Punk Out’s Paul Adler recently wrote a piece about his early punk influences, and how they spoke of social issues, equality, and frustration with a system that doesn’t work for so many of us. But to me, many of the things I hear about in the punk music that I love boils down to nothing but fake problems (pun absolutely intended.)
I’m sure we can agree that when punk music began, it was about something more meaningful and impactful. But the b-side to all of those passionate rally cries has been songs about heartache and longing, rejection, and admiration – it’s like every punk songwriter is a love-struck teenager with a handful of stories about the one (or ones) that got away. The spectrum of the punk genre has long expanded beyond politically conscious music and includes a wide range of emotions – the underlying factor always being passion and purpose. But when it comes to the personal expression of songwriters, are we, as music fans, more interested in the sad songs of the emo and pop-punk genres than we are of the happy variaty? Do we root for sadness because it will produce better music?
Most people can relate to the pains and pitfalls of love and relationships, at least to some degree. Love is a universal language – one that none of us are ever quite fluent in. The reason I wonder if these are “fake problems” is because some might say that Ben Gibbard’s divorce is not something that we need more songs about. However, if these are the emotions he chooses to express in his songs, it’s a shame that he must defend the change in his songs when he’s happy, and field personal questions about his evident decent back into sadness. Are we celebrating his personal struggles because they will provide us with much better songs to relate to?
The same could be said about my own struggles. That sort of thinking is probably why kids in high school called me emo as an insult or a belittling term. To me, music is very much a form of self-expression, and the listener gets more out of it if they can relate to what the musician is expressing. I’ve always related to the sad songs, even when I’m not sad. I’ve always identified with romantic frustration and navigating the labyrinth of young love, despite my attempts at staying politically and socially conscious. To me, it is no less punk to sing about your broken heart than it is to sing about the recent racial strife in Baltimore.
I know a man who speaks publicly about his struggles with depression, and how some of his issues stem from romantic struggles. You could simplify that person’s struggles as saying, “he’s sad about girls.” To use the “other people have it worse” argument is saying that this person shouldn't be upset when comparing their own problems to others’. I believe that your problems are problems, no matter how small they seem to someone else. That perspective, to see and identify someone else’s problems and to feel for them, is called empathy. But seeing things that way does nothing to reduce your own problems. They are yours, and they hold the same value as everyone else’s. Perspective can allow us to approach our problems in a new way, but it doesn’t solve them.
I believe that your song about non-reciprocated feelings is just as important as someone else’s song about social equality. Your song might just help in a different way. A punk song can be a call to action for social change, or an anthem for the lonely and misunderstood. A punk song can save your life by giving you a purpose or reminding you that you are not the only one who feels the way you do tonight.
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