Ladies and gentlemen, I admit it: I've been trolled. I've been trolled by local musician and writer John Roderick via his essay in Seattle Weekly with the shiny, sharp, silver hook of a headline, "Punk Rock Is Bullshit." I am not the only wriggling fishy on the line; as of this writing, there are 619 comments on his piece, something that must make Roderick and Seattle Weekly's advertising department proud of their day's catch. As much as I am tempted to not reward either with more attention or cash, I will encourage you to read the piece in order to fully appreciate my points here -- but at least scroll down and click "View All" to register fewer page loads. So why am I choosing to further illuminate something that I think is a misguided, pretentious, bitter hack job? John Roderick has provided us a perfect example of how a writer can blame a vast group of diverse musicians and fans for, as his subtitle asserts, "...a toxic social movement (that) poisoned our culture," while being absolutely, astoundingly unaware of his own venomous, aggressive lack of integrity and perspective... which is the the real downfall in modern journalism and in our culture as a whole. It's worth dissecting and dismantling. There are so many things just flat-out wrong with what Roderick has done here that I need to break it up into sections.


Oh, brother. "Punk Rock Is Bullshit" is such a showcase of what I find to be an intolerable and painfully-common writing style. Oh, if I had a buck for every ten-dollar word and lofty over-wrought metaphor in Roderick's prose! Let me use plain, everyday words to state clearly that such writing is produced only to impress the writer himself and Grad School Writing Program students with his sparkling vocabulary and grandiose proclamations. What is the purpose of writing? Not that. It is to communicate with all your readers, to make your points and your meanings flow without having to overburden each sentence with a dense fermentation of pseudo-intelligence. Words can be used as a kind of distancing mechanism, forming a club that is exclusionary -- think of legal writing, medical journals, marketing jargon. Roderick tries so, so hard to show people that he is smarter than you and your little dog, Toto, too, which is why people hate Pitchfork so much. There are plenty of sour brainiacs around who don't know when to wean themselves off the thesaurus. They lose themselves in narcissistic ardor, trying to top themselves with each exquisite turn of phrase, losing a huge chunk of their intended audience in the process. Barf.


This piece was an excruciating read not only for the preciousness of Roderick's style, but his lack of expertise and understanding of his topic, a fatal flaw when contemplating a troll essay. He falls flat right in the first paragraph, using the beyond-the-beyond tired complaints that Baby Boomers are all hippies-turned-Bush-Yuppies and ruined the world for him, a Gen X-er. He then, after complaining about the generation of people before him, proposes the theory that people who like "punk rock" and what it supposedly stands for are immature, contemptuous haters, jealous and suspicious of anything successful or pleasant or happy in any way. If I could set my eyes to infinity rolleyes at this point, I surely would do so. Where do I begin?

It's totally fair and fine if Roderick doesn't like punk music. It's not for everyone, of course, which is why there are so many other types of musical genres for people to enjoy, like Roderick's own "indie folk" with his band, The Long Winters. I'm not sure what kind of "punks" Roderick has been interacting with in his lifetime to form such sweeping, damning conclusions about what we think and believe. Yes, you read right -- I said, "we." I love punk rock, and consider myself a "punk" in my heart of hearts. Yet, if Roderick would take the time to know more about those he directs his acrimony towards, he might find me. I am older than him, and belong to the tail-end of those awful, awful Baby Boomers. I live in the suburbs in a nice house, and have three lovely kids and a sweet dog. I am thrilled when my friends are successful, had a happy childhood, have no tattoos nor piercings, avoid moshing so my glasses don't get broken, am a college grad, don't smoke or drug, and am generally cheerful and laugh frequently. I enjoy many types of music, from Basie to Bach to Brubeck to Beatles to Black Flag. I don't buy into "lifestyle manifestos," other than "you shouldn't buy into a lifestyle manifesto."

More importantly, I have found with very few exceptions that people who truly love punk or garage rock are far from the acidic nihilists that Roderick paints them to be. It just isn't true that we hate everything and everyone and ourselves and want to die, really! I fear he is a "Quincy"-level appreciator of us...remember this?

