The problem with ‘giving up’
A loving letter to my fellow punk-rockers over 30
The alternative scene has a problem.
By alternative, I don’t just mean Nirvana fans. I mean those who enjoy that music which most other people feel is noise: punk, rock of whichever type that is actually rock and not pop, goth, etc. And by problem, I mean people over 30 who have fucking given up. Also, by given up I mean, well, that’s what all this is about, so you’re going to have to allow me to explain.
First of all however, a much-needed disclaimer. This is a pretty 1st world, high-satire issue we’re about to dive into. If your problems are on a totally different level, like financial insecurity, life-altering illness, or severe trauma, I empathise with that, because I too have experienced life circumstances that would have made the present issue feel superfluous, and I respect that, because it’s to a significant degree just a combination of being white and lucky that’s allowed me to find myself in the position where I care to write on this 1st world problem type topic today. This particular piece isn’t about people who cannot afford to give a fuck about exploring the subtleties of human identity.
It’s about the disillusioned people who can afford to care but are living with a functional sort of depression that is preventing them from doing so. Our mental anguish is often worn in plain sight, yet even we ourselves become numb to it. Though I’m getting ahead of myself.
Now, if you’re a middle class person over 30 and you ascribe to, dare I say, any such aforementioned alternative culture, as in still listen to that shit today not used to do so because it was cool to play dissident back in high school, you are of course prone to a certain level of general disenchantment. You know, nihilism, angsty existentialism, and probably at least one vice of sorts.
I dab in quite a few of the noisy music classes myself, but if I were to be awarded any one such label, it would be sell-out punk. As in, heart and playlist of a punker, day-job of a person who tried to learn how to play an instrument and was abysmal at it. I wasn’t any good at being any sort of interaction-driven artist in general as an introvert, so I was forced to get a ‘normal job’ despite 18-year-old-me’s A clockwork orange level aversion towards the notion. I did the only thing I had proven to be any good at and took a job as a copywriter. Here we are, 11 years and some 5 employers later.
I like my job, don’t get me wrong, it’s challenged me well over the years and I obviously love writing, yet I have strayed far and wide from the person 18-year-old me thought I would become. Which is fine, I’d have probably been dead by now had I become her, yet I’d still like to not betray her completely.
While I have since discovered that I can dance to music that otherwise sounds like alien radio to me if provided liberal quantities of alcohol, I don’t usually desire to let it come to that kind of socialising. All the same, given the choice between either loitering in a corner while subjecting myself to a series of awkward conversation excerpts being shouted over loud alien music or just dancing, nowadays I’d rather go with the dancing, which I suck at, hence the need for me to down the obligatory three drinks required for the issue to no longer register on my emotional radar. I never, though, seem to find myself voluntarily listening to that stuff outside of a party, as in, while sober and blessed with musical free will.
For a while, as I was balls deep in self-hate while studying to become an independent photo-video artist (guess what never ended up coming to past) I even tried to like jazz and other ‘posher’ forms of musical expression. And jazz is nice, and I bet so is going to Mars, but who am I kidding here, I wouldn’t want to live there full-time. I wanted to believe I could be the kind of chill person who did, the kind of person who listens to music for ‘the educated folk’, of the sort that wouldn’t give your grandmother nightmares. But I’m a dissident at heart, and what happens between me and my headphones luckily doesn’t disrupt the local population. I am, and always have been, the weirdo with the strong impulse towards debate and questioning shit. I would never want to be disloyal towards that side of my 22-year-old punk self, because it’s what makes me any good at anything I do, my day-job included. Also, I love punk and it speaks to me.
Though I’ve constantly been finding new stuff to love over the years (like Irish punk, which is fucking insane) and have kept evolving as a music lover, I always seem to come back to the same kind of variations on a theme, no matter how hard I may have tried to give other more popular options a chance over the years. Nowadays, I’ve just accepted that for what that is and have simply ceased subjecting people to my musical tastes. If someone asks me to suggest a song during game night, I politely decline to do so. Which is nothing personal. It’s for your own protection. If there’s no reasoning with the situation, I default onto the most cheerful ska-punk song I can think of, which is usually something by Mad Caddies, aka as chill as I can get.
Throughout the years, I have, for very brief yet profoundly painful bouts of time, given up on ‘looking the part’, in an attempt to fit one corporate or social environment or another. You know, look less alternative, more ‘normal’ or — wrote she while dry heaving — more like what my social and professional circles perceived to be cool at the time. Those were dark times and I never want to have to subject myself to anything of the sort ever again. I’ve even tried to look more cheerful in order to compensate for my chronic depression by wearing the entire visible spectrum worth of colour put together at the same time, yet it failed to nudge any of my existentialism. So, here we are today, almost 11 years later.
