By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Teach your children well, their parents' hell did slowly go by ...
Crosby, Stills and Nash
Beat on the brat, beat on the brat, beat on the brat with a baseball bat ...
True story: last summer, dozens of Houston's punk rock and post-punk cognoscenti gathered in a single room to eat pizza, drink Diet Coke and listen to animated forest animals crank out Happy Birthday tunes from a mechanized stage. Skeeballs dropped into concentric circles and fluff hammers pounded on fluff gophers over the buzzing backdrop of screeching kids, a P.A. rattling off food orders and flashing red lights. Persons who at other times might be seen sporting green hair and ripped shirts iconic of their end-of-the-cultural-line punk status accorded just enough thought to the future to trade diapering tips and discuss the relative merits of breast feeding, or the advantages of natural childbirth, or the best bets for finding a baby sitter on gig nights.
This was never supposed to happen.
Punk -- at least in the eyes of its progenitors -- was the ugly, lost generation, signaling the evolutionary train's last stop.
Punks were supposed to die, young and wasted.
Johnny Rotten sang "no future for you," and
a generation punched a safety-
pin through its
collective nose, thumbing it all the while.
Punks were not supposed to breed.
But there they were, all the punks, dropping cash at Chuck E. Cheese, escorting their young offspring as they celebrated the birthday of a peer. There they were: authority figures with "Question Authority" bumper stickers; role-playing role models; slacker disciplinarians. Tattoos, nose rings, strollers and pacifiers. The punks were having babies.
Punk rock parents. It's a hell of a phrase -- the alliteration, the inherent ideological conflict. You can see the picture in your head: the leather-clad, walking pincushion of a mom or dad, sneering into the lens with apocalyptic bravado, cradling the innocent infant who little knows it has been born to adults perpetuating an attitude of teen defiance.
Still -- with sex being what it is -- is it so surprising that punks, like everyone else, should find themselves approaching middle age with babes perched and mewling on their knees? Maybe it's one of those cultural phenomena -- like Urkel or Kate Moss -- that doesn't mean anything at all. It just looks weird.
There are, of course, celebrity punk parent models -- from Hole's Courtney Love and her oft-questioned mothering skills to the cutie-pie incongruity of fortysomething Sonic Youth couple Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon and their two-year-old daughter Coco. But as examples, they tell you more about the public's self-held prerogative to judge private lives from a safe distance than about anything of real substance.
Go instead and talk to the parents who paraded through Chuck E. Cheese for the next generation's birthday party, mopping up the sugary spills of their offspring, and you'll find out quickly enough that unlike their celebrity contemporaries, marginalized by fame, street-level punk rock parents aren't -- horror of horrors -- really all that different from the garden-variety mom and pop.
Some are married. Some are divorced. Some are single. They work, like everyone, for varying rewards, and like everyone else, they do their best to make ends meet with what they've got. Like everyone, the manner in which they make their living spills over into their private lives as parents. They make what they dutifully call mistakes, they sometimes cling to bad habits. Like a perfect little cross-section of the populace at large, they hold diverse opinions on issues from welfare reform to drug use, and they worry about street crime and television violence and educational decline, just like their buttoned-down counterparts in the non-punk world.
Punk rock parents juggle a daytime of domestic science with an after-hours world of smoky clubs and beer-soaked stages and rock and roll all night long. They live two lives, offering sober guidance by day, venting adolescent kicks by night. Some try to keep the two worlds more or less segregated: they don't go around piercing their kids' tongues or blowing pot smoke into their sons' and daughters' fresh little faces. Others revel in the child-rearing options of the "alternative lifestyle."
Of course, there have always been show-biz kids, and they've always faced lives a little different from those of their peers, whether that difference came from being born in the trunk of vaudeville performers or hitting the cafe circuit with jazz elders. But punk rock parents stand out even in this company. Punks, almost by definition, maintain a tenuous relationship with traditional norms of responsibility, and for punk parents, it's likely to be a relationship in the throes of dramatic change. The theory behind punk has never suggested a particularly clear ideological path toward maturity. If punk has taught them anything, it's to always stay true to themselves, warts and all. Now, parenting is teaching them that "No Future" is just a phrase.
Punk rock parents, like the Cosmo girl, want it all, and what follows are slices of four lives cobbled together, like punk fashion, out of bits and scraps, connected with safety pins and electrical tape. Four tales of parents weaned on punk rock's demanding selfishness -- Look at me! Look at me! Look at me! -- adapting, in whatever way they know best, to responsibility for a young'un with a better claim to the available attention. Combined, they tell one story about how having a child changes you, and also about how it gives you a reason to fight to stay the same.