Punk Rock Bowling 2013: Tales of Hedonism and Paranoia in the Drone Age

“You might say that was a paranoid head-set, or that it was based on a cynical view of how domesticated primates behave when they get together in groups to define Truth, but at least the Journalist is upfront with himself and his readers about his own heresies. […] The Journalist was more than half convinced that the only way to publish truth among domesticated primates was to let them think it was satire. ” – Robert Anton Wilson, Right Where You Are Sitting Now, page 70-71

 

Words and photos by Luke Rouda

Hydrocodone does not necessarily make me paranoid, but facing down rows of badges and full body scans can set off more than a few alarms in my own head. Only the brain-damaged could pass through such scrutiny carefree. Never mind the prospect of burning and exploding, that was inevitable in many respects. I was on assignment, but could they grasp that? Would they understand the felonious quantities of prescription drugs on my person and in my baggage? “I’m on assignment, I need to get to Vegas.”

“You are hereby charged with 99 acts of Terrorism, and given your insistence for legal counsel, we are forced to send you off to Cuba until such time as you are considered fit for society.”

But who was I to tangle with the Transportation Security Administration? They are the cream of the crop, professionals in every sense of the word. Over 100 hours of intense training using high-powered x-ray machines and telling people where to stand. A gang of bouncers with the authority to look at your junk, they can spot a beard from across a room, their gloved hands expertly probing for low-hanging fruit. Yessir, nearly 8 Billion American Dollars budgeted for 2013 alone, and think of all the shampoo and toothpaste we’ve saved! Money well spent. Just another spoonful of Government-sponsored alphabet soup helps the medicine go down…

Incredibly, I’d been invited back to Punk Rock Bowling by Dying Scene to cover the Story. They also needed a replacement bowler. No more guerrilla journalism tactics this time around: upgraded accommodations, full credit, credentials locked in, all courtesy of the near limitless resources at DS.

A working vacation, if you will. All natural herbs and supplements left at home, the drugs in hand and head were all “legal”, even though I had no prescriptions for any of them. Plenty of amphetamines in varying dosages to keep me going, then either a selection of painkillers or benzodiazepines for downtime. The big pharma companies have flooded the black-market, and when mixing with VIP, it’s best to have the right drugs. And what’s easier than taking a pill? Feeling off? Feeling down? Swallow this and you’ll be fine.

Or jump into the pit and sweat it out, boys ‘n girls. Hold your head up, don’t wanna catch a stray elbow (or do you?)! The tribes were once again assembling in the desert, God’s land, Sin City, revelations and the tenacity of Life in the face of Death. Cremate your Cares on the bonfire of spinning limbs – many did answer the call. Mohawkspiercingstattoos, a swirling mass of middle finger wielding individuals seeking the right to say “NO!”

Arriving late Friday night, I was once again presented with the cornucopia of music that is PRB. However, as a bowler, I gained entrance to the Country Saloon free of charge, making my decision obvious. We were just in time to catch The Lawrence Arms belt out a drunken set too brief for some, however, what they lacked in longevity, they more than made up for with energy. Security was a bit lax with the pit, but stepped in when they saw stage diving. This stopped none.

Outside in the fray, Fremont street was swept with waves of PRB attendees, knots of Chaos harassing security guards and ruining the shot of some half-drunk camcorder-wielding accountant trying to record a board of multicolored lights- “YEAH, and I’ll break a fucking bottle over his fucking face next time I see him!”

“Going to need to edit that out before showing the wife. Now, time for that BJ across the street…”

Vegas… where dreams and nightmares are made manifest from sand and huge gobs of money. Like all good gangsters will tell you: prohibition, of all types and variety, inevitably proves the fallibility of law. The people will get what they want, and it’s the laws that make criminals out of citizens. Abolish all laws, and you’ll reduce crime to zero—instantly (or your money back)!

But in this sociopathic wilderness of 4-dollar water bottles, there arises the Punk Rock Bowling tournament. The victimless crimes, like prostitution, drug use, and mosh pits, are given more leeway out in the desert, as long as the right handouts are made.

And the handouts for media were quite good indeed: posters, t-shirts, music discs, a propaganda DVD posing as an historical documentary, free drink tickets… not to mention access to VIP bleachers, an industrial strength A/C fan, two dirty couches…

All actions have an equal and opposite reaction, so it would reason to believe that this fifteenth PRB was the reaction to some equal and opposite action, and thus, will in turn spawn its own equal and opposite reaction. Nothing escapes this.

Pussy Riot rots in jail, Edward Snowden confirms our fears, the President talks about the balance of security and freedom of privacy, and a few miles away, another madman with a machine gun sprays down innocents, a star until the clip runs dry…

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Bowling – a sport of rewarding entropy, turning tricks of destruction with a swing of the arm.  We got down to work early Saturday AM by taking the opportunity to not practice at all before the official rolls began, opting for performance-reducing drinks instead.

The competition, to be frank, was quite stiff. This, however, mattered very little. Championship Sunday began at 10 AM sharp and no one on the DS team had any intention of having anything to do with that kind of ungodly time signature. Instead, we took a dive into the gutter- over, and over, and over.