It’s perfectly natural for your style to evolve, don’t get me wrong. Fuck knows mine has: those eyebrows were horrendous. I’m not talking about letting your style grow with you, because that’s just normal. What I mean by giving up is, conforming. To other people’s expectations of what you should look like. Or worse, feeling like you no longer conform. To your own expectations of who you should be and what you should be doing with your life.
Back in the day, when you were in your teens and early 20s, how you dressed was all the shit. It was all about your identifying yourself as part of a certain ideology and its corresponding group. And it’s fine to naturally move on. It’s fine to just ‘grow out of it’ and this isn’t what we’re talking about. What’s not ‘fine’ is to deny who you are — and those are the cases I’m addressing by means of this extensive example.
I’m sure you’ve seen them.
Alternative people in their 30s and beyond, who still want to somehow signal that they know Sex Pistols is about more than just the song God Save the Queen plus that one infamous picture of Sid Vicious at the height of his desperation, or that Nirvana is more than just the song Smells Like Teen Spirit, yet have otherwise pretty much just given up on how they present themselves visually, in general.
Again, I’m pretty fucking sure you’ve seen them.
They’ll never make an effort to look decent unless it’s someone’s wedding or funeral. Date night? You better settle for dad shoes and white high-rise sports socks, cargo shorts, and an old band or message t-shirt with a half-torn seam. TED talk? Better bring out the fancy black cargo shorts. If it weren’t for my mother constantly gifting him clothing, that is literally what my father would wear. The feminine equivalent to that is sporting semi-day-care-appropriate clothing that seems to perpetually look as if it’s been borrowed from one’s older sister while still wearing a dozen too many mismatched silver rings. If you look closely, you can still spot the piercing scars. Not that I’ve been guilty of any of that or anything.
Nowadays, I’ve resorted to integrating the beast. I find it makes me less depressed when I look in the mirror. It’s a constant visual reminder of who I am and what I stand for. It tells young people who are part of a dying alternative scene that there is hope for the future if you suck beyond repair at playing the bass or just downright believe the lifestyle would kill you. And, most of all, it tells you that you haven’t given up on who you are.
So, to that effect, I do believe the ageing alternative scene needs my styling help. Here are my kind, warm, familiarly-humour-natured tips, for the more seasoned alternative individual:
- The dad shoes have to go, unless you’re insanely out-of-this-world hot.
There are there types of statements and three types of statements alone, which you can make by wearing dad shoes as an alternative person who still boasts signs of a rebellious nature: 1) I’m an obscenely hot person and the obnoxious design of this shoe only serves to highlight my unmatched perfection; 2) I’m actively engaging in sports and have the matching outfit and context to prove it; 3) I have fucking given up.
I know they’re comfortable, but unless you have a genuine medical condition bounding you to them, I promise there’s more to life than comfort, and that more is bloody self-respect.
Ditch the fucking atrocious shoes and buy something that looks a little more put together, like a few pairs of Vans (you can go for leather or suede if you’re feeling fancy), because they’re more comfortable than Converse and therefore a decent compromise. They’re literally comfortable enough to walk half a marathon every day in (I know that through actual experience, because I hate driving and don’t any longer own a vehicle), yet they look decent. If you don’t like Vans, there are lots of other decent options out there. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. When it comes to shoes, if Kurt Cobain or whomever you still have a framed poster of in your house wouldn’t fucking touch that with a pole, don’t wear it.
- Wear some bloody decent pants, unless you’re literally Steve Irwin, ferociously hot accent included.
Listen. If I can war through an entire summer in ankle-length Levi’s Mile High Super Skinny jeans because I’ve got an autoimmune skin condition that dramatically flares up with sun exposure, then you too can suffer through decent pants. I don’t care who you are, if you’re an otherwise alternative-presenting individual, the cargo shorts have got to fucking burn. They make almost anyone look like a dork. Unless you wrestle alligators for a living (see above), please, stop.
- AirPods and a random Exploited/doom metal band t-shirt is a really confusing look.
If you look any at all alternative, just buy a pair of headphones with some decent power to impress. All of punk sounds like it was recorded in a ditch anyway, you have to at least give it a damn chance here. There’s no such thing as conversational-volume fucking goth. When it comes to alternative genres, you’re either listening to the shit or you’re not. Get a pair of headphones that bloody show you’re committed.
