16
May
10

Punk Rock is for the kids!

I’m thoroughly stunned that I somehow missed out on the childhood experience of the late 70s-early 80s TV show, “Kids Are People Too.” Through the retroactive magic of Youtube, I’m experiencing a taste of the show, and I’m impressed with its refreshing respect for its audience, not pandering or patronizing or ghettoizing the experience of childhood, but giving them a variety/talk show with the same entertainers and interviewees that an adult show might host. If I’d had the chance to see stars like KISS or Ron Howard talking straight with kids about who they are, I might have—well, forget about that, this post isn’t about regretting the childhood that never was.

Instead I want to talk about an amazing thing that happened when Patti Smith appeared on the show. When host Michael Young asked Patti what Punk Rock was all about, she answered: “The whole thing of Punk Rock is—newspapers and media have thrown it out of proportion—but the main thing of it was that Rock ‘n Roll’s getting back in the hands of the people. It belongs to the kids again, not the big business guys.”

That, right there, is the most beautiful and direct definition of Punk I’ve ever seen. Punk isn’t studded leather and mohawks; it isn’t three chords and vocals screamed in a British accent. In fact musicians who adopt those trappings or styles can sometimes be little more than pre-packaged record-label assets who shill for Doritos.

But Punk…Punk is what Patti said. It’s music in the hands of the people—”the kids,” whether they’re 10 or 12 or 40 or 50. It’s for kids because they still have a chance to internalize the message that what is inside them is beautiful, before the machine of celebrities and professionals teaches them that it’s garbage. It’s for kids of all ages because we can all seek that healing and aspire to recover that youthful spirit of fearless art. It’s edgy and rebellious because it’s always rebellious to express yourself with authenticity instead of conforming to a set of assumptions and expectations——not because being “edgy” and “rebellious” is cool and really plays with the demographic.

I am so thrilled that Patti said that, and even MORE thrilled that she went and said it on a kids’ show. It’s exactly kids who need to hear it, and I can only hope that a portion of that audience grew up inspired by the notion.

My friend Todd Fadel (host of the community art networking website Love is Concrete) has thoroughly taken Punk Rock to heart not as a musical style, but as a philosophy. Whatever project he works on, he not only approaches making art as if it’s his to do, not just “the professionals”—but also as if it’s all of ours to do, together, with no boundaries between pro and amateur, performer and audience. When he performs with his “Garage R&B” group The Beauty, or leads collaborative music at our church, facilitates the real-time improv group songwriting of Ink Brethren, there is no doubt in my mind that it’s Punk Rock down to the bones.

Roleplaying writer Russell Bailey wrote a blog post on Fantasy Heartbreaker last month about roleplaying as a Punk Rock activity. The Biggest Roleplaying Game in The World may be owned by goddamned Hasbro, but that’s hardly the whole story; the whole subculture thrives on Making It Ourselves. In both design and play, we gamers are taking play, story, and ritual and saying, in Russel’s words, “fuck, I want to do this, but I want to make it mine.”

To which I say, Amen, man. Fucking Amen.

Story for the People, man. Story for the Kids. Story for Us.

Peace,

—Joel

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7 Responses to “Punk Rock is for the kids!”


  1. 1 Willem
    May 17, 2010 at 7:05 am

    I used to watch this show all the time as a kid. I remember always thinking: “YEAH! Kids ARE people too.” I guess I felt a lot of folks didn’t think kids were “people”.

    Anyway, great post.

  2. 2 Joel
    May 17, 2010 at 8:59 am

    I guess I felt a lot of folks didn’t think kids were “people”.

    Yeah, EXACTLY.

  3. 3 Zac in VA
    May 17, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    And for you, sir, I throw up the punk rock horns.

    I completely agree that rp’ing is punk rock – what other hobby has so many participants who create new ways of, uh, doing that hobby?

    To put it more clearly, an awful lot of folks in the underground scene have written and performed their own music, and there’s a lot of love coming in from all these cover bands, mate. So to speak ^_^

  4. 4 Joel
    May 18, 2010 at 11:11 am

    Thanks, Zac!

    Your comments highlight an interesting dichotomy–the bold, individualistic ethos of writing your own material, and the loving tribute of “cover bands.” I definitely see elements of both forces in the RPG hobby, and sometimes they can clash–“Oh man, you play in the Forgotten Realms? Pshh! I guess that’s OK if you can’t come up with your OWN campaign…”–but often they can be complementary, because we’re each pursuing authentic art, but also celebrating each other. Like when someone makes a thing and someone else builds on it–setting hacks, playsets, further refining of procedures, etc.

    The standout “cover band” works I can think of at the moment are Judd Karlmann’s Dictionary of Mu setting, building on Ron Edwards’ Sorcerer and Sword, and Eero Tuovinen’s Solar System, a general-purpose adaptation of Clinton Nixon’s setting-specific Shadow of Yesterday rules. There are many more, especially counting individual works that remain private and unpublished.

    I guess the key factor in a rich “cover band” tradition is the element of making things your own, in sharing, not to slavishly copy each other, but to experiment and remix and reinterpret each other’s work. That’s exciting, and v ery Punk Rock.

    Peace,
    -Joel

    • 5 Zac in VA
      May 18, 2010 at 8:44 pm

      Heh, I actually meant by cover bands that we play one another’s games – the analogy was a little something something :)

      But I like your interpretation of what “cover band” means here – for my beta-stage game La Familia, I took Otherkind and polished it up some, then put my own spin on it and made it setting-less. It’s strongly implied that a historical, real-world setting works best, but yeah – do what you like. I feel like the Discworld game of La Familia I ran recently is kind of like a contemporary blues trio doing covers of, say, Jefferson Airplane songs. Ya feel me, brother? :)

      • 6 Joel
        May 18, 2010 at 11:09 pm

        Hell yeah! A lot of folks are covering Otherkind these days. Hell, John Herper is like the king of covering and remixing classic indie gameplay ideas.

        Otherkind Discworld sounds fantastic, by the way.

        I wasn’t sure if you were intentionally driving at that or not, but it’s what leaped out to ME, and I wanted to capitalize on that. I think that “covering” in the sense of playing AND designing/modifying games are BOTH important and exciting to the mutualism I’m talking about!


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