Monday, May 23, 2005

What’s punk today?

I’ve been receiving a lot of emails from young punk rockers who first saw my photos in “We Got the Neutron Bomb” (Three Rivers Press) and recently found my website, www.jennylens.net. They tell me they wish their friends were like those in my site or wish they were around when I shot the photos and to experience what I write beneath the photos and in my Stories section. As Joe Strummer said: “You can’t spend too much time in the past. It’s like treacle, your shoes stick in it and drags you down.” Quote from the documentary “Let’s Rock Again” by Dick Rude.

So let’s talk about living in the present. Imagine being in my shoes when at an art opening/party, a DJ who thinks it's perfectly fine to stop in the middle of song and then play another song, cos that's what makes him so cool. He rents a space and charges people to listen (rarely dancing), drink and see art (a big scene in LA), and has the nerve to tell me he's punk cos he puts on his own shows. He guarantees I will like his music once I listen to it cos his former girlfriend was into punk and she liked his shit. Yeah, right.

Glad people are putting on their shows, but it takes more than that to be punk. The DJ wanted to show my pix but I wanted to burn CDs of the music behind the pix, but then he wouldn't DJ and his pride got hurt. But just as I hate my photos to be cropped wrong, I can't stand anyone spinning part of a Clash song and then some lame song and then part of something else and then part of X and just when a fave part is coming ‘round the bend, on to another song. What happens to storytelling when you do that? What happens when you only play part of a song? Coitus interruptus and that's what it feels like: total frustration. Punks my ass. I don't argue, but encourage them to keep being creative, and that's that.

One big difference between punks now and when I shot (1976-1980), was a lot of people were very, very bright, creative and many were artists, poets, actors, graphic artists, well-read (not just in school, but on their own -- read philosophy, art history), saw early classic movies (not the latest blockbusters and “Star Wars” DOES NOT count as a film classic. I am talking about “Citizen Kane,” film noir, silents, “B” movies, musicals, depression-era gangster pre-code films, Hollywood’s golden era and throw in some foreign films), many had gone or were going to college (I had advanced art degrees) and were very politically aware and outspoken.

That's the alarming part about today's society and youth, a result of the dumbing down of our culture by the government, beginning when Reagan was governor of CA, to gain control over society, keep the citizens and residents dumb and scared. And today's youth, especially the ones who should be taking to the streets over political issues, are zoned out lemmings. Yet they are the first to die in the wars our government is waging, whether in Iraq or from illegal abortions, which may soon be the new reality -- welcome to the '60's again. They should be making music and art to scare, rattle and remake the establishment to save their own damned skin! A lot of artists and musicians who came of age, as I did, during the turbulent '60's are saying the same as I. And that makes it rough for those who write, cos their contemporaries sleepwalk, the result of too much television, junk food, booze and coffee. Hey, I’m no square, I love to drink, but never when it gets in the way of creating.

But with the net, you can reach out and find a few here and there and make your own community. Or keep trying where you live. Never give up and always fight the good fight. Punk is not dead, and whether or not you are punk, you create your own future, but it’s hard work, requires sacrifice, focus, and did I mention hard work? There are some amazing things going on via the net, hook up with people and make a scene where you live. Don’t live on the computer, use it wisely and get out where people know what it’s like to be alive and take risks!

I am immersed in a controversy with a rock mag involved in many aspects of hot happening culture. I should have written them about covering my photos, cos I bet they would have jumped at it. But they wrote some anti-Semitic comments and I calmly and rationally wrote them about it and one of the co-founders accused me of being anti-Semitic. It’s all very funny and sad at the same time. I don’t have time to take on the world, but when a rad rock mag accuses Tel Aviv of promoting terrorism, well, that pushes too many buttons cos their readers are impressionable and naïve young people. We can’t rely on the regular press for fair coverage, our schools won’t touch it, so why add fuel to the flame and make even more people hate Jews all in the name of fun punk rock – that was their excuse, they are punk. Since when did punk promote anti-Semitism?

Yeah, even I wore swastika earrings for 10 minutes and have lots of pix of Jewish punks wearing swastikas in 1977, but not later. Oh, the founder of the rock mag told me there are no Jewish punks. Hmm, wonder what all the Jews who have written me about my Jewish punk page would say? Since when does someone have the right to tell me whether or not we are Jewish punks? Where the hell does he get off saying that shit? Oh yeah, he’s punk, he knows. Anyway, none of us would wear it today because people wouldn’t get it. We were trying to shock people, whereas today, with the rise of hate crimes and anti-Semitism, it’s totally out of line. And we soon realized that and it was a short-lived fad.

So is it punk to alienate a potentially important ally in getting my photos and stories out there just cos they wrote a couple of comments that deeply offended, hurt and bothered me? It's not as if I'm a practicing Jew. The Jewish community and I hold no love for each other, closer to contempt. But no Jew can forget the Holocaust where people were murdered no matter whether or not they embraced Judaism -- they were born Jews and that's why they died.

How about Farrah Faucet-Minor: "she had to leave Los Angeles, she started to hate the niggers and Jews" was about me and my fellow Jews. [sorry about the usage of "niggers," but I am quoting the X's song and Farrah's terminology]. Farrah screamed in my face that "Hitler was right, all Jews should be burned." I rather burn my bridges with that rock mag than be burned, or as Elvis Costello sang "they'll never make a lampshade outta me." Of course he wasn't talking about Jews (his feeling about Jews is not something I'm gonna print), but how many of you know that the skin of Jews was used to make lampshades by Nazis? So who's more punk: me for standing up to them or them for thinking they are so punk by what they wrote? Guess it depends upon what side of the street you're on. And they are a rad, fun, cool mag, except ... and don't ask me for details. I will never disclose which mag. Moving on ...

OK, that’s just a few thoughts about what’s punk. I could go on and on, but don’t wanna bore you. What do you think?