- Tailor your corporate/event looks to your own personality.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t honour the event by dressing appropriately, because you should. But you’d be surprised at how much more successful you’ll be with your looks when you’re bending the rules ever so slightly, rather than wearing something you feel perpetually out of place in. Subtly modifying or accessorising formal pieces to allow room for your personality also serves to add memorability to your overall persona, which I’ve found immensely helpful in my career throughout the years: if I’ve met you at an event and I have a clear visual marker, I’m more likely to remember who the fuck you were among the 59 various businesspeople I’ve met within the last 20 minutes. If you’re an introvert, this kind of thing doubles as conversation starter.
What’s not a good look is the alternative dude with the off-beat hair and at least one piercing, wearing a perfectly regular suit without a single fraction of added personality. It’s not a good look, simply because the wearer almost never looks comfortable wearing it. They look stiff, out of place, and dying to go home and fucking put on some cargo shorts.
If you’ve made it this far, then you may or may not be suspecting that this isn’t, in fact, about the looks. This never was about the looks. This is about giving up on your fucking dreams.
They say looks don’t matter, but I argue they often do, as in mostly to yourself not to other people. I’ve noticed one fascinating thing over the years: looking back, those times I tried the hardest to normalise my visual appearance were the times I also felt least comfortable with who I was as a person in general, the phases during which I felt not good enough on an intellectual and emotional level. The times I just gave up on giving a fuck about how I presented myself altogether, were dark moments of self-loathing and depression.
Looking at a completely different example, countless people talk about how our fatphobic culture had pushed them into the kind of depression where they gave up completely on their own appearance; discovering self-acceptance allowed them to come at their individual journeys from a place of compassion and to rediscover nice clothes that painted an artful picture of who they are as a person, because there shouldn’t be a set of prerequisites for accepting where in your life you are right now and making the best of it, regardless of what your five year plan might be.
Though seemingly a vain and superficial matter, lots of people have recognised, especially retrospectively, that how they presented themselves on the outside was a reflection of how they felt about themselves. The better you come to terms with yourself, the more likely you are to want to tell that story of who you are. If you’re not feeling good about yourself, you’re less inclined to give a fuck. Re-learning to give a fuck about how they presented themselves has helped people, who had been traumatised by society into feeling they are flawed on a fundamental level, reclaim agency over their own narratives.
Whatever you see whenever you happen to cross paths with a reflective surface, is a poignant reminder of the part you see yourself playing in the world. If I see a 30-year-old unruly woman who looks like a total nerd badass when I come across a mirror, I’m more inclined to act the part and speak up against injustice or unfairness when I encounter them in my day to day life, despite being an introvert who secretly desires to hide in a corner and never speak to strangers unless there’s a medical emergency.
Your dreams to make a difference, to matter, to have a voice and give a voice to the unheard, to be remembered as more than a spreadsheet, to do whatever the fuck it was in theory that you wanted to do, they needn’t die. Those dreams you had in your early 20s weren’t realistic, like, not realistic at all. And that’s natural. But they were fierce, honest, and true to who you are. It’s okay for those dreams to evolve, to grow with you, to adapt to reality. What’s not okay, is for you to bury them alive.
Entombed in the basement of your subconscious, they slowly rot alive, whither, despair, and die. And every time you look in the mirror, those bloody dad shoes are a sordid reminder of your dissident dreams having been pronounced dead. Don’t let your true self scream to be heard until it starves to death in the catacombs of your repressed mind; face who you are and who you want to be head on and find a way to deal with the aftermath of the war between idealism and real life. Denying it battle is only going to serve to slowly kill your own soul.
I have no idea what freeing that trapped voice in the basement of my subconscious, the beast wanting to matter and make a difference and all of that, I haven’t a clue what that means. But I want looking at myself in the mirror every day to be a reminder of my having to deal with that shit. Otherwise, I’m reasonably sure there will come a time when I’ll run out of time and regret not having done it.
I’m going to leave you with an eerily appropriate piece of noise — and hope that as Sid Vicious moves, throughout the span of less than 3 minutes, from mocking the song they’re referencing to drilling with it right down into his soul, we too will want to make the difficult journey of bringing our repressed hopes and dreams back out into the light.
Thank you for joining me on this particularly personal, symbolic satirical moment. It definitely strays from my usual topics of debate, yet I feel like sometimes one discovers relatable stories in the most surprising of places, so might as well share some insight from a parallel universe.
And as ever, stay safe, nerds.