After breaking 100 a few times, an extended visit was paid to professional punk rocker Psycho Mordenson, a dealer of bad ideas and profitable mistakes. His latest project was a pink mohawk cut hastily in the bathroom of the Golden Nugget, so we discussed musical dynamisms over cans of PBR while the dye set. It was soon revealed that Mr. Mordenson had procured a legitimate piece-o-tech to record the weekend’s events: a rugged, action-oriented HD video recorder for extreme sporting. I recommended catching some of the circle pits and crowd surfing. He agreed, and we will eventually, dear reader, extract the blurry, profanity-laced, shit footage into some workable, coherent Story. No promises on delivery.

Don’t shit in the toilet, that’s how the alphabet soup tracks your movements. Shit in a bucket and mail it to your elected representative.

The dirt, gravel, and beer stained cement was filling quickly when we finally made our way onto the festival grounds. The sun was low and the dust funneled skyward as The Briggs wrapped up their set, a Celtic lilt hanging low over the orange landscape.

Wristband on display, I was firmly inserted into the growing milieu of PRB with every intention of redeeming my free alcohol vouchers. Seeing lines of punk rockers waiting to spend their grubby dollars on watered-down domestic beer and overpriced Haitian t-shirts made me think of the Stern Brothers (Youth Brigade, BYO Records, and head honchos behind PRB). What would Horatio Alger have to say about this pair? Had they created what they sought? Was the Youth bettered? In many ways, all in attendance shared in both their success and failure (which was which was anyone’s guess).

That’s the thing about leaderless movements- everyone points different directions, everyone wants something different. It’s a crusade, it’s a lifestyle, it’s just a good time and party. But at this point, it has to mean something, right?

California-native Swingin’ Utters began to play, thrashing out street cynic anthems like Teenage Genocide, taking on the oppression of modern society- as expected. The band, like many at the festival that weekend, is signed to Fat Wreck Chords (the brain-child of NOFX front man Mike Burkett, aka Fat Mike, aka Cokie the Clown, aka a prime example of the bourgeoning bourgeoisie punk. More on that… right now).

Bourgeoisie punk, as I mean it, pertains to a certain level of monetary comfort, privilege, and ownership over the means of production within the punk “culture”. I’d say the Stern Brothers and Brett Gurewitz fall into this category as well. But I digress; I didn’t want to descend into some political deathspiral…

Michael Hastings, a young and ballsy investigative journalist, published “The Runaway General” in the June 2010 issue of Rolling Stone, much to the vexation of his subject. The article examines US Army general Stanley McChrystal who, at the time, was blowing shit up in Afghanistan. A bit of political cup-and-ball played out and McChrystal was relieved of command a few weeks later. Hastings got a Polk Award. Click here to read Hasting’s last op-ed, entitled “Why Democrats Love To Spy On Americans”. His next subject? The CIA. Too bad he was killed in a fiery car wreck last week.

Wikileaks reported that Hastings contacted them hours before his death, saying he was under investigation by the FBI. Witnesses at the scene said they heard what sounded like a bomb go off. There’s even amateur footage of his Mercedes cruising through a red light at high-speed only seconds before the crash. The real question: how much would it take to label Hastings an enemy of the state, a terrorist aiding enemy combatants? How easy would it be to plant a bomb and take control of the vehicle’s electronic throttle, power steering and ABS? How many aerial drones were in the area?

Punk legends The Weirdos made the journey via camel-drawn caravan across the desert dressed as road construction workers. As the moon rose, consumption levels at the festival were starting to manifest: impromptu naps began piling-up along the chain link fence, open trash cans reeked of vomit, and un-slurred speech became the exception to the rule.

Upon examination of those sidelined, I noticed the vantage dumpster (last year’s ideal spot to watch the show). Placed (freely) just outside the fairgrounds and slightly raised over the canvas-covered chain link fence, this refuse collection bin sat in close proximity to vast quantities of regularly prized booze at the local 7-11. Unfortunately, 2013 saw it cleared by a few gun-toting peace officers. Some said it was the shit and piss tossed on the walls, some said it was the broken glass blanketing adjacent city blocks, some said it was a matter national security to prevent the covert transportation of secret packages and devices past the prying eyes of security.

Jesus sucking Satan’s titties! Almost 2K words already, and we’re not even through Day 1! Time to tie a fucking bow on this bitch…

Many considered the choice of Devo for Saturday’s headliner to be, at best, an odd one. The progression from The Damned smashing heads to the synthesizer-laced, LSD flashback-inducing light show of Devo was certainly jarring for this particular reporter. But as the one-way conversation of “devolution” began on stage, it started to make sense.

Technology accelerates at a parabolic rate, creating solutions that create problems that create solutions, building the plane as it’s flown and dragging the passengers along with it. Technology is, unquestionably, a collection of tools. Art, by contrast, is not a tool, but can be turned into one if desired. The same song could be used for self-empowerment, mindless self-indulgent hedonism, political change, glorification of violence, emotional discharge, and yes, even to sell sneakers and lunchboxes. Can you sell an attitude? Absolutely. People sell it to themselves every day. Nothing is sacred, especially not Punk Rock. What does it mean to you?

