Not too long ago, we shared a bill with some subgenres of metal and a hardcore band from up the Valley, 75% of whom were of the straight edge persuasion, which is close enough to being a straight edge hardcore band to attract a following of straight edge kids.
I think I was seventeen when I first became aware of straight edge, which seems kind of odd since I live just a couple hours away from Washington DC, the epicenter of the straight edge movement. I entered punk at the Sex Pistols level, ten years after they ceased to be. It was easier to find albums by long dead British punk bands than current bands from DC. A college student who I frequently asked to buy beer for me loaned me some Black Flag and Circle Jerks 45’s, which blew my mind. Somehow I obtained a third-generation cassette of the DC hardcore compilation Flex Your Head, which I loved, and which had the Teen Idles’ “I Drink Milk”, to which I ascribed no particular meaning. Then, somebody told me that it was a “straight edge” song and that there was a movement in hardcore – called “straight edge”. Straight edgers apparently didn’t drink or do drugs, which I thought was ridiculous and completely contrary to my entire conception of punk and hardcore, and they had a nasty habit of beating up people who did. Huh. Amazing. Now I’ve heard everything.
Eventually, I found out more and met a few people who were, or had once been, straight edge, more of the latter, of course, for the simple reason that very few people are able to so tenaciously hold on to an identity they adopted when they were fourteen that they never take a drink of beer or puff of reefer. And when the straight edge do pick up, they pick up with both hands. I’ve seen it so many times that I now take it as given that all straight edgers are alcoholic drug addicts who are delaying the inevitable as long as they can. The more “X” tattoos somebody has, the worse it’s going to be when they jump off the wagon. That’d be sad if they weren’t such insufferable assholes.
So, we agreed to do this show and immediately people started saying things like “Shit, dude, you sure you wanna do that? The guys in that band are okay, but their fans are total dicks”. I thanked people for their concern, assured them that I could hold my own against a gaggle of pimply little pukes with X’s on their hands and briefly considered trying to provoke some reaction, but then decided not to because I want to play that venue again.
The crowd at the show turned out to be mostly metalheads, which meant the straight edge goons, who prefer to have numbers on their side, were forced to sulk around glaring at everybody who had a beer, or who just wasn’t wearing a Fugazi T-shirt, including this shaman. There was some moshing, but nothing out of hand and then it was time for BDSR to set up. I had my laptop, to record the show, and as I was about to plug it in, I noticed that there was a wad of chewing gum mashed between the poles on the plug. Some straight edge kid had apparently decided to try to wreck my computer by connecting the positive and negative poles, which wouldn’t have worked in any case as any laptop has a couple of built-in protections against overloads. I scraped the gum off with my knife and no harm was done, but…really? Who does that? What kind of malicious malcontent goes slinking around trying to sabotage somebody’s computer just because that person isn’t a member of their petty little subculture? The more I thought about it, the more I wished that the little shitbag had had the balls to challenge me so I could’ve kicked his ass, but whatever. Cowards are cowardly and that’s how it goes.
I drink my share of coffee and somebody else’s as well. I enjoy fine tobacco. I probably violate some other rules of straight edge – I never have been much of a milk-drinker – but I don’t drink alcohol or use drugs. I did, quite a lot, but I learned that being drunk and/or stoned 24/7 was not a good way of living and since being fucked up is an all or nothing situation for me, I don’t touch the stuff. I also don’t judge people who do. If somebody can enjoy beer or other substances without wrecking themselves, that’s fine with me. If somebody enjoys beer or other substances despite the fact that they are wrecking themselves, that’s fine with me too because I respect other peoples’ right to make their own decisions regarding their own lives. It isn’t up to me to judge and condemn somebody else for their decision to drink beer, drop acid or be a Jew.
Did you notice what I did there? I brought the Jews into this. Why would I suddenly drop the Jews in? Well, I’m writing about a group of males (there may be straight edge females, but I never met one) with really short hair who identify themselves with an X symbol and who commit acts of sabotage or violence against people who they dislike or disagree with. That’s right – I’m saying straight edge punks are like Nazis. I’ll say it again:
Straight edge punks are like Nazis.
That’s not hyperbole. I absolutely mean it. Don’t drink or do drugs if you don’t want, that’s cool, but no one has the right to condemn others for their choices. Wait – is that hypocritical? Only if you believe that the Nazis had the right to express their anti-Semitism by killing 10,000,000 Jews. I believe anti-Semites have the right to be anti-Semitic, but they don’t have the right to harm others. So, I guess the straight edge shits have the right to condemn the rest of us, but they don’t have the right to attack us or try to fuck up our stuff in those cases where they’re too chickenshit to attack, just like I don’t have the right to beat them up, but I do have the right to say they’re not unlike Nazis.
That was the second time BDSR shared a stage with that particular 75% straight edge band. They’re alright – generic hardcore, but not terrible. They are a decent group of guys who unfortunately attract a bunch of assholes every time they play. Whether we ever play with them again….I doubt it. Part of me wants to go out on stage and start some shit, but a bigger, better part would rather just leave it alone. Nothing can be gained from starting a brawl with a bunch of surly adolescent goons, most of whom will be drinking themselves to death in a couple years anyway. Pathetic. Just like their fathers. Maybe I forgot to mention that: all straight edge kids hate their alcoholic fathers. That’s why they become straight edge.
One more thing. Straight edge is a subset of hardcore which grew out of punk. All of these are subcultures, which are basically tribal identities assumed by individuals who want to belong to some sort of group which values them. Nothing wrong with that; everybody wants to belong to some sort of group which values them. Trouble is, some groups reinforce their solidarity by uniting against outsiders. Straight edge against, uh, crooked edge. Nazis against Jews. Back in the day, the Semites were nomadic warriors who reinforced their unity by slaughtering the agricultural peoples of the Indus River valley. It works in the sense that it unites the insiders, but it also causes a lot of problems for everybody. It’s much better to look for the things you can value and appreciate in other people and focus on those than to try to harm someone because they drink coffee or have a beard or whatever. We are, after all, in this together.
Plus, that way you won’t get a size 9EE boot in your teeth when I catch you putting gum on my laptop.
P.S. A few years after I got sober, I became friends with another recovering drunk who had spent some time up in the DC area and had gotten to know the members of a straight edge band who shall remain nameless, but who were feverishly, radically straight edge – when they were in the public eye. Behind closed doors they were horking blocaine and guzzling whiskey and falling all over themselves laughing at the scam they were pulling off. My friend liked their music, thought the joke was hilarious and helped himself to as much coke as he could. He was a Jew. He’s dead now. He was killed by a guy who had the right to drink, but who didn’t the right to drive while drunk.
Gods bless you, J. Ro. See on the other side.