The Misunderstood Relationship between Violence and Punk Rock

A musician’s on-stage persona is critical to how he or she wants to be perceived. Choosing how one acts or performs onstage is essential for bringing the music to life; it’s essential for fans and concert-goers to connect with who this person is on stage and what message is being conveyed. The birth of punk music and the subculture that sprouted from it was unique in how it challenged listeners. Arguably, the birth of punk music brought about a music scene that was driven by the fears, anger, and a myriad of intense emotions that both musicians and listeners brought to the table. This new subculture was often marginalized by the mainstream media for its adverse ideologies.  Despite constantly being criticized and misunderstood, punk rockers chose to remain seen and heard regardless of how they were received.

Iggy Pop was known for both his crazy on-stage antics as well as being an innovator and oftentimes the “godfather” of punk music. Pop is largely credited for inventing the “stage dive”, which today is treated as a rite of passage when attending any rock show. He was also known for experimenting heavily with drugs and self-mutilation on stage, in which he would cut his wrists and chest. For these reasons, the groundbreaking importance of his music was often overlooked. Though not wildly successful, Iggy and the Stooges laid the foundation for the birth of the punk scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Artists like Iggy Pop, who paved the the way for many punk rockers, introduced a new aspect of music that seemed to leave behind the happy go-lucky, free-loving, LSD-fueled psychedelic rock of the 1960s.  As the 1960s came to a close, the youth became disenchanted and  sought a new outlet for their pent-up frustrations. Though initially looked down upon, musicians like Iggy Pop provided a new arena in which it was acceptable to release negative emotions. In this setting, everyone was free of judgement and even encouraged to release their pains as if it were a therapy session.

“I’ll tell you about punk rock: punk rock is a word used by dilettantes and, heartless manipulators, about music… that takes up the energies, and the bodies, and the hearts and the souls and the time and the minds, of young men, who give what they have to it, and give everything they have to it. And it’s a… it’s a term that’s based on contempt; it’s a term that’s based on fashion, style, elitism, satanism, and, everything that’s rotten about rock ‘n’ roll…..You see, what, what sounds to you like a big load of trashy old noise… is in fact… the brilliant music of a genius… myself. And that music is so powerful, that it’s quite beyond my control. And, when I’m in the grips of it, I don’t feel pleasure and I don’t feel pain, either physically or emotionally. Do you understand what I’m talking about? Have you ever, have you ever felt like that? When you just… you couldn’t feel anything, and you didn’t want to either.”  – Iggy Pop, c. 1977 [1]

A bloody GG Allin performing c. 1992. via wikipedia

A bloody GG Allin performing c. 1992. via wikipedia

Another musician who’s often known for his wild public persona more so than his music is G.G. Allin. Allin is not so much remembered for his music as he is for his shocking on-stage antics.  Allin was notorious for performing self-mutilation, stripping naked, defecating on stage, and instigating fights with show-goers. His shows seemed to be a showcase of a human’s darkest, most selfish desires that suddenly became so vulnerable; his shocking actions were like a cathartic ritual that exorcised his demons. Due to his highly controversial image, opinions of him were highly polarized. Though Allin’s legacy is remembered within the realm of punk music, most who have heard of Allin’s music and antics think of him as some talentless, vile human being with no regard for the consequences of his actions. He maintained a cult following throughout his career, most likely due to the majority’s strong aversion to him. To his followers, Allin seemed to embody the true ideologies of punk music that seemed to be lost as other punk acts went more mainstream. Allin’s music was hate-driven and violent in nature; he sang about murder, rape, misogyny, and racism.

As a teenager, Allin escaped to New York from rural New Hampshire, where he was introduced to punk rock music and began abusing drugs and partaking in crime and dangerous behaviors. Allin played in and fronted a number of bands from the mid 1970’s up until his death in 1993. He sought to make rock n’roll “dangerous” again. He promoted a lifestyle that was anti-authoritarian, non-conformist and lawless. He spoke out against the restraints of a capitalist society and how that inhibits people from living out the lives they truly want to. Not long before Allin passed, he stated “ I’ve got this wild soul that just wants to get out of this life. It’s too confined in this life.” A well-known heroin addict, Allin lived every day with the notion that he could die at any given moment; he even threatened to commit suicide on stage on numerous occasions. In one of his last interviews before his death in June 1993, Allin stated that “when you reach your peak, it’s time to die.” [2] He chose to live a life filled with chaos, self destruction and zero remorse so that he could feel fulfilled at the time of his death. However, this was all driven by his self-hatred and contempt for society, which came through in all of his on-stage antics. This eventually came to a blow when he accidentally overdosed and died at the age of 36.

Musicians like G.G. Allin and Iggy Pop, at the time, were marginalized greatly for their on-stage images. While these are only two outstanding examples, such music that acts an outlet for negative energies is often misunderstood and under appreciated. Most failed to understand exactly why these individuals would go to such great lengths such as self-harm and violence to express themselves. For these musicians, playing music was only one component of the therapeutic process. In a way, they wanted listeners to be fearful and feel vulnerable because of the intense emotion that was brought to the table. Does this mean that it’s acceptable to do such things? Absolutely not. Violent, angry music still remains on the side-lines of the music industry today. However, it will always be there when the latest, overproduced, sugary pop hit just isn’t doing it for you.

 

[1] Pop, Iggy. Interview by Peter Gzowski. 90 Minutes. CBC. 11 March, 1977.

url: http://www.cbc.ca/player/Digital+Archives/Arts+and+Entertainment/Music/ID/1404874378/

[2] Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies. Dir: Todd Phillips, 1994.

 

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