No Punk in Podunk

I drove into Cowpens for another Podunk day of babysitting dumbfounded mouthbreathers while playing the Minutemen CD I snagged in the used bin last week. It’s the first two albums from D. Boon and the boys on dear, old SST. Yeah, I know Greg Ginn sold out Negativland over the whole U2 lawsuit and I’m not supposed to like SST anymore, but you don’t wreck teen nostalgia that easily. The records have that raw, flat Spot production that makes a Southern Californian punk record from 1981 sound the way it should, bringing me back to my days of wandering the suburban wilderness in search of someone who would buy me beer.

It’s a sound that should be blaring from someone’s cassette boombox, low on batteries, while disgruntled highschoolers mutilate skate ramps. I never skated, I was just a spectator, as always. I scrutinized the cultural outburst for anything usable, all the while pretending I was above it. Coolness just wasn’t cool – no hair dye, torn jeans or bumper stickers for me. I’ll just pick over the scraps when you guys are finished “expressing yourselves” and reassess them in secret. Meanwhile, the mohawked stage divers took all the risks, kicking each other in their Doc Martins, getting ridiculed for their clown suits and studded belts, all for the thrill of this new music and dangerous lifestyle.

Well, at least I got to watch…and to listen to their records.

Punk never happened in Spartanburg. I peeked in periodically to check back then – no sign of it. Check the high school annuals of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s and you’ll see that hippie culture never made it here, either. The boys only grew their hair long around ’75, once Skynard and Nugent made it acceptable for shitkickin’ rednecks to part down the middle. But there was no Summer of Love in Sparkle City, no anti-war sloganeering, no bra-burning – I doubt a single Hendrix LP ever made it past Greenville. Instead, radio-approved disco was hot among my Cowpenian cousins during the Carter years, followed by a tepid interest in MTV’s heavy rotation hits. If anything, my country kinfolk expressed a dread fear of “hippy dudes” ( which they described as Manson-like serial killers who roamed the woods at night) and complete ignorance of anything remotely “punk”.

Alternative culture requires rejection of authoritarian mandates. It assumes you’re wide awake and desperate for something that looks like the truth. OF COURSE Punk never made it to Spartanburg. These God-fearing zombies wouldn’t loosen their grip on mawma’s skirt if she caught fire and ran into traffic. No unsavory influence will ever be allowed to deter Sparkle City’s young people from their traditional duties as quarterbacks and beauticians. And none is desired. Daddy wouldn’t like it.

And here I drive, day after day, into Cowpens, playing CDs by Thelonious Monk, Husker Du, John Cage and any number of others which could never be purchased within city limits, and brace myself for another day of confused and frightened library patrons who will follow my every command as if I have placed them under arrest. And I remember a time and place where the Minutemen were just another punk band, where no one cared whether or not you’d been “saved” and where rebellion was not only expected, but occasionally encouraged.

Here’s to you, D. Boon. I took you for granted when you and your righteous cohorts were alive and kicking, but I’m glad you’re here to help me rebel today – and to remember how free I used to be.

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