My dearest friend Tracey and I were talking about punk and she said, “It’s the thing that shaped it whether we like it or not. It’s a gift or an affliction, depending on how you look at it.”
When I was a teenager my friends and I frequented a club in the valley called Phases where they played new wave and some punk bands. A group of real, hardcore punk boys went there during the week, when they weren’t at shows in Hollywood. They’d sit on the carpeted steps around the dance floor watching us dance wildly in our mini skirts, pink go-go boots and plastic jewelry. Once they wore T-shirts with the words Sick Pleasure written on them and we countered by wearing T-shirts that said Healthy Pleasure. But we never talked to these boys.
Eventually I got to know one boy named Alex who had a broken nose, pale skin and the best Mohawk I had ever seen. He lived way out in the valley with his mom on the estate of a cheesy actor for whom she worked. Alex and I won a 1950’s dance contest together. I wore my mother’s gold damask wedding dress.
I should have asked Alex to my prom but instead I lay in the sun until my skin blistered and asked a coked-out curly-blonde, tan surfer dude from Camarillo. We had sex on my parents’ couch and I got horribly sick the next day.
That summer my dad found out he had cancer. I bought a pair of black steel toed engineer boots at a thrift store for $15, a pair of black ski pants and a 1950’s pearled and sequined sweater and went over Laurel Canyon to hear bands like Oingo Boingo, The Weirdo’s, The Circle Jerks, The Adolescents, Black Flag, the Cramps, X and The Go-Go’s who were chubbyish and raw and rough and played every song twice as fast as they did on their first album.
During the week I still went to Phases. This guy there, Mike, asked me to go hear a band at the Whiskey with him. He was taller and older than the other guys, with short dark hair and a big dark motorcycle. Just as I was telling him how I’d been scared of bikes but it was so much fun, we got sideswiped and wiped out. We were okay but it scared the s*** *out of me. I can’t remember if he asked me out again or not but I know I would have said no. He was smart and interesting and cool and seemed to kind of like me. But I said no.
I was scared of motorcycle accidents, but I was more scared of not fitting in to the conventional world, of my big nose and pale, blemished skin, of my own face and sorrow and afflictions and addictions. I was scared of being who I really was.
There was also a very dark side to punk. Most of the people at the shows were male and some were skinheads wearing swastikas. Perhaps what drew me toward this part of the movement was what also made me run away from a place where—as a sad, frightened, angry outsider, poet, artist and “freak—I truly belonged.
Punk, in the positive sense, doesn’t only mean a certain music or look. Of course, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Debbie Harry are punk. But to me, Marilyn and James Dean are punk, Frida Kahlo is punk, Donna Tartt and Mark Z. Danielewski and Steve Erickson are punk. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sofia Coppola and Emmanuelle Alt are punk. There are some famous people these days (one in particular) who have co-opted the punk look and they look pretty f-ing cool. But they're completely un-punk. You probably know who they are.
Who is punk to you?
I wish as a teenager I had embraced who I really was. I wish I had asked Alex to the prom and kissed Mike goodnight. I wish I had accepted my afflictions. And my gifts.
*(for some reason I can't swear on this blog--unpunk)