Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hunger, X-Men, Survival

Jinx gave the station-wagon more gas, revving the engine as he rounded the corner so as not to stall. The Key Bridge, fragmented and glittering in the broken rear-view mirror, receded and then swung out of view. The traffic was relatively minimal, for Georgetown, pedestrians and cyclists swerving and dodging the massive Chevrolet as it lurches menacingly up M St., a rhinoceros belching various dioxides, growling and roaring. The stereo screams out the windows, "...It's a Zyklon B-movie, straight out of the past...", British venom, caustic derision blaring, pushing the speakers to distortion. 

Jinx comes to a stop at Wisconsin Ave., popping the transmission into neutral, periodically pumping the accelerator. Gawking tourists from Florida point and stare from their late model Bimmer as though on safari "look, dear, a Punk degenerate! I believe they are the District animal", but he doesn't notice anymore, just sings along with the stereo, staring at the light. He lights a cigarette just as the light turns, guns it and screams down Pennsylvania Ave., swerving to miss a couple of drunken college kids, leaning on the horn. Finding 24th St., he turns right, speeding across New Hampshire Ave., past George Washington University, looking for a spot to park. Along the 700 block he spots a space and parks, throws on some mirrored sunglasses and grabs a backpack from the passenger seat. 

 Looking over his shoulder to check for murderous cabbies, Jinx walks across the street. It is a little chilly for April so he quickens his pace. He stops in front of a Deco building and presses the buzzer for 416. A tinny speaker squawks at him, he responds and slips in the glass door when it buzzes. The halls are covered in repulsive pastel wallpaper, the floor a forest green, floral patterned nightmare. He takes the stairs two at a time, steel-toes ringing off the metal risers, leather jacket creaking. Should an unwitting tenant poke his head into the stairwell at that moment, doubtless he would call the cops, "Come quickly! He looks like a cannibal or something! I think he is here to rape old Mrs. Jenkins!". Finally reaching the forth floor, he peeks through a crack in the door, and determining the hallway empty, walks quickly to 416 and knocks discreetly. A moment later the door swings open and he steps through, shutting it behind him.

"Hey, man. Fucking getting cold out there.", says Jinx, removing his jacket and tossing it on a nearby chair.

"You look tired, bro.", responds Mike, throwing himself on the sofa.

"Yeah. Sleeping rough these days. The Deathmobile is no place to catch zees.", Jinx said, easing down on a chair.

"So, let's see the books. I hope they are good ones.", Mike sat up and cleared a space on the coffee table.

Jinx removes a stack of plastic-sleeved comics from his backpack, vestiges of a misspent childhood. Stories of mutants fighting nefarious governments, the ultimate rebels, uber-punks. He felt a tiny twinge of regret as he spread them out on the glass coffee table, a release of shadowy memories, an admission of finality. Money had now supplanted the simple pleasures of youth, necessity overcoming childish predilection, a new sobriety.

"I'll give you two-hundred for the stack, man.", Mike said after careful examination of the comics.

Jinx hesitated. X-Men #129. The first appearance of Kitty Pryde. First Comics Elric, 1-4. Good shit. But he couldn't eat it. 

"Alright, man. Give me the money before I fucking change my mind."

The temperature had dropped while he had been at Mike's place. He hunches his shoulders and shoves his hands into his pockets. The regret is supplanted by the gnawing hunger of someone who hasn't eaten in two days. Goddam, I want some pizza, he thinks. 

The Deathmobile fires up after a couple of pumps on the accelerator, coughing great clouds of black smoke. He swings the monster into traffic, hard on the gas, salivating at the prospect of a meal. He reaches down and cranks the volume on the stereo. "...I got nothing to do, you got nothing to say, everything is so fucked up, I guess it's natural that way..." 

