Roots and straightedge

Now come with us, yes come down memory lane. Do you remember...


By Sam McPheeters, Dave Stein, Jason O'Toole, Brian Baker

The hardcore music scene has always been viewed by those unfamiliar with it as a mass consensus of angry kids, uniting with the purpose of creating fast, rebellious music in the hopes of shaping a society that they perceive as bad. While this impression is not always wrong, it undermines much of the "message" of hardcore itself that there is no ONE universally adopted view in the hardcore world. Last year, a DONAHUE episode featured "hardcore kids" and Phil made the common mistake of thinking that the few people in the audience could speak for the entire musical scene. The very first point to be understood about hardcore is that it's about as diversified as one movement can get. Although hardcore bands share some o~ the same themes, their lyrics, politics and attitudes can range from far right to far left, from extremes to moderation, from hostility to hospitality. Hardcore is truly a musical scene composed of individuals. If there is any universal 'message' to be derived from such a wide based movement, it is simply "think for yourself".

It is inside this musical movement that a smaller, even more misunderstood, and very important concept has come about. The term "straightedge" was coined by a Washington, D.C. hardcore band named MINOR THREAT, in 1980. The term was first used in the song "straightedge" which simply tied together many of the concepts that had been floating around in the Washington music scene for a while- not letting any outside influence chemical, people or whatever -impede the progress of somebody's development. At the time of it's inception the term was not meant to be a definite set of guidelines, which it has since become, but a pro-thinking, anti-obsession ideology. Just as many underground movements have done, the straightedge scene has diversified. There are some who preach complete "militant" purity, while there are others who, while still remaining straight, refuse to label themselves as having "the edge. Many straightedge "kids" no longer wear the trademark black "X" on the back of their hands. The "X" originates from early D.C. shows, where those under age were marked so they couldn't drink and those who "had" the edge marked their hands before going to the club to prove their abstinence.

While the first wave of the straightedge movement was centered around Washington (MINOR THREAT, .G.I.'s, FAITH) and Boston bands (SSD, DYS) from 1981-83, there is a new wind of bands from around the country and the world calling themselves straightedge. (seen in the names of not only the bands, such as BOLD and STRAIGHT AHEAD, but even in the names of the record labels, such as NEW BEGINNING, POSITIVE FORCE and REVELATION.) An important aspect to note is that both hardcore and straightedge have been perpetuated by those involved in creating the music and atmosphere necessary for their growth, as opposed to money making businessmen and preaching adults. The beauty of straightedge is that it uses peer pressure in a positive manner, by allowing people to recognize alternatives and foster creativity and growth. Whereas much of the rock and roll of previous decades has symbolized rebellion by getting drunk, high, or lighting up a .cigarette, the straightedge movement proves that a group can fight against the wrongs they see while taking care of themselves and maintaining control of their lives. [lyrics from Bold Minor Threat and Warzone were printed with the article]

Don't Drink, Don't Smoke, Don't Fuck by Chuck Shubart (Buzz 1985)

"It's kids having fun," is how hardcore music organizer and true believer Dave Stein describes the punked-up scene inside Albany's VFW Post 481.

Part of the fun, though, lies in trashing superficialists' misconceptions and coincidentally subverting mainstream music's pop-rock fakery then hoping the attack somehow finds its mark in the imprisoning host culture at large.

Another part of the fun, though at these all-ages, mostly-teens, noalcohol shows lies simply in the chance to let loose, to be part of the scene and - despite menacing appearances - to be friendly.

Inside, is a melange of skinheads, longhairs, and Mohawk-sporting "kids"; that's what many call themselves. Off to a side, past the Veterans of Foreign Wars American eagle emblem embossed in the checked linoleum, stands an adolescent looking seriously antisocial not flinching at the noise erupting from the band.

Nearer the music stand most of the 175 in attendance that night Like at a deafening bonfire, the braver ones stand flush to the stage, jostling the singer and being jostled by the rear guard slam dancing. An arm-flailing piggyback rider tumbles and six arms immediately right him.

Soon a collision with circling high-stepping dancers spills a girl in the audience, but two guys carefully lift her before she's had a chance to settle to the floor.

Back at the door, a newcomer parks his skateboard next to about eight others then pays his four bucks-for-four-bands and skips inside. Nearby is posted a sign: "All ages admitted so absolutely no alcohol" Bring it in and we'll through you out - don't mess things up for everybody."

What's going on is perhaps the most vital splinter of the Albany rock scene - only now it's the kids' turn. Capital and Spurj Productions initiated the action, but hardcore has mushroomed lately with the efforts of Futile Effort, the group of two or three friends who brought Black Flag to the VFW Hall this Summer.[ack I was there! what a fossil I am! ]

Dave Stein, the SUNYA junior who represents about half the do-it-yourself manpower behind Futile Effort, recently told me how the scene began: "It started out when a friend in Syracuse wanted his band to play down here and he just really said 'Come on, we want to play in Albany and you've got to make it happen.'"

"The VFW said fine. We thought that would be a one-shot deal, but the guys at the VFW Post are more than happy to accommodate us anytime, which originally surprised everybody. We didn't think they'd like the way we looked, the way we danced and the loud music. We won them over just by being the type of people that we are."

