Guest Columnist #81 - Arto

    Originally this writing was an e-mail which I wrote to Christine and she wanted it to be a column so I polished it up; deleted the parts that were either directed to Chris, or that didn't go w/ the "column" idea, and added some new parts.

    Just for the record, a few words about myself; I’ve been a participant in the punk culture since the late 1970’s, that is to say more than 25 years of my life, and it still is (and will be in the future, as well) an  important part of my life. Just like Chris, during the years I’ve had my doubts about the path I’ve chosen, but time after time I’ve come to the conclusion that I can still say I’m proud to be a punk and that this diy punk/hc scene is definitely the community I want to belong to, till the end of my time, no matter how pathetic it might sound.

    During all these 25 years the punk culture has changed a lot. My opinion is that it also has progressed a lot. I see it as a culture which has developed from its childhood to its maturity, without losing its rebellious aspect.

    Personally I think that the beginning (the late 70’s) was like the childhood of punk with all this "I don't care" attitude and the attempts to shock people in every possible way (you remember how some punks even wore swastikas just to freak people out?). Even though I call this phase ‘the childhood’, I don’t want to underestimate its importance in any way. That early wave of punk created a healthy shock effect and changed many people's way to see the world (including myself). However, people like Sid Vicious, and the habit of spitting on people were – simply said – quite stupid. I definitely don't mean that we, as punks, should grow up and become boring adults – hell, that's what I’ve been trying to avoid for all my life. I mean that if this Sid Vicious thing would have been all that punk is during these last 25 years I most probably wouldn't be involved with punk any more.

    If the early punk represented the childhood, the early 80's hardcore era could be seen as the puberty of punk. There was lots of simplistic "fuck the system" sloganeering around and the whole thing had not yet developed into serious counterculture, but the seeds of our culture had been sown and they were beginning to sprout.

    During the 90's this whole DIY ideology (which, of course, was around already during the early years of punk – as well as in the counterculture of the 60’s and the other precursors of punk) made a great impact and I think things are looking good at this moment. The punk/hc DIY culture is independent, global, and capable of releasing it's own records and zines and arranging shows etc. without getting involved with money hungry promoters and businessmen. The underground DIY network is working (though, naturally, it is also capable of improvement).

    The fore-mentioned idea about the evolution of punk and its evolution from childhood to maturity has been in my mind for a long time. It's funny that it also happens to have a lot to do with my own personal history: in the late 70's I was young and childish; sticking safety-pins in my jacket and mostly enjoying punk especially as music (even though I also thought that the lyrics were much better than the average pop crap). In the beginning of the 80's I was a stereotypical hardcore punk with studded leather jacket and spiked hair – and so much "against the system". Well, I'm still against the system and I still consider myself a punk, but I think I also see things in perspective now and I’m able to see also other colors than black and white. Nevertheless, in punk culture I especially respect the DIY ethics and I want to see this culture as something much more than just a passing phase of puberty. I want to see it as a lifestyle, a community, a culture which offers an alternative.

    Yeah, of course punk has divided into several subgenres during the years, so when I talk about punk culture I usually mean the DIY hardcore punk community in particular. For me it represents the core of punk culture as I see it.

    For me to be a punk means resisting to grow up (in a sense of "mellowing", beginning to think that you should "act your age"). One of the most important things punk has taught to me is that you never have to "grow up" and "start acting your age", you don't have to follow the codes the other people set on your way. Those old clichés like "follow your heart" and "be yourself" are not just clichés, they are also guidelines worth taking note of. Many people may think that I'm childish because I haven't started living the way most of the other grown-up people live, but that's their problem, not mine. I have found my place in punk world.

    I also think that it’s important that the youth see "adults" like me in non-traditional roles and lifestyles. I'm also glad that I didn't start living by some imaginary punk rules. You know, just boozing and destroying my health would have been very ìpunkî in some people’s opinion. For example beginning to practice martial arts and reaching the black belt degree was great and it demanded that I gave up my adolescent thoughts about which things are ìallowedî for a punk. I even wrote an article/essay about it to a Finnish Toinen Vaihtoehto zine many years ago and encouraged other punks to give a try for an alternative like this, instead of boozing.

    Another thing is the university. When I was younger I thought that university was just bourgeois bullshit and no place for a real punk rocker. Now I think punk must not be a bandage which prevents you to do something. I'm still a punk,  even though I now have a university degree.

