HOW PUNK MAKES ME A BETTER WRITER
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
Growing up near Cleveland, Ohio gives me a predisposition for things of a darker matter. Home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a river that once caught fire in the 60s, and six-month winters, Northeast Ohio breeds into its people a certain kind of grit and tenacity.
It’s no wonder then that I gravitated toward the likes of punk, metal, garage rock, and similar genres. It’s a musical camp I fall back on often when I write (both poetry and copywriting). So much so did the habit stick that I started calling the 4–5 PM weekday slump the “punk hour” since listening to it often helps me power through to the finish line. Which got me thinking about the merits of punk that make it so great for writing.
Punk reminds me that even if I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, as long as I get a few notes right with enough enthusiasm, the audience will likely tune in. None of the members of The B-52s had much musical experience on their CVs before launching into their career. Zac Carper of FIDLAR writes lyrics so simple and stripped down, a school kid could’ve written them (if said kid was overcoming a heroin addiction).
Punk is loud, unapologetic, and aimed at getting attention. While each piece I write is motored toward a different purpose (not all of them loud), some are written with the intent to make people notice. The music encourages free thought and brings themes of the underground into the public eye. It celebrates female success (Bikini Kill, Thee Headcoatees, The Distillers, Pussy Riot).
Above all, punk helps me tap into that hormone-fueled energy I had as a teenager and young adult when everything was piqued and worth fighting for. Time jades us. Punk reminds us to live a little. To keep passion at the forefront.
Some of my most-visited songs elicit a brand of dirty energy and cathartic release. Hardcore punk or lo-fi brands with bleary vocals allow me to tap into a kinetic, bass-driven writing zone without getting distracted by lyrics. Nothing gives me life quite like the deep cuts found in punk music.
When writing about brass grommets at my 8–5, sometimes I need a reminder that I haven’t lost my edge. And that I can make anything creative.
Punk inspires inventive naming (Guantanamo Baywatch, Bass Drum of Death, Acid Dad). It uses literary mechanisms, like satire (“Dear Abby” by The Dead Kennedys) and metaphor (Green Day’s “American Idiot”). It teaches me to mix genre (The Misfits, The Cramps, Gogol Bordello, Blink-182, Patti Smith, Television). Or vary sound (AFI). It reminds me to take risks.
Steeping myself in the sound of subversive counter culturists helps me maintain a healthy skepticism. It’s taught me to rethink the status quo. To question what I read and write to get to the meat of the thing. To stay humble and say something real.
Punk teaches me to never be satisfied. Fight where you believe you need to fight and keep moving forward. But also: have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously.
Keyed up to listen? Here’s a growing playlist with some of my favorites: You ain’t no punk, you punk