Relentless DIY Dandelions': 'Beyond the Music: How Punks are Saving the World...'

"Is it more punk to steal from Whole Foods, buy food for cash from a supermarket, or use food stamps at your local co-op?"

Beyond the Music: How Punks are Saving the World with DIY Ethics, Skills, & Values

Publisher: Cantankerous / Microcosm
Length: 192 pages
Author: Joe Biel
Price: $15.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2012-10
Subtitle: How Punks are Saving the World with DIY Ethics, Skills & Values

Interviewing an actress, bicyclist, Catholic Worker, chef, chocolatier, Cuban-American fan of Green Day, Fulbright Scholar working for Cambodia, a psychologist specializing in males, and lots of graphic designers, printers, and publishers, Joe Biel reveals the range of those who use the mechanisms of punk's self-motivated and communally based ethos to change our world by action. Biel, as a filmmaker and zine journalist, collates his conversations from 2008-2012 with over 40 'punks' who try to make a difference. He introduces this collection with an analogy to "relentless dandelions", that is, tenacious "pioneer plants" dig in taproots deep to extract minerals below an exhausted topsoil, enrich their ground, host other creatures, and out of the darkness, nourish energy.

Aaron Smith, working for the venerable and often rabble-rousing Harper's, connects its radical tradition within the mainstream to his own efforts to parallel the capitalist system. Yet, decades after punk first burst out, after there is "a 'DIY' section in every chain bookstore across the country," he asks, what about its too-often "self-congratulatory impulse?" He elaborates: "The underlying assumption seems to be: If we form enough collectives, print enough stickers and get people reading zines, everything will be alright." Detect Smith's cautious tone and you will hear the theme of realism combined with the abundant idealism articulated by many in these discussions with editor Biel.

As punks age, the camaraderie and intensity which attracted them as teens to the movement shifts into a desire to branch off from the mosh-pit, the noisy clubs, and the relentless demands of life lived rough. You learn here how to assemble a light table from dumpster diving, and how police barricades can be dismantled for window frames when squatting. (While a sense of humor may well be recommended for punks, many in these pages--too closely typeset in a font difficult for greying readers like myself to easily navigate--appear very, very serious. Perhaps the disproportionate amount of interviewees who left the East Coast and Midwest for the Bay Area and especially Portland stands to blame or credit.) However, as some here gave up living rough circa the Reagan Administration, many of their lessons reflect years of paying bills, needing healthcare, raising children, or learning how not to do everything for free to help a community which may expect too much from too few over the long haul.

Illustrator Matt Gauck raises the moral dilemma: "Is it more punk to steal from Whole Foods, buy food for cash from a supermarket, or use food stamps at your local co-op? I love questions like that, because I'm not sure about the answers, but it helps define where punk fits into the grander social scheme" Biel founded Cantankerous Titles as an offshoot of his Microcosm Publishing to push such challenges into the movement, and to address the DIY system's workings, which tend to be ignored by studies of punk emphasizing the music, the fashion, and the commodification of its sounds.

He highlights the spunk of the participants, and those who try to sustain workable solutions outside the mainstream. The problem, as the recent economic meltdown exposes, is the lack of viable, true, alternatives that can survive the capitalist crisis. Putting people before profit remains altruistic, rare, and fragile as a method to make a living in a harsh climate with frayed protection against disaster.

Anarchists typify one time-tested possibility. Ramsey Kanaan of first AK and now PM Press, Sparkplug underground comics distributor Dylan Williams, and successful mainstream (?) short story writer (and former guitarist for Hellbender) Wells Tower exemplify those able to continue careers. The NYC-based artist Fly, with her spirited if understandably weary tales of life lived rough on the Lower East Side, serves as a telling case study in the desire expended to carry on outside the typical trajectory, once launched by punk into the possibilities outside the expected path. Mark Andersen's concluding essay, with its reference to Jello Biafra's analogy of punk as a virus spread by intimate contact, demonstrates the force that pulls a boy out of 1977 small-town Montana into Positive Force DC, one of the first punk collectives.

Others may, to use a few of many examples: convert restaurant grease into vegetable oil for fossil-free fuel; co-found Dischord Records; star on Friday Night Lights; investigate political malfeasance on behalf of Pro Publica; start up not one but two enduring progressive publishers; edit zines; lobby for a skatepark in a barrio. That last example is from the neighborhood next to mine, showing how the punk-driven activism may well happen around the corner from where you read this.

Forging community spaces becomes crucial for many advocates. A bookstore, an alliance to fight sexual assault, a group therapy resource for non-profits, bio-energy, a radical d.j., or vegan dessert cookbooks show the ways in which better choices may enrich customers, clients, and consumers. Theories may attract some into these causes, but Biel stresses how action emanates from the grind, the discipline, and the motivation. These require commitment to a choice that makes the political slogans and catchy lyrics once shouted a more subtle, if no less compelling, call to transformation.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.