Punkers

I love this article on so many levels.  There are so many jewels among the quotes. “These actions are taken by a group of students who said they preferred to be called “country hicks.” I guess that’s what happens when one “lives in one’s own vain little world…”

I’ve written quite a bit about the early 80s punk scene in Indiana in other memoir pieces, and I’ll re-post some of those works here in the future.  There are official reunions now for the alums of that scene, which is amazing.  I keep in touch with a good number of my friends from that scene; the stories come flooding back. 

My best guess is that this article is from early 1985, the year I graduated from high school, though it might be from the fall of ’84. I’d spent the first three years of high school in constant fear of these so-called hicks – a violent group of reactionary kids from the country. My home town was an odd mix – it’s a university town, so you had plenty of freaky faculty kids looking for ways to be different. But then it’s in Southern Indiana, so you also had plenty of real country folks. Punk was still pretty new; the American hardcore scene was just taking shape during my freshman and sophomore years, 1981 through 1983. And it’s really all I cared about at the time. I took my share of beatings, but there was no way I would let intimidation from some redneck thugs prevent me from wearing my Black Flag bars or combat boots.

Two things in the article are particularly absurd and hilarious in retrospect. The first is the quote from the hick who says that punks are trying to be someone they’re not, but if it was really them they’d accept it. I mean, of course that’s who we really were. When I first “became” a punk during ninth grade, only two kids in my class dressed that way. By the next year there were four or five of us, and by the next year maybe a dozen. The other high school in town had a slightly larger number. Dressing punk every day made most people at school totally hate us – we became a self-contained sub-culture and effectively opted out of participating in mainstream high school culture in any way. If it was all an act, would we really have chosen to be completely friendless outside our culture? Not only was it genuinely who we were, it was everything we were for those few years. 

Nevertheless, there is absolutely no way the hicks would have backed off under any circumstances.  They felt extremely threatened by our presence, and they had no interest in gaining understanding through discourse or any other means.  Violence was inevitable.  But while the hicks erupted in violence, the majority of the students just looked on with baffled contempt.  The reference to “jocks” in the headling is an editorial gaff because there’s no reference to jocks in the story; however, it’s true that the vast majority of jocks or mainstream kids absolutely shared the hicks’ reactionary stance.

The other absurd thing is the notion that the “pacivist” (sic) punks could beat up the hicks. By ’84 there were maybe one or two guys in our punk scene who would actually fight, but most of us (including me) felt utterly unprepared to physically defend ourselves. Those country kids could obviously fight – they fought each other all the time.  Most of us punks had been raised by professors, to whom teaching a kid to fight would never occur. I was just as terrified by one of those guys as ten. Many of the acts of violence against me by the hicks – and there were many – occurred one-on-one. They’d slam me into the lockers or shove me to the pavement and there was no way I was going to fight back. Partly out of some naïve notion of pacifism, but mostly out of fear. I’d take my licks, but I certainly didn’t want the beating to escalate or to lead to more – and more severe – beatings.

There’s a vague mention of sexuality in the article, which specifically means that the primary (virtually exclusive) insult hurled at the male punks referred to their presumed homosexuality.  “Faggot,” “punker fag,” “queer,” “homo;” one of the more clever hillbillies came up to me one day and pointed at my ubiquitous Black Flag shirt and said, “oh, yeah, Black Fag, you like them?”  He punctuated his remark by shoving me head-first into my locker.

By the time this article came out, my close friends and I had pretty much moved on. By 1985 the first wave of American hardcore was on the wane, and my musical tastes were evolving. I don’t think I even knew about this article at the time, because by then the punk scene consisted mostly of younger kids. I was just trying to graduate, get out of town. I played in punk bands, but I couldn’t be bothered to dress up every day as I had in years past. The hicks pretty much left me alone at that point. They had someone else to antagonize, someone who created an easier target by getting a mohawk, earings, or other such indicators.

What’s interesting to me now is that I was so willing to behave and dress in a way that made so many people despise me. At this point in my life I think I’d find that emotionally harrowing and profoundly stressful. But despite all the animosity directed towards my friends and me, I didn’t really care. I had a great high school experience and amazing, brilliant, hilarious friends. It wasn’t just a category, it was a tribe.  We shared a recognition that high school culture was bullshit and we created something better, cooler.  The vast majority that didn’t get it probably still don’t get it.  Screw ’em.