Punk music came about in an era of big social changes and heightened political climates. And while there were many left-leaning punk bands, there were also some right-wing ones. But can you be conservative and punk?
Here’s what I know from decades of loving punk:
A number of successful punk artists are conservative, including Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone and Billy Zoom of X. Punk was about taking a stand and rebelling against certain ideologies. But it was never specifically left-wing or right-wing.
Bands like Sex Pistols, Ramones, and Patti Smith primarily led the Punk movement.
Their music most notably talked about economic instability and unemployment, which disappointed the youth. This Business is Killing Me (Ramones), God Save the Queen (Sex Pistols), Authority (Void) are a few of the punk songs which deeply talk about political parties of the era.
Often identified by their unusual hair colors, ripped clothes, safety pins as accessories, and tattoos, there is more to punk music that meets the eye.
So in this article, we’ll explore the history of punk, how politics entered the conversation and why being right-leaning is no less punk than being left-leaning.
Let’s jump in!
“I always tried to keep politics out of [the music] because punks weren’t supposed to be political; hippies were political.” – #JohnnyRamone on one of his favorite topics, politics. What does being a punk mean to you? #Politics #Punk #Ramones #Music pic.twitter.com/LWO1GDGaD4
— Johnny Ramone (@johnnyramone) January 30, 2018
Is punk political?
Punk music can be political, and many of the early punk artists were angry and rebelling against the system. But some punk bands such as The Dickies, The Ramones, and The Buzzcocks were less political and more about catchy upbeat songs.
I discovered a research paper that helped me gain the following insights:
Punk music appeared in British history when musicians created lyrics and iconography to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies in the music industry.
These orthodoxies arose due to differences in two schools of thought; Conservationists and Liberalists. Historical accounts help examine that punk music contained underlying tones of anti-authority and anti-establishment political fervor.
But Punk culture began to be highly misunderstood by mainstream society.
It was often depicted as degenerate, negative, epitomizing drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. In his book The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise!, Marc Beyard said:
The Punk movement was wrongly attributed as a self-destructive, violence-oriented movement by shows like Donahue, Alice, Silver Spoons, Chips, and 21 Jump Street. The media representations harmed the movement by increasing its ignorance factor.
He also mentioned how the media mislabelled punks frequently as Goths and Satanists.
But in its real sense, the Punk movement was more about debunking social norms and expressing individualism.
An album that touches on politics, the criminal underground, identity crisis and depression, London Calling by The Clash was the band’s departure from pure punk, with its musical style more rooted in rock ‘n’ roll. Highlights include Rudie Can’t Fail and (my fave) Train in Vain. pic.twitter.com/Gu2dqLR9MY
— St. Cecilia’s Music (@stceciliasmus) May 7, 2020
What was punk rebelling against?
In the UK, punk bands were rebelling against the Monarchy and decades of high unemployment. In the US, punk bands tended to rebel more against mainstream rock’s excess and bloat, which had lost the true spirit of rock and roll.
The most notable band known to have heralded the punk movement is Sex Pistols with their political songs like Anarchy in the UK (1976) and God Save the Queen (1977).
Not just Sex Pistols, there were bands like Bad Brains, The Clash, Ramones, Good Riddance that discusses a range of agendas through their music.
Here are some of the issues punk music was rebelling against:
- Drug legalization
- Environment and Animal Rights
- Work, Class and Class Struggle
- War and Militarism
- Racism and White Supremacy
- Feminism, Gender Equality, and LGBTIQ Rights
John Lydon of Sex Pistols recalled in an interview that the Seventies was a depressing era. There was total unemployment, and just about everybody was on strike.
The motivations of punk music cannot be neatly defined. However, historians like Matthew Whorley explain: “Punk sets itself against things, be it other music cultures, the establishments and class divisions, society, and even itself.
Punk vs Hippies
— Creapills 💊 (@creapills) November 1, 2018
Why did punks hate hippies?
