An Interview with James Merendino

How do you see your own period as a punk?

After the sixties, it just seemed that there was all this fantasy music, disco and such, which wasn't making any kind of sociological observations. It was if the baby boomers were saying, 'O.K., the world's a peachy-keen place now." And it wasn't. There will still wars and people starving and other insanities, and the music seemed to me to be like an announcement of their failure to change the world.

When I started getting into punk, the musical environment at the time was pretty grim. All the football players and popular kids were into, you know, Rush, Journey, Foreigner and all this hair rock. When I went through my rebellion, I cut my hair military-short because all the popular guys had longish hair at the time. Looking at it now, I seem like a model, clean-cut student. At the time, though, I almost got expelled for it, and certainly got my ass kicked a few times.

Was your period of rebellion like Stevo's?

Not really. Instead of staying in town and annoying the locals, I moved to Rome and got very political. I was heavily involved with the Palestinian conflict, and was very into the situation in South Africa. Our two rebellions are still similar in the end, however. It's just a time that we all go through, in one way or another.

Why is that?

It's just in our nature. When we break away from our parents, we need to set ourselves apart in a very extreme way. The only way to really separate yourself from your family is to carve out a new identity in capital letters. Anything less just doesn't sever the ties as completely as we need them to at the time.

What impact do you feel this has on our society?

It changes things and pushes a society foreword. All those radical, reactive ideas may fall to the wayside as a generation grows up, but the essence carries over and reshapes the world, until the next generation comes along. I think you find a lot of anti-hypocrisy in today's youth, as a reaction to former radicals who've abandoned their ideals to work within the system.

Where do you see current youth in rebellion?

Well, parents are afraid of their kids now as much as they ever were. The kids today seem more culturally aware and at the same time more cynical and passive in their rebellion than we have seen in the past. That's what happens, I guess, when rock infiltrates the middle-class. The kids have to try something new, and in this case it's almost anti-rock. There is all of this hip-hop and hip-hop influenced music that combines a lot of different styles into something wholly new.

Which is alarming to parents...

Oh, sure. Parents see their kids dressed up in this scary inner city garb and they tend to freak out, which is the whole point as far as the kids are concerned. Of course, there are a lot of kids involved with guns and drugs, but the vast majority of kids, especially suburban kids, who dress up in rap gear are just doing it for the scare value, which has always been a lot of fun.

So, as the film discusses, they're poseurs...

There really is no such thing as a poseur, and at the same time, that's all there is. We're all poseurs in that we're all full of it, in one way or another. The something that we are is, for the most part, the something we're pretending to be. We all have to pretend a little to be ourselves and when we move on and become something else, we tend to look back and laugh at how phony we were. The trick, I think is to never take yourself too seriously and always look at who you are with a sense of irony. I think kids today are especially good at that.

They're no different than your Salt Lake City Punks?

I wouldn't say that. They seem to be under a lot more pressure from the establishment. In my neighborhood they have all of these outlandish curfews that they put on kids. If one is outside after 8:00pm, the cops can pick him up, even if he's on his way home from a job. It's ridiculous. And it's the same hippie reactionaries that are behind it all! With that kind of oppression, you're just begging for the kids to rebel back at you. And the kids that do are probably going to be the same ones making the rules 20 years from now. If anything else, it should be interesting.

     "Another thing that pissed me off, talkin' about who started punk rock music. Was it Sex Pistols in England? Was it the Ramones in the Velvet Underground in New York? 'It was the Ramones!' 'It was the Sex Pistols!' Raahh! Who cares who started it?! It's music. I don't know who started it, and I don't give a ****.

The one thing I do know is that we did it harder, we did it faster, and we definitely did it with more love, baby. You can't take that away from us."