    The inspiration to go ìback to schoolî came after about 15 years of working in factories and growing tired of that same shit every day, week after week. Same boring routines every day, I just couldn't take it any more. I wanted to learn something new and not get stuck in a factory hall, listening to my work partners' continual sexist jokes, and dreaming of something better. I started  to feel like a prisoner. Now I don't have a steady income any more as I quit my job in factory, but at least I did something with my life and learnt many new things.

    What I often want to point out for some younger punk folks is that there are many choices. You don't have to be a drunk to be a punk. You don't have to be stupid or uneducated to be a punk. You don't have to destroy your health to  be a punk.

    That's true that too many people get caught up in their own little cultural "ghettos". I have been guilty of that, too, especially when I was younger. Creating limits is not healthy. On the other side, I feel that it's very difficult for me to make friends with new people as my outlook, or ideology, is so different from people around me. Sometimes it feels like I had only a narrow scale of topics I can discuss about. I can't express my ìpoliticalî views, or talk about punk, my favorite subject. Talking about these themes would demand some kind of background story. For example, for many people punk is just some youth culture fashion thing with safety pins, which faded away already in the late 70's. If I'd like to talk about punk with these people I should tell them the whole history of punk and it would take a few hours, ha.

    I also try to view things from many angles, and to be critical even to myself. During the years I have been thinking for example about my relationship to punk and I have tried to analyze it deeper to find if I have gotten on "the wrong  track" (this is exactly what also Chris has written in her columns many times about). For example, if this whole punk movement was a dead end, or a ghetto, or just something I'm stuck in because I don't know about anything else to do? I have asked these questions many times, because I just don't want everything to be self-evident. It’s healthy to question everything every now and then, even your own values.

    I think it's a difficult task to create a clear picture of the development of punk and hardcore if one hasn't lived through the different decades. One has to have an understanding about changes in society, and its atmosphere, for example. In 2004 it's difficult to understand what kind of atmosphere we were living in the late 70's and what kind of an enormous electric shock the arrival of punk was at that time. The same goes with the hardcore era of the early 80's. The first hardcore bands sounded astonishing because that kind of music had been done never before. I remember when I heard Bad Brains for the first time. They were so incredibly fast that it was hard to understand. When I listen to the songs in Bad Brains' ROIR cassette now, they still sound great, but not as incredible or fast any more, because there has been so many bands that have taken hardcore into new dimensions.

    I don't want to glorify the past too much, I just want to emphasize the importance of knowing the history. That's why I'm always so keen on putting some "history lessons" in the middle of my record reviews. I try to keep in mind that among the readers there are many new faces who've just heard their first Black Flag record.

    Lately I've been thinking about this whole DIY culture a lot, partly because I just read Stephen Duncombe's book called ‘Notes From Underground. The Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture’ and it made me think, once again, about our culture and its limitations, the good points and the drawbacks.

    Which is better: ghettoization (which is what Duncombe accuses the alternative culture of), or selling out and giving up your principles? And are they really the only alternatives there are??? I hope not. I believe not.

    I think DIY scene is progressive, though the progress is very slow and sometimes we take a step (or few) backwards. When a band claims that they want to "progress" instead of "regress", to move forward to reach a bigger audience, I think their desire to burn bridges to the DIY scene is expressly regression, not progression. It's a step back, towards the times before punk arrived. For me, it was progression when Buzzcocks in January 1977 self-released Spiral Scratch EP, the first self-released punk record, whereas whenever a punk band gives up the DIY ethics, it’s regression for me.

    In his famous article ‘The Author as Producer’ (based on a lecture he gave in 1934), German critic Walter Benjamin wrote that the bourgeois apparatus of production and publication can assimilate astonishing quantities of revolutionary themes without calling its own existence seriously into question. Benjamin’s solution was that therefore what matters is the exemplary character of production, which is able first to induce other producers to produce, and second to put an improved apparatus at their disposal. In other words, you can shout ìfuck the systemî as many times as you want, but nothing will change unless your ìcountercultureî is able to turn consumers into producers. This is exactly the idea behind the DIY ethics, as well as our punk culture.

    During the years I've seen many people come and go and I've gotten used to it. People come and go, some bands sell out, some reject the do-it-yourself ethics in the name of 'progress', but the DIY punk culture stays alive. What's most important is that it’s us who are making progress, at least that's what I believe. The progression might seem to be slow, and sometimes we take a step (or few) backwards, but all in all we are going forward.

    For comments/critiques: Arto Hietikko, Viikintie 13, 65200 Vaasa, Finland, or arto.hietikko@netikka.fi.

(contact info from 2004 - ed)