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The term “crust” in punk rock subculture has meant different things at different times. In the ‘80s up until about the late ‘90s, crust punk was a subgenre of music akin to what we now call grindcore or doom metal. At the turn of the century, however, the term took on a new colloquial meaning.
Take Maryland, my own home state, where the label “crust punk” usually defines what once was called “gutter punk”: grubby white 20-somethings, often dreadlocked, adorned in various shades of brown, banjo or acoustic guitar on their back and mutt dog at their side.
Arguably, this current version of crusties came into existence mostly in the late ‘90s and rose to prominence in the political-punk post-9/11 era as an offshoot of a separate genre, Crack Rock Steady. This genre/lifestyle Frankensteined pre-existing sludgy genres such as Norwegian black metal, third wave ska, and hardcore. Inlater instances, American revivalist folk-musicbegan crossing over into the genre–or maybe the genre began to cross into folk–as exemplified in Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains and other Plan-It-X Records artists.
I’ve known a few crusties…
Sometimes I wonder what leads often middle-class kids to abandon all hope and choose the hobo life. Surely the songs of Wingnut Dishwashers Union weren’t so powerful as to send an entire generational subculture into some Keroackian frenzy.
In my experience, take it or leave it, most of these kids are merely cosplayers larping homelessness in some misplaced attempt to combat a capitalist system they often don’t fully understand. These genuine posers might talk a big load about shooting up and hitchhiking cross-country but call home periodically for money, larping homelessness on college campuses trying to score some freshly-legal pussy via weathered 5-string guitar while mom and dad pitch tuition.
Occasionally, though, you run into the real deal: nomadic social outcasts who fell into this subculture more by default than choice. And what lead them there narrow down to trauma and disillusionment.
Queer and trans kids tossed out of their homes by cruel fundamentalist families. The mentally ill without access to treatment. Victims or survivors (pick whichever label you want) of physical and sexual abuse who escaped into the concrete wasteland with no plan but survival.
Regardless, these younglings found some solace in lyrics penned by the likes of of Stza Crackor Pat the Bunny, some small purpose in abandoning the world as is, canceling their bleak future even if it means embracing no future at all. Growing up in a country embroiled in forever wars and the spectre of financial crisis, you don’t easily gain the delusions of grandeur necessary to “make it” in society. Hell, they might not even want it, let alone trust it.
Instead of seeing the white picket fence dream, they see unending busywork delegated by horrible people with insatiable delusions of ascending the hierarchical chain at everyone’s expense, and who can blame them? Make more money so you can have a better life. Eat, sleep, shit, piss, go to work, repeat; and for many, skip the sleep part whenever possible. Hustle to get a bigger slice of the pie before some other schmuck beats you to it, that or go hungry because you ain’t hustling hard enough. You’re never hustling hard enough. There’s always a position to be leveraged if you’re not a little bitch! How the hell else is anyone supposed to achieve any semblance of fulfilment in life? Escape the tormentors by becoming the tormentors, except there is always another tormentor, always some higher-up making demands at your expense while collecting a bigger paycheck. The gate is narrow and few find it, but is the kingdom all it’s cracked up to be, after all?
There’s a belief that, when you die, your entire life flashes before your eyes. It’s not death that scares me anymore but looking back at a life well-wasted and having to one day face down that failure. Did I spend it seeing amazing sights, having great sex, creating weird and entirely unmarketable art, doing important labor for my fellow humans and community, spending unplanned hours with family and friends, and absorbing as much as possible from this diverse crowd of strange and contagious things called people? Or did I spend my brief time behind a desk, a register, in a warehouse with pain in my back and glazed eyes, taking shit from some militant jackass who long accepted his role in the food chain and expects the same from everyone else?
Maybe “fuck it” is the correct answer, correct enough anyway. Maybe there was something to “Harmony Parking Lot” where Pat said:
Here’s to the rubble
A brick through every window
A casket buried six feet deep for everybody’s hero
Here’s to our lives being meaningless
And how beautiful it is because freedom doesn’t have a purpose
I honestly don’t have an answer. There are so many more positive paths one can take. But the closer I get to age 31, the more I ask what I’m doing with my own life. And the more I think about it, the more I want to abandon everything and run.
Like Woody Guthrie once said, “Take it easy, but take it.” I guess if anyone understood, it was him. One of my heroes, Pete Seeger once said, “I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.” That sounds nice. Maybe it sounds nice to these crusties too. Maybe they don’t realize that’s what they’re really running towards. Maybe we’re too blind to tell they realize it better than we do.
On any political compass, I constantly fall in the lower green quadrant labeled Libertarian-Left. If I were to define my leanings, imagine if, in his youth, Charles Bukowski had discovered the writings of Peotre Kropotkin instead of the joys of alcoholism–quasimarxist pseudointellectual lower-class disenchantment with everything that holds society stable, and also I say “fuck” a lot.
Sewn on to the back of my tattered bomber jacket which I have never washed in nearly a decade and never will, amidst pins and patches of bands most people have never heard of, is alargepatch which reads SCUMBAG. For me, someone who by most accounts has probably “made it” in this clockwork machine, it’s a reminder that settling is a synonym for surrender which is just another form of death–suicide by the American Dream. “Embrace the bumhood,” it tempts me. I don’t know if I should listen.
There is very little I want out of life beside the privilege to live it, and I’m not so stupid as to think that “living it” and “Making it” are synonymous. And that same goes for everyone else around me, should we only find strength among our days and days of wasted potential, amen.