I’m still dealing with the fact that my baby niece asked me to buy her records this year for Christmas.
It feels like a lot of pressure to be shouldered with, the thing every punk has at least had a tiny fantasy about, that they would get to give their baby cousin/neice nephew/whatevs their first punk record. Here it was before me, and I couldn’t think of what to get her, I mean where do you start? I feel like I have all of punk stretched out before me to choose for her, where would I have started if I could have known what there was?
I can’t even remember what started my slide into punk. How I tumbled off the cliff. The Ramones had something to do with it, and then operation ivy. But it started before them, I was primed by my brother’s old skate videos, and random tapes left around the house that had Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Agent Orange sharing time with my brothers getting stoned reggae mixes. I used to fast forward through Maxi Priest, Black Uhuru, and Steel Pulse to get to the fast stuff the stuff I would jump around on the couch and shout along to.
So when my first encounter with punk in the world came, I was more than ready for it. It was like coming home, finding out that my secret love wasn’t just a thing my brothers had that I wanted. Like everything else. It was something I could go get, go find, go be. When I saw the Ramones the summer I turned 13, it hit me like an epiphany, I wanted to be punk. I went home and tried to use Clorox to bleach out parts of my hair. I took a sharpie and wrote “FUCK” on one of my dad’s old shirts that was in the rag pile, I threw bleach all over my jc penny’s stretch pants and put on some red 70’s boots of my moms. The transformation was overnight.
I took the money my mom gave me to get my now fried and orange hair fixed and went to the one record store I knew how to find and asked for punk cassettes. The extremely sweet older man helped me pick out The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and as I demanded, The Ramones. I played those taped on my walkman until they there warbley and faint.
When I was 16 I begged my dad to let me unearth one of the old turntables in the garage so I could listen to the small box of punk records I had assembled from garage sales and thrift stores. Hardly any of them would play they were so warped and scratched to hell, and the ones that did play were terrible new wave or just didn’t resonate. But I listened to them anyway, I liked their smell, and I liked watching the record spin with the needle singing along in the groove.
I didn’t start buying records in earnest until I was nineteen and finally started seeing touring bands on a weekly basis and buying their merch. I never got bit by the collecting bug. I don’t want to have every record, or delight in having exceptionally rare records, but I want to have the records I love. I want to physically own the records that mean something to me, and I’ll pick up records of bands I see and like, but the records themselves aren’t the passion.
All of this, relevant or not went into my choices for my budding punk niece.
I’ve over thought it, I know. But in the end it’s good I had a strategy. I decided to give her a smattering of the classics:
Black Flag – Everything went black. She lives in a tiny town off a big highway in the central valley. The population is about 5, 000, and less than 200 kids go to her high school. The main industry is dairy, so there is always at least a hint of cow in the air. There are five blocks to downtown. Most people would describe this as sleepy, or quaint, but to most of the young people it is one word: boring. Since rural hell can be a lot like suburban hell in it’s monotony, and frustration I thought she might connect to Black Flag’s seething.
Bikini Kill - s/t LP. She has a guitar that her Dad got her for her birthday, but she doesn’t play it. She likes having it, she wants to play it, she wants to learn, but she’s kind of convinced herself it’s too complicated or too hard for her to do now that it’s in her reach. I want her to pick her guitar and feel she has every right and capability to play it. I think Bikini Kill has said that effectively to a lot of girls.
Ramones Mania. This is my one nostalgic choice. Since my first punk show was The Ramones doing one of their farewell tours, and their music will always hold that magical crystallized moment for me when I wanted to be punk. It was ugly and wild, and that was what I wanted to be, or rather who I was, and it was suddenly not just okay, but cool.
Plus, I threw in Black Sabbath, ACDC, and B52’s to psych out her dad so he wouldn’t scrutinize her punk records too closely. I love my brother, but becoming anybody’s dad will throw the pressure on you to be a stickler and a square. And he was already a little bit of both.
I’ve also got CD-Rs ready to mail of Warsaw, Neurosis, Amebix, Earth, and Rudimentary Peni since hearing she is really into a certain Nu Metal band that shall not be named since this column is for posterity and I don’t want to grievously embarrass her if she ever reads this.
And if she does, I want to thank her for asking me for records. For letting me live the dream. And I’d want to tell her that in the end, as exciting as this all is for me, I can only try help her find the bands she’s looking for.
I can’t help too much, after all, punks make themselves.
any mail should be tied to the leg of a sleeping pigeon, that is fed bread crumbs bearing my address. What’s my address? Oh, well, um…