Burn or Fizzle

This was posted on June 2, 2013 on the Gym Jones Salvation site (behind the paywall). I've rewritten the conclusion to reflect current conditions otherwise it is the original text.

I recently read some comments by Henry Rollins about the all-to-common reunion shows where old punks get together to play live for an audience of other old punks. Thirty years after the fact they are technically proficient in a way they never were back in the day. Then, the got by on ferocity. The violent energy of youth pushed virtuosity into the back seat. At the time the sound of a breaking bottle was more powerful than a harmonious riff to me.

But that shit doesn't last. Rollins recognized how he had changed. He folded when he recognized that the NECESSITY of music had given way to the habit of it. Trying to recover past memories is very different from playing with such force that your energy alone sets the modern age on fire, and makes the old guard retire. If you don't die young as a result of living fast and hard then one day you too might find yourself holding an unplayable hand.

So what do you do on the day you can't muster enough anger to put up your fists? What happens when you want to snap your fingers to a tune that used to make you want to smash your head? What are you going to do when you run out of thirst? When there is so much water that you can't muster the need? When you have something to lose you don't roll the dice and you quit picking fights.

When that time comes will you fold the hand? Will you take the easy way and settle for living a life in which you just get by? Or will you stay defiant and bet on the new, reinvented you?

I guess it depends on how lazy you are, or will let yourself become.

It depends on whether you let the underachievers around you hold you down with them.

I look around and I see so many people simply going through the motions of life without really living it. I see people enacting life as it is sold to them: doing this and buying that, fulfilling whatever marketing dream spoke the loudest to them. They have let themselves become automatons, enslaved by their own lack of will and the overpowering force of commercial imperative. Instead of making a difference they resist that difference. Instead of fighting for change - primarily in themselves - they fight to prevent it. The comfort of now seduces and distracts from the potential achievement of tomorrow and the discomfort it would take to make it real.

How is it that what - in our youth - convinced us our passion and energy was enough to change the world fades into impotence? How does the fire of belief cool to coals and then ash while we sit by and let it happen? Why not find a bellows?

Rock band reunion shows aren't a bad thing. I'm all for musicians earning the money we couldn't afford to pay them back in the day. What makes me sick is how the once-hardcore have prospered in the flesh. A fat, comfortable man screaming "Smash The State" doesn't have the impact he had when he was hungry and sleeping on the floor. You simply cannot sell "Head Like A Hole" when the buttons on your suit are about to pop.

The message is not separate from the messenger. The message is influenced by the messenger. You can't lead a fitness revolution if you don't practice what you preach. You can't inspire and motivate if you yourself are not inspired or motivated. What you know and what you could teach is useless without a vessel seaworthy enough to reach distant shores. I won't listen to a fitness or diet message delivered by a fat man nor apologize for that. Just like I won't keep a straight face when a used-to-be-hardcore singer who has let himself and his lifestyle go soft implores me not to be a wanker.

I was watching a clip tonight of Charlie Harper, the vocalist for the UK Subs. They were a hardcore punk band back in the day and even then Charlie was older than most. He was born in 1944. The video I watched tonight was from 2011 so Charlie was 67 and still spreading the message of punk. Sure, he lacked the urgency of 1977 but hell, he was giving 'er and word is he still plays over 100 shows a year. The punk message - which is one of personal autonomy as far as I'm concerned - remains, and by continuing to tour Charlie passes it on to kids who DO have the energy to turn it into action.

These days, decades past the ferocity that fed me, I am satisfied that the message I broadcast has remained strong and consistent even though it has been influenced by the subcultures of climbing, fitness, and the movie business. To be sure, individuals hear it and put their accent on it when they rebroadcast but I am amazed at how the central thesis of hard work and commitment, and honest confrontation with reality even if it isn’t positive or hopeful, remains undiluted.

When I finally get to sleep tonight I will drop my head to the pillow satisfied that my message remains strong and I strengthen it by living it myself, and that standards - and expectations - have not slackened simply because I am five decades deep into this journey. And still burning.

Mark Twight
Mark Twight