Music News

What is the true definition of punk? Let's consult the experts, shall we?

Patti Smith provided an interesting definition of punk rock in the current issue of New York magazine: "Punk rock is just another word for freedom." That got us thinking about what punk is and was, and how, as with all abstractions, you get to make up your own definition.

As you can see in the above version of her always-incredible cover of The Who's "My Generation," Smith is an authority on this subject. She's not alone, however, so in the interest of getting a second opinion, we've gathered a few words of wisdom from some of her peers.

Mick Jones (the Clash):
"I came into the punk scene because punk stayed with you, it has taught you something. A lot of the other music of the time left you as it found you."

Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi):
"Punk is free space, free from profitability."

Iggy Pop:
"Punk rock is a word used by dilettantes and heartless manipulators about music that takes up the energies, the bodies, the hearts, the souls, the time and the minds of young men who give everything they have to it."

Lester Bangs, rock critic:
"Punk is pointlessness. Punk is ripping up articles like this one. Punk is lacking the energy or interest to bother ripping them up. Punk is reading this article mechanically because there's nothing else to do and words glide by like cinders. Punk is hurling the magazine across the room, dropping your hands into your lap, idly scratching at your dick or clit wondering if you wanna jerk off again, deciding it's not worth the trouble, staring blankly into space."

Kurt Cobain:
"Punk is musical freedom. It's saying, doing and playing what you want. In Webster's terms, 'nirvana' means freedom from pain, suffering and the external world, and that's pretty close to my definition of Punk Rock."

Greg Ginn (Black Flag):
"Punk rock really came out of New York as a philosophy before the groups were ever recorded. I had a kind-of intellectual interest in the idea of creating a new scene that could be a grassroots thing."

The Minutemen:
"Punk rock changed our lives."

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Kiernan Maletsky is Westword's music editor. His writing has appeared in alt-weeklies around the country as well as Miley Cyrus's mom's Twitter feed.
Contact: Kiernan Maletsky