Every now and then, there are days which make you realize that—as sure as Sid Vicious is shooting up somewhere in heaven—punk rock is dead.
Like, for example, a mortified-by-its-own-stupidity NOFX apologizing to everyone after spending its entire career offending, well, everyone.
And the Warped Tour packing up its tent for good in 2018, denying the youth of America the opportunity to see, one last time, such punk-as-fuck acts like Blink-182, 3OH!3, and Sing It Loud.
Or Johnny Rotten gleefully deciding to play the role of butter pimp for Country Life. (Actually, that was pretty goddamn punk rock, for no other reason than it violated every original tenet of the movement. Who better to rip up the rules that he helped invent than life-long fly-in-the-ointment John Lydon?).
Anyhow, today brings two more major strikes.
First off, comes the news that Green Day has decided to cancel its upcoming tour dates in Asia.
Once upon a time, Billie Joe Armstrong and company thought nothing of toughing it out at centre stage at 86 Street while Vancouverites gave the trio a good idea what Lotusland looks like in November. Except it was spit chucking down on them during a Bad Religion opening slot, not the tears of angels (led by Pete Shelley, Joe Strummer, and Randy Rampage) crying in heaven. That's what happened back in the day when you dared to make up your own punk rock rules by signing with a major label after cutting your teeth at 924 Gilman Street.
Green Day was the band that stood gamely at centre stage at Woodstock '94 dodging every mudball thrown at them by the future frat boys and CEOs of America. And it was Green Day that showed up at the recent NHL All-Star game festivities in St. Louis and promptly salted its second-intermission set with language that would have shocked Reggie Dunlop, Tim McCracken, and the great Nancy Dowd.
Now, one of the most iconic acts in the history of punk rock is too chickenshit to get on a plane and play Asia because it's bought into the hysteria about the coronavirus. In cancelling shows in Bangkok, Osaka, Manila, Hong Kong, Taipei, and Tokyo, the band issued this statement: “We have unfortunately made the difficult decision to postpone our upcoming shows in Asia due to the health + travel concerns with coronavirus. We know it sucks, as we were looking forward to seeing you all, but hold on to your tickets we’ll be announcing the new dates very soon.“
Did GG Allin ever cancel a show because he was afraid that someone would punch him in the face, kick him in his naked nutty buddies, or scoop up the byproduct of his voided bowels and fling it back at him? Hell no!
Did Joe Strummer leave the stage when half of Holland was gobbing on him during a festival performance in 1979? No, he stood there, took it like a man, and trundled off to the doctor after he contracted hepatitis from some Dutch loogan's loogie. There are rebels, and then there are American Idiots who think they're guaranteed to get everything that causes hysteria on Fox news, including evidently not only socialism, but the coronavirus.
Speaking of fearless rebels, Billy Idol was also in the news. Today, one of punk's original shit disturbers was announced as a key player in a campaign to clean up New York City. The big Apple has launched a No Idling campaign, where citizens are being encouraged to take cell footage of buses and delivery trucks that are sitting curbside with their gas-guzzling motors running. Rat out said vehicles to the Department of Environmental Protection, and your video finking will get you a reward.
The Idol-approved motto of the campaign is "Billy Never Idles, Neither Should You." Appearing beside New York Mayor Bill de Blasio at a "War on Idling" press conference, the L.A.-based Idol said he decided to sign on for the initiative because New York was instrumental in launching his career in America. You might recall MTV being based in the Big Apple in the '80s, a period when a certain bleach-blonde punk ruled the video airwaves.
Any true punk would hate what NYC has become today. And by that, we're not talking a city that rewards folks for snitching.
Once upon a time New York was one of the scariest places on earth-the kind of hellish shithole that had Travis Bickle driving the streets seething while delivering modern American poetry like, "All the animals come out at night—whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets."
Because it was desperate and seedy and dangerous in the '70s, it was only natural New York was the petri dish for what became punk. Take a grimy city, add a famously grimy club like CBGB, and you had the launching pad for the Ramones and the New York Dolls–two bands which re-taught England that rock was meant to be loud, raw, dangerous, and unwashed. Bonus lessons included driving the message home that everyone looks 210 percent more badass when wearing a leather jacket. Ask Suzi Quatro.
Idol was one of the first Englanders to buy into the movement with Generation X. Flash forward a few years and he, as much as anyone, helped shove punk down the throats of Mainstream America. Idol was a man who championed white weddings. A man who suggested that the time was right for the teenagers of 1984 to rebel yell themselves hoarse. A man who believed it there was nothing shameful with looking in the mirror and announcing "I'm Dancing With Myself".
A man who love mony....... alright fuck it. Let's face it—no one has a fucking clue what Billy Idol stood for. Here's wagering that the only things he really cared about in the '80s were coke, cooters, and royalty cheques. The great thing about the latter being that it helped him secure endless amounts of the former. But at one point in his career Idol at least seemed like he was more dangerous than Bruce Springsteen, Pat Benatar, and whoever sung that fucking "Africa" song. And if he made it okay for at least one kid in Mississippi, Alabama, or North Burnaby to go to school with peroxided hair and combat boots, that helped pave the way for the future likes of Kurt Cobain, not to mention Billie Joe Armstrong.
And now today Billy Idol is the face of a campaign called War on Idling. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Idol said: "This city really means a lot to me, and the idea that I could give back in some way for such a good cause, it was such a great idea. Obviously, the air quality [in New York] is loads better than it was when I lived here, but car idling is a major contributor to air pollution and that’s just not healthy."
It goes without saying that any self-respecting punk would want to see New York looking like the kind of wasteland Snake Pliskin sees in his worst nightmares—not some shiny happy utopia where the peep shows of Times Square are a long-gone memory and Gothamites can blow their noses without seeing something that looks like the Dubai tar sands.
That’s not gonna happen on Billy Idol’s No Idling watch, any more than Green Day is going to be booking an extended Asian vacation in the coming months.
Punk rock died a little bit more today. At the rate things are going, the next thing you know they'll be closing the Cobalt, shuttering the Smilin' Buddha, and selling CBGB shirts at Urban Outfitters.