Punk music is, in its purist form, about offending people. It’s about upsetting the status quo, whatever that might be. As it has become diluted with the celebrity groanings of “punks” like Avril Lavigne and Sum-41, the offense has taken a less principled tone. Instead of mocking the Queen, an affront to even the most hard-hearted republican I’m sure, it is our intellects that are now being slighted. Punk used to be worth listening to. Bands like Discharge and Minor Threat wrote intelligently, if simply, as they verbally lacerated cultural norms. But what now? What does the punk community do with the barbarisms of a group of pissants from Vancouver who think that “Poo-Testament” is drollery at its finest?
For those who could care less about this sort of thing, but are suffering through this post anyway, let me provide a little background. The group Living With Lions have done the oh-so DIY thing and turned to the Canadian government for a hand-out. Who knew that having the support of Stephen Harper was so important to the scene these days? In so doing, by grabbing some cash from FACTOR, they’ve managed to draw the ire of the taxpayers who funded their album buy producing “Holy Sh!t: The Poo Testament,” with depictions of Jesus Christ as excrement (what would Dafoe do with such politically subversive genius?). Some might say this is the heart of punk’s offensive character; that these boys have really nailed it. Others like myself (as you can imagine) think that this is a sure sign of punk’s continual downgrade. Gone are the days of the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag who actually made you think, even if you disagreed with whatever cause they were promoting. Now we have the phrenic equivalence of a Nickelodeon stunt gone wrong (apologies to any kid reading this who thinks I’ve done an injustice to Nickelodeon).
But here’s the kicker. Here’s what’s made it all the more funny and pathetic. Living with Lions and Black Box Recordings have actually caved to public pressure (something I’m sure G. G. Allin would have done) and are removing the albums from stores. More than that, the boys in the band are giving back the money you and I (O taxpayer) have given them and offer this wilting statement that would make Pat “You’ve-Taken-Me-Out-of-Context” Robertson smile: “The material was not intended to be offensive, though we regret it was interpreted that way.” Not intended to be offensive. Really? It didn’t dawn on you that Jesus being depicted as human waste was even potentially offensive? This was a misinterpretation on our part? Instead, we should have looked at this as a majestic expression of artistic talent that meant to provoke wistful emotions of redemption from the stain of sin? Can anybody in the punk community take this seriously? In my day, this was called selling out. Does anyone use that term any more?
I was in a punk band called Moral Outrage. We were outlandishly Christian with our lyrical content which was purposefully offensive. We were crass to no effect amongst the “Rose City Punks” who didn’t take kindly to our railings against abortion, socialism, same-sex lifestyles or non-Christian religions. We styled ourselves musically along the lines of old Agnostic Front, Discharge, GBH and The Exploited. And while we knew that our tape was offensive, we actually had the audacity to believe that the punk community would “get it.” That it would be okay. That to say things like, “They follow the lust of their reprobate minds and worship themselves with fornication” would be seen along the same lines as “I’ll believe in God when 1 and 1 is 5.” Offensive? Yes. But hey, that’s punk!
But no. It doesn’t slice that way. It never does. Instead, we had our tape broken over the airwaves of a local punk show, we received phone calls from listeners threatening to beat us up. A line of offense had obviously been crossed and the hypocrisy stunk just as bad as the evacuation used to picture Christ on Living With Lions’ epic masterpiece.
What’s especially delicious about this whole Living With Lions debacle is how ordinary it really is. Haven’t they learned that it’s only mildly offensive to Christians to have that shocking word “poo” used to replace our “new” testament. We don’t really care that you think you’re being funny, because after a while it gets boring. Didn’t “Piss Christ” prove that lame attempts at “iconoclasm” really don’t mean much? Sure, some Christians got their britches bustled, but on the grand scheme of things, it’s been a bit of a fizzle.
Now, if Living With Lions really wanted to show how anti-authority they are, there are some other avenues they could have taken. What of the Koran? Nah. Because the Living with Lilly-Livers gents know darned well that they can do whatever they like to Christianity, the Bible or Jesus and they won’t get much flack in this life. Picking on Christianity is like shoving the tubby kid with thick glasses at recess. So it’s easy for Living With Lions. However, I’ll venture a guess that amidst all the cackles that echoed from the drawing room when that cracking title “Holy Sh!t: The Poo Testament” was dreamt up, a deafening silence quieted the place when some wise-guy unwittingly challenged their punk sensibilities saying, “Hey, why not put something about Mohammad in there while we’re at it?”
So. If you’re going to the Living With Lions show tonight at Sneaky Dee’s in downtown Toronto, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to start a group-chant of “Sell out, sell out, sell out!” These “punks” need to be laughed out of the place. Toronto punks must have some self-respect. Think of it: you, dear reader, could start a Reformation amongst your punk peers. You could be the Martin Luther. You could go ad fontes and re-discover the glory days of Sham 69, The Clash, or, dare I say, The Crucified? It’ll be glorious. You’ll be a hero. Only good things can come of it. Remember, post tenebras lux.