Leech and I first crossed paths with the Lone Punk in the spring of 1992, shortly before our friendship-ending blow-up. We were passing through the cafeteria on the third floor of Wheatley Hall (since converted into the school’s “Venture Capital Center”) when we spotted him eating alone at a corner table. Being two of the most (visually) prominent punk rockers on campus, we decided assume an ambassadorial role and introduce ourselves.
The Lone Punk was a little wary at first, and sized us up with the customary “real deal or poser” stare before introducing himself. His name was Chris and hailed from one of the super-posh exurbs on the western fringes of Metro Boston. He had originally been enrolled at a big name college in Manhattan, but moved back to the Bay State and transferred to UMB after some unspecified incident.
His look was that extreme mash-up of UK82 and proto-crusty which was big in NYC at the time and made it easy to spot the out-of-towners in the Pit on weekends. His hair was sloppily dyed and fixed into semi-permanent spikes with unflavored gelatin and he sported an old wool suit jacket bedecked with spikes, bolts, and industrial hose clamps. It was exceedingly over the top and made my Britpunk/hardcore kid thing look like business casual, but it still fascinated me as a signifier of the Truly Committed.
Chris didn’t care much for Leech, who had a penchant for overloud laughter and chewing with his mouth open (often simultaneously). He didn’t seem to mind me that much, though it might’ve been because he kind of had a thing for Maura. During our handful of conversations, we mostly swapped punk fashion tips and discussed our musical preferences.
I was still heavily into Britpunk and Oi, which made Chris roll his eyes in a way that made me want to sock him in his triple-pierced nose. He, on the other hand, was a devoted fan of anarchopunk and specifically Crass.
At the time, my knowledge of Crass and its creed-driven kindred extended to seeing the band’s symbol sketched and painted on countless punk accouterments and from teen anarcho-blatherings I’d run across in copies of early Eighties punk ‘zines. I’d never listened to Crass’s music or given the band much of a thought apart from mocking the weird cultish vibe of their fans.
As a rich fuck-up taking a temporary breather in a publicly-funded safety net, Chris wasn’t exactly a compelling evangelist for anarchopunk, but the notion still got under my skin. I’d hit an age where Oi’s aggro posturing had begun to feel ridiculous and the music had worn out its welcome. I was long overdue for a change, so my next trip to the record store saw me pick up a cassette copy of Crass’s Best Before 1984 compilation.
It took a bit to wrap my head around the sound, an off-putting mix of amateur and artsy scoring uncompromising political chants. It was challenging in a way I’d never been challenged by punk music before, spawning an ongoing set of internal arguments. To call it a Socratic dialogue would overstate things, but it worked along the same lines. The reflexive “that’s a load of bullshit” shifted into “okay, maybe they have a point” to “PREACH IT, COMRADES.”
It wasn’t the message, but the methodology that dug its hooks into me. Question everything, assume nothing. I became a punk rocker because I was an angry teen who’d experienced a huge personal upheaval, and that rationale worked just fine up until my relationship with Maura got serious and I realized that I needed to as well.
Anarchy had been a buzzword and a symbol devoid of any ideology apart from “you’re not the boss of me” nihilism. It was a dead end. Even if I never fully agreed with their message, Crass revealed a valid path forward.
It was also handy that the entire Crass discography was available cheaply and readily available on vinyl at a time when records were vanishing from shelves and import punk shit commanded extortionate prices. I picked up the entire lot of it — Feeding the 5000, the Christ the Album box set with long and rambling leaflet, Penis Envy, and Stations of the Crass. I painted the symbol on the front of my punk jacket and hung the disturbing gatefold poster from Feeding above the foot of my bed (much to my grandma’s disgust).
More importantly, anarchopunk kicked off a new and still ongoing phase in my political development, one that explored root causes instead of parroting received wisdom. Questions about political violence, pacifism, and the social constructs of oppression and liberation compelled me to further educate myself and explore the numerous contradictions which arose during the process. The bulk of it unfolded long after I’d stopped listening to Crass on a regular basis, but their music and writing had set things in motion.
These days, I’m more likely to get my anarchopunk fix from the likes of Blyth Power or Zounds. I still dig out Penis Envy or some of the singles on occasion, even if the experience is tempered by later revelations that the stridency of the band’s public convictions hid a great deal of in-fighting and a good deal of hypocrisy. The human failings of the messengers, however, mattered less than what their message inspired in me.