Billie Joe Armstrong, lead singer of the band Green Day, has checked himself into rehab for substance abuse after a profanity-laden tirade at the quixotically titled “iHeartRadio” Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. Armstrong became livid when his band’s set was abbreviated and he was unable to perform a new song.
The collective bullhorn known as the internet let out a sigh of exasperation at the news that Armstrong, through his publicist, had apologized for the aforementioned tantrum. Apologizing is, of course, a cardinal sin within the subculture currently known as ‘punk.’ The accepted notion that Green Day is a ‘punk’ band leads the opinion of the day toward Armstrong being some kind of jerk sellout for saying sorry and going to get treatment.
In the days of the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones, Television and Suicide, accepting responsibility for the repercussions of one’s actions was an affront to one’s punk rock bona fides. For the moment, ignore the contradiction inherent in requiring an individual to behave a certain way in a subculture founded on the premise that chaos is superior to order. As a great man once said, “stop making sense.”
Instead, please focus your attention on the sorry truth that Green Day sold out before I was even in high school. As soon as an artistic pursuit becomes a sizable source of income, you have sold out. If you make $40,000 a year selling sculptures of former U.S. presidents, you’ve sold out. If you can actually convince strangers to watch you perform live comedy, you’ve sold out. If your music video is on MTV in 1995, you’ve sold out. Practically no one makes a living doing something artistic without compromising certain principles. This is fundamentally true because in order to be successful, you have to offer the public something it wants. That means ignoring plenty of works that you’d like to make, but are unable to because the market will ignore it. If you think that there’s anyone out there who’s totally innocent of compromise, you probably also think Real Housewives of Beverly Hills isn’t scripted.
It has been said before, but it bears reiterating that if you can buy the trappings of a subculture in a mall, it is no longer a subculture. It is pop culture. Johnny Rotten, Henry Rollins, Joe Strummer and pretty much anyone else you can think of who lasted longer than a few years in the spotlight made a choice or two that damaged the stringent ethos that was punk.
Bastion of truth and clarity Wikipedia claims, “Punk is largely characterized by a concern for individual freedom and anti-establishment views.” Once punk became a part of the establishment, it ceased to be punk. The fact that the term is used in conjunction with anything modern is antithetical to the original intention of people who created the subculture.
Breaking a guitar and cursing at strangers isn’t even really anti-establishment anymore. It’s so commonplace as to be cliché. Billie Joe Armstrong wasn’t being punk when he lost his composure in Las Vegas. He was actually just being a pampered celebrity who didn’t get his way and wanted the world to know. The only true act of rebellion left for someone like him is to stop making music, stop touring and stop performing.
Punk formed out of a rebellion against both the bourgeois suit-wearing middle class, but also the docile hippie subculture of the 1960s. In response to the communal, politically-minded nature of the hippie movement, punks became aggressive, visceral and nihilistic. Rejection of the status quo of the time was vital to the development of the aesthetic and worldview of punk. It was of its time. Today, our social climate is far different. Our societal status quo is defined not by communal love or nihilism. It is defined by narcissism.
All of us want, covet and desire. We want to be recognized. We covet material goods. We desire affection. “Like, favorite, share, upvote, etc.” Abandoning not only the rewards of fame, but also the pressure of fame are the last remaining activities that are contrary to the established order. The most alternative action available in a society full of egocasters is to be anonymous.
That sounds easy to do, but with Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and countless other networking tools, all of us can acquire some level of fame if we desire it. Living in the desert with a bunch of snakes and a lifetime supply of baked beans is punk. Wearing a bag over your head at all times is punk. Ignoring the burning impulse to be noticed is punk. Smashing an expensive instrument next door to a casino is not.
I know that I’m not punk by any definition of the word. I make money doing creative things. I want to be recognized for the work that I do. I make compromises for the sake of success. My name and picture are all over the internet. I don’t know any other way, because I’m far too afraid to die alone and unappreciated. While I struggle to be heard, hopefully Billie Joe Armstrong can find some peace away from the grinding, ponderous machine that put his face on lunch boxes and Valentine’s Day cards. If you want your former hero to rebel, just let him be normal.