Punk Damage: How The Punk Scene Gave Me Tools and Hope (Once It Stopped Screwing Me Up)

Punk Damage: How The Punk Scene Gave Me Tools and Hope (Once It Stopped Screwing Me Up)

by Joe Biel Author

In 2013, when John Roderick’s “Punk Rock is Bullshit: How a Toxic Social Movement Poisoned Our Culture” was printed in the Stranger, Joe Biel didn’t read it. He was too busy dealing with the immense wreckage caused by refusing to grow up and not giving himself any agency in his own life. He had bought wholesale into the promise of punk from a very young age into his late 30s. But he found that practicing a sufficient amount of integrity does not achieve enlightenment through poverty, self-hatred, and attacking others’ successes. In fact, it resulted in a lonely, hollow proposition where strangers only demanded more and more of you to "prove yourself."  Weathering many medical crises and a year where he didn't expect to live through it, the lone $5 in his bank account didn't achieve anything other than making life more complicated.

The Lesbian Lexicon coined the phrase “Punk Damage,” defining it as “n. the sordid underbelly of self limitation that comes directly from having come of age in a punk scene; often marked by an extreme distaste for the making or spending of even small amounts of money.” Their examples could literally be out of Biel's life: “yesterday’s burrito,” “What! I do not need new shoes,” “an unhappy dog wearing a bandana,” “jump over [turnstyle] or two people at once,” “bonfires on the beach are free,” and “occupy empty buildings (squatters patch while paying Bay Area rents).” When explaining the culture of living this way daily to a current partner, Biel witnessed, for the first time, the look of horror on her face. In this extended treatise, Biel details the various ways that growing up enmeshed in an empowering subculture committed each of us to a life of service to others and the accompanying downsides...and how he eventually stopped accepting the bad and only embracing the good.