Hey, I’ll admit it: I don’t know shit about Punk Rock (I’ve always been partial to Metal myself). In fact, I can’t even understand why people listen to it. I’ve been to some shows, but it just ain’t my cup of tea. Maybe I’m just not pissed off enough? One of my earliest memories was as a little kid, being given a ride on the shoulders of my babysitter’s punk boyfriend at a street market in Camden, London. This was in the early Eighties, so I guess the subculture was in full swing at this time. He had a big, brightly colored mohawk, a black leather jacket and was really tall. So, I got to hold on to the back of his neck and sit on his shoulders while looking down at the bobbing heads of the crowd below me. That’s about as close to being a badass as I could ever hope to be.
However, lucky for me, I have a super-cool little sister that I invariably have to live through, as my adventures and lifestyle just don’t ever seem to measure up to everything she’s done so far in life: living in squats, criss crossing the country on freight trains, fronting a gutter punk band from New Orleans and touring Europe. She also has A LOT of tattoos. I thought it best that I interview her as the best way to educate me properly on the philosophy of Punks today and how they’ve carved out their own distinct Counterculture, fashion, music and lifestyle. My sister, Corrina, currently works at a needle-exchange/HIV testing drop-in center for homeless youth in San Francisco and sings with her new band, Goop. One thing I can say about her: she lives life on her own terms, to the MAX, and shows no sign of slowing down… Here she is singing with her old band a few years back:
You can listen to the full MP3 recording at the bottom of the post:
So tell me about being a Punk- what’s it mean to you? “I think it kinda stems from being a young person who feels like they don’t fit in. But instead of saying that you’re ashamed of that, you kinda take it and embrace it- whatever that means to you. Oh yeah? You guys think I’m a freak. Well I’m awesome! That’s what punk rock means to me, and maybe also rejecting a lot of what mainstream society tells you to do. Kinda just making your own rules. That’s kind of the root of it, but I think like anything that’s a subculture, it can kind of turn into a “culty” religion. People can get real confused with it and people start making their own rules and give people shit if they don’t follow them. But I think the root of it for people who get into it for more than a couple weeks (laughs), is that they’re dissatisfied with society in general, are upset by it, and kind of want to make their own society- its a sub-culture for misfits.”
How did you get drawn into this subculture? “My first punk show I went to when I was 14. I think I got drawn into it first through Grunge, but before that it was kind of like the Hippie subculture, like you and your friends- teenagers who were into that. And it was a subculture where it was OK to smoke pot, its OK to drink alcohol- you don’t have to “Just Say No”- which was a revelation to me, those DARE people came to my Middle School and whatnot. I also think the 90s were kinda cool for RiotGrrl, which was a type of subculture from Punk. It’s “Third-Wave” Feminism- I might totally have that wrong- but there were a lot of girls picking up guitars and drums n’ shit. That was kinda like a big thing, even in the mainstream for a hot minute, bands like L7 and Hole. So that really inspired me. I really liked Rock N’ Roll and I think my love for Rock N’ Roll kept getting me introduced to better and better bands and a lot more underground bands… I think a lot of the underground punk scene is all about community, and I think a lot of people are looking for that- especially when they’re kids. That’s why a lot of people are drawn into subcultures. I feel that I was drawn into the Punk subculture instead of some weird cult or some weird, racist skinheads… At least Punk was like, “Nah- just be a freak, it’s OK”
Tell me about your band, your music and what you’re trying to express? “My band right now is called Goop, I started playing music at age 12 and my first cover was “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, not so punk, but the heart was there. I played in a lot of bands since, and played in a band called Crackbox, and we were a band for about 5 years and put some records out. I then filled in for a touring band called Star Fucking Hipsters, toured Europe- which was a side-project of a band called Leftover Crack. But my current band is called Goop, I play guitar and sing. We’re all pretty much from the Bay Area and we write a lot about gentrification, alienation, hating people, hating the government. We’re definitely not Libertarians, we hate the government, but not in the Republican kind of way- more in the anarchist, do-it-yourself subculture. We can make a culture and we can make a community by reaching out to our neighbors. If nobody’s gonna put your record out, you just do it yourself. And you help out your poor friends- if someone you know doesn’t have a place to stay, or someone’s little brother is homeless, you take him in and try to take care of everybody that needs a hand and try not to be judgmental. So, I think we write a lot of songs about that. We also have a song where Johnny (my songwriting partner) writes about jacking-off in school. Some of it’s tongue-in-cheek, some of its funny, some of its for fun, and some of its political.”
What’s the core philosophy of punk? “I think its different for a lot of people, its so varied and there’s so many different kinds of punk, so many different subcultures of punk, so for everyone its kind their own thing. I think its just not believing what other people tell you to do just cause its expected. Following your own path, doing what feels right to you. Maybe it’s very Anton LeVey: do your own thing, don’t hurt other people- “Do As Thou Wilt”… I mean every society has their own normal and social standards, but maybe someone doesn’t want to follow the family business, in some cultures you don’t want to get married young. There’s actually punks from all over the world… I’m on a compilation with another band from Indonesia. Some of the most punk rock people I’ve ever met are from Mexico.”
