Rebels’ Politics in Punk Music

1124 words | 4 page(s)

Punk music is the genre of rebels, naturally attracting people who have a political statement to make. Some punk bands build songs and go on tour in order to make particular political statements, while others carry a particular political philosophy with them in the writing and performance of all of their music. Bold political statements can be found in the music of punk bands such as Minor Threat, but for other bands like Bad Brains, the correlation to politics can be a little more subtle.

The politics of the band, Minor Threat, are easy to pin down. Several of the band’s songs place a simple political message at the forefront, repeating the same bold lines over and over. For example, the song, “Cashing In,” correlates commercialism with greed (Cashing). Their song, “Filler,” equates religion with brain-washing and thought-stopping processes, leading to violence and unnatural relationships (Filler). While these two songs take a liberal standpoint, the Minor Threat song, “Guilty of Being White,” takes a stance which is more directly equated with Republican opinion. This song makes a statement that racism has backfired to unjustly target white people. Minor Threat makes no secret of its political opinions, using its music in order to make firm political stances.

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In the same style as “Money” by Pink Floyd, Minor Threat wrote a song called “Cashing In” from the perspective of someone absorbed by money (Cashing). The piece places stress on the arrogance and greed of the character, setting arbitrary high prices and giving nothing in return. As the lyrics say, “We’ll steal your money. We’ll steal your show” (Cashing). The political statement of the song is that commercialism is greed-based, with no regard for the people losing the money. The character within the song is unashamed of his greed, declaring “We don’t care. We don’t pose” (Cashing). In other words, the character is greedily taking money and not even attempting to hide the fact.

Minor Threat’s song, “Filler,” attacks religion as a form of brainwashing. At first, the song equates religion with violence with the line, “something in your head made a violent change” (Filler). This line can be interpreted in at least two ways. The first is that religion is making a violent attack on the brain, and the other is that religion is inspiring a change into becoming more violent. The song then attacks the religious tradition of marriage, claiming that marriage is the equivalent of death. As the lyrics read, “Was she really worth it? She cost you your life” (Filler). The song goes on to claim marriage is the antithesis of romance, despite participants believing the romance is real (Filler). Finally, Filler makes the broad claim that religion wipes away the original mind of a person, replacing it entirely with religion, in other words, brainwashing the person. As the lyrics say, “Your brain is clay/What’s going on?/You picked up a bible/And now you’re gone” (Filler). The Minor Threat song, Filler, makes a blatant statement that religion, or at least Christian religion, is a form of brainwashing that radically changes the brains of believers, leading to illogical and undesirable life decisions.

Lastly, the Minor Threat song, “Guilty of Being White,” attacks white guilt and racism against white people. The song addresses the fact that slavery did happen and people were lynched, but the first-person narrator declares loudly that he did not do the lynching, and the slavery happened “a hundred years before I was born” (Guilty). He describes the racism he is confronted with as being like prison for life, saying “I’ve only served/19 years of my time” (Guilty). While the character apologizes for the actions of other white people, he makes it clear that he has been unjustly blamed, stating, “I’m sorry/For something I didn’t do” (Guilty). Minor Threat’s Guilty of Being White makes a statement against racism regarding white people.

Minor Threat’s music is often blatantly political, but the music of Bad Brains is only subtly related to politics. As the band member, Dr. Know, frequently states in interviews, “we’ve always considered ourselves more of a spiritual band than political band” (Darling). Still, the band’s strong bond to Rastafari impacts their world view and therefore their view on politics. The Bad Brains song, “No Conditions,” describes the band’s placing their god, Haile Selassie, over any sort of affiliation to the country (No). As the song explains, “I’m not a nationalist (YES ZION)/We don’t trust politics (TRUE)/God gives us all we want!” (No). While being opposed to nationalism, the band is loyal to the ruler (No). The Bad Brains song, “Re-Ignition,” is a little more clear in its statement, stating that the world as it is not as Jah envisioned (Re-Ignition). As the lyrics read, “We love to make you overstand/that this gross sphere is not Jah land” (Re-Ignition). The line is a play on words between “This is not Jah’s land” and “This is not your land.” In other words, the meaning of the song is that because people treat the Earth like they own it, the intended vision has not come to be. While Bad Brains considers itself to be mostly a spiritual band, where religion and politics meet, the punk band has a political statement to share.

Political statements are not just for the punk bands, Bad Brains and Minor Threat. Punk music has often been used as the platform of rebels, making political statements that break away from the beliefs of the government or the majority. In the case of Pussy Riot, the band performed an anti-Putin song inside a Russian Orthodox cathedral (Somra). The band members were imprisoned and publically flogged, and yet continue their protest to this day (Somra). Punk music is a medium that is used to make bold, rebellious political statements.

As the music of rebels, punk music often carries a political air. Some bands, such as Minor Threat, use songs in order to make a particular political argument, using personal perspective as a rebel in order to give a controversial message. For other bands such as Bad Brains, politics is not the center focus, but the band’s unique perspective carries political weight regardless of intent. Whether the political message is the intent or the aftermath, punk music’s political weight is undeniable.

  • “Cashing In.” PLyrics. (nd). 27 April 2014.
  • Darling, Nikki. “An Interview With Dr. Know of Bad Brains.” Huffington Post. 23 August, 2010. 27 April, 2014.
  • “Filler.” PLyrics. (nd). 27 April 2014.
  • “No Conditions Lyrics.” Metro Lyrics. (2013). 27 April 2014.
  • “Minor Threat—Guilty of Being White Lyrics.” Lyrics Mode. (2014). 27 April 2014.
    Re-Ignition.” PLyrics. (nd). 27 April 2014.
  • Somra, Gena. “Beaten but Hardly Tamed, Pussy Riot Strikes Back in Sochi.” CNN. 21 February, 2014. 27 April, 2014.

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