When I started school, I was a small, skinny young man. To me, football was my own personal idea of what hell must be like (which is almost blasphemous in a school in London where people love to stick to cultural stereotypes of playing football and smoking in the park after school at age 13), I was (and still am) a lifelong fan of professional wrestling, and for some reason I enjoyed the company of female friends more than that of males.
From the get-go I wasn’t exactly destined for the smoothest sailing through my teen years. And it didn’t take long for people to notice this.
I, no doubt like many others, spent my earliest periods of school relatively uncomfortable because of these differences. It wasn’t enough to make me force myself to play and like football or to take up underage smoking in order to camouflage my way through the years because I knew neither of those things were for me. Luckily I wasn’t bullied to any significant extent and I barely had any trouble with fights or physical altercations – I just wasn’t comfortable being so different in an environment where most people were so similar to each other.
One thing I did always have that always took the stresses of school life away was music.
Being brought up on a steady diet of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Rainbow by my dad, it didn’t take me long to venture out into the world of rock on my own and discover similar genres, and one fateful day I found the Sex Pistols. The music video for Anarchy in the UK came on TV and I saw a group of guys who looked like me but weren’t uncomfortable about it at all. Skinny, spiky hair, unapologetically different to what the “cool kids” looked like – my mind was blown.
Punk rock had grabbed me in its talons and wasn’t going to release me, much to my delight. I started finding other bands that were influenced by the Pistols and soon enough I was a die-hard fan of people like the Ramones, Billy Idol, Minor Threat, Black Flag, H2O, Green Day, and Rancid. I had all of their CDs that I could find, I’d search for hours on the internet for interviews with the band members to see what they were like off-stage, and the more I learned about them and their ideals, the more comfortable and happy I was being myself.
Side note: I even found a professional wrestler who was the living embodiment of punk, aptly named CM Punk. It really seemed like all of my passions were coming together for this eye-opening moment of my life.
I found an interview with certain members of the Ramones once and it stuck with me like a tattoo on my brain ever since. During it, Joey Ramone was discussing what it meant to be “punk” and he said “To me, ‘punk’ was about being an individual and going against the grain and standing up and saying ‘this is who I fucking am.'”
What an incredible ideology to have on life. Unapologetically different. This was one of the most influential things I’d heard and it gave me the green light to live my life in a similar way. Who cares if you dislike the sport that the majority love like a religion? What does it matter if you enjoy the company of the opposite gender over being one of – and I still say this with a shudder – “the lads”?
The idea isn’t to go out and purposely be different to what the rest of the world is doing. If that were the case I wouldn’t be able to admit that I enjoy Taylor Swift’s latest songs, or that I think Breaking Bad is one of the best television shows ever made, or disagree with anything that popular culture agrees with, without having my punk license revoked. No, the idea of Joey’s definition was always to just unapologetically be yourself. If you have a passion for something, shout it from the rooftops. If you prefer to wear one style of clothing over what is in fashion at the time, you go and be the most unfashionable person you want to be.
Be yourself, and be happy being yourself. That’s the punk approach to life that has been my mantra for as long as I can remember, and that’s the only advice I feel a person in a similar situation to what I found myself in really needs. In a world where it’s so easy to bow to the pressures of society and look, act and talk in a way that is considered “normal” at that time, it’s nice to know if you don’t want to be exactly like that, you don’t have to be.