Today's interview is with science teacher and punk philosopher, James Stewart. He claims to be "nobody special." He is a San Francisco area educator with his primary goal being teaching his students to think for themselves. You can read his essay, "On Conformity" in the upcoming anthology, Punk Rock Save My Ass, from Medusa's Muse Press, launching very soon!
How do you personally define punk?
I don’t define Punk, it defines me... Bwahahahah! But seriously, I think of it as a way of looking at life and the world around you with a critical eye and not believing every bullshit-slinging huckster trying to sell you on an idea. It means “Think for yourself.” It means not being afraid to stand apart from the crowd, to dress differently from the sheep or to have a bonafide opinion.
What is NOT punk?
Doing or saying ANYTHING because you think it makes you punk. Fuck what other people think, be yourself. Stand apart from the herd. Let the sheep be sheep.
What punk song/band changed your life, and how?
Sure, I’d like to say that the first time I threw Jealous Again on the turntable it was as if a veil was lifted from my eyes and I saw the world for the first time, but the truth is I had it on the wrong speed and it kinda sounded like a garage-band version of Black Sabbath. (In my defense, it didn’t say it was 45 rpm anywhere on the damned thing!) The truth is every punk band I have ever heard has changed my life in one way or another. There are far too many songs that have made an impression on me to list.
But I sense what you're fishing for here is an early experience that set me on the path to punkness... I remember staying up late to watch Saturday Night Live as a kid (’78/’79 maybe?) and being totally amazed and inspired by DEVO. It was just so weird and SO right. I made my mom buy the Are We Not Men? record for me. I must have listened to that record non-stop for a month straight, full volume as I danced around the room in my underwear and sunglasses, acting like an idiot. I’m surprised she didn’t have me committed. That was probably the moment I knew that Lynard Skynard just were’t gonna cut it anymore.
What has punk taught you about yourself and your life?
That I can think for myself and I don’t have to choke down the bullshit that the talking heads on TV spoon feed the masses. I don’t need heroes and I don’t wanna be nobody’s hero either.
What surprised you about the punk scene?
I was drawn to punk because it was different and I thought it would be accepting of different ideas but in reality it had it’s own dogma just like every other belief system. And that dogma was narrow in scope and very slow to change.
If a person is interested in learning more about punk/DIY, what would you suggest they do?
Stop asking irrelevant old men about a movement that died 20 years ago and read a book. Then go out and start your own movement, truly Do-It-Yourself and stop waiting around for people to tell you it’s okay. Hell, start a new fashion trend by wearing rainbow leg-warmers on your arms and underwear on your head. It’d be a hell of a lot better than heading to Hot Topic and buying a Punk™ outfit and dying your hair blue. Think. For. Yourself.