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It seemed fitting that Bad Religion would headline Sunday’s events. BR’s latest effort (True North) was undoubtedly fueled by the unbelievable facts spewing forth in the news every day. It’s a return to that classic sound that was lost in the last few albums, with song titles like “Past is Dead” and “Fuck You” making intentions clear, despite Greg Graffin’s lyrics reading like an Anthropology textbook:

“Who can say what constitutes the most important sector of society?/ The dominant portion seek an instant gratification/ And are proud of intellectual poverty”

BR has managed to stay relevant for nearly three and a half decades- a remarkable feat by itself. And with 16 albums worth of songs to choose from, they always put on a hell of a show.

Afterwards, the DS staff set its sights on the Fremont Country Club, the chosen venue for Me First & the Gimme Gimmes. Tickets were extremely unavailable, and given my success rate last year in circumventing such problems, our four-member party looked to me for an entrance strategy.

Given the number of loiterers waiting on the periphery and asking about extra tickets, it became immediately apparent that relying on scalpers for this particular show was a Fool’s hope. Therefore, we employed a four-pronged attack:

First, we made some shadowy connection through DS to acquire a wrinkled ticket printout that may or may not have been valid. Second, we got hold of a torn all-access wristband that was sloppily reapplied. Third, we were wearing DS branded t-shirts preaching the infallible credibility of the press. Finally, we had a few spare $20 bills to grease a palm or two.

It was a long shot, but we had to make it work, so we got into position and crossed our collective fingers. A quick prick of adrenaline was felt as we approached the gatekeepers past the doors.

The light was low and the volume was loud, making communication difficult. First the crumpled ticket was scanned. Incredibly, the machine rang affirmative. One down, three to go. Next, my colleague showed the wristband. When probed by the lady with the List, it immediately crumpled onto the ground. She was obviously not amused, but we insisted that we were indeed supposed to be there and in the chaos two in our company slipped past security.  Three in and I’m stuck holding the lousy bag of tricks.

As the line of legitimate ticket holders behind us grew impatient, the List without our names became shorter and the money in my hand began to sweat. Suddenly, someone behind us said, “They’re fine, let them in.” I have no idea whether they were referring to me, but acting on instinct, I breezed past the List and dove head first into the anonymity of the crowd. Bribery money was quickly dispensed on celebratory shots.

Yes, readership, many prominent members of the DS staff knowingly hoaxed the Fremont Country Club for one lousy Gimmes show. Names will not be disclosed at this time.

The Country Club was overflowing, quite obviously overcapacity. The atmosphere was sticky and ferociously hot, so I took to the wall by the back door for a quick rest.

It was at that moment that a huge lizard slipped down next to me. She plopped down in a draft of condescension and complained incessantly about how her talon-adorned feet did not fit the shoes she wore. Thank God for the photo pit, where I managed to escape, offering my camera as credentials. Without it, I surely would have been ripped to shreds.

Check out the full Gimmes set here.

When all credibility is lost, the citizens must police themselves, chunking off from those who still have faith in those ruling them from above.

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Monday came as the climax of the weekend, with headliner Flag featuring several original members of the matchless hardcore originators Black Flag. As the inimitable Keith Morris swung his dreadlocks and yelled his face into a bulging muscle mass, the crowd responded with every ounce of reserve energy left available. The front row was smothered into oblivion, crowd surfers fell down like Amazonian precipitation, and three wide pits opened up for the violence. Security forces looked nervous as classics like “Police Story” reached out for miles in the surrounding darkness. There was fucking in the streets and a small riot broke out across the barriers. The force was self-serving, though, and only consumed it’s own.

After the inevitable encore, it was back to Fremont and the Country Saloon where Uke Hunt was warming things up for Punk Rock Karaoke. Going from Flag to Uke Hunt was just as jarring as going from The Damned to Devo, but ten times weirder. Here were the same people who were just crushing face in the pit swaying to a ukulele and tambourine.

The NBA won’t let you take free throws, Formula 1 won’t let you take the wheel, but Punk Rock Karaoke will hand you a microphone and put you out on center stage, regardless of talent or mental state. This is truly all-access: backed by pro-punk musicians (NOFX, Adolescents, Social Distortion), the songs are surefire killers (California Über Alles, Hey Ho, Let’s Go, etc.), and you’ll be in control the instigator of a swirling circle pit, complete with pit keepers and drunken brawlers. Pecking order is no longer vertical, but spread flat. This is the puddle where we all swim, double-doses of bleach and ethanol stuck in the whirlpool.

Punk rock is an art form born of necessity, an idea that spawned a culture, an equal and opposite reaction to repression, both perceived and real. Use it as a tool, use it for what you need. Want entertainment? There’s nothing more entertaining than Chaos-incarnate. Want to sell t-shirts? Go right ahead, I won’t pay for one. Want an escape from the false choice between poverty and monotony? Here it is: have faith in the strength of an idea, rely on your own vision to guide you, and the Truth will be bare, plain as day.

Until next time,

LR


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