Punk rock has been one of the constants in my life since I was 14 years old and I was recently asked to write a piece for a zine about the first time I heard some. Here’s what I came up with, an attempt to square the circle of how a type of music so individualistic and occasinally even nihilistic has always filled me with such a feeling of transcendence and love that it became essential to me. You can read it along with some other awesome pieces here in ‘Songs That Changed Everything’.
Pseudo-Dionysius, apostle imposter and mystic philosopher, knew that in the moment of truthful contemplation of the Godhead “we pass not merely into brevity of speech, but into absolute silence”.
And what’s true of the almighty must be true of music right? It’s the infinite’s calling card after all, the promise of redemption with a bass line.
So what can words about music be except what the Zen monks call “the chattering of the monkey mind”? What Zappa described as of illiterates, by illiterates, for illiterates? Can such words but take the form of what Satan’s acolytes monthly spew forth in the hideous form of Mojo magazine?
I rather doubt it. And yet I volunteered, nay demanded to write about the first time I heard ‘Burnout’ by Green Day. What is this compulsion but work for idle hands? That rager, track one on ‘Dookie’, heralded by the humblest drum roll before descending and renting asunder my dirty seaside spice girl cosmos. How the hell can I tell you how it felt? I’ll tell you the story.
There’d been a prophecy you see, Alex’s brother had it, and it was the fastest music made by human hands. However, it was lost to us, its ancient wisdom was claimed by the grey sea, and Alex’s brother was a dick without a tape machine.
So lo! We heard nothing.
But I found it. I excavated it from the bargain bin, dusted it off, clutched that dead sea scroll to my living heart and clenched my teeth all the way home. All the way past the church of St. Felix, happy converter of all the East Angles, past the Police station and Conservative Club (separated by a slender serpent of street) and past all the schools I had up till then ever attended.
Dry grey rain fell unnoticed. It had at this point been falling for forty days. It would fall for forty more. There was some centrally mandated testing on the horizon but I forget which. For I heard ‘Burnout’ by Green Day. That rager, track one on ‘Dookie’, some sort of psalm for every green tween in John Gummer’s grey constituency. Heralded by the humblest drum roll, “I DECLARE I DON’T CARE NO MORE, I’M GROWING UP AND OUT AND GROWING BORED!” I bought a counterfeit hoody of many colours and made my pilgrimage to Wembley Arena “I’M NOT GROWING UP, I’M JUST BURNING OUT!” I began a band with the exact same sound, blazed green in gold fields, recounting a sparkling sermon on a germinating mound “I LIVE INSIDE THIS MENTAL CAVE, THROW MY EMOTIONS IN THE GRAVE!” while all the while the guitars praised life, and the bass praised life, and the pace praised life and the drums praised life and the tongues praised life “AND I STEPPED IN LINE TO WALK AMONGST THE DEAD”.
This is, I think, the point. Pseudo-Dionysius (that liar) knew God was wordless but she didn’t shut up. I can’t describe how I felt the first time ‘Burnout’ by Green Day ripped me up, picked me up and blew me towards the world, I just know I need to try, because it might just bridge the gap, or you can try something similar and we can meet in the middle, because music is a promise of redemption, in this case with three shit-kicking drum solos.