A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed by Don Letts for a movie he's doing on punk rock and he asked me about the difference between punk now versus punk back in the seventies. I responded that the attitude still remains alive in certain new bands, even if the sound is not what someone would describe as "punk". For example, a band like The Gossip is much more punk to me than a band like Sum 41, even though the latter band plays what is generally considered to be "the punk sound". The Gossip is extremely talented, but beyond that they have the attitude that they're gonna do what they like because they damn well feel like it! Their sound will change as they gain experience and they become more proficient but hopefully they will not change their sound or style to fit what a record company is looking for.
That's a big difference between bands nowadays and bands when I was playing with The Bags. Back then, before the internet, the major record companies really did control distribution. They didn't like punk rock because it was anti-establishment and it was too different from what had come before, so they didn't think they could sell it to the masses. Alot of the LA bands were laboring under the mistaken impression that if we just worked hard and polished our sound enough that we would be signed to a record label. Well, that just wasn't going to happen for bands like The Bags, Weirdos and Screamers.
In looking back at some old live footage of The Bags, I realized that at a certain point, I became so focused on my vocal performance that I lost much of my energy onstage. See, I used to sing off key quite a bit (no!) during performances because I was so busy going crazy. Once we started trying to polish our sound, I had to tone it down alot to keep my singing on key. It was the beginning of the end. It would have been better if I had gone on barking out the words onstage because, in retrospect, there was no way that we were going to get signed anyway. Once we started trying to be "label worthy," we lost the energy that made the Bags and punk rock unique.
People accuse Hardcore of killing off the original LA punk scene but I wonder if that scene hadn't already served its purpose and run its course. Bands that came after us, like Black Flag and Minor Threat, absorbed the lessons at which we'd failed. They took the D.I.Y. ethic a step further. They knew they were never going to be signed, they had no interest in being signed and so they refused to compromise on any level.
Which brings me to my conclusion. Kids nowadays don't have to tame their shit down because they're wiser than we were. They learned from my generation's mistakes. They know that they don't need a major label to make their music heard and they know that a record company will try to control them if they get signed, anyway.
That's the true legacy of punk, not the mohawks and studded belts, nor the Warped Tour nor any of the mega-successful bands. It's the hard-earned knowledge that you can stay true to your vision, you can do it yourself, without compromise and without a major label behind you.