Screwing Your Knowledge
Reading Punk Planet every two months for the last two plus year has really fucked with my head. It’s the only magazine that I have ever read with a religious fervor no matter what was inside of it. Most of the time I have no idea about the bands, labels, artists, activist groups or amazing people in it. Basically it makes me wonder where this Planet Punk is that they are writing about, when the next spaceship off this rock is leaving for it, and how I can get a ticket. Punk Planet has been nothing short of an incredible force in my intellectual and musical life. It is an essential magazine, and this collection of its best interviews is burning proof.
Included in this volume is an interview with Voices in the Wilderness, a group of radicals who defied US sanctions against Iraq by delivering small but badly needed medical supplies to that nation’s citizens. This interview offers just a small glimpse of the large amount of coverage they have given to activism throughout their magazine. An interview with the Central Ohio Abortion Access Fund was awakening and inspiring. This female duo does abortion outreach beyond mere information sharing. By providing funds, support, and even rides, they have shed light on the participation aspect of political activism that is often ignored in the major media’s coverage of leftist politics.
Of course, the book covers a wide range of punk rock music from its very early beginnings by showcasing interviews with punk legends Ian MacKaye and Jello Biafra. These luminaries of punk shed light on many years of myth and prove that they remain important through the legacy they leave and the work that they continue to do now. We are also reminded of the success and triumphs of Kathleen Hanna (of Bikini Kill) and Jody Bleyle whose RiotGRRL rebirth of punk in the early Nineties was not only essential but also challenging. My vision of the world would not be complete without the insight and art of these women. Their views on sexuality, on gender relations and even on mental illness awareness and empowerment which inform their music is thoroughly captured in this collection, the awareness of such issues that academia and other supposedly enlightened institutions leave out.
But it isn’t just the success and blurred lines of punk history that makes these pages. For as awesome as the Ruckus Society is at training people how to effectively protest with their bodies and through organization, or how challenging Los Crudos was to stale punk expectations of race in “music,” there is a dark side. The collected interviews of seminal band Black Flag’s members shows nothing more than how much image and ego is important to a scene that is supposed to be all-inclusive and reject idols. The bickering between Greg Ginn and Henry Rollins, captured in separate interviews, only proves that the only amazing thing Black Flag ever did was be an amazing band. Personally they come off as intelligently as a bunch of glue-sniffing teenagers in a garage.
The book also captures three great artists who “gave up” on the scene in search for personal artistic freedom. The stories of brilliant songwriter Ted Leo, former owner of Outpunk Records (and zine) Kevin Wobensmith, and Duncan Barlow, a prominent musician in the hardcore scene of the early- to mid-Nineties, illustrate how personal politics, overbearing violence, and inflated expectations often drive people away from something that they themselves hold sacred. Their stories demonstrate their love for the scene but shed light on how and why its subversive nature puts people off. Each one understands that it was the “rules and regulations” of punk aesthetic, sound, and lifestyle that limited its potential and undermined its intention to be a culture more enlightened then the powdered and corporate-sponsored products.
The struggles, achievements, failures, and triumphs documented in We Owe You Nothing provide the most cohesive collection of material on the subject of punk rock, politics, and lifestyles thus far. It reaches beyond a scene or aesthetic found in music and dress by addressing the need for political action created by people of many different backgrounds and ideologies. This book and Punk Planet magazine aren’t just for punks or kids or post-college music fans like myself. They lend insight into all aspects of human existence, on a global scale. Their coverage of current events, political hostilities, and success stories against the current is proof of just how punk this planet can be.