Making Sense of Skinhead Reggae, part 1

Breaking a two weeks or more-long silence in which this zine unwritten is actually being written again, today’s post will [attempt to] thoroughly discuss the phenomenon of skinhead reggae, how it developed, and what it developed into [but will not be able to finish itself in this single post].

Of course, there will be YouTube links to various track uploads, to color what I’m talking about and explore the many variations of related things that and how they are connected.

If you’ve been following my music column (or just generally the postswritten to this zine thus far), you’ll notice my current interest in a variety of aspects of Jamaican music, dancehall culture, and language; and, from varied time periods, from ska, to rocksteady, roots reggae, and the dancehall music of today, I have written about these eerily similar sound system crazes — all connected, very much similar in ways so much that they are sometimes seen as being indistinguishable (easily described by the word reggae, for example) while also nothing remotely alike in any form.

I’m excited about this post because it inherently involves the story of how and why I have hated skinheads since I was 15 years old, not as someone who is ignorantly only aware of the existence of a skinhead as synonymous with a white nationalist, but as someone who has seen their effect on a subculture I was once very a part of — that is, Bush-Era street punk in South Texas — and resisted the threat of what they represented at what were places I went to and considered my spots to hang out, where the music was a form of street punk I could relate with, and the people were all mostly, more or less like minded enough to have peace; until the resounding and in unison war cry surrounded you.

“Oi!” That’s when you realize they are massive, you are alone, and if you are not aligned with them (and you’re god damned right we fucking weren’t), then you have to resist the pressure that is placed on you to be like them — to transmogrify for the sake of a so-called unity and join in crews they will never admit are very much like gangs. If you will not do this, you are on fragile ice. You can either run or you can fight them, and there is never just one of them. They are massive or they are not at all. If you’re a fifteen year old punk rocker, you keep your head down — or you don’t, you know, because you’re a punk rocker of fifteen years — and you will either run from a beat down or you receive them. You might even decide to engage in violence yourself, because you have a zero tolerance policy for fascism in your scene, and you kill it wherever you see it the same as they would kill you.

I’ve thus far only introduced and outlined the things I need to discuss to illustrate the points I want to make clear and the things I want to connect, acknowledge, and use to hold the conclusion I can finally make about the skinhead phenomenon, which at fifteen years old, not knowing the distant history and how far the skinhead had traveled and how it had molded him, I could never make but finally can. So, I’m going to split this into thee parts as this is quite complex.

On Skinheads, Their Good Taste in Music, and the Folly of their Utter Ignorance
(is that really the title I’m using? Whatever… that’s the title.)

1.) The Spirit of ’69 – This portion will require many of us to pretend that we have never heard of a skinhead and understand how the origins of the culture are quite interesting, seemingly harmless enough, and little known to most people today who associate the word with white nationalism — which for this portion, we’ll have to hold off on talking about to explore skinhead reggae (which I happen to think is actually great music), and how the blending of the Jamaican diaspora with British, cockney people resulted in a seemingly positive racial exchange and a “reggae fever” marked by shaved heads and otherwise very particular, uniform, and sharp dress style.

2.) If the Kids Are United… – Next, I’m going to have to explain how skinhead culture crossed paths with punk rock after 1969 had passed and how neither culture would ever be the same after that, resulting in a list of new genres that come about from an unintentional recipe for hatred and violence laid out when the skinhead and the punk rocker will unfortunately take politics to the streets, and experience a less positive attempt to assimilate together. Also, this will address why skinheads may have been less like-minded with Jamaican diaspora as the 1970’s came closer to the 1980’s.

3.) Post-Skinhead Ignorance – This will be a final conclusion, in which I consolidate my experience with American skinheads as a punk teen in the 1990s/2k into my adulthood, well-read self who happens to currently be pretty into first wave ska music, which… only the skinhead can be said to still feel that way about first wave ska in the same way. In the homeland of ska, ska music is outdated. And I mean, it’s been outdated since before I was born. It’s hardly even referred to as itself by many, because it’s just early reggae that hasn’t for a long time been done without being more reggae than ska (not probably since about… 1969). That said, I will ultimately have to conclude how skinhead culture has always been intrinsically predisposed towards a development into a complete militancy powered by an embrace of ignorance… about everything; and why skinhead culture should not be celebrated just because they understand ska music, (which is amazing, [and much better without skinheads in it.]).

And yes, I have totally just published a postwritten where I outline the post yet unwritten. I know. I’m utterly insane. If I were a professional writer, or if I had the desire to produce myself in the way that one does, I would set this document aside and use it as a rough draft and outline to do the piece, which I will say is big enough to warrant this kind of outlining if not this kind of editorial.

But I don’t do that. I don’t edit or manufacture myself. I don’t enjoy doing it. I don’t want to. Often times the typos you find are ones that I overlooked in the drafting of the document and have become well aware of and have intentionally left them as is.

I suppose I don’t sound like a too stereotypical obsessive or compulsive person, do I? If you’ve read the psyche column at all, you might follow what I mean from there. I sort of do have the capacity to spend my entire life editing a document for no reason, in which no amount of corrections or do-overs will ever produce a thing that doesn’t require further editing or abandonment.

Choosing to leave myself manufactured, raw, as-is, one take to get the shot, whatever happens type of “artist” has never been an easy decision to make. I wanted at one time to leave a masterpiece on the world. I no longer do. I want to leave myself, flawed as I am, content and happy to die with my imperfections.

So I made a typo. Shrug. It most likely doesn’t matter, and so… if I’ve lost you and you aren’t following this foreword into the next posts that will come. So be it. I will gladly have you read, or listen, or watch; I’m not afraid to show myself. But… I’m not willing to destroy the beauty of the world’s ugly things left as they are, so that you lot can be the celebrated artist that is all you really care about anyway isn’t it?

That’s okay. Social acceptance and approval is a natural human thing to seek out to some degree if you are a healthy enough person, I should think. But… it is of little interest to me in terms of my non-art, which I will continue to create in a long winded way for the sake of itself — shamelessly.

It’s kind of getting to the point where all the columns (categories) that I’m using seem to intersect, even if they focus on one topic more than the others. Part of me would like to redesign the organization, stop using the categories the same way, but…

Logic tells me there is no need for that.

Otherwise, I have an outline of what I’m going to write. I have several albums in mind to share as I talk about various things. I want to continue writing this zine, even if it takes me a long time to come back to it sometimes.

If I save this as a draft, it will become lost forever. I will forget that it was important maybe, or that it was ever a thing I planned to do. The organization of it will prevent it from ever being published at all.

Maybe taking my time between entries isn’t so bad. Maybe it will be more manageable for me to actually read them again, and have it as such that of the many points I wish to make, the fewest of them will in the end be unmade entirely. My early LiveJournal blogs of daily postings suffered from an overflow of  things that were never worth organization. There was less management of any thought that I had, which is why I was never able to write anything but of my sadness and my glory like a teenager with a diary.

I don’t want to write for a sense of daily therapy. I want to say specific things in a highly unconventional way. I want to make my points, and I want to leave them at least in the open to be unmade.

I’m going to make a point to get back to this project in the next few days — not weeks or more.

I will ever have to apologize for the fact that… if you are interested in me at all, you will always have to wait for me to come back I’m afraid.

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