Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Some of the correspondents in the group memoir My First Time: A Collection Of First Punk Show Stories saw legendary bands like The Adolescents or Corrosion Of Conformity for their first live punk experience, but for a good many—especially the essayists who didn't grow up near New York or Los Angeles—the intro to mosh pits and stage-diving was scored by long-forgotten local bands. Which is as it should be. Punk's DIY ethos is what attracts most young people in the first place, and often amateurs who'll never enter a recording studio or play more than a dozen gigs sound just as impressive as bands that get their logos plastered on car bumpers and three-ring binders.

The uniformity of the anecdotes in My First Time is simultaneously tedious and reassuring. No matter where these writers came of age, they almost all had the same parents who were skeptical of punk, the same local all-ages clubs with lousy management, and the same personal paranoia that had them worrying about what to wear and how to act. Too many of these three-to-four-page stories fall back on basic descriptions of how old the writers were, where the show took place, what took place, and how it changed their lives in some general way. Punk wasn't just a phase for many of these folks; they saw the light and never looked back.


But the better essays—like Jillian Lauren's "Jackie Was A Punk" and Joseph Gervasi's "Clenched Fists, Open Eyes"—consider the contradictions of embracing punk, from sweating out the perverse conformity of non-conformists to deciding whether they were devoted to the music or the scene. (High-school punks only obsessed with the former usually move on eventually.) Still, nearly all these writers understand the hardwired connection between punk and disaffected teenagerhood, and how nostalgia for cruddy performance spaces and thuggish slamdancers is really nostalgia for the people they used to be: obstinate souls stubbornly unwilling to compromise their ideals, no matter how impractical.

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