WHY ARE STRAIGHT EDGERS SUCH DICKS?
A Rhetorical Question
by Jim Testa
I've been in this punk rock
business a long time now – my fanzine, Jersey Beat, just celebrated its 8th birthday - and I've seen bands come & go. I've know some great people who've played in bands; some of them still do. I've known some real assholes too. That just goes with the territory.
But year in and year out, through
all my dealings with all kinds of bands, there's one constant I can count on.
If they're straight edge, they're
probably going to be dicks.
Now I know this sounds like one of
Ben Weasel's diatribes, an unholy sweeping generalization, and I'll grant you that there are a couple of decent straight edgers out there. Well, maybe one or two. I have a lot of respect for Ian and the guys in Fugazi, for instance.
On the other hand...
The Case of The Vanishing Van
ABC No Rio is an abandoned
building on the Lower Lower East Side of Manhattan, in a neighborhood that's mostly hispanic and very poor, but for nearly a year, it's been the home of the only real hardcore scene New York City has known. The shows there starting in December, 1989, and have continued, week in and week out, on almost every Saturday since. They've missed two or three weeks, I think, but basically, ABC No Rio has delivered a show, with four or five cool bands, a low door charge, a great table that sells 7 inches and fanzines, and lots of fun. Most of all, there's no club owner or booking agent making all the decisions; the shows are run by a collective of fans, musicians, and writers. Every show has more than its share of fanzine people there, and a small group of regulars who all play in other bands. Nobody segregates the music by labels; "straight edge" and "punk," scum rock and stenchcore, everybody plays together and everybody watches all the bands. In a city where hardcore and even ska have been banned from almost every other club because of an uncontrollable violence problem, ABC No Rio hasn't had one fight in over eight months of shows. If that isn't what a "scene" is all about, then I don't know what is.
Now the drawback to ABC No Rio is
that it's small, and the shows aren't advertised in the newspapers; the regulars know about them, and spread the word with flyers.
One week, the popular South Jersey
straight edge band Vision was booked for a show. Now, remember, ABC No Rio didn't call up Vision and beg them to come; they asked for a show there. So Vision pulls up in their van, and take a look at the place, and count the number of people there, and sort of say, in an offhand way, that it's a lot smaller than what they're used to. So the band, with the exception of their guitarist Pete, clamber back in the van, and announce they're going for some food.
Apparently they went all the way
back to Trenton to look for it, because they never came back to the show. That left Pete to face the crowd and announce that his band decided they didn't want to play there because it was too small. I hand it to the guy, it took a lot of guts and he accepted responsibility for his bandmates' actions. Okay, Pete is one straightedge guy I respect.
But the rest of Vision? Dicks.
Ingrate, Thy Name Is Straight Edge Another straightedge band that
came to play No Rio was called Insight, from Salt Lake City, Utah. They had some problems on the road and lost a lot of their equipment, so they show up without a drumkit or amps and ask if they can borrow some stuff. Since there are a lot of bands on the bill (including Supertouch, the head liners, who have a lot of good equipment), it`s decided that Insight would go on right before Supertouch, use their equipment, and save a little set up time between bands.
So what does Insight do? They pack
together in their van and stay there all through the first three opening bands. Then they come out, set up, play three songs, and announce that the singer's throat hurts, so they stop playing. Then they get back in the van, and don't even hang around to watch Supertouch, who loaned them all their equipment.
No Reply Necessary
In eight years of publishing a
fanzine, I've interviewed a lot of bands. After an issue comes out, I mail the bands who appear in each issue some complimentary copies and thank them for appearing in the zine. Their response differs - sometimes they'll send a t-shirt, they'll usually always send their next record to be reviewed, and more often than not, I get a thank you note.
Jersey Beat #40 featured two
straightedge bands, who both were received a lot of space - photos, interview, the works. One of those bands was Carry Nation, from California. Two of the members - Frank and Dan - each run their own (straightedge) record label, and I'd never received anything from either of them in the way of press materials.
This is not surprising. Most
straightedge labels don't support fanzines by giving away review copies of their records. I guess they figure that all the straight edge zinesters will run out and buy all their releases right away anyway, and nobody else matters. This is a fairly typical attitude among the SE crowd; if you're not SE, you don't matter. Anyway, that's why you never never see reviews of Revelation or Schism Records in Jersey Beat.
So anyway, when the issue came
out, I sent both Dan and Frank a few copies of the zine, and mentioned casually that I had never seen anything from either of their respective labels. Now that Carry Nation had been featured prominently in Jersey Beat, and they'd seen the quality and reliability of the publication, maybe they'd like to send some of their releases for us to review? (Frank's label, Nemesis Records, released Vision's lp, by the way).
Well, I didn't receive any records
to review. Neither Frank nor Dan even bothered with the courtesy of a reply.
Another band that was profiled in
the new issue is called Bedlam Hour. They've been around a long time, but haven't had much national exposure. The lead singer and band leader, Chuck Walker, is straight edge, and makes quite a point of it in interviews and lyrics.
I sent Chuck four copies of the
new issue for the band and a nice little note. No reply. Then I saw that Chuck and a friend had released some old tapes of early Bedlam Hour on a new EP. I wrote again and asked about getting a copy to review. No reply. Then I wrote again and asked if there was any reason he wasn't answering my letters, since he seemed so open and friendly in the interview we ran. No reply.
Now I know a lot of this sounds
like whining and sour grapes, like I expect something out of a band if I give them space in my fanzine. But that's not true. I don't solicit advertising based on who we interview. We get records to review from all kinds of labels, from the majors down to kids who press up 1000 copies of a 7" they recorded in their garage.
But there are rules of behavior
that govern all human discourse; old fashioned concepts, perhaps, but I still believe in them. Like being polite. Like answering your mail. Like realizing, if you're in a punk rock band, that your ability to function depends on a complex inter-related web of fans, fanzines, clubs, promoters, radio, and record labels, and that everybody in the web should be helping one another.
Straight edgers, because they're
convinced of their moral superiority, feel they are entitled to their share of the scene without putting anything back. They take, but all they give is advice on moral conduct. Well, I've got news for them.
respect for fellow bands - those are all positive moral values too. And greed, selfishness, self-involvement and the disrespect you show other bands are just as wrong as drunkenness and promiscuity. Maybe worse. You can get drunk and not hurt anyone else (assuming you don't pick fights or try to drive a car while you're bombed). The sort of self-righteousness displayed by bands like Carry Nation, Vision, and Insight hurt the very people who are pouring part of their lives into the scene. When Ian MacKaye was writing songs about the straight edge movement for Minor Threat, he wrote, "Don't drink, don't smoke, don't fuck."
He never said anything about being
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