too old and too black for punk?

June 16, 2010
When most people think about punk rock, images of sweaty thin white boys instantly come to mind- holding stead fast to the idea that punk music is reserved for the privileged white youth that exude bottled rage in the form of guitars, drums, mosh pits, drugs, piercings, and cheap alcohol.

Too old and too black for punk?
But what happens when you’re old and black and are thirsty for an alternative punk audience to appreciate your music? As difficult as it is for younger black alternative bands to break through the punk rock scene, will older black rock musicians, who have built their career on their empowering lyrical content, true instrumentation, and a D.I.Y. model ever appeal to the iPod generation of black youth?

Or will their legacy live on solely through their majority white dedicated underground fans?

Take for example, black punk/ska band, Fishbone, who have been playing together for 31 years, and have maintained very little commercial success in the American music circuit, yet have been attributed for influencing mainstream bands such as No Doubt and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. When lead singer and frontman, Angelo Moore, was asked why he thinks his band never made commercial success, he said, “How come we’re playing all of this great music and intricate arrangements, singing about everything under the sun, and people want to throw you chicken change? If you singing about your pussy or dick to keep you in the nigga zone, they’ll just throw you money to keep you there and make it glorified.” Because the band has run into a number of financial pitfalls, Angelo has even started other start-up ventures such as a comic book collection which he promotes abroad to stay afloat.

Old School Fishbone

New School Fishbone

Another black alternative band, Bad Brains, who have been playing together for more than 30 years and are known for being one of the pioneers of hardcore punk music, has also seen little commercial success. Their self-titled debut album was released on Neil Cooper’s ROIR Records on “cassette only” in January 1982, followed in 1983 by Rock for Light, produced by Ric Ocasek of The Cars. These two albums, containing hardcore punk and mellow reggae, were staples in the punk circuit, influencing an entire generation of musicians, including Beastie Boys, Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 311, Living Colour, Sublime, Deftones and more.

Yet with all of their influences to major alternative bands, little is known on the black mainstream music circuit about this punk/reggae band. This summer, Bad Brains will be a featured band at the 2010 Afro-punk festival at Brooklyn’s Commodore Park, the largest outlet for black people who enjoy alternative music, but outside of the Afro-punk arena, it is unlikely to find an all black music venue who will book, promote or headline their act.

Old school Bad Brains

New School Bad Brains

Old school black punk band, Living Colour, have been together for the last 27 years and won a Grammy back in 1989 for their highest charting single, “Type,” but have still yet to gain any chart topping success or recognition in the black entertainment media. Founder of Living Colour, Vernon Reid, also started The Black Rock Coalition 25 years ago to unite black rock artists and highlight older black rock bands, yet, even that organization has struggled to build membership popularity and financial stability.

Old school Living Colour

New School Living Colour

Will legendary black rock bands ever hit mainstream success or gain the attention of a younger black audience? Who knows, but for now, let’s just enjoy their music.