Elise Ellis came into this world on June 12, 2013, and the God I don’t believe in played a marvelous trick on her. He made me her grandfather. Me. Veteran of concerts by the Clash, Sex Pistols, the Jam, the Damned, the Ramones, Dead Kennedys and Siouxsie & the Banshees. Me, with spray-colored green, blue, red, purple, gold and silver hair. Me. Former resident of the 100 Club, Hammersmith Palais and CBGB. Me. With the leather biker jacket, and the stretch denim jeans. Me — more than 30 years ago.
But in actuality, having a punk-rock granddad has a great many benefits, as little Elise will learn.
For instance, if you get into a fight at school, granddad isn’t going to ask “What were you thinking?” nor “Don’t you know it’s wrong to use violence?” No. He’s going to ask, “Did you win?” Punk rock was never about peaceful, hippy, non-violence bull. Sometimes, things need smashing (like that bully’s face or the state). Violence should be avoided as much as possible, but if things do turn violent, you may as well win. You’re going to be suspended anyway, so don’t be a suspended loser.
Granddad is never going to tell you “You can’t leave the house looking like that.” If you want to wear that shorty-short dress, go ahead. If you want to have your pants hanging off your butt, do it. If you want to wear an Osama bin Laden T-shirt and a Marine Corps hat, go ahead. Just know why you are doing it. But never say “because everyone else is.” That isn’t cool.
Moreover, granddad is not going to make you practice scales on any musical instrument. He’ll show you three-chords and half an hour later ask “Is your band playing tonight or what?” And he’ll mean it. Talent is cheap — the guts to put it out there aren’t.
If you draw me a picture of a fish and the eyes are both on one side of the head, I won’t tell you it’s wrong or you need to work on it. I’ll hang it up. Doing things badly is better than sitting around doing nothing. And Picasso did fine putting the eyes on one side of the face. Besides, that really is how a flounder looks.
Grandpa will teach from day one, “It is easier to apologize than to get permission.” So practice saying you’re sorry. Getting permission puts someone else in control of your life — that’s not what you want. Most of the time, they will tell you “No.” Saying you’re sorry after the fact means that you did what you wanted, and if there’s a price to pay, you will.
Another thing I want you to understand is that authority figures are idiots most of the time. Look, if we’re talking about shoes, I’ll defer to the bootmaker — he knows crap I don’t. But giving a guy a gun and a badge doesn’t make him worthy of respect. How he uses them does (or more often doesn’t). Trust no one who keeps quoting from the same book on Sunday (or Saturday or Friday, depending on the religion they are selling). Those elected by a majority of the voters were picked by statistically average people — which makes them doubtful targets for your respect. What they do in office is another story. Rich people should only be admired if they did something to deserve more of the pie than other people — and lots of things rich people do to take a bigger slice is wrong.
Granddad wants you to ask “Why?” When someone answers “Because I said so,” you have found an asshat. If they can’t explain things using words a 10-year-old can understand, they don’t know what they’re talking about. If someone says, “I don’t know,” trust them — they tell the truth, and they don’t have an ego problem.
Never underestimate the power of the words “I don’t care.” You have a limited amount of time and energy, and if you spend it on people and things that aren’t worthy of you, you won’t have enough for those that are. Ambivalence is power.
Above all, to quote John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten), “You have to make the best of a bad situation, otherwise you would never survive.” Your generation is going to have to deal with a lot of bad situations because the baby boomers couldn’t be bothered to do the right thing. Making the best of it doesn’t mean pretending things are fine when they are shite. Making the best of it means dealing with the shite having identified it as shite.
If you follow granddad’s advice, Elise, you will not necessarily be happy, nor rich, nor popular. You will, however, be successful in being yourself. Few people even try. The only acceptable sellout involves tickets to a gig.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.