By Jack Pennington
I think I was twenty four when I finally sold the last of my punk albums back to Ed McKay for rent money. I had been holding on to the same copy of Nevermind the Bollocks for over a decade at that point, but probably hadn’t listened to it in four or five years. When I was fifteen, I was mad at the world, mostly because I was fifteen and didn’t really understand the world. Like many misled teens, I needed an outlet for that rage. I needed somebody who understood the hypocrisy of the adult world, somebody who would tell it like it is. This was an era of my life that I definitely overused the word “sheeple”.
But by your mid twenties, you realize you actually need the world to get along. You realize how complicated adult life is, that what looked like hypocrisy from my teen years is actually a complex balancing act. I thought I no longer needed punk. Well, I needed rent money more at that point, in any case.
I tell you that story to tell you this story: The story of three old men. Or maybe, “men of a certain age”, who gathered under The Big Ass Fan at The Garage to redefine my understanding of the ideology of punk rock.
Drat The Luck is a Winston-Salem based punk rock trio. At first glance, not a single one of these guys looks to belong to the same band.
Tory Walker, the drummer, sports a Carhartt jacket and ball cap. He looks like he’d be more at home at a truckstop than a rock club.
Scott Andree Bowen, bassist, lead vocalist, and songwriter, is wearing an honest to god cardigan sweater and big nerdy glasses. He looks like he’s dressed less to rock out, and more to teach social studies. Which is appropriate, considering his day job as a school teacher.
This isn’t a band full of your typical punks.
That is, with the exception of frontman and founder, Brian Michael Leary. Brian plays guitar and shares lead vocals and songwriting duties with Scott. The wallet chain, the Chuck Taylors, and the obligatory studded jacket with the words “DRAT THE LUCK” embroidered on the back, all add up to the quintessential punk rock wardrobe.
But the point of each man’s clothing is the same. Punk is about music, and it’s about attitude. It’s about wearing what you want, not wearing a uniform. The mismatch of clothing on stage is just the first sign that these guys have stopped caring what people think about them. And their wardrobe is the last thing they’ll change to prove a damn thing to anybody. Each man dresses true to himself on stage. Nobody wears a costume to play in Drat The Luck. Authenticity is the name of the game.
One look at Brian, and you can tell, he’ll be buried in that damn studded jacket.
“The crowd runs the gamut, but there are definitely some older fans out there. After all, we are the ‘old guy punk band’,” Brian tells me, talking about Drat The Luck fans.
It’s true, the typical Drat The Luck crowd features faces that have never been punched in a mosh pit, belts that have never been studded, and stiff, starched collars that have never seen dog tags. Have you ever accidentally run into your father at a show? Me neither. But at a Drat concert, it just might happen.
The interesting thing about Drat fans is their absolute ignorance of punk attitudes and punk rock music. Drat The Luck isn’t pulling old school punkers out of cryogenic sleep. Nobody is re-living their teen years through Drat’s music. Rather, poor unfortunate souls who never had the pleasure of growing up with London Calling or even Dookie, are having their eyes and minds opened to the singular joy that is punk.
“The older crowd that comes out, who have maybe never seen a punk show, end up really liking the music. They’ve never heard stuff like that! And they realize, ‘Oh, shit. I’ve been going to cover band shows my entire life, hearing 60 million versions of fuckin’ Simple Man and Mustang Sally, and now I’m hearing something different’, and guess what? They fuckin’ like it. So then they come back.”
Brian has positioned himself as a messiah of sorts, a man with a mission to spread his personal gospel to an unenlightened society. He’s just a messiah with more metal studs, who smokes a lot, and makes liberal use of the word “fuck”.
“We’re creating our own scene. We’re creating an old guy punk rock scene”
Punk, not surprisingly, has long been considered a young man’s sport. On it’s face, punk rock is all about eschewing the status quo, raging against society, and indulging in every gripe your teenaged mind can imagine. It’s not the rallying cry of the 43 year old man with car payments, children, and mortgages to manage day to day. While the guys in Drat The Luck all have healthy rebellious streaks, the attraction to punk rock for them starts at a more base level.
