So when I speak of punk here, I mean a particular type of hopelessness, one that is an affective response to a bleak reality: running oneself into the ground or otherwise spasmodically squirming under the pressure; being loud as hell and being certain that it ultimately amounts to little noise. What I’m getting at here is hardcore as it relates to a sadomasochistic use of the term, an autoerotic impulse to step on yourself, to get in your own way, to treat yourself like trash. It’s in Henry Rollins’ and Darby Crash’s self-loathing. It was there in Iggy Pop’s and Alan Vega’s proto-punk self-immolation. It was there from the start but lost as delusions of success (and sometimes, frankly, delusions of political agency) developed. What I’m talking about is hardcore as a tool for the enunciation of panic and disillusionment. It couldn’t last long. It didn’t. But in the cracks of its short run (Reagan’s first term, 1981-1984) were a handful of records that exemplified the genre’s potential and preempted darker styles to come.
This essay by Ben Levinson offers a remarkably fresh and perceptive take on some of the more theoretical implications of a particular time, centered in the 1980s, in the evolution of punk, hardcore, thrash, metal, and other related forms of expression.
It also happens to connect quite deeply with my own experience as a teenager in the early 80s. I saw many of these bands many times. I shared stages with some of them, with bands I was in. I was friends with them. I contributed photographs to zines and album covers; wrote reviews, designed flyers, recorded demos…I was fully committed. While bands like Siege and Infest appeared at a time when I’d already mostly drifted away from hardcore, the culture surrounding their antecedents was everything to me; the stuff that buoyed me through high school. In September, 1985, I moved to San Francisco to go to college (in the back of a touring van of a band no less; I slept in there for a few days). Then the world broke open in a hundred other new ways, much as the first time I heard Black Flag, in junior high, was its owns supernova, before that. There was no looking back.
As if it’s not obvious to the people who really know me, the values and conceptual filters and assumptions on which a lot of my thinking is based today were developed and adopted in this time, and it’s gratifying to discover a younger generation reading this rather hermetic culture so perceptively.