Many punk bands had an open disdain for hippies as they were opposed to the hippie ideals of peace, free love, and excessive drug use. Ultimately, punks also wanted change too but disagreed with the hippies’ methods.
Punk was an aesthetic movement that came after the Hippie movement. While the Hippies believed in love, peace, and harmony, Punk was more loud, acerbic, and abrasive.
Punk believed that because the Hippie era developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which was a time of optimism and economic boom, people had the time and money to explore mind expansion and alternative spiritualities (a quora user says).
However, by the time the Punk movement arose, it was already the beginning of World War-2. At this time, politics became an increasingly polarized arena with the formation of the far-left and far-right groups.
Some punks had words “Hate and War” to counter the “Love and Peace” slogans that Hippies promoted. But there was one branch of punk that quite followed Hippie ideals: “Anarcho-punks.”
Thus, we see that relationships between Punks and Hippies weren’t hostile as some of the Hippies even liked Punks.
But, they differentiated from each other in terms that Hippies were more self-indulgent and passive groups as opposed to Punks who were eager to do something against the status quo.
Now on my Punk Table: Angelic Upstarts – The Young Ones. 1979, Warner Records. pic.twitter.com/6RpDf72mTK
— Punktable (@punk_table) February 9, 2020
Are punks sometimes socialist?
Some punk bands were far-left-leaning socialists. Those bands include The Clash, Gang of Four, and The Angelic Upstarts.
Aesthetics within the punk movement generally shared an attitude of defiance and displayed working-class angst about economic instability and hypocrisy through their songs. It primarily voiced concerns on humanitarian, egalitarian, corruption, racism, gender, and inequality grounds.
And of course, there were also far-right neo-Nazi punk bands too.
Those bands would certainly include Skrewdriver, but many smaller and lesser-known bands, often skinhead bands, were around also.
And the most famous right-wing (but certainly not neo-Nazi or racist) punks include Johnny and Dee Ramone and Billy Zoom of X.
What about latter-day socialist musicians?
Rage Against the Machine certainly comes to mind. But specifically, is Tom Morello really a socialist or a communist? I get into that in my recent article. Can you even be a multi-millionaire and a socialist?
Just click that link to read it on my site
“I’ve voted Republican ever since 1960 when Kennedy ran against Nixon. I’ve been with the conservative Republicans since I was eleven years old. “…Johnny Ramone in einem Interview von 2003… pic.twitter.com/hAvYROTpD5
— getthenetcat70 (@getthenetcat70) November 14, 2019
What punk rockers were conservative?
Conservative punk musicians were few, but some notable names are Johnny Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, and Billy Zoom of X who continues to be very politically active on his social media channels.
Johnny Ramone was an articulate Republican and a Ronald Regan supporter in the 80’s. Ramone detailed his right-wing views in an interview with the Washington post a few years back.
Of course, since Joey Ramone was a Democrat, that must have made for some fun times when they were together.
It’s rumored that Joey wrote the song “The KKK Took My Baby Away” about Johnny when Joey’s girlfriend Linda left him for Johnny. But some sources claim that’s not true.
Bandmate Mark Ramone mentioned on Newsmax TV that:
“Johnny was a staunch conservative Republican. He loved Ronald Regan, and he was very happy that George Bush won.
Speaking of Johnny Ramone, one of the questions that has eluded fans for decades is the question of whether or not the guitar solos that started appearing once they put out their 4th album were actually played by Johnny.
After all, the credits, don’t always list any other musicians.
Luckily, in a recent article, I demystify the whole thing and give you a clear answer as to whether or not Johnny played those, or maybe a producer snuck them in, or if Johnny himself asked others to participate.
Just click that link to get the whole story.
Punk philosophy came across as a reactionary movement that sought freedom from bleak, nihilistic views of government.
It depicted a generation of youth who felt disappointed by their regimes and decided to do something about it and opposed what they thought was corrupt.
In its later years, the punk movement transformed into a significant culture combining conservatives, liberals, and radicals with different individuals who had different political stances.
It allowed conservatives to be punks as well.
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