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Mom Was a Punk Rocker

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Last month, I turned 44. One day you find yourself at a wedding, dancing in the cool way you always have, and all the sudden you are a roaring geek and an embarrassment to your children. And, of course, they do not hesitate to point this out. This past February, with my birthday fast approaching, I was feeling kind of depressed about all this, so I went out shopping. Retail therapy, you know. As it turned out I had an incredible experience at the mall that day (yes, the mall… when’s the last time you heard that out of someone over the age of 13?).

I was in one of my favorite stores, one of those retail chains that carry merchandise geared towards today’s cool and disenfranchised youth, when I saw a Ramones' Rocket to Russia t-shirt on the wall. I stood there, sighed, and said to myself, “Now THAT was a great album!” Just seeing it got me reminiscing about my New York City punk rock adolescence, and I asked a store employee if they carried the CD.

The multiply-pierced, fuchsia-haired sales girl laughed, and said, "The Ramones? We've been sold out for weeks! They come in and go out the same day.” Perplexed, I went on to ask if she thought the record store might have it in stock. (See? I gave my age away right there! "Like, what’s a 'record' lady?")

She looked confused (or maybe it was just the way the chain that went from her nose to her ear was pulling her cheek), and finally replied, “I don’t know, but you might try the music store three doors down, you might luck out.”

So off I go, determined to get the damn CD and continue my trip down memory lane. I swept the store's rows and rows of digital media with my eyes, and headed toward the Pop/Rock section. I thumbed through the Rs. Nothing. I asked the frighteningly young sales clerk with, yes, a lip piercing, where I might find the Ramones, and he said "Oh no, you wouldn't find them in the pop/rock section, we have a new 'Punk/Ska' section!" (New?)

He brings me over to the area in question, and my eyes fall on the cover of the Sex Pistol’s Never Mind the Bollocks. I reminisce out loud that this was the record I bought with my first paycheck from Woolworth's when I was 14. He got this glazed look in his eyes and said, "You have this on vinyl? This is a CLASSIC!" Then he picked up a copy of Rocket to Russia as if it were the Holy Grail and said, "Do you know they are coming out with a tribute album to the Ramones?" Since I was not really interested in the lead singer from Coldplay singing "Sheena is a Punk Rocker" I tuned him out and said, "Oh, great."

I was feeling rather old as I brought the over-priced "retro" CD to the check out and placed it on the counter. I grabbed some headphones from a nearby rack and asked the other incredibly young man behind the register if they had any sturdier ones for my ten-year-old. At this he glanced down at my CD purchase and asked incredulously, "Your ten year old is into the Ramones?" and I say, "Well, yes, kind, but the CD’s for me, I was talking about the headphones."

"You're into the Ramones? Cool!"

He seemed so impressed I went on to say, "Yeah, I saw them three or four times in the late 70s."

At this point his jaw hit his chest and he gasped, "You SAW THE RAMONES LIVE?"

Enjoying this I added, "Yeah, in Central Park for $7.50"

He didn't even have words for that, he just sputtered "Central Park?" and I went on to list who I had seen live that year: Blondie, Elvis Costello, the Heartbreakers… I thought he was going to have a seizure, and he looked at me with glazed eyes as if I was a celebrity.

All of the sudden as I stood there basking in the young man's awe — weeks away from my 44th birthday — I felt that maybe this growing older thing wasn't so bad. I used to say that the definition of middle age was when the music of your youth comes back in style as "retro," and here I am. On the way home I turned up the Ramones and remembered the nights of CBGBs, Max's Kansas City, and the Mudd Club. After the clubs closed in the wee hours, we would stumble out blinking at the sunrise with our spiked hair, fishnet stockings, and leather motorcycle jackets, and go home and change into our Catholic school uniforms and go straight to school, smelling vaguely of scotch. "Well," I smiled to myself, head bobbing to "I Want to be Sedated" as I drove down I-89, "I may be middle-aged, but I guess I'm not so uncool after all."

Recently, my son unearthed some photographs of me taken during my punk days, and he was clearly impressed. “Mom! You were so young and cool!”

To which my husband replied, “Yeah, and when someone tries to insult you by saying ‘Your Mom wears combat boots!’ you can say, ‘Yes, she did!’”

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About Ann Hagman Cardinal

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=diana+hartman diana hartman

    Congratulations! This article has been selected for syndication to Boston.com, where it will be enjoyed by even more readers.

  • http://hxchristian.typepad.com/metal_dad metal dad

    great article. as a 54 year old dad who has been taking his sons to metal and hardcore shows since they could walk, i really enjoyed your article. every time i come home with a new band hoody my wife asks, “how many black sweatshirts do you need?” and i always answer, “how many are there”? my sons have no qualms about going to shows with me and their friends think it is a hoot that their dad goes to shows and enjoys the music. “i might be an adult, i’m a minor at heart.”

  • Ann Cardinal

    “i might be an adult, i’m a minor at heart.”

    Love this! It’s true, it is so much fun that my ten year old son is getting into my old music. Once I get a digital turn table and can burn some of my vinyl into the computer I plan to turn him onto the less commercial stuff, the Dead Boys, James White and the Blacks, 999. I never thought I’d idealize my youth…

    You keep on rockin’ that hoody, Metal Dad!

