Like most well-known, middle-aged personalities, Punk Rock, known by friends as simply Punk, is a little coy about disclosing its true age. For the most part, though, Punk’s fans and critics tend to agree it was born in 1976, making this year its 40th birthday. We thought it would be fitting, on this momentous occasion, to sit down with Punk and talk about how things have gone so far.
At times, Punk was playful, wistful, nostalgic, and even a little bitter, but not without good reason. Punk has been through a lot and keeps coming back for more, even though the chants of “Punk is dead” are almost as old as Punk itself.
New Times: So, Punk, how does it feel to be 40?
Punk: Fuck you. How does it feel to be however old the New Times is?
Well, what we meant was...
(Interrupts) I’m kidding. Jesus, can’t you take a joke? It feels great, actually. People thought I wouldn’t last, but here I am. To be honest, I don’t really feel any age most days, although I do feel like I’ve been rode hard and put away wet sometimes.
Tell us about your parents. Everyone wants to know who they are.
My real mom and dad are feelings and ideas, you know? People call them lots of things, like freedom, creativity, angst, violence, youth, and passion, but I just call them “Ma” and “Pa.”
To be honest, they liked to sleep around a lot, and while they definitely love each other, they don’t always get along really well and often get in each other’s way. When I came along, it was the early ’70s, and times were definitely weird. I’ve had a lot of “aunts” and “uncles,” if you know what I mean. Most of ’em are dead, to be sure, but you could ask my Uncle Jim Osterberg. You might know him as Iggy Pop. He taught me a lot, but there was also Uncle Lou [Reed] and Aunt Patty [Smith], and Uncle David [Johansen of the New York Dolls] who helped guide me, too, and that’s just a few of them. There was this dude, Pete [Townsend], who taught me how to play guitar, but I’ve never really been as good as him.
What were you like as a child?
People tell me I came out of the womb kicking and screaming, but I try not read the press clippings. I like to think of it like this: “I was new and fun and different and pure.” I was a baby, you know, and like any baby, I was both adorable and a shit factory who couldn’t take care of myself. People like to argue about who I let represent me first, too, and I hate that.
Was it the Ramones? Sort of. Was it the Sex Pistols? Sort of, and goddamn it, that was a good bit of scary fun. Was it the Clash? No. I was a vehicle for the Clash, much like some of the other early bands that were called by my name. Talking Heads, Blondie, Television — none of them were me, but they were like me, and in many ways, I was like them, too.
What do you mean by that?
(Laughs) Of course you’d ask that question. You asked about my parents, right, and I said that they were feelings and ideas. I am made up of feelings and ideas, too. Good ones, bad ones, scary ones, funny ones, you name it.
Shit, I forgot about the Saints [from Australia], and they represented me really, really well. … Where were we?
You were talking about feelings and ideas.
Right. Some bands are me, but not all the musicians in the band are “punks,” if you catch my drift. Some people are me but their music isn’t me or the job they have isn’t me, and hell, some books, movies, political movements, and clothes are me, too, but a lot just try to be like me or talk about me or pretend to be me, for whatever fucking reason.
Am I one of those eye-of-the-beholder things? Am I different to everybody? Maybe, but if you have to question it, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You look at me and see one thing, or maybe a lot of things, you hear me — same thing, but it’s nothing like what somebody else sees, hears, or feels when they are around me.
Let me get in a local question. In the early days, what do you remember about Phoenix?
There were some crazy fuckers in Phoenix. The Clark brothers [Dan was in the eXterminators, the Feederz, Victory Acres, and Joke Flower, and Doug was in the Brainz, the eXterminators, Mighty Sphincter, and some versions of Victory Acres], Frank Discussion [the Feederz], John E. Precious [Vivier of the Cicadas, the Liars, Killer Pussy, the Feederz, etc.] — so many people. There were some really good bands from Phoenix. I like hanging out there.
What about now? Do you like any of the current crop of Phoenix bands? Who represents you well?
Most of the good Phoenix bands now are pretty damn old or made up of old folks. There’s a joke there, somewhere, but nobody gets my sense of humor. I like that Playboy Manbaby band a lot, though, and some of Matt Spastic’s bands [Man Hands, Button Struggler, and many others] are pretty punk rock, too. You find me in the oddest places in Phoenix, which is another thing I like about that town. House parties, restaurants, dive bars, and even the nice bars. Like Elvis, I’m everywhere.
Now that you’re 40, do you look back at any particular year or time in your life and think, “Wow. I was at my best then”?
Like anybody, I have my favorite memories. What I feel the proudest of, though, is my ability to change. Black Flag, for example, changed me. I was never the same after those guys. The Damned, from about 1977 to 1982 — I was really proud of that. They proved to everyone you could play your instruments really well and still be, well, me.
After that, the Subhumans and the Dead Kennedys showed my political side with a vengeance and irreverence, respectively. I loved those days. The Minor Threat guys, you know, then Fugazi. That whole Dischord Records thing showed you didn’t have to be fucked up to be like me, though the kids up in Utah took it a little too far. Dischord got it right, too, in how they handle the money side. Greed is definitely not me.
As I got a little older, I loved all the new aspects of my personality that flowed through people like the Dead Milkmen, the Butthole Surfers, Flipper, and Big Black. Speaking of black, the fucking Bad Brains — oh my god. Without them, I really might have died a long time ago. And my brothers in Death — Dannis, Bobby, and David Hackney — wow. They knew about me way before most people did. What’s the expression? Punk as fuck.
Nothing more recent you are proud of?
You don’t get it, do you? Is this some hipster bullshit? I’m not into pride. Fuck pride. I’m into doing. I’m into being. I’m into the joy of breaking something, especially stale, boring, established bullshit, and building something better. Both sides of that coin fascinate me. I dig a lot of the new stuff going on. It’s weird, though, to be fucking 40. I’m underground and, at this point, part of the establishment at the same time. I have a job, just like you. I have to go out and make the money. I am a business now, where early on, I was more of a hustler. I have mouths to feed.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.