Sheena is a Punk Record home
John The Punk
The winter of ’76. We’re in the middle of a heated gym class volleyball game. The ball is flying
towards me. I reach out and hit it. It hits the floor on the wrong side of the net. The entire room
hatefully screams out my name in unison. Even the kids on the opposing team. Even the coach as he
stomps his feet and throws his hands into the air. The energy was incredible! All that hate focused
directly on me. I had tried my best. I thought that was the point of this class. I was wrong. I had
to feel that energy again. The class looked in terror as the ball came towards me. The kids on both
sides of me stood ready to intercept it. “No, I’ve got it”, I said. But when the moment came I put
my hands down, stepped aside and watched the ball hit the floor beside me. This time the hatred
was so intense, I felt like I was going to be lynched. It felt awesome! I wasn’t getting off on being
hated or craving the attention. It was just so amazing to me that mocking a silly game that was
supposed to be for fun and exercise could have such an effect on these people’s minds. I didn’t
know it yet, but I was studying Social Politics.
I went home to my room and put an old rockabilly record on my turntable. 70’s culture didn’t
appeal to me. If you think popular music sucks now, imagine tuning in a radio station that plays
today’s hottest hits and hearing Tony Orlando singing, “Tie a yellow ribbon …”. Scary stuff. I
mostly listened to ‘50’s Rock & Roll, surf guitar, ‘60’s garage psych, etc. This didn’t boost my
popularity or get me any dates. Neither did my black clothes or my psychobilly haircut. More
Social Politics. I just kept telling myself that I was OK. It was the other kids who were screwed
up. Then my mom took us to a real town to go shopping at JC Penney’s.
Back then, stores like that had a record section with a fairly large amount of vinyl. Flipping
through the records, I spotted one by a new band called THE RAMONES. Their un-rock star
looks caught my eye. They were all wearing leather jackets like the one I got made fun of for
wearing to school. I read the song titles and lengths of the songs (they were all under three
minutes). I’d never heard of THE RAMONES, but I couldn’t imagine how this could not be a
great rock & roll record. Going on instinct alone, I took it home and put it on my turntable.
I couldn’t believe how raw they sounded. I couldn’t believe any band would have a lead singer
with such a weird voice. These guys didn’t seem to give a shit as to whether anyone liked them
or not. I had new hope for the future of Rock & Roll. My new record seldom left my turntable.
I was playing it weeks later when my older brother came home to visit. When he said something
about me listening to “punk rock”, I thought he was making fun of me. But he showed me some of
his rock magazines with articles on this new music explosion. I thought THE RAMONES were an
isolated incident. But there were other bands like this, and they called it “punk”? I wondered why
they gave it such a dumb name. Flipping through the pages I saw pictures of THE DAMNED, THE
SEX PISTOLS, THE STRANGLERS, and DEAD BOYS. Plus an entire article on THE CLASH. I
couldn’t believe it. These people looked like me, mocked society in a way I thought only I did. And
as I was soon to find out, they made the coolest music I’d ever heard in my life.
I saved my money and bought all the punk records I could get my hands on. It was such a revelation.
It was as if these bands were speaking to me. Telling me that I was right all along. I wasn’t a freak
after all. I was just separated from my own kind. Now my weird shit had a name. I was a PUNK. I
believed that if I could live among other punk rockers, my life would be cool. I would have friends
who like the things I liked. Maybe I would even have a girlfriend. What a concept. I used to sit
in my room and fantasize about running away to England or New York. Since this didn’t really seem
feasible, I would just have to suffer through three more years of high school. When graduation
finally did come, my dad wanted me to go to the local community college. I wouldn’t consider it. I
wasn’t interested in a career. I sure as hell couldn’t take another 2-4 years of living there. All I
wanted to do was to run away and be a punk rocker. I would get a job, get a guitar and start my
own band. Life would be good. Iowa City seemed like a good place to start. Most of my records
came from there. I couldn’t be the only one buying them. I got a small apartment and spent my
evenings working in the factory across the street. I bought a cheap guitar and amp and tried to
teach myself to play. I spent my weekends buying more records and partying, and looking for
punk rockers. But after two years, I was becoming disillusioned. Maybe there was no punk
scene in Iowa. Maybe it was dead altogether. Maybe I should have gone to college. Maybe I
fucked up. But then I saw a flyer. Friday night, two local punk bands in the basement of a church.
BYOB. Yes! After 5 long years of waiting, I had found the punk rockers! I felt like Alex Haley
in that scene from “Roots” when … anyway. When Friday came, I called in sick for that night’s work
and took the bus uptown. When I got to the church, I could hear a tape of BLACK FLAG, “Damaged”
. I didn’t know anyone else who had that record. At the door I was greeted by the aroma of leather,
sweat, beer, cloves and weed. I walked in and there were the punk rockers. Maybe a hundred of
them. As I waded into that sea of spiky hair and spiked leather, a warm feeling came over me. I felt
like I was finally home. All of my suffering through high school would be paid off. I would have
friends, a girlfriend and a band. From then on life would be cool. It was time to meet the punks.
But when I tried to talk to them, I didn’t get the warm coming-home welcome I had dreamed of.
What I did get was more like, “Who are you? Are you friends with anyone popular? Do you know
anyone in a band? Are you cool? No? Well, we are so leave us alone.” NO! This couldn’t be
happening! These people were just like the assholes I went to high school with. Except with
different clothes and better taste in music. I wondered if these kids actually listened to the
lyrics of those bands they claimed to like. I was crushed. The only thing that kept me going
through high school was nothing but a pipe dream. I had made it to the top of the mountain only
to find a steaming pile of shit. How could I have been so naïve? I did stay to watch the bands.
And with the help of my cousin Sam, did some serious damage to a fifth of gin and a 12 pack of
beer. After we staggered home, I did some serious soul-searching. So what did all this mean?
Were those kids in high school right? Was I really a freak after all? I told myself that maybe
a prick is just a prick no matter what you dress it up like. I didn’t give up all hope just yet. I
kept going to the shows. Eventually I did make friends who told me not to worry about those
elitists who thought they were so cool. Later I even joined a band and got a cute little punk-rock
girlfriend (in that order of course). But most importantly, I learned a valuable lesson. While I
was right to believe in myself, I was a fool to believe that anyone else or any scene would save
Now let’s skip ahead several years. It’s 6:00 AM, April 16, 2001. I’m half awake. Sitting in the
cafeteria of the shit-hole where I now work. A television hangs from the wall babbling the
morning news. “Yesterday we lost a rock legend. Or should I say: punk-rock legend.” Huh?
That wakes me up. “Singer Joey Ramone dead at age 49.” What? Joey’s dead? Shit! So the
voice that first brought me into the world of Punk Rock is quiet now. So long, Joey. And
thanks for the long ride. But life goes on. And so does punk. There were times when I thought
that all of this was gone forever. Now I see punk rockers almost everywhere I go. I got a
second chance to live it all again. And I’ve got to say that you kids have been way cooler than
those hardcore Punks back in the “glory days”. Thanks for showing me such a good time over the
past few years. Strangely enough, your scene has been the closest I’ve gotten to those dreams I
had back in high school.