Punk is Dead and I’m Telling Everyone: Birmingham Punx and Nephilim Tattoos

Something a little bit different today…
This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for my MA. It’s going to be included in a much larger collection of personal essays that I’m working on, and this is the opening to one of them. Hope you enjoy!

“In a city that swells with so much hate, you seem to rise above and take its place, the heart pumps until it dies – drain the blood, the heart is wise!”

The Distillers – Drain The Blood


“Are you alright there, lovely?”

Glenn, my artist for the day, is a big guy. He’s over six foot, covered in ink from top to toe, with a good solid number of facial piercings. He’s also wearing a fluffy brown cardigan and has been wittering away about his new puppy for the past twenty minutes. I smile and nod and he continues with his work. My arms are stiff and I’ve had my shirt off for longer than I would usually consider acceptable in a public place, but that’s the only discomfort I’m really feeling. The needle going into my skin over a thousand times a minute isn’t as much of an issue as I’d first thought it would be. My housemate Kate, my partner in crime, lies in the booth opposite. She is yelping with pain at every invasion. Her artist is constantly shushing her, telling her to lie still as he inscribes the words ‘Wrap Me In Waves’ in beautiful cursive script on her ribs. The guy on reception peeks into my booth to take a look at the work in progress. “That’s fucking awesome,” he grins. “Hey, you part of the fanclub? Look me up on the website.” He holds up a piece of paper with his username on it. I usher him away, and say I’ll take it later, trying not to move.

After an hour and a half that feels a lot more like half a day, Glenn stops and puts the tattoo gun down. “I’ll just take a photo on me phone so you can see it properly, alright?” he drawls in a thick Birmingham accent. He takes a quick snapshot and dangles a phone in front of my face. It’s exactly what I want, so I thank him, I pay the rest of the balance, and go and wait for Kate while the receptionist makes not so subtle passes at me. She comes out twenty minutes later. “Let me see, let me see!” She lifts up my top and gasps. “Oh, I’d be so pleased to have that on me forever.” That happens to be the nephilim artwork from AFI’s album, The Art Of Drowning, released in 2000, their last on Nitro Records before they moved to a major label. The script on her ribs is taken a song by a British electropunk outfit called My Passion. When I tell my mother via a sheepish phone call in McDonalds later, she laughs and says that I couldn’t be president of the university’s punk society without a bit of ink. When she sees it in the flesh, she complains that it isn’t feminine enough and asks me to cover it up on my wedding day.

And it all began so fleetingly, back in the year 2001, where I am ten years old. In the summer holidays, we have real satellite installed, as opposed to the knackered old box and dish that we had acquired from my father’s friends by less than credible means. No longer am I forced to endure MTV Deutche and its strange take on rap music, its constant repetition of Nelly Furtado and that one industrial band that set fire to themselves. My sister would scream in terror whenever their video played, but she’d never have to suffer that trauma again. We had real Sky now. I tentatively pick up the remote control. Its buttons are alien, but I recognise a standby symbol when I see one. The TV turns on and the first thing that pops up is MTV 2. At first, I think it’s a woman with a fairly deep voice, spitting legend into the microphone, but I notice that the fishnet top the singer is wearing is fairly transparent and has a chest far too flat to be female. He wears an inordinate amount of makeup and his hair is longer than mine, drawn messily in front of his face in a long and imposing peak. A few moments in and I am in love. I stare, enraptured, as he sings and screams and writhes on stage. He sings a line, and then his bandmates follow with a “woah-oh-oh-oh”, thrashing wildly on their instruments. The song ends too quickly, far too quickly for me to figure out what’s happening. I am sitting on the floor, jaw wide open, until my little sister runs in through the front door and tells me to come outside because the Mills and the Venns are having a big fight in the middle of the street and I really shouldn’t miss it because we’ll have to take the side of the winner when it’s all done. I never see the video on the TV again. When I get the chance, I wait for the internet to log on, the modem beeping and hissing as it connects to the world, and type in the only lyrics I remember – “Once there was a boy who had a vybrent glow”- into the search. The answer is The Boy Who Destroyed The World by AFI.

That memory hits me vividly as a friend sits next to me on the bus and slaps me on the shoulder, unaware of the fresh mutilation upon it. The sting pulls me out of a stupor. I swear loudly, I take the headphones off and my eyes flicker down to my iPod. The AFI discography sits there patiently, waiting for me to choose a track. In between bouts of conversation, I filter by genre, and a stark realisation hits me. AFI haven’t played punk rock in ten years. They stopped being angry kids, found themselves in their thirties and cut their hair, traded in the fishnets for Gucci suits. Because punk is dead and it’s time to grow up.


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