Top 10 Old Punks

Tragically, middle age has come and roosted on my front porch.  Can’t drink milk, for lactose intolerance has crippled my digestive system and I can’t run because fatness has strained my once athletic legs.   Time on the weekends is used to mow the lawn and to fix the household appliances.  And when the precious time off does come, vacations are spent wondering why it’s so hot, or cold, depending on the season.  But as my co-workers begin to ask when it’s time to for me to start listening to the contemporary sounds of bland country music (yeah I said it, real country music died with Johnny Cash), I use every ounce of my energy to scream back at them “NEVER.”  So with that said, I give you the category where the musicians may look old, but they continue to thumb their noses at the musical establishment.

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10. Chuck D

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The lead rapper of the group Public Enemy has never been in a punk band, but no one embodies the spirit of punk better than Chuck D.  Despite penning one of the greatest rap albums in history, 1990’s Fear of a Black Planet, Chuck D never rested, collaborating with artists as varied as, but not limited to, Meatloaf, Dillinger Escape Plan, Rage Against the Machine, Anthrax, Sonic Youth, and LL Cool J.  All the while keeping his primary band afloat using technologies that allowed his band to operate outside of the parameters of the established music template.  12 studio albums in, the last in 2012, Chuck D still remains politically active with hosting a show on the defunct Air America Radio Network on his resume.

9. Jello Biafra

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Former front man of the Dead Kennedys and head of the Alternative Tentacles record label, Biafra and the Kennedys made some of the most important punk music during their 1978 to 1986 run.  Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980), In God We Trust, Inc. (1981), and Plastic Surgery Disasters (1982), are 3 pillars of American Punk.  As internal tensions worked to break the band up from within, external tensions, including charges of distribution of harmful matter to the youth of American, worked to destroy the band from the outside.  Jello Biafra’s voice would not be silenced.  Over the next 25 years, Biafra released over a half dozen scathing spoken word albums and collaborated with bands as diverse as Ministry, D.O.A, and the Melvins.  Releasing projects nearly every year since the Dead Kennedys breakup, his current musical endeavor, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine is currently on tour in Europe and has released 5 albums since 2009.

8. Sonic Youth

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One of primary staples of college radio in the 80’s and 90’s, they never really went away. Releasing 15 albums between 1983 and 2009, they always seemed relevant, with the crackling sound of the underground on their side.  Smoothly sliding between the anarchy of punk and the undercurrents of alternative music, they never broke into the mainstream despite the stellar reviews of their music.  Then in 2011, the band went on hiatus, not because of drugs, not because of money, and not because they gave up, but because of an altogether more down to earth reason, the separation of their primary songwriters Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore.

7. Nomeansno

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Vancouver area punks that started out in 1979 and made some great, but crude, punk music.  It took about 10 years to find their sound, but by that time they had churned out their most well-received albums Wrong (1989) and 0+2=1 (1991).  Nomeansno then lost their co-lead singer, Andy Kerr, and continued on as a duo.  After a few years, they recruited the more than capable Tom Hollister from the punk outfit Showbusiness Giants and then continued to churn out album after album for 20 years.  The trio tours almost yearly, including a nearly 175 date tour to support 2006’s energetic effort,  All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt.  Rob and John Wright are both in their fifties (and look much older, sorry) but are the poster boys for showing that the term old punks is not an oxymoron.

6. Mike Muir

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Skate-punk pioneer Mike Muir started his most famous band, Suicidal Tendencies, back in1981 and quickly scored the cult MTV hit Institutionalized.  The most hardcore punk on the list, Muir also formed the more melodic side project the Infectious Grooves and his own solo project Cyco Mike.  Suicidal Tendencies ninth effort, 13, was released in 2013.   Though not as edgy as earlier recordings, the last thing I need in my life is a fifty-something Muir coming to my house with his Mohawk sticking out of his bandana and bashing my head into the sidewalk, so he’s on the list.  (All good punk music should have at least a small element of danger.)

5. Bad Religion

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Formed in 1979, Bad Religion struggled to even be a band, with constant lineup changes and a rotating door in the rhythm section.  Then about 1988, the band found their footing with the release of Suffer.  As the band solidified, near constant touring brought the collective together and 13 albums later, including 2013’s True North, Bad Religion is one of the top selling punk bands of all time.  College radio favorites across multiple decades, the band produced memorable crossover hits such as 21st Century Digital Boy, Infected, and Sorrow.