If an Alien landed here in a UFO and wanted to learn about Earth’s culture, how would you explain Punk to them? “Its about being creative, it’s about even if you don’t know how to play Rock N’ Roll or do art, or sing, you don’t know how to start a non-profit or start a homeless shelter- you just make it happen. You do it- even if you suck at it. Hey, you did it: Good Job! Let’s celebrate it, even if you don’t get to go to art school. It’s like, “Hey man, do you wanna play drums in our band?”… I don’t think it speaks to everyone. I think most most people are generally happy-go-lucky. I’m gonna generalize, but I don’t think Punk normally…people aren’t drawn to it that much if they’re like: “Yeah man, everything’s SO cool!” All Punk’s different: there’s weird Hari Krishna punks, there’s Christian punks (in my mind they’re not really Punk), but I can’t stop people from playing the guitar.”
You were riding the rails for a long time, hopping freight trains- can you tell me a bit about that? “That was cool, that goes way beyond Punk, but there was some older punks that got the younger one’s into doing that, but train hopping has been going on since the Great Depression- if not longer before that. But for a lot of the people who have embraced DIY culture (“Do It Yourself” culture which is big in the Punk scene) getting around for free was one of the things you could do. And along with squatting, which is finding an empty house and making it your own, cause well, rent costs a lot, takes up a lot of your time if you’re working at a job you hate. It gives you a lot of time to work on creative projects or activist projects, or picking your butt or shooting drugs or whatever you want to do.”
I choose picking my butt. “Yeah, I do to, but it gets a little old. Yeah, so you can get from one end of the country to another, and people wrote about it in books like Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. Its a very romanticized American culture type of thing. People do it in Latin America as well to work or to get from one place to another in a much more dire situation. Also, a lot of young kids who are squatters or punks come from really fucked up households, and get kicked out when they’re really young and they don’t want to go into the system, they don’t want to go into foster care, so one really good way to get from point A to Point B is riding a freight train- if you’re an good at it. Most of us were pretty bad at it and got caught a lot! [laughs] Its one way for adventure, a way to see the country, for next to no money. I could stop somewhere and wash dishes for a while, fly a sign or panhandle or play guitar- I didn’t really like panhandling, but if I ran out of money from my crappy pizza parlor job and I was in the middle of nowhere… I don’t know, lots of adventures, lots of freedom.”
And living in squats: is that a big part of the Punk ethos, or some people just don’t want to spend a lot of money or can’t afford their own place? “I think it’s all of the above, and there’s probably a lot of punks who don’t even know what squatting is. I mean Punk has gone into the mainstream culture, maybe it always has been, look at the Sex Pistols. Like I said, there’s a lot of different types: there’s kids, I feel bad for them, they’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, shitty suburbs, or maybe they’re queer, they don’t feel like they fit in, they get picked on in school and they hear a Green Day song and they think, “Holy Shit! These guys are talking about not being liked and jacking off, I like this!” Take some underground magazine, for example Maximum Rock and Roll, it’s a free Punk magazine that’s been around forever- that’s kinda a lifeline for a lot of kids. Now there’s the internet and you can download tons of free punk music and hear voices of people from around the world who feel the same way you do… I don’t think [living in squats] is for everyone and there’s people who squat who don’t know anything about Punk, but it is something that if you’re in the weird underground, crusty punk scene or you’re homeless youth, or a lot of activist type punks, and there’s a crossover, they might squat for lots of different reasons, A) they can’t afford it or B) they want to work on projects or they just don’t believe ethically that they should have to spend their life slaving away to give money to somebody else. Especially places like the Bay Area that used to be a Mecca for underground culture but now rents are $3000 a month. I mean most school teachers don’t make that much, nurses and construction workers don’t make that much- most working-class people are getting pushed out of the Bay. So, if you think about the artists who want to spend most of their time making art, and they used to be able to pay next to nothing for sharing an apartment with a bunch of people or an art co-op, all of those places have all been shut down, so squatting was something a lot of artists, creative people and musicians did. And a lot of punks, like if you read old books about Punk, you can read about bands like The Slits and The Clash in the very beginning, they were all squatters. It just gives you a lot of time to work on things that you’re passionate about but that the world doesn’t think is important until somehow you make a name for yourself and then all of a sudden everyone’s like, “Oh wow- this person’s so creative and important!” But until then, you just have to do your shitty day job and squat.”
I could have typed out more of this interview, but I was getting tired of transcribing it all! My sister’s mic is a little quieter than mine in the beginning, but equalizes around 1:45:
Interview With My Badass Punk Sister!