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Eco-Punk Songs and Chants of the Latter Twentieth Century

Eco-Punk Songs and Chants of the Latter Twentieth Century

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Published by Leif Brecke
Hidden away in the trees of the forest, the alleys of the city, and in the protest rallies against environmental destruction dwells the Eco-punk. He or she is part of a newly emerging subculture of environmentally-minded radicals whose fiery activist spirit is stoked with subversion and rebellion. Like the punks of the 1970s and 80s, this new breed of rebel sees a bleak future ahead, but rather than accept the present's demise they work towards its betterment.
Hidden away in the trees of the forest, the alleys of the city, and in the protest rallies against environmental destruction dwells the Eco-punk. He or she is part of a newly emerging subculture of environmentally-minded radicals whose fiery activist spirit is stoked with subversion and rebellion. Like the punks of the 1970s and 80s, this new breed of rebel sees a bleak future ahead, but rather than accept the present's demise they work towards its betterment.

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Published by: Leif Brecke on Nov 24, 2009
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From the Mind to the Mouth: Eco-punk Songs and Chants of the Latter Twentieth CenturyEric HensonProf. Wojcik Folklore 412--Folklore of Subcultures--June 3, 1999Hidden away in the trees of the forest, the alleys of the city, and in the protest rallies againstenvironmental destruction dwells the Eco-punk. He or she is part of a newly emerging subculture of environmentally-minded radicals whose fiery activist spirit is stoked with subversion and rebellion.Like the punks of the 1970s and 80s, this new breed of rebel sees a bleak future ahead, but rather than accept the present's demise they work towards its betterment.I have chosen the eco-punk movement as a field of study because it both contradicts and supportsthe ideological values upon which punk was founded. Eco-punks seem to be the modern answer tothe problems of our contemporary American society: the capitalistic corporate raping of the world's people and land, the imbalance of wealth in America's hierarchical class system, the government'stheft of rights and land from indigenous cultures, the unwarranted pollution and destructionincurred upon the environment, society's ever-growing reliance on technology, the wrongfulimprisonment of political prisoners, the vivisection of the world's animals, and the blind-eye to truththrough which dominant American society teaches its members to see.In order to better understand the nature of eco-punk ideology, I have chosen to study the songs andchants of protest that have been cultivated within the subculture. Through these lyrics I hope toestablish a connection between modern eco-punks and both their punk and activist forefathers. Ialso intend to explain how these lyrics also reinforce eco-punk ideology, create a greater sense of community, strength, and solidarity between punks, assist eco-punk activists to share their opinionsas a collective to others, and to describe how they function as a methodology through which eco- punks may share the truth to those whom society has blinded with lies. I also aim to show how eco- punk protest songs and chants manipulate and subvert American traditions of the past, whilecontinuing to uphold the revolutionary rebellious spirit upon which our country was founded. As afolkloric medium, these lyrics both symbolize and represent the eco-punk subculture from theinside out, and make it possible to discover the true agenda of America's modern-day radicals.Punk music, style, aesthetics, and politics erupted out of a new kind of rock and roll that sweptEngland and America in the mid-1970s. Punk music first crystallized in 1976 as a musicalalternative to both disco and motown that could better define the proletariat in both British andAmerica societies. In her book, Break All Rules: Punk Rock and the Making of a Style, TriciaHenry states:British bands developed a new and distinct sound and together with their fans created an ambiancefor their music that soon grew into a dynamic and unique subculture...In the mid-1970s, GreatBritain was suffering from one of the highest unemployment rates the country has seen since WorldWar II, and a steadily rising cost of living exacerbated a mood of unrest and discontent amongworking class people forced to struggle for the basic necessities of existence. For the large number of people on welfare--or "the dole," as it is known in Great Britain--especially young people, theoutlook for bettering their lot in life seemed bleak. (p. ix)This perspective on society was adapted to fit the musical desires of the nation, thus creating anentirely different realm of rock and roll with a completely oppositional ideology. The music of  bands and artists such as the Sex Pistols, The Velvet Underground, MC5, and later Patti Smith, The
 
