Response to Glenn Danzig’s recent comments that punk as he knew it couldn’t have happened today because of woke cancellation has been simultaneously expected and absurd.
Expected because any chance for middle aged punks to prove they’re not aging by commenting “old man yells at cloud” or “get off my lawn” on news stories like this, is really one of the most tried and true genres of internet post. If I ran a magazine and my only goal was to get “engagement” I’d always be on the lookout for stories like this. It’s formulaic: an old guy says something about the world today, you headline it, and post for dunks. Comment threads for miles.
Absurd because this is the guy who wrote the song “Last Caress.”
Now, it doesn’t matter what you think of Danzig or the Misfits. You can love or hate. It doesn’t matter what you think of “woke bullshit” and cancel culture, you can be fully on-board, semi-on-board or not at all on-board. But the idea that Glenn Danzig’s punk band The Misfits could not actually release “Last Caress” today and be widely beloved as bastions of an entire subculture is frankly one of the most factual, indisputable things any Old Man has ever Yelled at any Cloud about The Kids Today on their Lawn.
You may think woke reconsiderations of how art presents sensitive subject matter is good. I think it is very often good! But then you might say “Glenn Danzig is absolutely right, if he released a song with the lyrics in response to raping someone’s mother ‘doesn’t matter much to me as long as she spread’ we would absolutely skewer him for it and make it hard for his band to become successful. And that is a good thing.” What you cannot say is that Glenn Danzig is wrong.
Here’s my cynical bet: I think the folks that default to posting pics of Grandpa Simpson to a news story like this are probably all jumbled up inside. A lot of them probably like The Misfits and listen to The Misfits, including songs that aren’t sensitive about sensitive subjects. They also project an online identity that is very meticulously groomed politically. They give themselves permission to enjoy that music, knowing that they themselves are very sensitive to sensitive subjects indeed. But rather than ask if there’s a disconnect between the permission they give themselves and the permission they deny others, they opt instead for the performance of being ‘with it.’ Not one of the olds who’s aging badly but one of the olds who Gets the Kids Today and how it’s Just About Basic Human Decency.
What frustrates me about this non-conversation is that it keeps us from talking about deeper crises within politics and subculture. The lack of any effort on the part of the Danzigs of the world or his critics to wrestle with the drastic difference between the gatekept channels of the 80s and 90s vs. the always-available medium of total (structural) permissiveness of today. One group used symbolic measures to speak to specialized audiences who found the work because they looked. Now a fierce text-based literalist world tries to monitor all possible interpretations by all possible people because you never know when they might stumble across something. So many meaty topics to discuss, so few people discussing them.
Lately I have been watching a lot of documentaries about music, especially thrash metal, but plenty of 80s glam metal bands as well. I’m most often on Team Woke Bullshit I think — and yet I find myself consistently saying to myself, “whoa, OK, yeah this would never happen today.” Which makes me a bit fascinated by those on Team Woke Bullshit who seem to believe the level of destructive nihilism — oftentimes to the point of being physically violent to others! — that was commonplace in music scenes of recent decades would be possible today. Not to mention during the era of Reagan, the Moral Majority, and the rise of the Christian Right, it was much more commonly accepted that to reject their worldview one performed the rejection of most forms of conventional morality.
I suspect that the reason people avoid this line of questioning is because while one can say they think the moralism of today’s left is good, they cannot claim today’s left isn’t largely moralistic. And given how evangelical moralism ended up for the Christian right, there might be some validity to asking why the left believes its approach is immune from the same pitfalls.