Mike Straight
1127 s. 51st, street West Philadelphia, Pa. 19143

Thoughts & Stories of Mike Straight #80

    Here in Philly, there is nothing better than Penn X-mas, and it always brings it’s joys in late spring. See, out here in West Philly, (the true Punk neighborhood in Philadelphia, way more so than that South Philly place) there is the University of Pennsylvania, an ivy-league school, where the majority of the student body is from the ruling elite. Now, no one is more wasteful then a bunch of rich kids - so every spring when school lets out, tons of stuff goes from the dorm rooms and apartments to the dumpster, and it is a feeding frenzy for all the punx and squatters. We go out each night, collecting a year’s supply of notebooks, cleaning products, and foodstuffs;  but the real treasures are those strange things that you would never buy, but which remind you of what the mainstream world really cares about. Large amounts of magazines are a prime example, and this is how a copy of the Alternative Press ended up in my bathroom.
    For those who don’t know the Alternative Press, it is a zine that was once a halfway decent music zine, and is presently a forum for “new, up-and-coming” bands’ press kits. It’s really bad. Glossy, posed photos and shitty write-ups fill the pages. So I was reading this on the toilet and I was amazed, and kinda disgusted, at how often Punk was brought up. “Scene credibility” I guess is the phrase for this type of maneuver in the music biz... tie your new bands in to the hip underground - so every two-bit rock band claims a punk past or punk influences.  Maybe I wouldn’t be so bothered by this if they weren’t ripping off my culture, a culture that we have gone out of our way to not allow to be corrupted, or annexed by the mainstream. As I am reading this, these excerpts of interviews with men in their early twenties, I keep thinking about how every time they talk about their “punk influences” they missed the most important one of all - the basic DIY mentality, which is the main reason I am still here. In punk, music should be created out of pure passion - not as a career - and promotion should be conducted by friends, allies, peers - and not by record executives, for who music is a commodity. This is the network that we have built, and it is good that bands are called on their ethics.
    For the most part I don’t write much about the “selling out” of music in Punk culture - I feel enough people do this and it is on the radar of  thought for most people who read Slug & Lettuce, but enough references in shitty, glossy music magazines just got me going.  I had to tell myself that to them the word punk is just a descriptive word for a type of music - one that has been co-opted by the mainstream. It dilutes the culture, makes it feel like it is just one aspect of the rock&roll industry, instead of a separate scene with different ethics, ideology, and ways of conducting oneself.
    I read a lot in zines about “supporting the scene,” but a lot of times I have the sneaking suspicion that the word “scene” means something different to me than many other punk writers.  Most of the times it is about bands, and where I think helping people who do music is good... it is not my priority.  These days music isn’t the primarily interesting aspect of punk to me.  OK there.  I said it - for the most part I am just not all that excited to watch most bands.  At shows I find myself more interested in conversations.  An example was the other night when I ran into an old friend from Pittsburgh, and we had a discussion about his experiences being a librarian - this is something that is quite interesting to me.  Sadly (or not sadly), I was more interested in his ideas about being a librarian then the music he played.  I understand the importance of appreciating someone’s art, but really... loud, fast, short (except rare bands in certain situations) just doesn’t interest me. During a show what inspires me is the feeling, or overall atmosphere, created by both audience and performers... and after seeing shows in Montreal and Berlin it’s hard to embrace the sterility of so many Philly shows. I don’t really relate to a certain “support the scene” argument, ‘cause I can’t imagine how seeing another third rate Disclone band will really change in world.  Don’t get me wrong, I still like a lot of punk music, I just don’t think or even want to talk about it much.
    I remember years ago, KILL THE MAN THAT QUESTIONS  played in Baltimore and while there was good attendance at the show, only a few people were watching the band.  Mike, the singer, made some negative comment about “people only going to the show to hang out with their friends,” and it got me thinking, “Why do I go to shows?” It certainly isn’t only to watch bands.  It’s for something more.  I remember there used to be an fanzine in Washington, DC (where I lived during my teenage punk years) called the DC Period, and they ran an editorial that this women wrote about why she goes to shows.  She compared herself going to shows to other people attending church - to meet others of like minds in their own sense of community.  At the time I used to go to Positive Force benefits for that same reason - it wasn’t just to see great bands like Swiz, Government Issue or Fugazi, but for the needed interaction of my young punk friends and meeting older mentors of the “scene.”  It wasn’t just Chris Bald’s (Ex Faith/Ignition) guitar playing or lyrics that inspired me, but the great person he was when I was 16 years old.  I felt like when you’re trying to live an oppositional lifestyle, you need a network that provides social support.  So much of the reason I go to gatherings (shows, fests, conferences etc.) is this need for community and discussion, and because I like to see others strive for DIY ethics, of taking back our lives from the pitfalls of the dominant capitalist society. It is about something beyond just a music style, it is about a whole lifestyle.
    That’s why I’m excited about the Philly Skill Share that is happening in conjunction with the Pointless Fest.  Robyn (former organizer of the Solidarity Fest in State College PA), Wiley and I have been conducting most of the organizing for the event, and the idea came to be during last years Pointless Fest. Robyn and I were discussing how while we do like the punk shows, it would be nice to have some sort of activity during the day.  With such a critical mass of people in town, most with a wealth of knowledge, why not set up a forum to use and spread all this DIY momentum? Well, that’s our idea, and on Aug. 13&14 - a skill share/information exchange featuring workshops like biodiesel, solar energy, welding, collective businesses and more. If you are in Philly at the time, definitely stop in;  it will be at the CODE space at 48th and Woodland. If you want more information email us at phillyskillshare@safe-mail.net or look at the website www.phillyskillshare.com
     I know I wrote a column very similar to this last issue, but I feel that I haven’t quite expressed the beauty of punk and punk ethics in everyday life enough. Yesterday at my house, I saw the healthy interaction of my community.  PigPen is the staffing coordinator for the Wooden Shoe this month, and since his squat has no phone he used ours, while at the same time Robyn began setting up our zine library with all of our collective periodicals.  The IMC building isn’t open yet, so our house has become the Internet Cafe for all the Northwest Philly Anarchists - Sissy spent the day hot-wiring miscellaneous computer parts so we can have a second internet connection.  Mark and I started worked on my van, so I could get it running because I needed to go to the Trader Joe’s dumpster in order to get food for Eleanor’s welcome home Potluck the next day. Community thrives when each member does their part for the collective good - and I see this often in these parts. This is the idea behind the skill share - to increase our own DIY skills - to remove ourselves from the exploitative society in which human interaction is based on personal gain. While I hate the commodification of Punk, I also hate the commodification of everyday life - and it is not a way I want to live. I want to believe in mutual aid, and unselfish acts - and I see enough around me to think it’s more than a fantasy.  We have built our little oppositional counter-culture and we should maintain it, since to me, punk is far more than some short, fast, loud guitar riffs.

