Music History

A Primer of Straight Edge Punk

Straight Edge culture is one of the more interesting offshoots of punk rock and perhaps one of the most misunderstood. just published an article on the subject by Tony Rettman, a punk rock scholar and the author of a book entitled NYHC: New York Hardcore 1980 – 1990.



As the ’70s fell into the ’80s, American youth culture was at a standstill. The promise from the previous decade’s counterculture of a better world through mind-altering substances stalled out when drug taking went from being a transcendental act of defiance to a common act of recreation among teens. Not only that, but there was a musical standstill as well. The hallways of suburban high schools throughout the country still buzzed with the sounds of the Beatles, the Doors, the Who and many other rock bands who were either broken up, dead from over indulgence or passed their prime a long time ago. The promise of a keg party in the woods on the weekend or maybe a joint snuck in before chemistry class was the be-all and end-all of a young person’s existence at the time. The damage from a previous generation’s naive indulgence drifted above their own children like a dank fog. It was the epitome of Teenage Wasteland.

At that same moment, the first round of hardcore punk rock spread throughout the country. Detached kids who found the situation of their fellow classmates dismal beyond belief latched on to the raw energy of the music and happily devoured the sounds of California-bred acts such as the Germs, Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. The only thing that didn’t seem to fit with this recalcitrant, youth-oriented sound was the “Live Fast, Die Young” vibe of nihilism leftover from the school of ’77 British punk. “You had Sid Vicious dying of a heroin overdose and that sent a tone throughout the world on what they thought punk was about.” says Dave Smalley, a punk from Washington, D.C., who would eventually move to Boston to front the early-’80s Boston hardcore unit DYS. “Drinking and drugs was such an established part of rock ’n’ roll, and punk was really no different.”

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38346 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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