I digress…
Let me just tell the story, in chronological order, straight forward
and no holds barred.
I used to be a gloomy kid. Not sure why, I just didn’t care much about
having fun or being happy. I never liked to participate in things,
family affairs, school stuff, playing soccer, nothing. I had a couple
of play pals, alright, but never really cared about parties or
anything that involved other people besides myself.
My adolescence was quite normal, I guess. I felt awkward all of the
time, like I didn’t belong anywhere, I was 100% sure no woman would
ever want to have sex with me, I hated school and I didn’t really care
about anything else besides listening to music and bumming around,
reading, watching TV, sleeping or eating. I didn’t leave home much,
lived far away from where the action was, and there was no internet
back then, so I didn’t really talk to anyone else outside of my family
or my school buddies.
I had this cousin who shared some of my views, and we lived close to
each other, so used to spend some time together. I would go over to
his place and we would listen to some heavy metal and watch movies
like Scarface and Drugstore Cowboy. It was a time of discovery, we
used to read a lot of music magazines, and porno mags too, but instead
of just looking at the women we used to read the stories and letters
too, slowly evolving our knowledge of the adult world.
That’s when I first heard a Ramones song.
It was a cover. We were listening to a hardcore / thrash metal
crossover band when all of a sudden one of the songs in the album
snatched my attention. The credits on the album confirmed my
suspicion: it was a cover song, and a little more research (again,
this is pre-Google) showed us it was a Ramones song.
Eventually I managed to find a cassete tape of Rocket to Russia and
added it to my daily listening list. Eventually I forgot about it, and
the Ramones vanished from my attention. I simply didn’t have the
mental capacity to fully grasp the beauty of their work. Besides,
everyone I knew was into heavy metal, and without other punk bands to
nurture my knowledge of punk, or other Ramones albums to listen to, I
spent a good six years away from it. For a long time I survived
through my teen years with heavy metal and progressive rock, even on
the night I lost my virginity. Around this time I also got a Ramones
album for my birthday, but never got around to listen to it. The
message had arrived at me once again, but I wasn’t prepared to listen
And then, one day, for no reason, punk rock struck me.
I never forgot that day. It was a day like any other, boring and warm,
some mid-afternoon at my then girlfriend’s home. She had to do
something and I needed to wait for her for a while, in the living
room. She told me I could browse through her brother’s albums and see
if I liked something.
Depressed and bored like only a recently un-virgined kid could be, I
flipped record after record looking for something new and exciting. It
was a stark black and white photographed that captured my eyesight:
the first Ramones album.
Funny, I thought, it’s been a while since I last tried to listen to
these guys. Well… why the hell not, right?
I didn’t know what was about to happen.
When I close my eyes I can clearly see the vinyl, slowly turning at 33
1/3 rotations per minute, the tender hum of the spinning wheel, and
the needle, slowly traveling through space, touching the black surface
and sliding into the spiral canal. As the minute texture on both sides
of the spiral started to move the needle, the air around the speakers
started to tremble, and I was never the same again.
One year later, I was jumping out of a stage.
Wait, what? All my life I stayed locked inside of my bedroom, drawing
and listening to metal, and suddenly I’m moshing and shaving my head
and learning to play the guitar? What the fuck happened? This story
makes no sense!
Well, it doesn’t make sense to me either, and I was there. But stay with me.
What happened was that, all my life, punk rock was around me,
somewhere, but I never realized what it meant until I became part of
it. Listening to albums is one thing, but actually being out there, in
the real world, is something completely different. Reading about punk
rock from magazines, or watching TV news shows about the dangers of
punk rock to society, never gave me an actual realization of what it
After I started to listen to punk rock, and meeting people who did the
same, and trading albums, cassete tapes, zines and such, my life
became a whole different game. I had a lot of friends. I made stuff. I
learned how to play the guitar, and the drums, how to make t-shirts
and how to print zines. I also learned how to respect women, how to
keep a band together, and the importance of the daily struggle against
homophobia, racism, police violence, and so many other subjects that
would never cross my mind when I was just sitting in my room,
listening to Master of Puppets for the billionth time.
Reading books like “Kill Me Please” made me realize there was an
entire world out there waiting to be explored, with things to see and
people to meet and stuff to learn, and that just sitting around with
my parents watching TV wouldn’t give me. My generation never had a
Woodstock to attend to, we didn’t get drafted to Vietnam, but we had
our fun and our way to contest the system. Too bad my parents and
their entire generation were busy becoming the system to even
Following my family’s wishes, I ended up in architecture school, but I
didn’t really want to. Punk rock helped decide to leave it and do what
I really wanted. In art school, punk rock inspired me in every step of
the way: I made screen prints with techniques I learned from band
t-shirts, artist books like zines, collage art inspired by Crass,
drawings inspired by Raymond Pettibon, and even my sculptures had the
Ramones in there somewhere, much to my teachers’ dismay. But thanks to
writers like Stewart Home I knew a lot of stuff about the relationship
between punk rock and other avant-gard movements, enough to impress my
teachers, and I managed to graduate.
And even then, after all this, I still didn’t fully understand what
punk rock was all about.
I graduated, and tried to get a job. I wanted to fit in. I found a
girl, we fell in love, I moved in to live with her. Everything seemed
to be doing just fine. I stopped listening to punk rock so much, I had
other interests, more mature even. Ha ha, oh yes, I was so mature. I
would listen to adult music, watch adult films. I was so adult.
A fucking retard, actually.