“If I could only listen to one kind of music for the rest of my life, it would definitely be punk rock”
I’ve heard Brian’s musical philosophy a thousand times, “Catchy Wins The Day”. For Drat The Luck, the focus is always on making music that’s simple enough to hook right away, yet strong enough to hold on for a lifetime.
“No matter how shitty of a mood I’m in, if I hear the song Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and The Waves, it will make me feel tingly inside. It’s catchy and it’s simple…You’re always in the mood for something catchy.”
Nobody knew this principle better than the godfather of rock and roll, Buddy Holly (a major influence on Drat The Luck). Holly didn’t need more than three chords to reach his audience. Simple, catchy riffs combined with straightforward, meaningful lyrics. You can’t reach an audience by playing over their heads.
And after Holly came the rise of genre based music. Psychedelic rock, progressive rock, and heavy metal all emerged in the 60’s and 70’s, dividing rock and roll’s fan base along niche preferences. Basic chords evolved into experimental instrumentation and blistering guitar solos. People started going to concerts to be “impressed” by musicians, not just connected to them.
The Ramones brought rock and roll back to its three chord roots, in an era when bands like Rush and Foreigner had elevated the complexity of rock music to a point practically unattainable by the average garage band. They put the power of rock, of music itself, back in the hands of young people, even untalented people, and opened the conversation up to artists of all kinds.
The doors were finally open to say whatever you wanted in music. You didn’t have to be impressive. You just needed something to talk about, and three chords. This basic mechanic laid the groundwork for the “Fuck Authority” manifesto that has defined punk rock for so many years. While some have misread the fine print along the way, the core of punk values has remained the same since the beginning. Brian explains:
“The old school punk value to me is doing whatever you want and not caring what anybody thinks. That doesn’t mean you have to do something illegal or be a junkie. Admitting that I like Katrina and the Waves is just as punk rock as saying I love The Clash.”
Later that night, an intimate crowd is gathered tightly around the stage at The Garage as Drat The Luck plugs in and fires right into their song, “She’s an Addict”. Without much warning, we’re pleasantly assaulted by the thunderous waves of Drat’s singular punk rock style.
I know most of the older crowd here tonight is being opened up to punk for the first time, but for me, Drat brings me back in time more than a decade and a half. To an era of monster movies, skate park shows, and music defined by power and blast beats. Before I know it, I’m moved by an undeniable desire to mosh my ass off, to punch a stranger in the face, all in the name of punk rock.
I can’t help myself. Before I know it, I’m up against the rail, close enough to be behind the PAs, hearing most of the music through the band’s monitors. I think I got some Leary sweat in my mouth. That’s okay though. Worth it.
If Mike Ness was dead, his ghost would have awoken that night to walk on stage and give Brian a high five.
This is a brand of punk rock you’ve never heard. Because this is what punk would have sounded like if its forefathers had survived the threshold of adulthood. The benefit of age is present in every note, in the obvious skill of this band’s musicianship. Imagine a Sid Vicious who had survived his own self-destructive angst. Imagine a Johnny Rotten who never sold out. Imagine if punk didn’t grow up and get a day job. Imagine a punk rock that grew up to be…punks.
“We’re doing it because it makes us feel good, and we’re hoping it makes other people feel good, but we’re definitely not trying to impress anyone. We’re just doing what makes us feel good”
Brian takes a thoughtful drag on his cigarette, musing on the implication of age and punk rock after the show. I thumb through my phone, looking up Nevermind the Bollocks on Google Music.
“If I can do this when I’m 60, I’ll do it. Fuck yeah, it’s what I want to do! I’m sure the Rolling Stones, when they were 24, didn’t think when they were 70 they’d be playing shows. But they are.”
“Lemmy [Kilmeister, of Motorhead] played shows until the day he died. And did he ever not ‘look right’ up there? I don’t think so. You know why? Because he felt right up there. That’s the important thing. You know what I’m saying?”