"Quincy, M.E." Punk Rock Episode

The "punks" of TV were fake, as well as the real-life people who called themselves punks just by putting a safety pin through their lapels, getting a mohawk, and using the pit as a excuse to be a violent jerk. That isn't what "punk" IS, no matter what the media has fed anyone. What I can tell Roderick and all of you is that the people that I know who are devoted to punk and the garage are some of the nicest and most down-to-earth folks you'd ever want to meet, funny and friendly and who time and time again will bend over backwards to help their community. I could give example after example of charity gigs, buying band merch when money is too tight to mention, and smaller acts of kindness that few people see. On the other hand, some of the chilliest and most uptight music people I have encountered, especially in Seattle, are the "indie folk" hipsters who take irony-worship to heavenly heights, read music blogs to figure out what to wear each day, and produce music of exceeding sameness/dullness, crimes Roderick claims for punk rock devotees. In formulating his concept, his "carpet doesn't match the drapes."


I can appreciate that John Roderick has a fine, clear voice and is a skilled musician. Yet the music he produces fills me with profound indifference. There is nothing there that stands out over what feels like hundreds of similar bands here. For me, the value in art that is made public is that it is unique enough to provoke some kind of thought or reaction, whether it makes you dance or sing or think about the lyrics, be it positive or negative. For art to effect nothing whatsoever...well, oof, sir.

It is a hallmark of a closed view of the world when, even given facts or differing perspectives, one cannot learn and grow. For Roderick to declare that punk "... only tells us what it hates. It has never stood for anything; it stands against things. It is not an intentional indictment; it is a reactionary spasm," shows with no doubt that he doesn't fundamentally understand what punk rock is. Certainly, punk music can be brash and pessimistic and vulgar and stupid; so is a chunk of life. But the real spirit of punk music is so much more, and holds great value. To typify punk only as people spitting on each other and hating the universe, thereby causing a toxic cultural cloud that wipes out more tender beings, misses the point by a mile. Bear with me here -- this is going to be tough going for the Quincy folk. 

I believe that "punk rock" is at the core of music, all music. It is the thing that makes us want to create, to express how we feel, say who we are, to tell about what makes us different. It exists in the recordings of Bessie Smith and Louis Prima, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bob Dylan, the Sonics and the Stooges. It isn't blindly hating every authority source; it reminds us to examine who we choose to follow and why, and maybe consider forging a better path ourselves. It is sometimes music of anger and disillusionment, and sometimes music of tremendous primal headbanging-happy joy. I feel a bit sorry for Roderick in that I don't think he will ever be able to truly know how much we gain, how good this kind of music is for us. He seems like an uptight dude and not very cheery. Maybe he should rethink some of his own choices in life, eh?


I've already devoted more time to this than I really have available, so I will finish up this post by pointing out that Roderick's essay, rather than proving his point or even illuminating an issue, must be viewed with proper suspicion. For when taken as a whole, it doesn't matter that he chose "punk rock" to rag on -- that was just a topic that he figured would rile up plenty of people. For all his pundit-piss serves is what passes now for paid music journalism: something aggressively critical, with little other than the writer's own opinions and psychological issues on display, designed to DRIVE PAGE VIEWS which increases publication ad rates. How terribly and hilariously ironic that the guy who is whining about punks being nasty meanies and Baby Boomers being insufferable navel-gazers interested solely in profit and attention, is guilty of ALL of the above. 

Long live punk rock. Time for this little fishy to swim in more friendly waters.

The Damned, "Fish"


(The Intelligence, The Croc, Seattle WA., 6/18/11)

(Ed. note: as of 4/19/13, Roderick's original essay, as well as all the comments, have been removed from Seattle Weekly. Interestingly enough, Roderick is scheduled to present a talk at Seattle's EMP Pop Conference tomorrow, entitled "How To Survive A Firestorm." HOW ABOUT THAT.)