Getting a definition of punk rock is about as hard as getting a definition of postmodernism; that is to say it’s pretty much impossible. Here’s mine, and I think it’s pretty good. Punk rock was the bastard son and daughter of the bloated, boring, uninspired, and unimaginative music world that was the late 1960’s. Punk was never, nor is it now, a reaction to something. Instead, punk was and is an attempt to solve a problem or answer a question. It was and is universal in the same way that problems and answers tend to universal for people; we all experience a feeling of not knowing or understanding, and we all look for answers so that we believe that we do know or understand. For example, punk rock in Russia and Thailand are both demanding change within their respective governments. They believe that they are living under a bunch of rules that make no sense, and the rules are in place to bolster and protect a small and powerful group of people. The bands from these countries aren’t complaining about how bad everything is (well, they are, they just do a little more), they are suggesting ways that things could change. Some of these ideas probably aren’t very good, yet they still qualify as an idea, which is more than just a reaction. As Ian McKay of Minor Threat once asked, “At least I’m trying, what the fuck have you done?”
Punk rock involves a lot more than politics or social change. It involves the entirety of the human condition; from absurd and funny to dark and despondent. Some punks are devoted nihilists (destroyers of the status quo), others are devoted to changing oneself rather than all of the stuff “out there”. Some punks are shock and awe with their big fin mohawks, combat boots or Doc Martens, and thrashed leather jackets. Some punks are quietly subverting that which is stupid while wearing the uniform of the corporate automaton (machine). Some are old, while others are still in elementary school. Some are dead, yet their legacy thrives through other people’s music or their ideas have been integrated into mainstream culture (think of how many people you know or have seen who have dyed their hair a color nature never intended). Some punks have a religious tradition, while others are naturalists (that’s code for atheist).
Punk rock has been equated with the role of the sacred clown, which is a cultural “snapshot” of the present. A sacred clown represents polarity, ambiguity, change, commentary on human absurdities, violation of taboo, reflectiveness, symbolic inversion, liminality (something that represents both sides of an idea or belief), and filth and purification.
The main function of a sacred clown is to hurt the feelings of those who have power by reminding those in power that they screw things up just as everyone else does. It also acts as a reminder to those who have no authority that power has the potential to corrupt if not balanced with other forces, namely with humor. While a little confusing, a sacred clown cannot be a vocation, or something one does intentionally with the expectation that that they will get something in return. They’re not comedians, villains, or protectors, though they can be one or all of these. They are more like little kids who haven’t yet learned that it’s rude to be honest with other people about other people (i.e., telling an adult that there is something in their nose or that they smell weird). They poke holes in things that people take too seriously. Through acts of blatant disrespect, sacred clowns generate scenarios where people will have differences of opinion born from their own Crazy Wisdom (the truth you have created for yourself about yourself), from which anxiety can die and be reborn into laughter. Sacred seriousness becomes sacred anxiety which then becomes sacred laughter.
If the courageous behavior of the sacred clown were to stop, only the overly-serious, prescribed state of cultural conditioning would exist. We might want to avoid getting stuck or stagnant and, instead, we might want to move toward being someone who has the power to perpetually overcome ourselves. The sacred clown has this power. Christ was a sacred clown, mocking the orthodoxy. Buddha was a sacred clown, mocking ego attachment. Even Gandhi was a sacred clown, mocking money and power. Based on the rules of logic, Jesus, the Buddha and Gandhi were all punk rock. Based on the rules of logic, so is psychology.