  • REALITY CHECK

    Old Punks are the new Old Hippies. Think about it:

    OLD HIPPIE:
    Consistently whines about how Greenwich Village got gentrified.
    OLD PUNK:
    Consistently whines about how the Lower East Side got gentrified.

    OLD HIPPIE:
    Things weren’t as cool as they were in the late ’60s.
    OLD PUNK:
    Things weren’t as cool as they were in the late ’70s/early ’80s.

    OLD HIPPIE:
    Wears tye dye and jeans as if they are still underground.
    OLD PUNK:
    Wears leather jackets and jeans as if they are still underground.

    OLD HIPPIE:
    Clings on to the same few artists as gods (Hendrix, etc), and insists that their music is the best artform.
    OLD PUNK:
    Clings on to the same few artists as gods (Ramones, etc), and insists that their music is the best artform.

    OLD HIPPIE:
    Despite being middle-aged, they insist that they still have their finger on the pulse of the new youth culture.
    OLD PUNK:
    Despite being middle-aged, they insist that they still have their finger on the pulse of the new youth culture.

    OLD HIPPIE:
    Insists that valid new forms of underground music hasn’t been created since the late ’60s.
    OLD PUNK:
    Insists that valid new forms of underground music hasn’t been created since the late ’70s/early ’80s.

    OLD HIPPIE:
    Makes fun of anyone younger than them trying to pay homage to their style.
    OLD PUNK:
    Makes fun of anyone younger than them trying to pay homage to their style.

    OLD HIPPIE:
    Geriatric former band members of old bands have expensive reunion tours.
    OLD PUNK:
    Geriatric former band members of old bands have expensive reunion tours.

    Punk no longer means anything remotely transgressive. Being a punk just means you’re an aging geezer who’s about as offensive and nihilistic as an old granny with a grocery cart. Most punks still grow up and have kids and get married and move to the suburbs just like every other meat-and-potato-eating American-flag-worshipping “normal” person. The only difference between punks and soccer moms are their music tastes, their fashion choices, and their choice of soy versus real milk. Underneath the dye and leather, they’re all the same. Punks=suburbia. (Pun intended)

  • Dale

    I was at Hot Topic last Christmas time with my niece and she exclaimed: “Uncle Dale! Look at the cool skulls on these shoes!” I smiled and gave her what I imediately afterwards realized was the punk/metal-head version of the “five miles up hill in the snow” speech. I told her: “When I was a kid, they didn’t sell shoes with skulls on them! I had to buy PLAIN shoes and paint my OWN skulls on them!” When I realized what essentially my remark WAS, I laughed hysterically! I guess it happens to all of us eventually. The thing is to not grow old GRACEFULLY!

  • Richie T.

    To the author, Ann Hagman Cardinal: Super article, as a 51 year old, I was lucky enough to enjoy both the underground as well as the new wave and have lots of fond memories (of what I can remember!!)
    If you want to have a hoot, show the kiddies the DVD of Rock n’ Roll High School! All good-

  • http://www.thesonginmyheadtoday.blogspot.com Holly Hughes

    I can relate, too. Now I’m taking my 16-year-old son to punk shows. I leave him in the mosh pit and stand somewhere to the side, where I can still see whether anybody’s slipping Ecstasy in his drink.

    He hates it when I give him new CDs to listen to. But mysteriously they all get loaded on his iPod, and when I ask for the CDs back, he’s lent them to various friends.

  • http://www.saintjuanchos.wordpress.com Happy Lee Del Canto

    And here I was getting a bit depressed as my 31st birthday is approaching… What a waste of emotion! Gracias por el artículo!!!

  • AnarchoHedgehog

    I can’t believe you people are BRAGGING about your underground adolecence going mainstream. It sickens me when kids buy those punk rock shoes with the skulls on them at Hot Topic, it straight up sickens me. While The Ramones and Blondie, Blondie, and The Sex Pistols may have wanted to go big, after that, punk bands wanted to stay that way, punk, not pop(ular). They’ve done the same thing to punk that they did to hippie, it’s now making millions of dollars off of young kids wanting the new “in” thing. Punk was never supposed to be the “in” thing. Punks were, and always have been, the outcasts, the people no one liked. They still are. WE ARE STILL THE OUTCASTS!!! People wear clothes inspired by punk rock, they listen to watered down versions of punk rock, and they say that they are punk, and yet they’re just doing what everyone else is. You old timers aren’t steeped in youth culture anymore these days, you don’t see what a bastard they’ve made of punk rock, because you don’t see (or hear) what they do these days. Yeah, they may sell a Ramones t-shirt at Hot Topic now, but the kids who buy it only see what’s “cool.” They don’t even KNOW that the Ramones struggled to get noticed. They don’t know that punk was, IS, about doing shit yourself. Instead of making their clothes the way they want it, they BUY it that way. Punk was never meant to be a trend, but now it’s sold as one. Don’t get me wrong, I would probably be a little struck to find out that the 44 year old that came into Hot Topic had seen The Ramones, and Blondie, and Elvis Costello, because I wish I had been around back then to see it myself, but I would be equally surprised that you didn’t walk into that store and walk out immediately, completely disgusted.

  • http://www.sabrinamessenger.com Sabrina

    Kinda reminds of that song by Cheap Trick with the lyrics….”mommy’s all right, daddy’s all right, they just seem a little weird…surrender, surrender, but don’t give yourself away…”

    Seem we took their advice alright lol