Punk rock panelists discuss the lasting effect of 1980s movement

Stacy Russo, who was influenced by the punk rock movement, wrote a personal narrative “We Were Going to Change the World,” and was a panelist at a Dec. 5 punk rock event. Courtesy of Rachel Karas

Four female panelists speak about the effect of the punk rock era on the socio-political movement

Students and aging punks alike gathered in the basement of Leatherby Libraries Dec. 5 for a discussion featuring Stacy Russo, teacher, activist and author of the personal narrative, “We Were Going to Change the World.”

Russo’s book serves as a platform for 37 different female voices to be heard who, like herself, were influenced by the punk rock scene of Southern California during the 1970s and 1980s. Interviewees featured in the book responded to flyers that Russo placed around the area and ranged from DJs and musicians to journalists and fans, giving a holistic view of the various perspectives throughout the punk rock era, which Russo coins as a social movement.

The women are now in the age range of 40 to 70 and less actively involved in the movement presently. Of these interviewees, four attended the panel for a Q&A session moderated by Russo: Kirsten Meekins, Angelita Figueroa Salas, Kathy Rodgers and Laura Beth Bachman.

“Music is at the center of, of course, the punk rock movement, but there’s all these other people involved,” Russo said about the root of her book. “We often don’t really hear those stories.”

Salas agreed, describing her appreciation for Russo’s amplification of her story, “because a lot of the time these bands and things wouldn’t happen without us going to their shows.”

Panelists reflected on the heavy fan ideology of the era while describing their individual experiences as women during a socio-political movement who maintained an aggressive counter-culture. Fondly reflecting on the days of mohawks, combat boots and a resentment for authority, the era was a gateway for women to dress more androgynously and defy traditional conventions of beauty.

“It was wonderful to be accepted for how I wanted to appear and that I wasn’t forced into an idea of femininity, and that has stayed with me,” Russo said. “It was a rebellion against narrow ideas of beauty.”

The outcast-mentality that underscores the entire movement serves as the main reason for many of the women getting involved.

“I was attracted to this counterculture. I was lucky that it was happening at that time,” said Bachman, a drummer for her own band, about why she became an active member of the punk rock scene.

Russo credits the movement for influencing her political, social and economic beliefs. With new topics like animal rights and female rights under scrutiny, Russo believes the scene was a major proponent for her turning vegetarian at age 16 and becoming a social activist by bringing a book of women’s voices into a “genre that’s mostly predominantly male voices.”

Now, at almost age 50, Russo channels the anger and passion expressed through the music into other areas of her life. Emma Barda, a junior broadcast journalism and documentary major, also associated with this mentality despite the generational gap between her and the panelists.

“It was a scene where everyone was welcome even though we were all outcasts,” said Barda about her high school experience with punk rock. “The music can definitely be aggressive and political, but it also can make you feel better and it’s a great catharsis.”

In conjunction with the discussion, Chapman recently opened a new exhibit on the fourth floor of Leatherby Libraries entitled, “Kids of the Black Hole: The First Two Decades of Punk in Orange County.”

The exhibit features a vast collection of punk rock memorabilia from the Orange County area spanning two decades, all courtesy of former punk Jay Bauman.