Todd Seavey is a punk rock god — or at least he should be. The libertarian blogger recently became famous for verbally microwaving his ex-girlfriend Helen on CSPAN — the clip went viral and became an instant classic — but there is much more to Seavey than a broken heart.
Seavey, whom I once met (more on that anon), is the author of one of the most interesting essays in the new book “Proud to be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation.” The book is a strong collection of pieces, but most of them revisit conservative tropes that echo PJ O’Rourke’s work from the 1980s. There is a piece defending manliness, another in favor of smoking, and several about the stupidity of liberals. We’ve been here before.
Todd Seavey’s contribution, however, is different. In “Conservatism for Punks,” the future YouTube star argues for the conservatism of punk rock. He recalls his childhood in New England, where the punks in high school were anything but “outcasts” and “lowlifes”: “the slickest things on TV were punk-influenced videos, and the artiest kids in school — the ones dominating the literary journal and the theater club — were a pantheon of New Wave girls who seemed like an elite, not a gang.” Punks in the 1970s and 80s had a very low threshold for BS, and could not stand hippies (Seavey astutely notes that in the 1990s the grunge movement helped collapse the wall between punks and hippies, making everyone into a big herd of independent hipster minds; but before that was Johnny Rotten’s “I Hate Pink Floyd” T-shirt). They thought the music industry had become bloated, the music saccharine and overproduced. Many, especially the post-punk movement of the 1980s, were artists. (I explored this topic in a piece, “Johnny Rotten, Traditionalist Modern,” that ran in The Daily Caller). So: punks were independent, disgusted with bloat and bureaucracy, and hard realists who had no time for cant. Sounds pretty conservative to me.
Seavey reminds us that al Qaeda “has not expressed much hatred for Medicare or the Department of the Interior.” Rather, they despise our more rebellious forms of freedom — our freaks, our artists, our music. Especially our music. Totalitarian regimes hate American rock and roll — which is reason enough for conservatives to embrace it (the fact that it is deeply artistic doesn’t hurt). Recall the “Velvet Revolution” in Eastern Europe, wherein the music of American Ur-punks like Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground helped collapse communism. Or, to use a more recent example (hat tip to NPR’s Mark Jenkins for first reporting this), the budding Muslim punk movement called “Taqwacore.”
I met Seavey a couple years ago, at a party thrown by the writer Dawn Eden. Eden, a friend, had once been a rock and roll journalist but had converted to Catholicism and had moved to Washington, D.C., to go to school at the Dominican House of Studies. I was telling Dawn about how so many neo-punk bands sound the same; I missed the self-deprecation, the energy, the originality of the early 1980s scene. A guy overheard me and came over to offer a very perceptive commentary on modern popular music, how so much of it, especially the punk, was noise without thought, rage without wit. Green Day? Please.
It was Todd Seavey, who was a mutual friend of Dawn’s. I remembered thinking, here was someone who got it. I told him of my own frustration in trying to convince my fellow conservatives — that is, the ones with power and money — to open up their foundations and magazines to coverage of rock and roll, an art form that is still providing surprises and forward movement. What Todd told me that night is summed up in his essay in “Proud to be Right”:
One of the stupidest recurring mistakes conservatives can make — in a world where the media inevitably shape discourse, in a country founded on freedom and rebellion, and in a world where the cultural battle for the future takes place in the mind of youth — is to accept the mantle of the fuddy-duddies and let the country’s free spirits, creative types, young people, and individualists go running to the other camp, where they’ll end up, aiding and abetting stifling collectivist bureaucracies like the Environmental Protection Agency and money-wasting institutions like the Department of Transportation, not participating in some imagined eternal rock concert of joy and liberation.
I would only quibble with that last part about the “eternal rock concert of joy and liberation.” As Todd no doubt knows, that is a lapse into the hippie utopianism that punk mocked. Punk, like the best rock and roll, is grounded by a clear-eyed sorrow about the state of the world, how damaged and unfair it is. The beauty of the music and the charisma of the performers can provide glimpses of the eternal, but they are only glimpses. I have made the case that punk rock is Christian. Much more so than the triumphal, and awful, “Christian rock,” punk knows what the Cross is about.
But then, it’s also funny. The great critic Lester Bangs once noted that he couldn’t believe that so few people got the brilliant satire that was part of the Sex Pistol’s act; when he first saw the band, wrote Bangs, he walked out at the end doubled over with laughter. In one famous episode, the members of the band cussed out an interviewer on live TV. Which brings us back to Seavey verbally lashing his ex-girlfriend on C-Span. No worries, Todd. You’re in good company.
Mark Gauvreau Judge is the author of several books, including Damn Senators and God and Man at Georgetown Prep. His articles and essays have appeared in various publications.