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I Was A Punk Before You Were A Punk Part I

Topics: Lifestyle & Culture | 3 CommentsBy admin | August 21, 2010

How Gutter Punks, Crusties, and Travelers represent a conformist and freedom-motivated lifestyle “brand” that isn’t Punk at all.


Has Anarchy Become A Brand?

That’s not only a song by The Tubes that I really don’t care for, it’s also a simple truth. It was all kind of an accident really. In 1977 I didn’t mean to be a teenage punk. I just had the misfortune of having a British hairdresser and a predilection for buying my clothes at resale shops at the same time that bands like the Sex Pistols were first making a splash. Suddenly, and for almost a decade, I was “punk”. Which was annoying, because the fact was that in spite of my appearances in the early eighties, I HATED most punk bands, and just about everything else that was officially punk. My friends and I were just arty types who liked drugs, had weird haircuts, wore a lot of black clothes and makeup, and didn’t want to be Ronald Reagan’s suggested version of a young adult, i.e.: a YUPPY. All of which is why I have a sort of anthropological fascination with contrived American urban tribes and subcultures like Gore Lolitas and Juggalo Furries, body modders, self-cutting emos, and most recently “Gutter Punks”. You may have noticed more of these kids lately; while they’ve been annoying people in hipster havens like Williamsburg or the Haight in San Francisco for quite a while, they’ve more recently been invading more middle American towns as well. I was actually spending time with a few of them recently to write an in-depth piece, but got tired of being stood up by them over and over, so have shelved the idea for a while. Which was kind of a relief in a way. Because although some of the kids I talked to were witty, reasonably intelligent, and had some interesting things to say, they really, REALLY smelled awful. And I’m not the kind of person that needs everybody to smell “Zestfully Clean” or anything; I’ve been around all kinds of people who don’t have the same hygiene standards as an urban American. The natural smell of a healthy human really isn’t unpleasant. But almost every crowd of these kids I’ve spent time with smells like some horrible collision of urban grime, petrol, beer, patchouli, urine, feta cheese, and Cool Ranch Doritos™. Not necessarily in that order. That may sound superficial, but try spending an hour with it. In any case, what I really find intriguing about this kind of “tribe” is that these kids have made a serious lifestyle choice, and usually possess refined hoboing, trainhopping, and grifting skills that are all wrapped up in a hybridized cookie-cutter countercultural brand that borrows from beats, hippies, punks, and rastas to create a new lifestyle that is “off the grid” and seems rebellious, but is ultimately based on conformity. It’s like “anarchy as a brand”. Which is why I cracked up when I learned that there was a The Decline Of Western Civilization: Part III for sale on Amazon for 200 bucks . The first film in that series was considered a little shocking by the mainstream when it came out in the eighties, but Part III? How long is this decline going to take? I’m still going to try to meet up with some of these kids to explore their attitudes firsthand, but if you want to learn more about these roving packs of dreadlocked punks and their dogs, they’re often referred to as Gutter Punks or Crusties, and have been around long enough as a definable subculture that you can find references like this 1998 Phoenix NewTimes piece which goes into considerable depth. The kids themselves may prefer terms like “traveler” or no label at all, and although sources like Wikipedia will suggest they often have some link to Anarcho-punk culture, I quite often find that they simply don’t think much farther than the next drink or where to hang out. Which IS pretty punk, but c’mon. How punk are you REALLY if your band Capitalist Casualties is on iTunes?

FreeWilliamsburg.com even has a Gutter Punk Foldable Crusty Bank:

Read Comments

  1. Posted by Edweird on 08.21.10 9:06 pm

    How do you hide money from a hippy?

  2. Posted by admin on 08.22.10 12:40 pm

    Put it in the soap dish?

  3. Posted by john minock on 08.25.10 6:28 am

    I represent a client arrested by a2pd at Bandemer Park last week. Call me. 668-2200