Malwina Chabocka – Art & Design
Malwina Chabocka – Art & Design

Punk in a cardie

Date : Thursday 02 May, 2019
“A ‘pretty’ drawing for you”, a page from one of Żyleta’s letters

When I was fifteen and listened to all sorts of weird bands whose CDs were unobtainable in local record stores and the only way to get them was by hunting them down in London upon visiting my aunt, I once saw a rather intriguing classified ad in Brum, a rock magazine “for young bandits”, as one journalist called it. The girl who posted the ad was looking for people who listened to Blind Melon, a band I had discovered thanks to some nocturnal television documentary on Led Zeppelin which I taped one night (yes, I took great pride in my ability to programme the tape recorder). I replied to the ad and thus began a few year long correspondence with the mysterious girl. We never actually met in real life, and I didn’t even know her full name but this pen-friendship meant a lot to me. Her nickname was Żyleta (Razorblade) and she was a punk. On stained and smoke-permeated paper, she drew cartoon-style portraits of herself and her friends and described her life as an outcast in Słupsk, a town I imagine being pretty grim in the 90s before Robert Biedroń pumped life into it after he became its president in 2014. Żyleta was absolutely fascinating. As a polished middle-class kid whose biggest crime was smoking cigarettes at a balcony when my parents weren’t in, I found her descriptions of skipping school, disappearing from home, going to music festivals, taking drugs and hanging out with all the other local punks absolutely fascinating. It was like she was playing out the character I really wanted to be but never had the courage. I did skip school as well but my parents were so annoyingly compliant and easy-going that there was no element of rebellion in it. They trusted me so if I told them that I’d rather study French instead of sitting through a hideously boring geography lesson, they wouldn’t mind. Besides, my naughtiness was nothing in comparison to Żyleta’s who, as I could gather from her letters, didn’t actually have an easy home. Her urge to escape wasn’t the result of teenage boredom and willingness to be outrageous to piss people off, she actually struggled in many ways and didn’t have much understanding neither at home nor school. I can’t remember why and how our correspondence ended, but I will never forget this girl, whose letters I’d await with such impatience. Now, in the world of the immediacy of communication and information being so widely obtainable, most of our interactions come easily but are equally easily forgotten. We exchange numbers and never interact again. We collect profiles but don’t know anything about most of the people in our Facebook friends list. With Żyleta, all I had was a postal address and the willingness on both parts to share our lives on a regular basis for a few years.

I didn’t actually listen to a whole lot of punk music and besides the DM boots and some bizarre second-hand shop finds, I didn’t dress in any particularly subversive way. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t identify with any subculture and take comfort — so needed when you’re an insecure adolescent — in belonging to a tribe. I was a rebel at heart but my lack of appropriate attire and courage to stick a middle finger at school and sit in a park with a bottle of wine made it impossible for me to be a real punk. At least that’s what I thought.

I did admire people like Żyleta but I was also aware that many of them would grow out of their teenage rebellion and turn into the adults they despised so much. They’d cut their long hair and swap DM boots for shiny derby shoes, The Exploited T-shirt for a white collar shirt. This was probably one of the biggest fears among my 15 year-old pals — giving in to the society obligations, playing by the rules, selling the soul together with the guitar. But, like I said, I didn’t even consider myself a “proper” rebel, just an angry introverted weirdo who wanted to do her own thing.

And it wasn’t until recently that I revisited those teenage notions of adult life. As I was talking to my 15-year old nephew one evening, I realised that, for better or worse, I did actually manage to avoid the fate which the 15 year-old me feared so much: I’m still the same rebel. I’ve traded security and status for uncertainty; comfort for growth. And while this definitely isn’t an easy path, I’m aware that it is my choice. For anyone who doesn’t fit into the society-sanctioned lifestyle (monthly payroll, mortgage, pension plan, car, marriage, kids, holidays abroad, weekend trips to Ikea, you name it), it’s easy to forget that this “grown-up” life usually comes with a price. This might mean saying goodbye to past dreams, working for people you don’t respect or who don’t respect you, keeping up with the Joneses, settling for a partner that is “good on paper” but not necessarily right. The important thing is to remember that there are no ideal scenarios and to accept the price of whatever choice we make, without bitterness and frustration.

I think that my teenage self would have been proud of me for continuing to walk the alternative path I chose. The clothes have changed — my boots are heeled and fitted cardies have replaced oversized jumpers, but I still love the same noisy music and, most important, I’m faithful towards my sense of freedom and independence. And isn’t that what punk is about?

Cover photo by Loz Pycock via Flickr (under CC licence)

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