Continuing, Dave said, "A lot of people view it as destructive as 'I hate may parents, I want to kill the world'. And they just see it as kids trying to have some fun. As far as the haircuts, it doesn't really bother them.

"When I still had my Mohawk at the beginning of the summer, one of the guys inside the VFW said something to me about my hair and the bartender pretty much yelled at him about it, which really impressed me."

Since then Dave and coproducer Pam Lockrow have kept this definitely not-for-profit venture going partly out of missionary zeal partly so they needn't travel so far to see bands and partly because more kids have turned up since school reopened. He believes that's where word spread.

"I know after the first summer when I went to shows, I went back to school and sat and listened to the kids saying, 'I went to soccer camp,'or, 'I learned how to water ski.'"

"And I could say, 'well I met 150 new friends, I saw this band, this band and this band, I got this record this record and I more than anything else expanded my mind' - which I didn't see any of them doing. And that's a proud feeling I think all these kids can have," he said.

What that mind expanding meant to him was veering from simply what his parents and school taught him and learning street smarts "from the right people in the rightway"

In the mix-them-up band scene, Dave, who "never saw a black kid till I was 10" said that "mainly I learned don't judge a book by Its cover. Don't take people for what they look like and what color they are."

He added, "I learned a lot of things like that - not taking everything society says, not following the latest trends, not being a couch potato sitting around watching TV 12 hours a day with a cable box and a video recorder."

Another one of this hardcore scene's lessons is the deliberate straight edge philosophy, a set of values that's neither always understood nor entirely endorsed. One of the first songs that spelled it out was by Minor Threat, who shouted: "Don't smoke, don't drink, don't fuck"

Some take that literally, but many at the VFW hall indicated they still consider someone a straight-edge who has a beer or a smoke now and then. One hardcore regular commented, "The drugs is more like the '60s and '70s generation. We don't need to get sedated or get a nice little head or anything." Dave noted it's an anti-obsession line more than anything else. He also commented on the "don't fuck" injunction.

"My belief is it means don't mess with people's heads more than anything else. Be honest and straight-forward. The way I view it also is there's a definite distinction between making love, sex and fucking."

Donn of Fit for Abuse, who is [a total asshole who has started more fights and caused more shit at shows than anyone else, and who's band sucked] totally straight [yeah, right], admitted, "Some like to get high, mellow out and sit in the corner and fall asleep for no reason at all. They all somehow fit in. That's what's so weird. There's no tension in the air."

How this scene fits into the culture is another interesting question. In a friendly manner, the punks clash with it in a number of ways. Perhaps unconsciously, they challenge the ugliness of the world by acting it out. If they dress like the very image of anti-social menace, it's partly a slap and a rebuke - as if to tell the world's sleepwalkers, "this is all you see me as anyway."

But it's also a constructive gesture, even a caress: their veryimage offers the not-so-deeply asleep a chance to note their own reactions and examine them critically. And when a "menacing" skinhead turns out to be nice or even kind of sweet, that, too, offers some a chance to learn.

And hardcore economics challenge the culture, too. The underground record distribution reveals the tyranny of mainstream music by posing the question: Why don't we see this in the chain shops?

Nihilism was a resounding power chord of the Sex Pistols in the original '70s punk explosion. Straightedgers like ill Repute[?]. ("Don't be blind/use your head") add a new twist by calling for regeneration.

The music is almost a weapon against the orchestrated media hype that first used "punk" to sell a product and then passed it on to the Establishment for use as an easy (though fake) evil enemy. Straight edge rockers attack this by an utter absence of evil.

The rock, too, attacks other rock, much of which by comparison is so clearly a part of the mainstream mind-freeze. The band's lack of concern for technique in part is meant to underline this.

Or are the kids at the VFW Hall just naive adolescents who don't truly sense what the Sex Pistols were raving against? Are the kids just wearing last year's clothes?

Outside the hall, one girl remarked, laughing: "Why am I here? Because I like the music and I'm a punk."

Another said, "I like the atmosphere. You don't have to put on an act. Other places you get all this pop rock crap and they're all up on their high horse, but these people are themselves. I like that."

A guy made this comment about skinheads: "The more disgusting you make yourself look, if someone really does befriend you, you know it's not fake. I know a girl who's exactly like that. She says, 'I want a guy to like me for what I really am.' But then it makes it harder for you to be accepted."

A girl was asked what she'd say to someone who might happen to peer into the all-ages scene and recoil. "Well, they're closed-minded. Just because my hair is sticking up it doesn't mean I'm not human," she said.

Her friend, perhaps, summed it all up: "If they can't accept us, they don't belong here."

One charge that might be leveled at this scene is that its believers are playing "Catcher in the Rye", trying to keep kids from growing up, keeping them away from such common growing-up realities as alcohol abuse.

"There's definitely a sense of that," Dave Stein conceded. "But I never want to be a full-time adult. It's hold on, remember the times that you had fun and don't take everything so serious,"

That's something Dave is serious about, and he's keeping Futile Effort going just for that and for other serious reasons as well. After all, he'd probably say, it's fun.

Thanks Chuck you're a beautiful man.

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