ENDNOTES:
    - Oh, before you write me off as an olde krusty who hates all music - I must say during the time of the Pointlessness I will be up front when Inepsy plays, cause they... well... they just rock that much.  So if your band rocks as much as Inepsy, tell me and I will make sure to see you.  But, I must warn you that if you all don’t rock as much as you say, I will quickly become bored, which will result in me starting to heckle.  So don’t be claiming to be what you are not, ‘cause I got a big mouth and I’m not afraid to use it.  And these days I can heckle in multiple languages.
    - I’ve written before about the need to vote in the USA, that while it is definitely not the be-all, end-all in working for social change, it is a method.  Right now is definitely the time to register to vote for next fall’s election because this country (and this planet) can’t take another 4 years of Bush.
    -  I have been thinking about the importance of parties lately - the need for days of celebration among people - and how parties can be a cohesive factor for a community.  How at certain times like a solstice, a birthday, or the death of a great tyrant (AKA Reagan), people should get together to “make big party” and celebrate with fun.  Steinbeck writes about this a lot in Cannery Row, and it has helped me realize how important celebrations are for morale.  So for all who came out and rocked in the decadence of my 31st birthday at the CATBOX, thank you - especially to the BAD DUDES who did an erotic and kick ass musical performance and to the DIRTY SIRENS OF WEST PHILLY who put on one hell of a burlesque show.  My only regret is that we didn’t get to chase a naked, drunken greased PigPen throughout the house - but...then...I should leave something for next year.  One memory that will be etched in my mind is standing in the middle of Buckingham place at 7:30 am, holding an  nearly empty bottle of Chimey, watching Sissy stumbling around, and the BAD DUDES’ mobile drive back to ROBOT HAUS.  In the moment of clarity that only the morning light can bring, I turned to Erin and said - “You know, overall, I can really say that I like this life.”  She looked back at me and agreed. It was a good birthday, and a good day to be alive.
    -  OK, OK I am done this issue’s column and hopefully Sissy (who is no longer stumbling at the moment) has cleaned up my random thoughts into a readable column, because I have to cook for a potluck and Wilder and I are leaving tomorrow to escape Philly’s summer heat in the northlands of Canada.  You know, I really should start not waiting until the last minute to write these things, so you, the reader would have a finer, higher quality piece of reading material.  Awww, lots of things should happen in theory, and I did say once that zines should be written in a frantic, stream-of-conscious manner - that way they would be more like conversations, instead of over-edited articles.  Or maybe that is a poor excuse for the lack of quality in punk...haha...awww, but I am the type of person who craves zines banged out on ancient typewriters filled with typos instead of some glossy shit any day. Yea that is my story...so “Drink and be merry, my friends, for tomorrow we may...”  (note from the proofreader:  If you had seen what I have seen in the lines of Mike’s unedited writing, you too would be shuddering when you read this endnote.  We, the collected lot of anti-distortion knobs on the guitar of Mike’s ideas, salute you, Mr Straight, for giving us a raison d’être.  And smokes.)
Mike Straight
    -  Oh yeah, my trip over the Atlantic got postponed until September, but then I will be back in Deutscheland to “make big party” and get into long discussions with my old (and new) German friends about EU politics, gentrification, Marxist theory, & the formations of nationalism - and other topics I think about on a regular basis - hopefully over beers at one of the KOPI bars.