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When Punk Went Prep
Adam Elayan ’24

Adam Elayan ’24 is an aspiring journalist, leader of the Big Blue Sports Network, and a regular contributor to The Flex. His popular column, often focusing on music, and life, can be enjoyed here. This time, he shares a new Op-Ed, When Punk Went Prep, and reminds us of the importance of being flouting the rules when you've had enough.


In the ’70s and ’80s, punk was grimey. That era conjures images of graffitid underground venues packed to the gills with teenage nihilists, shaved heads, leather jackets, and bad attitudes. Black Flag, perhaps the most important hardcore punk band of all time, lived in abject poverty throughout their run as a band in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The lead singer, Henry Rollins, physically fought fans while he was performing. Altogether, the first 15 years of punk were intensely angry and anti-establishment. In the ’90s, however, the face of punk changed. The wild-eyed glare of the early years was replaced with a less angry expression. The next era of punk was ironically less mature than its predecessor, and these new punks bucked protesting the establishment for lamenting their adolescent woes—even if they were no longer adolescent. Whereas bands like the Clash had yelled into their mics in protest of the ills of the British government and society at large, bands like Blink-182, whose lead singer was 25 when they hit the mainstream, sang about first dates, skipping class, and the melancholy of senior year. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of the most influential punk bands of the late ’90s had no more grit than you or me.

In the early ’80s, the members of the aforementioned Black Flag slept on the floor of their independent record label’s small office building. They didn’t have the money to pay for food or clothes, so they lived off sandwiches that guitarist Greg Ginn’s father made for them and wore clothes he thrifted for them. In fall 1997, Chris Conley started his senior year at Princeton Day School. Between meetings with his college counselor and trips to downtown Princeton for lunch, he was writing songs. His band, which had formed in his freshman year under the name Sefler but now went by Saves the Day, was getting ready to record their first studio album. During Winter break, while all of their classmates were stressing over the release of early decisions, they recorded Can’t Slow Down, and they’d finally release it after graduation in August. Meanwhile, Conley, along with Saves the Day’s drummer Brian Newman, got into NYU. During their first semester, Conley wrote the songs that would appear on their now-iconic 1999 record, Through Being Cool. The lyrics on the album, which are praised for being the best on any pop-punk release from that era, were largely written first not as songs, but as writing assignments for Conley’s creative writing course at NYU. I can’t help but agree with the praise that has been given to Conley’s lyricism, and I am also unsurprised that Conley cites Joni Mitchell’s Blue as one of his biggest influences around that time.

When Through Being Cool released in late 1999, Saves the Day became the kings of the underground punk scene. A popular YouTuber known as “The Punk Rock MBA,” who grew up around the release of the album, attests that Saves the Day were “the coolest band in the world in 1999”—and  I can see why. Every song on Through Being Cool is overflowing with adolescent angst. The record’s energy is undeniable, as blood-pumping guitar riffs add fire to  Conley’s extremely catchy, palpably passionate vocal choruses. The band’s low-key aesthetic, their fun music videos, and their remarkable youth all served to make them magnetic—but were they really punk? Could anyone who went to private school for 13 years in a rich New Jersey suburb be?

In their first handful of shows, Saves the Day were a bunch of misfits. The 18-year-old hopefuls were heckled at every show on their first tour, learning firsthand how unwelcoming the punk and hardcore scenes had become. Fans wanted tough guys, not a bunch of prep-school string beans. But that is not what punk should have ever been about. To me, punk is about being fed up. It’s a genre of kids who have had it. With what? Hard to say. First, it was the government. Then, it was everyone. During the riot grrl movement, it was men. For pop-punkers, it was growing up. As long as anyone can be fed up, anyone can be punk. There are no rules or constraints in the genre—that would be antithetical to its original purpose. All it takes is a grievance and a guitar—and sometimes a college education. 




To contact the author: Adam Elayan '24

Portrait by Flex photographer Aiden de Asla '24