Johnny was an 11th Street Kid. So was I. And So was Jimmy (who you’ll meet)…as well as the youngest one in this story who’s gonna look back and realize that the kids of his 11th Street Pack weren’t actually kids at all.
This is the story of a conversation between three people, two of whom didn’t know they were having it. It’s hard to say when the conversation started because it happened in three parts. The first part, depending on how you look at it, unknowingly preceded the first two but was the most seminal. Or…if you look at it entirely sequentially, that part I just mentioned was the Last part because it was delivered to me by mail and it got to me after the first two conversations had already happened. So one of us knew about it (the written part) at the beginning (the youngest one, who wrote it), one of us at the end (me when it came to my mailbox), and the other not at all (Jimmy, because I haven’t told him yet). Still with me? I hope so because I’m admittedly having a hard time keeping up.
I met Jimmy ten years ago. I was dressed as Wonder Woman backstage at a Damned show. I still smoked then and he picked me up off of the floor while I was rummaging for a light for the cigarette hanging out of my mouth. Three years later, I fell in love with him. I still remember the fisrt time I walked into his apartment and saw original flyers from early eighties UK punk shows framed on the walls. We were cut from the same cloth, there was no question about that. The only difference was, he was literally At those shows and I just had the bands painted on my leather. Our relationship might have lasted longer, but there’s a lot of AA meetings, therapy, and self-realization that was shoved in there and sort of got in the way of things. But you Know your people when you find them, and so we held on to each other. We’ve seen each other through too many friends’ suicides and the recent death of one of our lovers. We’ve also seen the Damned together again, on purpose that time, and we’ve waxed on about our earlier days without one another, the days we wished we could’ve spent together.
We got to talking about those early days, in particular, on my drive home from the venue the other night. Jimmy hails from Ipswich, home of The Addicts and for a town I’ve actually never been to, an uncanny amount of other people in my life as well. He talked about hopping the tube to Portabello Road in London. He’d walk by the original Rough Trade on his way to Better Badges (print and badge shop), pinching his wallet because he needed the coin to get his ‘zine printed. He’d hand over 40 pages of cut and paste notebook pages, go drink pints for a couple of hours, then head back to the shop to collect the finished product– Extra if he wanted it stapled!
I had similar tales of hanging out at the 24 hour Kinkos copying show flyers and anything else that I thought would connect me with like minds in the glorious age of analog. Our existence was reliant on all that was tactile. We were a highly perspicacious generation of punk rock youth. Eyes wide open. Moving freely with no borders in sight. I used to rubber cement all of my stamps to pen pals so we could peel the postage ink off and keep re-using them. Anything we could do to stay connected, we did. DIY because we Had to, not because it was cool. And so the question inevitably arose: Is Punk Dead? I mean, is it REALLY a pale, bloodless carcass, or are there still a few safety pins holding it all together?
It should be less than astonishing that we were quick to tag the toe of the movement that made us. We went on to spend the next thirty minutes chastising all things social media for killing our beloved paradise past, all inky blissful newsprint and vinyl, uncensored fetish and gore. Wild in the streets. Voice of a Generation. We Were The Kids And We Were United. We then mourned for the current generation being born too fucking late. It’s not their fault. It’s Ours for having them. In reality, though, we just don’t want to let go of the only thing we ever really felt was Ours- Because We Fucking Made It. It was not manufactured. No mass production. It was a product of our discontented intellect. We simply refuse to believe that our level of profound detestation for the government, society, and the systemic oppression of humankind is able to be matched by an angrier generation than our own. There’s a chance we may be wrong…
I said goodbye to Jimmy when I pulled into the driveway, made some dinner, then called the young one for our weekly catch up. He and I met nearly three years ago at an actual hole in the ground. He asked for my number in case I wanted to “skate some time” and I laughed right in his shattered, young face. To say that my reaction was mean-spirited would be erroneous. To be honest, I think that it was nervousness coupled with the fact that I knew that I was twice his age. There’s a lot of stuff in between the here and now of myself and the young one ~~ but within a couple of years, we’ve managed to create some beautiful art together, navigate an incredibly fluid relationship, love, torment, and learn from one another.
Mention of my talk with Jimmy was met with his immediate adversary disapproval. This is a new-ish development for him, opposing me, and it’s important. I back it. I guess that’s the sort of things that parents get off on — watching their kids form and act upon their own ideas and opinions. I have a dog and I don’t want a kid. Ever. But I dig watching this happen with my younger friends. Skateboarding, punk rock, and art have kept me well immersed in a melting pot of generations. We don’t actually grow old even though the birthdays abound. Our ideas are timeless no matter how fucking original we wish they actually were.
He ticked off every box of my jaded contempt, disproving my verdict, fighting for his place in it all. Punk Rock Is Alive, he said. It’s Underground, in the small towns, at all the backyard shows and ramps. It’s cutting its teeth and losing its virginity in the back of tour vans despite the digital age. It’s angry. It’s young. It’s insatiable. It doesn’t give a fuck if you’re 40, 21, or 50. It’s making art and starting bands. It’s skateboarding whether you show up or not. It will still fuck your mom and it’ll still probably become a lawyer or serve on the city council in twenty years. Call it forgotten, misspent, juvenile, callow, addicted, scarred, tired, ignored, ignited, or irrelevant, but don’t fucking call it Dead. Because it’s Not.
Was I sold? Of course not!
Then the package showed up. And fuck you, little one, for your timing on this one. These phone conversations were on the 18th and I’ll be damned if that package wasn’t postmarked on the 17th. It felt strange in my hands. I felt something long and cylindrical in the envelope and I just assumed it had to be a tiny dagger begging me to end it all and stop my whining. I opened the envelope and realized that what I’d felt was the spine of a spiraled notebook. There was a letter explaining what I was holding in my hands. It was a declaration of thanks for my passing on the inspiration to continue the written word, for fighting the good fight, for standing my ground, and for the passing of the torch without losing my grip on it ~ because he knew that even if I wanted to ~ there was no way I was letting go of it completely.
The next morning over coffee, I read the words that I didn’t realize I’d been needing to hear. I read the lyrics and prose of the next generation, the one that has been listening to us all along. I read the testament to our cause. I read the words of someone who wrote them for me, who knew they needed to be heard, who wanted me to know that He was listening. And because of him, others will listen. I read a journal of daily truths, growth, and convictions that had been kept over several months, cathartic and raw, passed on to me as a token of thanks. I didnt cry but it was probably worthy of a few tears.
Thank You, Little One, for shedding light on the bigger picture. I get it. I get You.
I chose the song “11th Street Kids” by Hanoi Rocks for some deeply personal reasons, but I feel it doesn’t need much explaining after this entry.. I did, however, choose the live version link of this song for the part where Mike Monroe improvises “EVER” after the last chorus. Anyone who grew up the way that the three of us in this post did knows what it’s like to not be able to afford “to miss the bus or I’ll go and miss all the fuss” because Being there is what we need need to Sustain. And it’s true. The Scene might perish into unrecognizable depths, but “Punks Never Die”. Ever.
(I painted the jacket in the title post photo when I was 22, and I shot the photo of Brooklyn wearing it a few weeks ago)
Enjoy this link ::: 11th Street Kids