Books

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
Amazon
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.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.