Please read first: This Is A Punk Show Not A War
I went back to Death House last night. It started as a joke. My friends were playing a show there and I was wondering if I should go. I said, “It’d be funny if I showed up and read This Is A Punk Show Not A War.” We laughed about it, but really, who was stopping me? My friends talked about it together and invited me to open the show. I’d written the piece about the night I was kicked out of that space, along with a group of friends. We were “too violent,” they said. We stood up to the macho bros in the mosh pit and they didn’t like it. It happens that these macho bros run the space.
I wasn’t sure if they’d remember me. It’s been nearly two years, they’ve thrown countless shows and downed countless drinks and my face had surely become a blur in their memories. I look like a lotta white punks with colourful hair and tattoos, right? I could be anyone. So I showed up early with a black cherry soda in my hand a copy of my zine in my back pocket. I talked to a few friends and they asked if I was nervous. “No, I’m just antsy. I wanna get up and do it and see what happens.”
That’s the thing, I had friends there, so many friends. I was surprised to see how many people had shown up to support me. I’d told a few people about the reading, but didn’t really go out of my way to invite anyone, because Death House is not a space that I feel particularly comfortable or safe in, so I can hardly expect that of anyone else.
La Riposte set up and did a quick soundcheck and then we were ready to go. It was just about ten-thirty. The plan was for me to read and then they would play immediately after, just make a ton of noise (and I’d either stick around to see them and take up space at the front, or get the fuck out, depending on how things went). I got onstage and put my soda down next to my feet, adjusted the mic stand. “Hi, everyone. My name is Amber Dearest and I’m gonna do a quick reading and then La Riposte is gonna play. This is called This Is A Punk Show Not A War.”
The two dudes (“the two big dudes, the two big dudes who’d spent the whole night at the front pushing everyone else outta their way and taking up so much space…”) were both there, running the bar (it’s a tiny space, we were like twelve feet apart). They started saying things like, “What the fuck is this shit?” and there was one girl I didn’t know making womp-womp-womp Charlie Brown teacher noises, like I wasn’t saying anything interesting. But it didn’t matter because I had the mic and was louder than everyone else, and my friends kept cheering me on. I was reading with a huge smile on my face, and being continuously heckled by only three people. It was really hilarious reading the parts with descriptions of the dudes, because they were right there. Finally I got to the “and we were banned from Death House” and there was a whole bunch of laughter and cheers. The heckling got louder too, and someone yelled, “Punch her in the face!” When I got to the line, “They were such cliché drunkpunks,” they finally cut the mic. So I yelled the rest of the reading. My smile was gone. I was so loud, yelling over everyone’s voices. And it felt so exhilarating-affirming-powerful-truthful to be screaming the line “I’m-a-big-dude-and-I’m-gonna-talk-over-you-now” and the parts about them calling us bitches and cunts WHILE THEY WERE ACTUALLY DOING IT. When I got to the line, “You’re boring, you’re so fucking boring!” there were other people saying it with me, like we were all singing along together, except we were shouting it in the faces of those dudes. I finished my reading as loud as I could and then got off the stage, ducked into the crowd.
When I got upstairs to where merch was set up (and where I’d stashed my backpack), people were high-fiving me and asking if they could hug me (yes! yes you may!). I didn’t know the other two bands playing but they recognized me because they had seen my twin doing a reading in Kitchener in December. Meanwhile on the main floor, there was a major shouting match going on between a bunch of people, it was impossible to keep track of. But pretty much everyone was on my side, it felt like it was the whole room versus the two dudes who run the space.
I knew I’d get kicked out – but I didn’t know everyone would! The dude who appears clad in skinny white suspenders in my piece flat-out cancelled the show and told everyone to get out of his space. I apologized to the two out-of-town bands for messing with their show, but they were really understanding and said that they wouldn’t have played after hearing my reading anyway. We all got the fuck out and the bands loaded their equipment back into their vehicles. A friend handed me a ginger beer on my way out the door.
We were out in the snow for a bit, and honestly, I wanted to cry because people were being so nice to me. They were saying extremely nice things, like that it was the best punk show they’d ever seen, and calling me Amber Bravest. “Your hands were shaking, but your voice stayed strong.” I still feel high from all of the intensity.
The show moved right down the street to a sweet and dingy basement, the night stretched a little longer than planned, but everyone still got to play. It was a great show. And I hate on punk all of the time – the uniformity, the way we recreate all of the bullshit dynamics of the the mainstream world. But there are times when it means a lot to me. I will acknowledge that I have a lot of privilege in this scene, in this world, too. I am white, cis, able-bodied. Like the singer from Two Crosses said, “Just because I can be oppressed, doesn’t mean that I cannot also oppress people.” I don’t wanna get into a “what is punk” thing, but when punks continue to perpetuate all of the oppressions that exist within mainstream society, and they/we are uncritical about it, well, that’s not very punk to me. That’s just a bunch of jerks with silly haircuts makin’ a lotta noise about nothing.
Thank you to all of my friends (and some strangers!) for having my back last night, and thank you to La Riposte, Dervish, and Two Crosses for putting up with me and playing a bunch of cool songs and trading zines and tapes with me. Thank you also for reminding me of why I write, and why I run a distro. I am amazed at what a dream my life is sometimes. Oh, and thank you to Death House for proving my point.
Further reading: Bros Fall Back by The Secret Society Of Femmes (Philly).