Eventually I got a job, the most disgraceful job I ever had, working
the The Man, a small advertising agency that was like a caricature of
everything I loathed about the human race. And then another job, and
then another — really, I actually got to the point where I had 3
jobs, waking up at 8 in the morning and going to bed around midnight,
trying to make ends meet and finally help my “wife” pay the rent. We
spent 5 years in this strange relationship, where I constantly gave up
on my own personality to try to make things work between us, dreaming
about a peaceful life.
One of the jobs I got during this period was working for an
independent film festival. It was a big event, with dozens of films
from all around the world. I had to write about them on the blog, shit
like that. I was kind of bored about it, until I discovered they would
be screening a movie called “We Jam Econo”. It was a documentary about
the Minutemen, a band I knew just a little about, because “Kill Me
Please” was about 1970s New York punk and they were 1980s LA punk.
The day the movie opened, plenty of my old friends showed up. About 20
to 30 people, from back in the hardcore days. People I used to hang
out with, travel with, people who had bands and I would go their gigs
and jump from the stage, people who used to come to my gigs, before
the rest of my band decided that having jobs and girlfriends was more
important than keeping a band. We greeted each other and said
something about going out after the movie to have a beer and talk
I sat on the back of the theater, because I’m really tall and I hate
to be in front of people. I was alone, and nobody could see me crying
in the dark, the bitter tears of bile and blood flowing like rain, as
I slowly realized, frame after frame, song after song, the beauty of
those words and the music and the purity of the feeling behind that
band, an obscure trio that never had as many fans as U2 or Madonna,
but who changed the lives of all the people who got to really know
then and understand them. The entire concept behind the band, and the
way they lived their lives, and what they wanted for people and the
reasons why they had a band — I was doing it all wrong! My life, my
wife, my band, my art, my jobs, the whole fucking thing was wrong, and
the more I “made it” in life the less I felt like I was alive, and the
entire system was sucking my blood and the few seconds I had left
before the great abyss would drag me away forever and what the fuck
was I going to do with my life if not what I wanted and I felt was
right, rather than following the rules of a game nobody can win,
because we’re all going to die anyway?
When the lights were on, my friends must have looked for me, but I
couldn’t be found anywhere inside the theater. I left, incapable of
talking to them, about the movie or anything else; incapable of
talking at all. I left and walked home, for 20 or 30 blocks, just
thinking really hard, feeling mad and angry and sad, blaming myself
for being so stupid and lazy and a coward.
As weeks progressed, my marriage slowly faded into a never ending
argument, where I increasingly spoke my mind rather than accepted my
ex-wife’s demands. My zen lifestyle wasn’t working anyway, and my punk
rock vein started to pump some actual red blood into my heart.
Eventually our relationship ended with a silly argument about
something, and I left home. I left, and I went to a club and drank all
night, then came back home, slept on the couch, and on the next day, I
picked up my cymbals and left, because I had a rehearsal to attend: a
friend of mine was, oh sweet irony, going to get married, and he
wanted his best men to play some punk garage songs, and we were them.
My parents were out of town, so they didn’t have to see me, age 28,
coming back to my parents’ house, carrying my guitar, my records, a
pile of comic books and a collection of stupid dreams, all broken,
irreplaceable, useless. I didn’t know what to do, and I was confused
with my feelings. Wasn’t I supposed to be sad and devastated and
depressed? I felt calm, a bit weary, but strangely sane. I ordered
some pizza and started to drink anything my parents had at home. Turns
out that orange juice, gin and almond liquor go together really well,
and I had a couple of those and a few slices before crashing on the
couch, watching Twilight Zone. Turns out I didn’t have any terrible
nightmares about the divorce, nothing sad or depressive, and then I
woke up, with a big hangover, my back aching from sleeping in the
couch. I looked around, it was 8 in the morning. Without even trying
to get up from the couch, I reached for another slice of pizza, and
had a big gulp of my gin and almond cocktail.
- This is… awesome! – I thought, laughing inside. I was cured!
Instead of crying because my bourgeois dream had crashed and burned, I
felt safe for the first time in my life.
All of those things, together, the songs, the lyrics, the books, the
art school and the memories and the mosh bruises, all of those put
together formed an unique system of belief and behavior inside of me,
that shaped me into a much happier adult than I had ever been while
working terrible jobs for stupid people making a couple of bucks and
pretending it was great to be part of a society. My opinions were
backed up by a lot of people who were much more intelligent than I
was, and who had seen the beauty of punk rock some way or another, and
became artists and professors and musicians and writers, and all of
them had this punk rock ethos somewhere in them. I was so inspired by
all of them, and how could I ever let them down, how could I ever sell
out and conform and be squared and be normal? Didn’t I learn anything
from William Gibson books, and Joe Strummer songs? I had to do
something with my life, and crying and feeling sorry for myself was
not an option. I wanted to live a punk rock life, one with happiness
and freedom and political stances and learning how to do shit by
myself and never depend on anyone.
And then I left my parents home, found another girl, we had a baby,
and he fucking loves The Clash and the Ramones.
But that’s a completely different story.
Or is it?
# # #
Daniel Werneck is a Brazilian artist. His area of expertise is animation and film, but he also flirts with illustration, print making, painting and sculpting. He works from noon to midnight as professor at a public university, and from midnight until he passes out on the office floor he creates comics and writes fiction. He is also a sloppy drummer, a terrible guitar player, a tone deaf singer, a lazy cook, a limited cocktail mixer, a mild-mannered husband and an amateur father. Follow him: @empire_of_dust
Image by Dr. Case used under a Creative Commons license.