Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Punk Music and the Software Industry

I used to fancy myself something of a punk.

Back when I was 14 or 15, I tried desperately to get into the Denny's eating, green hair, 7-inch listening counter culture that was the punk scene for me. I went to shows headlined by relatively unknown bands, with names like "Plow United" and "The Orphans". I even went to some shows at the local VFW, impaling myself in the mosh pit on that one jerk who always thought it was a good idea to bash into people while wearing a leather jacket covered in metal spikes.

It never really took though, mostly because of the concept of the "sellout" that is so important to punk identity. I'll admit I'm no expert, but it seemed to me that all one needed to do to be labeled a "sellout" was to actually make enough money to be financially secure for more than the next 3 hours.

For this reason, sometimes great bands would become anathema to the "punk" scene the second they signed a record label and were able to eat more than once a day.

The whole "sellout" concept comes from the punk notion that you must be suspicious of all things corporate. Corporations, it is believed, will try to make a band's sound and message have more mainstream appeal, and once something has mainstream appeal, it effectively ceases to be punk. For this reason, "Green Day" is one of the most hated bands on earth for "real punks". Why? Because Green Day, like most bands, started out as a small time operation, releasing a couple of albums that not that many people purchased. Their popularity spread by word of mouth, the way the God of Punk intended.

And then came the album "Dookie", and it was officially all over. They had signed a big record deal, were on MTV and the radio, and were no longer "punk" in any meaningful way. Trust me: as soon as Rolling Stone magazine declares that you are "revolutionizing punk", you have officially lost all street cred you may have once had with the real punk scene.

What does this have to do with the software industry, you ask? For one, there are parallels between the "hacker" community and the punk community:

1) Distrust of government.
2) Distrust of the corporate universe.
3) Distrust of capitalism in general.
4) An idea of a "sellout" which, when identified, must be reviled and mocked.

Microsoft is like Green Day. People forget that Bill Gates was once a young, Harvard dropout, who got his first job by hacking a corporate computer system. But now, Bill has "sold out" almost completely. Microsoft is seen as the enemy of everything from the open source movement to the average user.

Already, whispers are starting to spread about how Google has started down the path of becoming the next Microsoft. There is even a website, called Google Watch, that monitors "Google's monopoly, algorithm, and privacy practices."

What has changed between then and now? As near as I can tell, Green Day pretty much sounds the same now as they did before (heck, they only average 2 or 3 notes per song anyway). As for Google, they still do some pretty cool stuff (like Gmail) and some stuff that seems a ripoff of already available products (like Google Talk).

The only thing that has really changed for Green Day is the size of their fan base and their wallets. The same is true for Google.


LastBestAngryMan said...

You forgot some very relevant points in your comparison of Green Day and Google.

1. Green Day is a bunch of whining, eye-liner wearing pansies.

2. Google actually performs useful functions and is not, as Green Day seems to be, merely a tragic waste of blood&oxygen.

Note, I'm not some angry punk rocker screaming "sellout" at Green Day. I don't care who they were or what they are now or, really, about punk music in general aside from a few of the big, older bands. I just think Green Day is awfully whiny for a 'punk' band.

chornbe said...

I never understood the whole sellout thing. More precisely, I never really understood the whole "... too commercial for me..." bullshit arguement.

Should I drive a vintage Yugo or LeCar because they're less commercially viable than, say, a Malibu (which I drive now).

Or should I go for the ultimate sell-out mobile and get the low-end BMW? Never mind they're pretty darn nice cars.

I like what I like, piss on the vision and view of others.

The Uber Dude said...

Someone in my department at school did a history research paper (and a rather amusing one) linking modern punk songs to Thomas Paine's pamphleteering. It was fascinating and very well-researched.

I immediately imagined the cover if he'd expanded the paper into a small book: a mosh pit full of guys in revlutionary-style waistcoats and hose with fluorescent mohawks.

Dan Cross said...

You're right that punk equals poor. That's why I aim never to be that unique.