I’m a punk kid—-always have been and always will be. I may dress a little nicer and hide my tattoos a little better, but at my core, I still hold the punk rock ethos dear. It molded me in my formative years and proved the launching pad for which I got into other schools of music, art, and literature.
When I got into punk rock as a teenager, there was an unhealthy dose of hero worship that came along with it. I wanted to be just like all of the cats that I listened to on wax, particularly the 1977 ones: Joe Strummer, Johnny Thunders, James Chance, et al were my teachers, and I was an apt pupil. Aesthetically, musically, and, most importantly, philosophically, I tried to follow suit as best as I could. In hindsight, I missed a few key things.
For one, most of these guys either died tragically or withered away into anti-prolific obscurity. For two, it wasn’t 1977 and I wasn’t in New York or London, man. That didn’t matter though: I was for all intents and purposes an honorary member of that time and place, at least as far as I was concerned.
And I did an ok job at mimicry too. I had self-destruction down to a science, dressed appropriately, and even made some all right music*. In typical fashion** though, I missed the mark: I never got compared to Johnny Thunders or Joe Strummer or Sid Vicious***. I did, however, receive pretty regular comparisons to another legendary punk burnout, one that, at the time, I had no interest in as a person or an artist: GG Allin.
I think the GG comparisons started because of my rickety tattoos, silly mustache, and disgusting habits. I’m not really sure. While I didn’t dig the GG allusions too much then, I kind of do now. I mean, how fucked up do you have to be to get compared to that guy? Pretty fucked up, probably. And I read somewhere that he was mildly obsessed with Warren Zevon too, so there’s also that.
But alas, hero worship is a young man’s game, and a losing endeavor at that. How the fuck can you measure up to some lofty idealized idol in your head that you’ve never actually met and is more the product of your projected fancy than any basis in reality? You can’t, but if you try hard enough, I assure you that you can convince yourself that you are. For a while, at least…
For the record, I still admire every figure in this poem a great deal. The only thing that’s really changed is that I’m more concerned with listening to their discography than living out their biography, dig? As for the bit about there being no such thing as a punk poet, I’ll leave that assessment up to the reader.
P.S. I composed this poem on a bus ride from the Oakland airport back to my sleephole on Apgar Street circa 2007. I rode a lot of busses in those days and did a lot of writing in transit. Most of it was utter rubbish, although I’m still rather fond of this one. This poem involves the following figures: Johnny Thunders, Richard Hell, Tom Verlaine, James Chance, Joe Strummer, Sid Vicious, Ian Curtis, Nancy Spungen, and Emilyn Brodsky.
*Read: endearingly novice.
***Despite the fact that my erstwhile Oakland girlfriend and I went as bloated Sid and Nancy one year—-too much drunkie business, not enough junkie business.
Spirit of ’77
I wanna move like Johnny—
here and there and everywhere,
with the thunder jetting down around—
there’s a little bit of heartbreaker
in this little boy.
I wanna watch it burn like Richard—
add a little of my own hell
to the smoldering mess
we’ve gladly gotten ourselves into,
just so I can deny it like Tom—
I wanna take chances like James—
with sharp, well-dressed abandon.
No wave too big to drown in.
I long to care like Strummer—
to conquer the world with a troubadour’s voice
and a roguish set of morals
you can’t help but envy and respect.
“Show me the way to the gutter,”
poet’s pen in hand,
princely placing my pauper’s tophat upon my head.
(Is it in Clash City? Is that in California?)
I guess I’ll live life my way,
or at least “my way” like Sid–
off-key, heroin sheik of the oft-killed heroes
and conquerors of boredom.
(Is my necktie on proper, Mr. Curtis?)
I got a girl like Nancy—
she fits my fancy,
but it ain’t nothin’ that weren’t there
Emilyn says there’s no such thing
as a punk poet.
Perhaps she’s right—
everybody knows we can’t read.