Punk had a way of exposing the flaws in society, the other face of the god, the dumpster behind the five-star restaurant. Teenagers, especially those bright enough to gain virtually nothing from a typical public school education, consumed the messages in music for their education, listening to the voices of an alternative understanding. But idealism does not feed the body nor provide shelter from cold. Because punks were uncompromising, unyielding to pressures of conformity, the narrow path of employment was even more constricted and diminished. Though the intransigence remained, the simple rules of survival forced the punks to accept some kind of authority, some kind of conformity. Some resisted longer than others, but they all realized that youth was fading fast and the world would not hesitate in its orbit.

But compromise does not mean defeat. Ideals survive, the vision is still clear, a tiny bit of hope in the distance. The punk survives, honest in the face of his beliefs, accepting of the limitations but always pushing boundaries. The punk refuses to die.        

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Gains, Wisdom, Real Power

The Hardcore scene was chaotic. It lived in the hearts and minds of the bands and fans, burned there, an explosion of questions asked with few answers given, unfocused rage, the blindly thrown hay-maker of youth aimed at the undefined times. I have described it as well as I could in this blog and elsewhere, its energy, its power, as well as its shortcomings. The eye of my youth, though a bit myopic from the intervening years, stayed fairly clear, I think. And though I have always been a bit too philosophic, a bit poetic in the face of the realities, I believe I have captured some small part of what it meant to be in that chaos.

So where does that leave me, now? I have pointed at it, cataloged it, shared some snapshots, but there is a big fucking 500 lb. simian in the room: what did I take away from those times? What, if anything, did I learn, bring out of the hurricane, drag along with me to my mid-forties? This seems to be the point of the thing, the result of the test, the goal.

First, I think I should point out just a few other observations. Though I have tried to portray the events and the feelings and the presence truthfully, I expect I have taken some liberties with my memories. I have not been completely fair to reality. There was some bad shit. Some really bad shit. Drugs. Excessive alcohol consumption. Violence. Lots of  violence. But these are echoes of youth, the demons we all faced as adolescents, brought, in large part, to us by the drug-addled previous generation, the musicians, the writers, the celebrities. I, for one, did not drag that particular pathetic, pimply, odorous, demon with me into my middle-age.  The violence has been, will always, be there. Posturing, showing your mettle, finding your place in the pack, a story as old as humanity. And we as humans continue to search for our place in the pecking order until we loose our vitality, our virility, and gain a little wisdom and discretion.

When I think about it, I mean really think about it, the list of things I took away from the music and the scene, the community, is fairly short. There is little any journey can provide you if you are not looking for something in particular. But though they are few, the things I gained are important things.

I was part of a community. Part of something larger than self, a symbiosis, the only important thing there is: the people around you, the acceptance of them, the belonging. We were in it together, that slavering, voracious beast, adolescence, growing up. It was our prehistoric pack, our hunter-gatherer community, the place we found our role in the group. It was the story of our wanting to do that shit OUR WAY, the rebellion against the expectations of  society, the finding of our own trails through the madness. It was growing up, not just growing older.

And there was no place better to do that than in Washington, DC, where our bands, the abdicating leaders, gave us things to think about that meant something to a young person. Not the political horseshit, the conspiracy theories, but the inner battles, the screaming, burning, frightening flight into adulthood, bucking the system, throwing out the rules the jocks and preps and assorted assholes in our schools perpetuated, the ecdysis of our childish skin.

I guess you might say that the thing I brought with me into adulthood that has meaning is the understanding that there can be unity among the marginalized, the introspective, intelligent people, the disenfranchised. Those of us who didn't want to live in a community of misogynistic jocks or to perpetuate the cycle of looking perfect for the perfect mate, broke away and found there were others like us, people who hated the status quo. We found acceptance and community, a place we could do our thing, the ultimate place to escape the blind categorization and numeration of society. We thought for ourselves.

And that, my friends, is real power, value that so many now ignore, the essence of being grown up and free. We didn't compromise, we deflected the pressure, bashed our way through the webs of convention and emerged unbroken. The more treacherous path is sometimes the most rewarding.