My favourite punk lyrics!

(at the moment. This stuff can change by the hour)

This could be a massive post. A whole series of posts, even. I could write a frakking book on this one. But it’s a tired evening, and this is my 600th post on this blog so I thought I’d do something a little special. By which I mean write a list of things I like as a subtle kicking to go listen to some decent bands for once.

With their kids, and plastic bags, in either hand
Polar Bear Club – The Old Fisher Burial Ground

While head-up-their-own-arse types might point out that Polar Bear Club are more of an indie band, I have no time for such nonsense; they’re loud, play guitars, and have something meaningful to say, and so are punks. This lyric is admittedly rather simple (but the implication is wonderful) but fits beautifully into the opening 37 seconds of this song, which manages to create this tragically desolate town square. that still has a few vines of humanity wrapped around its decaying brick. All of this section’s lyrics are like this, abstract yet direct, involving the listener while distancing them from the events, and I think this line is the best of the bunch.

Pick one of the above, it’s better than bowing to no-one
Pennywise – We’ll Never Know

Like the first lyric, this one encapsulates a much bigger idea in a single line, namely the idea behind the entire Reason to Believe album that organised religion is an inherently insincere and manipulative concept. Whether you agree with this sentiment or not, the trivialising of theistic belief into a statement plucked from the most mundane of administrative documents – ‘pick one of the above’ – is a chilling contrast. The emphasis on ‘bowing’ is also significant, as the choice of a single word to explain theism.

You tell me that I make no difference / At least I’m fucking trying / What the fuck have you done?
Minor Threat – In My Eyes

And yes, those are the first uncensored ‘fucks’ to be unveiled on this blog. This is a quote I find myself coming back to time and time again as I wonder if all of my projects and schemes are ever worth anything, much less the time I put into them. It’s an idea perhaps too simple to be applied to all aspects of life, but ‘do stuff’ is a wonderful universal solution for a lot of problems revolving around fear, indecision and regret. Also, the contrast in tenses between the active speaker in the present – ‘I’m fucking trying’ – and the passive listener in the past – ‘What the fuck have you done?’ – is empowering, as the future suddenly becomes the realm of the doers, and the apathetic are consigned to the past.

You’ve gotta pray like Hell that you’re armed to the teeth
Anti-Flag – The Ink and The Quill (Be Afraid)

This lyric unites American theocratic blindness – ‘pray’ – with the needless militancy that underpins so much of modern US society – ‘armed to the teeth’ – all while poking fun at the self-important Bible-bashers – ‘pray like Hell’. That’s three strands of the American Right attacked in a single soundbite, which is delivered with screamed vocals barely audible over a marching drum and wailing guitars, creating this desperate cacophony of rebellion that is in a perpetual struggle to be heard.

There’s space for a paper airplane race in the eye of a hurricane
Bad Religion – All There Is

This one is so important to me that I’ve stuck it on my wall! Yes, the first thing teenage James stuck on his wall is a Bad Religion lyric. This is almost the antidote to the Minor Threat one above, that instead of lionising action above all else takes a more measured approach; frenzy and relentlessness can distract from the simple and the beautiful. A lot of my life is spent filling my time to the gills with crap to do, and I often forget that taking stock of my life, and appreciating the things I have and the people around me, can be one of the most worthwhile things I’m capable of doing.

I found God in the sound of your factories burning down
Rise Against – The Eco-Terrorist In Me

In a song full of lovely  anti-industry lines, this is perhaps the best. A combination of divine purpose and the destruction of the status quo is a middle finger to the American Right that twist old teachings into scenarios and explanations for actions they were never intended to be applied to. There’s also the little contrast of ‘I’ in the nominative, and ‘your’ in the genitive, just reinforcing the material-driven nature of US society and its relentless accumulation of things for things’ sake.

How we survive is what makes us who we are
Rise Against – Survive

This is my unquestioned favourite lyric; I’ve got this on a t-shirt for god’s sake! The question posed in this line is not whether we’ll survive, if we’ll triumph over personal and political injustices in the world, but who we’ll be at the end of it; evil will fall, and it’s up to us to ensure we remain good in the process. So often, the righteous become monsters in the pursuit of monsters – look at the American response to the killing of Osama Bin Laden – and this reminds me that whatever I do, and however I do it, I need to carry myself with values important to me. Of course, this is supplemented by the rest of Rise Against’s discography that preaches humility, rebellion and a desire to fix, not flee from, problems, but that’s the marvellous thing about all these lyrics: they’re open to interpretation, and are motivators for people to be themselves, rather than a set of rules for people to sacrifice their individuality in following.

Perhaps that’s why I like punk so much, as it’s a movement about being the best version of yourself, and helping others be the best version of themselves, instead of insisting on a single dogmatic set of values, that can only lead to disagreement and resentment in the future. When I’m feeling bad, these quotes lift me, and when I’m on top of the world they remind me of why I’m there. I hope you find something like that to keep you getting up in the mornings.

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2 thoughts on “My favourite punk lyrics!

  1. I take a different view of punk: my favorite bands are precisely the ones that don’t take themselves too seriously. The Ramones always have that tongue in cheek quality, so does Social Distortion. I think the only “serious” punk band I enjoy is Jim Carroll band, just for the high energy I guess.

    1. I can enjoy the jovial stuff sometimes, but I couldn’t get through a whole playlist of it – probably because I’m a depressed bastard most of the time and can’t stand happy or amusing things for long periods of time.

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