It was about 9 o’clock. Ears still ringing from the array of support bands, DeHud and I had been waiting for this for a while with excitement. The inevitable tedious milling around on stage had finally ceased, and the band was in position, poised, ready to go. Shiny nylon hockey shirts reflected the harsh stage lights. I stood on a velvet bench seat stage right, my phone camera at the ready, swaying slightly, on account of yet another afternoon of Olympian beer consumption. Then, you know how at a show, just before the main band starts playing, there is a sudden, short silence – rather like in the classroom when the teacher looks up purposefully and everybody just stops…….’1,2,3,4′ went the cry……
The Hanson Brothers launched into another fast, slick, loud set and we smiled expansively. At least three of the guys on stage were in their mid/late 50s. That’s a full decade older than us, I remember thinking. But, with grey hair appearing almost everywhere on my increasingly exposed head, that thought meant something. You see, there’s a strange thing going on with ageing, and while my personal view is ‘bring it on’ [you can’t really do much about it after all…], I do sometimes feel a nagging residue of conflict in my head regarding the fact that I am a] proudly into punk rock and b] 45 years old with an 11 year old child who often appears to be more mature than me.
So, why do I feel this occasional insecurity? Well I think the answer is two fold. One, Punk Rock was about sweeping away the old guys; these being of course the self indulgent, flabby and ageing 1970s rock musician elite that blocked the pipes of vitality and creativity for so many years, with the results being all to clear for folk to see – for example, Your Honour, Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Nuff said. But the other strand of thought is that, just like in wildlife programmes and indeed The Simpsons, young lions want to get old lions out of the way. It’s natural selection I guess. And I admit these days to seeing groups of young shavers at gigs and, while part of me thinks ‘I could tell you lot a thing or two’, another part of me thinks ‘they wouldn’t know what I was talking about, and they’d want me out of the way anyway….’.
I mean, it’s like when you get on a bus and the driver is an ageing Teddy Boy, with a sparse, greying quiff and fading swallows tattooed on his hands. You think ‘Sad old git’ as you pass over your change, because it’s one of the most ungraceful things you can be seen to do – to get old but still cling to symbols of your youth like a slowly drowning man clinging to lifeboat wreckage.
But it’s also an interesting discussion from a more general point of view. Society in the West is increasingly ageing. People are living longer, people are not dying of TB in their 40s like they may have used to do in less sanitary times. Older folk are living longer but also being active longer, and it’s no longer – thank goodness – a given that just because you’re a pensioner you are destined to wear Clarks shoes, brown slacks, a beige Marks & Spencer blouson and a tweed trilby whilst shambling about being henpecked by your blue rinsed wife.
In other words, there are two opposing forces massing. One is the natural – call it arrogance – of the young. I recall the feeling of being indestructible as a teenager. Nothing could possibly unseat me. Everybody else was in the way. Old folk knew nothing – hell, I was out to discover it all for myself – although of course I knew it all already! The other is the older folks who have suddenly opened their eyes after adopting the brace position, expecting the impact of age to hit them, but instead they look around and see…possibility. Plenty of cash, kids left home, knowledge of what is a dumb thing to do and what’s possibly not….hey! This is alright! But instead of getting out of the way as their predecessors did, these cats are saying ‘No, we’re fine, thanks, youngin’! We’ll do what we want thanks!’.
So let’s get back to the personal. I said earlier that I feel the occasional flicker of doubt about my position as a middle aged guy who still digs punk rock. Why so, you goon?
Well, it’s like this, see. Long ago the realisation hit me that you need a job to get by. Living in a punk house might be great when you’re 23 and able to get drunk every night, but when you’re approaching 30 it begins to suck. Wearing studs and spiked hair might look the part for a GBH show, but on a Monday morning it won’t pay the rent. So you have to play the game. I wear a suit certain days during the week, I travel the country and sit in occasional meetings. I know it’s work, and I treat it as such. But I also know that none of the people I’m dealing with have a clue about my real view and attitude – which is still rebellious, although tempered by experience. And that keeps me going.
So if you met me on a weekday you’d take me for a straight, middle class working kind of guy. But when you’re living that lifestyle, and I’m away in hotels a lot because of my job, I’m with other people my own age generally speaking. And while I get along fine with most of them on a day to day level, I keep my punk rock credentials as a badge of honour. I rarely if ever discuss the subject of music and culture with them, but I see these people, who are the mainstream pretty much, talking about playing golf, watching football, aspiring to have affairs, moaning about their wives, what kind of car they’re going to get next…..and I smile. Because I have a Zen-like calm within me that removes me from all this humdrum. These people are generally unhappy, stressed, two or three stone heavier than me, and on their way to the humiliation of middle age and disappointment.
Then periodically, as is our custom, in some random northern city usually, DeHud [the same age] and I will hook up for a punk rock show. The format is that I book a hotel [you can get points for staying during the week which enable this to be cheap], we meet, slump into aged leather chairs in a slightly down at heel pub with glasses of foaming German pilsner, and we talk punk. This goes on for a pleasurably long time until, compelled by the need to see the band, we saunter slightly drunkenly to the venue and stand and soak up the bands. These days it’s rare that either of us indulges in the pit, not because of any worries, but because there comes a time when you don’t need to be slamming in order to enjoy a show.
I watch the crowd with interest. Whereas once it was a seething mass of spiked hair, studded leathers and Doc Martens flailing, now I see floppy fringes, v-neck t-shirts, skinny jeans and tattoos. Quite why the tattoo has become such a mainstream fashion accessory I don’t know, but suffice to say I have never, and will never, be getting one of those ‘modern day’ tatts on my body [although I understand and respect the old time concept of tattoos]. But it all makes me crack a wry smile. These youngsters have the same cocksureness we once had; seeing Trash Talk last week [the support band at the OFF! show] made me realise that this younger generation have their own bands and that whilst they sit, technically at least, in the same genre as the music I love, they are a world apart.
I reviewed Deviated Instinct’s new EP [their first in 25 years] last week, and there we have four blokes of my age or thereabouts, having done their time, played raging hardcore in every flea pit going, learnt their chops through the school of hard knocks, split up and come back ten times stronger than before. Age has nothing to do with it.
But I also hope that those younger folk I mentioned would take the time to read a publication like Rip It Up because at the end of the day we’re all into the same thing – great music. Hell, we might even teach them a thing or two about their heritage – here’s hoping.
So, I still wear Doc Martens and I also have a leather jacket, although a less in your face one these days. I have consciously toned down my look, although that’s not just because I fear piss-taking, it’s also because I don’t want to wear ripped jeans and such like any more. But you can still make a small, personal statement. And the abiding thing I’ve learnt over all these years is that it’s all about attitude, not appearance. It’s about what’s going on up here, not out there. You just have to take a look at people like John and Rob Wright, Larry Livermore, Keith Morris, Mykel Board, the late great Tim Yohannan….and realise that us old guys may have been round the block, but hey! We know a few things and [most of the time], we can still cut it!