“WHITE MAN DESTROYS CULTURE” is printed in big letters on a sticker at a venue in West Germany where we played. This phrase became my “theme” as we continued to tour throughout Europe. I realized how just reading about stuff or about people’s lives is simply not enough. There’s nothing more important than meeting people from different worlds. I talked a lot about how white man may have destroyed something in the past, but right now I felt that white people can give something back by teaching folks like us the tricks of parallel existence in new capitals because you’ve gone through it and we’re just entering it, and we need hints or tools on how to cope with the shocks.
Also, people are inspired by song. I was amazed when a big long-haired metal head in denim who organised one of the shows came to hug me afterwards, with tears in his eyes, saying how much my words about having sympathy for people living in the fortress and having to fight moved him. Just days before his city had come to a standstill when the National Bank was occupied by workers’ resistance. I was amazed and humbled when I saw the anarchist booklet we managed to translate into Nepali displayed at an infoshop in Amsterdam. I was amazed that someone who lived in his truck in Europe would want to drive us around Europe for two out of the six weeks for free because he totally supports what we were doing. And what were we doing? Meeting, talking, singing, eating, dancing. These are important elements that inspire resistance.
And it all came back full circle when a month after we returned to Kathmandu, we got an email saying three punks from East Germany were coming to visit Nepal. One of them, a father of a 20-year-old, had been to Nepal eight times already and the other two were friends of his who played in a band. They had seen us at a show in their home town in Rostock, the place where back in the early ’90s neo-nazis attacked a building housing refugees.
In their teens, our friends had tried to defend the burning building that day where Vietnamese and other refugees lived. They then went to seek out the culprits at the neo-nazi compound.
They told us how during the East-West divide punk rock was not allowed so they would play and listen in secret. Their fathers were dock workers and when the Wall came down they suddenly lost their jobs and had to do whatever odd jobs that came their way.
After the Wall came down, they told us how people either turned capitalist or totally fascist, or worse both. This was the situation they grew up in. They said before the Wall came down, you may not have had a lot of money, but everyone was equally in that situation and therefore united in struggle. Now there’s more money but as a result people are divided and individualistic. There’s no solidarity.
These guys who came to stay in our little village are huge, with skin covered in tattoos and peircings, and they talk about how they grew up facing violence from skinheads in their neighborhood everyday and they said it continues to this day. White against white – in civilized Europe – I couldn’t believe it!
They were from working-class families and were probably the first tourists I ever met that despite their love for beer, refused to enter a single bar in the tourist ghetto of Kathmandu where they were staying. They preferred the street and said they will come again next year but would avoid the tourist ghetto and come and stay with us and go more into the mountains. And they were so smiley and humble, I think that although we lived worlds apart, we also had something very deeply in common.
Punk’s not dead yet. In fact it’s just being born in every over-40-year-old’s heart when she or he realizes that the spirit of youth and rebellion is in fact ageless, classless, sexless and overcomes all cultural and religious boundaries. Some Asian friends of mine in America said they “drifted” from punk to hip hop because the whole punk thing was too white.
I commented on this a little as we toured around, but I could see that things were changing – or coming back again. I mean, I always believed the first punks to be slaves, and in the modern history of white man, this means the first punks were black musicians, artists, rebels.
This has inspired the white man who was destroyed by what culture had become, to reinvent it again. And this in turn can give third world punks a head start of what’s to come so that we can start to create activities and spaces, to help us to deal with the onslaught of the so-called civilised world that’s reached our doorstep.
And they say MTV and other corporate versions of punk have killed it. But I know it still exists in tiny pockets everywhere, and all these corporates still can’t catch it. They don’t know about the DIY punks – and if they do, they can’t understand it because it’s fuelled not just by anger, but more so by love. They don’t know that there are three friends in Barcelona who are performing a show tonight.
One twiddles dials and creates electronic soundwaves into a blasting amplifier; the other wields a screeching violin and the third is a flamenco dancer who struts around the stage. Their theme is violence against women. And they might be holding a benefit for five girls wanting to learn guitar in Nepal or somewhere. That’s punk.
We are loud and angry as much as we are elusive and low-fi. That’s one other thing I learned during this tour – to still believe.
So although I wanted to see punk in action in the west before they sold it off for good, I realized that it isn’t going to ever happen. So long as we exist, we just aren’t for sale. And the fortress is cracking from the inside.
Photo: Rao Ko Ris in Paris