4. Bob Mould

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Former lead singer of the seminal punk band Husker Du, Mould has never stopped making music.  When Husker Du blew up, he formed the alt-rock collective Sugar.  As Sugar waned, Mould started up his own solo project.  With 9 solo albums under his belt, Mould’s latest single, 2012’s The Descent, rocks like it was recorded in 1989, despite the fact that Mould now looks like the head of a company’s Information Technology Department.  Since coming out as openly gay in the 90’s, Mould’s agenda also now includes performing to forward the cause of the legalization gay marriage.

3. Mike Patton

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Unbeknown to most, Mike Patton started out, fresh from high school, in the noise punk band Mr. Bungle.  Fairly well known in the Bay Area, but nowhere else, up and comers Faith No More plucked Patton from obscurity in 1988 and made him a household name.  Patton was clearly the star of Faith No More’s Epic video, well, him and the flopping fish.  Faith No More went on to become one of the most famous bands to come out of the early 90’s alternative movement.  But Patton was never content to be in only one band.  He continued to perform with Mr. Bungle (until 2001), as well as a slew of other bands across multiple genres, including the Fantomas, Peeping Tom, and Tomahawk.  On top of a near constant musical workload, Patton is one of the co-founders of the music label Ipecac Recordings.  With a business model of one album contracts and low overhead, even Patton’s business sense operates within the parameters of punk’s no nonsense, do-it-yourself mentality.

2. Iggy Pop & Mike Watt

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Iggy Pop burst onto the scene as the lead singer of Iggy and the Stooges in 1967, the band that was punk before punk.  The Stooges tore up Michigan in near obscurity while releasing 3 classic albums of mayhem, The Stooges (1969), Fun House (1970), and Raw Power (1973).  Drugs caused the band to disintegrate, but Iggy, being a rock warrior, soldiered on.  As he fought addiction and eventually institutionalized himself, he continued to record cutting edge (literally) music nearly every other year.  After his 14th solo effort, Skull Ring, a funny thing happened to history, as Iggy reunited with the Stooges.  Problem is, Pop was near 60 (now near 70), and has burned through 2 (now 3) dead bass players.

Who better to recruit on bass than punk legend Mike Watt?  As a founding member of the Minutemen in 1980, the band recorded 4 definitive punk classics before the untimely death of their lead singer D. Boon.  Mike Watt went on to form fIREHOSE and released a few solo projects, even continuing to collaborate with George Hurley of the Minutemen on a few occasions.  In 2003, Iggy Pop recruited Watt to be his bass player in the Stooges as they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 and released Ready to Die in 2013.

1. Melvins

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With over 20 albums in their discography, including 2013’s Everybody Loves Sausages, the lead singer of the Melvins is known more for introducing Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic to Dave Grohl, essentially forming Nirvana, than for any single that you hear on the radio.  Which is fine, because when you’re the Melvins, you defy labels and move in your own direction.  After forming in 1983, the Melvins have been placed in the punk genre, but have also been called sludge rock, grunge, doom, hardcore, and experimental.  Even the dynamic of the band is free flowing, with Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover as the primary constants, for sometimes the band is a trio, sometimes a four piece, sometimes one drummer, sometimes two drummers.  Persistence also rewarded the band in a quirky way, for it took 26 years, and 19 albums to break into Billboard’s Top 200 Album chart.  The Bride Screamed Murder landed at #200 in 2010 to accomplish the feat.

4 Responses

  1. martin at |

    awww man! no fat mike?

    Reply
  2. ParusMajor at |

    What about Murder Junkies? GG Allin died way back, granted, but his brother Merle Allin and the other guys are still punkin’ :D

    Reply
  3. jayo at |

    I disagree with this list. To me, punk has always been anti-authoritarian but half of the people on this list are not known for political engagement of any kind. I agree on Jello Biafra and Bad Religion, but Mike Patton? Mike Muir? Never heard of them. I would list MC5, MDC, Crass, Propaghandi or Refused instead.

    Reply
  4. zman420 at |

    Where’s Henry Rollins, Glen Danzig, Keith Morris, Joe Shithead, or the Dayglo Abortions? I’d put those in before Chuck D, Mike Patton, Mike Muir, The Melvins, or Sonic Youth. Chuck D is a rapper, Mike Patton plays alternative metal, Suicidal Tendencies haven’t been a punk band in 31 years (switched to thrash metal and funk metal after their first album), and Sonic Youth and The Melvins are best described as grunge/alternative rock.

    Reply

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