Thursday, September 18, 2008

I'm Old, So What?: Aging in a punk rock world

Photos from various sources, as noted

Photo from Vonny Website

Vonny has a tattoo that swirls her ankle, which comes from a quote by the band Monty Love: “Being Young is only in your head.” She is a scene veteran, and is 19 years old.

I was just barely 20 years the first time I stepped into CBGB’s and saw Talking Heads (their first performance) opening for the Ramones, along with a dozen others in the audience. Since then I’ve lived through underground, punk, new wave, no wave, the garage revival, emo, techno, new romantics, superpop, grunge, hair metal, and multitudes more – both ones I liked and didn’t – than I can remember offhand. And now I’m 53 years old.

The first time I went into the Punk Temple in Brooklyn, 5 years ago or so, I first saw Vonny with her friends, and this was not her first show. I was older than just about anyone else by 20 years or so. I felt a little out of place. Many shows in the city had people closer to my age group, but not at this all-ages venue. When I went back a couple of weeks later to see the bands, after the show someone stopped me on the way to the exit as I passed them and said, with good wishes, “Hey, it’s great you stayed for the whole show!” What I said back, equally kindly, was “Well, odds are I’m going to see more shows this year than you will see in your whole life.” Then I left the premises.

But what he said, along with my feeling the age difference, stuck with me. That night I joined the Temple’s BBS. I started out saying something like, “You may have seen this older guy with a beard taking pix, and wondering why is this guy here? Well, let me tell you…” Then I bullet-pointed about 2 dozen things I’ve done (e.g., my fanzine), band’s I’ve seen, people I’ve interviewed, people I’ve hung out with, and those I’ve met. I ended with, “Please, if you read this and see me, come by and say hello.” And they did. Amazingly enough, pretty soon I was talking to more people under the age of 20 than I did when I was that age. As these people either formed bands or kept going to shows, I still see them, and it’s always pleasant.

Miracle of 86, 2003, by RBF

One life-changing moment at the Temple along this topic is when I went to see Kevin Devine’s group, Miracle of 86. There was an older man taking pictures of Kevin and assumed it was his dad, as this was quite common there. I took a snap of him, and send it along to Kevin. He wrote back saying, “Why did you send me a picture of Jim Testa?” Immediately, I got in touch with Jim, as I’ve always enjoyed his mag Jersey Beat, and he knew my fanzine FFanzeen, but we had never met. He emailed me back after I sent him the picture and how I thought he was Kevn’s father (not sure how he would take it), and he LOL’d, explaining that he saw me taking pictures, and figured I was another band member’s dad. Before long, I was writing for Jersey Beat, and soon after had my own column, “The Quiet Corner” (www.jerseybeat/quietcorner.html).

Being young may be in one’s head, but I don’t physically feel young anymore. I tire more easily, get grumpy (see my blog below on cell phones), and if I see a listing where a band starts playing at midnight, well, I hesitate. There was a time when I would go to a club like CBGB’s while it was still daylight, leave at sunrise, stop off at White Castle for breakfast of 6 cheeseburgers, shower, get dressed, and then either go to work or school. I would love to have “young” go from my head to my body, but not only isn’t it going to happen, I’m okay with it.

Mind you, even when I was young, I was a bit physically limited, thanks to the onset of arthritis at 19 (same kind as Mötley Crüe guitarist Mick Mars), which gives me my wonderful posture. But even then, I had high energy.

Johnny Thunders, ~1984, by RBF

I have to add, most strongly, I am not sorry to be this age, having seen the nascent Ramones, the Heartbreakers with both Johnny Thunders AND Richard Hell, the original line-up of the Runaways…so much good music first-hand. If I were young, I would have missed all that. And other reasons, such as the event below:

I had a friend in my late 20s who was the same age as me, and was repeatedly going on with “I wish I was young again.” It was a steady theme. One day I said to her, “You realize that if you were a kid, you’d have to go through High School again, too.” That was the last she brought it up.

It’s really is okay being older. I looked at my gray streaks one day and realized that there are so many others I’ve known in my life who will never get to see their own hair change. In fact, the only time in my life when I ever had an issue was about 15 minutes before I turned 20, when I realized I would not be a teenager anymore. And about a minute after my birth time (12:10 AM), I was over it. In fact, I’ve often thought it would be cool to be 5 days older, so my birthday would be 5/5/55.

Looking forwards doesn’t scare me much, it’s more the looking back that I find shuddering sometimes. One example of this is when I was reading a book, can’t remember which, and the author commented that more time had passed when he wrote the book since the break-up of the Sex Pistols than from the advent of rock’n’roll (1955, in his example) until the Pistols ended. Yikes. And as mind-boggling as all this rearview mirror looking (as Marshall McLuhan famously called it) feels, I’m still not afraid.

One last thought about going or not going gently into that good night, I am reminded of a song written by Jim Testa, as fine a musician and songwriter as he is a publisher. In it he comments that it sucks turning 50. However, he whistfully adds at the end, it beats the alternative.


  1. I remember a line from a Nerve song that went something like "Just because you're 25 doesn't mean fun has to end" That was really bad paraphrasing. Age is still a number to me, plus with the strange tougher highschool standards today, I wouldn't have ever made it. Great writing.

  2. I've pretty much just given up on thinking of music + age. I just go to shows I want to go to, and enjoy. My tastes have certainly matured, but styles have been added rather than "growing out of" any sound. Reviewing CDs helps me hear new stuff at it is always coming into my ears. And there is no getting around it, as this was true then and it is true now: High School was either the greatest experience in one's life, or the worst.