Ramones, and others, spoke for the underclass like no other contemporary music could. Henry saysof punk rock's essence, "It is a reaction against established theories and techniques of art, as well asagainst the society that produces them....Like members of earlier avant-garde movements they wereantibourgeois and anticapitalist." (p. 1).Punk style also worked to exhibit the underclass' rejection of mainstream culture. Clothing worn bymembers of the movement was heavily influenced by society's dark tendency towards sado-masochism. Fans belligerently wore chains, spikes, and leather, as well as painted their faces andwore black lipstick and fingernail polish. For punks, fashion of this sort illustrated an in-your-faceattitude to dominant society; punk style pushed society's dark sexual secrets into the face of thenation, thus subverting society's attempt to keep its dark side hidden. Likewise, eco-punk fashionand style is based upon the same premise: to subvert. On the other hand, most eco-punks typicallyrefrain from using makeup to accomplish this goal, but otherwise wear clothing similar to regular  punks. The aforementioned counter-cultural ideals held by punks further reinforced their non-mainstream fashion and aesthetic style.The two main ideals held by the punk movement are "no future" and "do it yourself." Theexpression "no future" comes from the phrase "no future for me" as it was first used in the SexPistols song, "God Save the Queen." This phrase basically sums up the punk attitude that the futurewill be as bleak as the present and past. Eco-punks have also adapted this phrase into their ideological value system, but used it in a more positive manner; rather than expecting a poor lifeand world ahead, eco-punks strive to improve their environmental and political surroundingsthrough activism and cultural subversion. "Do it yourself" is another punk ideal which speaks for itself. This attitude declares that punks need to take the initiative for change upon themselves.Another self-explanatory corollary to this slogan is "think for yourself." The eco-punk lifestylethrives upon these ideals and uses them as the basis for their political and environmental activism.In conjunction with these two main ideals, eco-punks have also added a third tenet to their lifestyle:"mending is better than ending." This notion extends the length and breadth of the eco-punk movement. Based upon the concept of recycling, "mending is better than ending" signifies the eco- punk desire to create less and reuse more. In terms of eco-punk fashion, this means that it is better to patch a hole on a pair of jeans rather than have them take up space in a landfill somewhere. A feweco-punks have taken this ideal to an extreme in their fashion, whereas a few wear clothing that has been reconstructed so many times that the original garment has evolved into a network of patches.This ideal also extends to eco-punk activism, whereas it is better to salvage the earth's remainingundeveloped land rather than let it be destroyed and changed into suburban housing projects or logged for profit. In essence, this ideal is an extension of the eco-punk philosophy that it isnecessary to act now to preserve our future for both ourselves and our children.From these three basic tenets, eco-punks have developed an ideological system which rejects:environmental destruction in any form, corporate control and capitalism, governmental control andregulation of indigenous people's lives and land, right-wing politics, a culture and social classsystem with a hierarchy based upon wealth, oppressors of free speech, practitioners of vivisection,and various other people and institutions whose motivation is greed and the oppression of others. Inorder to combat actions of this sort, eco-punks (unlike most punks) take an activist stance towardschanging things. Rather than sit idly by and listen to punk music, as most regular punks do, eco- punks actively promote their ideology. One of the manifestations of this is the public demonstrationor protest.During these protests, eco-punks hold signs, sing songs, shout chants, and listen to informationalguest speakers, as well as a variety of other actions intended to spread eco-punk ideology to non-eco-punks in their communities. Integral to these protests are the songs and chants, for it is through
 
eco-punks' lyrics that their ideology is directly presented to those who would otherwise refuse toread their signs. The songs and chants are able to reach everybody who can hear them; althoughsomeone can easily shut their eyes, it is more difficult for them to shut their ears. Correspondingly,eco-punk songs and chants come from many different sources--some from activist individuals andsome from activist organizations.Protest songs and chants, aside from getting the eco-punk message out to the community, serveother purposes: strengthening the movement from the inside, building a sense of community andsolidarity between the protesters, reinforcing the ideals of the group, and others. There are manysongs written simply for this purpose. A song by Casey Neill, an eco-punk lyricist, was writtenespecially for reinforcing solidarity between protesters during the Critical Mass Bike rides(demonstrations where people take the streets back from the automobiles with neo-ludditeintentions):If anyone should ask you, "How did this movement start?"If anyone should ask you, "How did this movement start?"If anyone should ask you, "How did this movement start?"Well, tell them it started here in my heart.It rose, it rose, it rose from the dead,It rose, it rose, it rose from the dead,It rose, it rose, it rose from the dead,And my faith will bear my spirit home.If anyone should ask you, "Which side are you on?"Well if anyone should ask you "Hey, which side are you on?"If anyone should ask you, "Which side are you on?"Well, tell them it doesn't matter--this time it's everyoneIt rose, it rose, it rose from the dead,It rose, it rose, it rose from the dead,It rose, it rose, it rose from the dead,And my faith will bear my spirit home.These words are intended to provoke the energy needed to carry out a successful protest, meaning ademonstration where the protesters have enough drive to spread their opinions. The third stanza of this song further reinforces the fact that the eco-punk subculture is trying to better the world for everyone, not just themselves. By asking the protesters and the listeners of the protest to concedethat "this time it's everyone," Neill is acknowledging that the duty to stop the destruction and pollution of the earth (in this scenario, as a result of automobiles and road construction) is anobligation that everyone has to each other if the goal is ever to be reached.Another song often used by eco-punks that is intended to create a sense of community comes froman organization known as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Also known as the Wobblies,the IWW is based upon the concept of the worker's union. In unions, workers are strong, andthrough songs such as "Solidarity Forever," the power of the group (versus the power of theindividual) is promoted. The first verse (of approximately ten on record) in this song directlyaddresses the necessity to organize, as there is power in numbers:When the union's inspiration through the workers bloodshed won,There can be no greater power anywhere beneath the sun,What force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one?

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