I don’t like the English post punk band Joy Division.
As a punk (and rock and roll) fan, this is a blasphemous statement, not necessarily because everyone likes Joy Division (though sometimes it does feel that way) but because of all that they did for the rock scene.
They changed punk, centering it on emotion instead of just anger. They jump-started the alternative genre, so to speak.
I like “Disorder”. “Disorder” is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard; I could listen to it on loop for hours. I like “Love Will Tear Us Apart”; the sound is captivating and beautiful. That’s where it ends. I don’t like Joy Division.
I’ve tried, tried to listen to Unknown Pleasures and Closer, tried to find something to grab onto and enjoy because this is a key band in the rock and roll world. People wear their album covers on t-shirts and get berated for being a fake rocker if they don’t know every song like the back of their hands. I want to be in the scene, I want to know everything about punk and rock, and to like all the bands associated with the movement, especially one as influential as Joy Division was for a lot of extremely successful and, in my opinion, good rock bands (see: My Chemical Romance, The Cure, among others).
But I don’t like Joy Division.
What does this say about me? Some people would say it doesn’t matter because Joy Division is, to paraphrase, mainstream and punk is about small indie records no one has ever heard of. Maybe it is, punk being a social movement as well as a musical one, however punk is changed and influenced by the mainstream albums that everyone has heard of whether people like it or not.
Some people would say that I’m not a true punk rocker. These people, however, probably already assume that I’m not. As I write this I am sitting in a Starbucks sipping a pumpkin spice latte wearing a Nirvana t-shirt I bought at Kohl’s listening to a playlist I made of all pre-2010 Fall Out Boy songs. My friend and I just discussed Halsey’s album Badlands at length. To these people, I am already not a true punk.
How can I be, anyway? It feels as if, just because I was born in this generation, I cannot be punk. I cannot like the old bands because my parents hadn’t even met yet when the Sex Pistols released their one and only album. While I do have a record player and collection, I buy a lot of my vinyl at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and, in some terribly depressing moments, Urban Outfitters.
If that isn’t enough, I unabashedly like bands from the emo scene in the early 2000s. I own every single My Chemical Romance album on vinyl, I met Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy and almost peed myself, I have every word memorized from Panic! At The Disco’s A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. I yelled along to “Underclass Hero” by Sum 41 in my grade school years, I cried to “Adam’s Song” by Blink 182 when I was feeling especially alone. How can I be punk when my love of rock was birthed from such a hated scene?
As a young person, punk seems to be off limits to me. Older people, particularly older men, tend to look down on young people and their music tastes, stating that everything was better in the 90s, 80s, 70s, etc. However, when young people start listening to older bands and wearing their t-shirts (like Joy Division or Nirvana) we must prove ourselves, prove that we deserve to be wearing that band’s shirt. If I cannot name Nirvana’s albums for some random man on the subway he will decide I cannot wear the shirt I bought with my own money. He will feel justified, his hatred of the younger generation still intact because he told me, a twenty year old, off for wearing a piece of fabric.
Most people can name one or two Nirvana songs (usually “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Come As You Are”) and could pick the Nevermind album cover out of a lineup. Earlier this year I read a 300 page biography of the band, giving me new insight into their lives and craft. But why do I have to prove myself in order to like a genre of music?
In the same vein, what must I do to prove myself as “punk”? Must I have both Closer and Unknown Pleasures memorized to every beat of the kick drum? Must I renounce rock artists that aren’t deemed respectable? Must I delete all the One Direction off of my iTunes in case the punk police come and revoke my punk card? Should I build a time machine to go back to the 1970s so I can earn my Ramones t-shirt like a true fan?
It isn’t only adults who are doing this. I had a friend who gave me mix tapes in middle school of punk bands I’d never heard of (mostly California indie, the types of bands that perform underground in bigger cities) and mocked me when I expressed that they were all new to me. She was higher than me; I was inferior to her punk because I still listened to The Cure while she sang along to lyrics no one had ever heard. There was a boy in my high school who smoked cigarettes and had an obsession with Operation Ivy and spit on kids waiting in line for a My Chemical Romance concert because they were “emo trash”, all because they liked a different version of rock than himself.
I used to look up to both of these people. Now I pity them. How must it feel to live in a constant state of judgment, to go up to a random child and criticize their music taste because it isn’t up to your standards? To see punk as something that must be earned with hoops to jump through, always just out of reach? In this way it makes it unattainable.
Where does this leave us? Where does this leave me, a young person who goes to underground punk shows in Brooklyn and rides the subway home listening to Death Cab for Cutie? Who’s music repertoire is mostly artists that either have or had a large following, who are well known in the public sphere?
I have a friend in college who has a phone case that states “That Wasn’t Very Punk Of You”. So what if I like pop punk, post punk, punk rock? So what if two of my favorite albums are From Under the Cork Tree by Fall Out Boy and Ramones by Ramones? Why do you, oh keeper of punk, get to tell me what I can and cannot do, can and cannot wear, can and cannot listen to?
Punk rock isn’t about exclusion, it isn’t about gatekeeping. It’s a subculture that, like it or not, is adopted by all different kinds of people. Enjoy punk music the way you want to, adopt the philosophy the way you can. Research it in your free time or just download a few songs you enjoy.
As for me, I’ll delete all the Joy Division I dislike and play “Disorder” on loop on the subway ride home.