Punk rock pathetic

After a while, it lost its effect.

Each morning on my way to prayer, the responsibilities of living and working with refugees at Romero House, a Catholic community in downtown Toronto, weighed on me. I began dreaming of drug cartels and police corruption in Mexico because my days were saturated with stories of them. There were persistent rumours of deportation. I channelled the harsh realities of war, global life and death through headphones – Joe Strummer and a rush of revolutionary punk rock grit. “Police on My Back,” “Tommy Gun” and “Somebody Got Murdered” made me feel like I could do anything. For those moments, I did not feel anxious, inadequate or in over my head. I was young, well-informed and hardcore.

The Clash, with Strummer leading the way, sustained me all winter. But 10 months later, the realities of life, death, war and revolution have become elusive, buried under mediocre tasks and broken English. I resent the way my life has changed. The days end and I selfishly shut my bedroom door, thinking of sleep and how I am squandering my experience at Romero House. And I am bored with music.

The director of our community, an author who has been here for twenty years, notes a decline in her writing ability, and I feel like it says something about my own decline. “Romero House has weakened my command of metaphor,” she says. Less than a year after I have begun this work, I realize the Clash’s music is losing significance too. My experience here is reduced to the basics and void of poetry. I am losing my command of metaphor. I am losing my ability to conjure redemption from a punk band, and I miss this cheap and easy thing. I think of those going down to the grave clutching vinyl and I’m jealous because punk rock saved them. But it doesn’t feel like it will save me.

Lately, I’m unable to access the inherent power of scripture either. Like I listen to Strummer in bad faith, I still read the Bible every morning despite it having no real effect on my attitude or actions.

I do not know how to regain that visceral fearlessness. Still, I say the Clash and the Bible save me, that I am empowered and confident. I say it to fool myself because I am not done here and I am tired. But this is dishonest and anyway, empowerment and confidence are not the kinds of things you attribute to the holy Word of God and a punk band in equal measure.

The Clash subsidized my faith. I knew all along that this was wrong and the Bible must stand alone, but the noise was addictive. It was the loudest thing I knew and I could have it any time I wanted. When the noise became meaningless, when it became almost mocking in the presence of the real things I experience at Romero House every day, I lost something important, cheap and easy as it was. The Bible is still faithful and quiet, but I have no noise.

With some desperation I still listen to the Clash, wanting to hear what I used to. But I go to morning prayer without them now.

Emily Thomas lives and works in Toronto, Ontario.

Issue 11

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 11, Fall 2008, Geez Rocks Out.

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Issue 11, Fall 2008

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