Punk Might Be Dead, But ‘Punks’ Are Still Alive
By Gunes Atalay
It’s 1976 and a 14 year-old girl with red hair with two platinum streaks in the front and dressed in black is walking around in Max's Kansas City Club in the East Village next to Union Square Park . Her name is Donna White.
She fell in love with punk music when she first heard Ramones at the age 13 and began listening to them constantly. That same year, while attending a party, someone told her she should hang out at Max's. Her first night there, she met her first boy friend who knew everyone in the punk scene at the time. “Suddenly I found myself in this punk glam world and I loved every minute of it,” said White.
White ran away from home at 15, and in the following years, she went from concert to concert and began living on the Lower East Side. She lived in the famous Chelsea Hotel for a while, and said she was constantly broke, but it didn't matter.
She says the atmosphere was so different in those days. “Today’s East Village is full of restaurants and commercial stores with a hint of what used to be there. We were different. We used to be like a big family,” White said. “We all took care of each other. We did drugs, we had fun, and we just didn't care about anything. We used to make our own clothes, because we didn't have enough money to buy them.”
White said that although the stores Trash and Vaudeville did exist, it was the cheapest place to shop, unlike today where it is so expensive to buy supposedly punk clothing. “Some old punks still live in Lower East Side, and when you see them you know they are from the old days, and majority of them live on the Alphabet City because you could only afford living there back in those days, sharing studios,” she said.
White said she began using drugs at a very young age and began feeling like an old, little girl. “I got tired. I got very tired. I had to get away.”
White moved to West Coast, and struggle for a long time before becoming a stripper. She moved from city to city, and stripped and got into trouble many times. She attracted stalkers and was almost raped. “I wanted to be back home, in my heart, but I just couldn't. I was still on drugs constantly and had no purpose of living.”
White said her life changed when she got pregnant at 28, and returned to school and became a nurse. She lived with her daughter in Arizona for years until she found out her brother had HIV since he was 19. “I had to protect him. My mom was never there for us, I had to be there for him.”
White and her daughter returned to New York. Even though she wanted to keep her daughter away from drugs, she also wanted her to get into the punk scene.
“I went to St. Marks after years because I wanted my daughter to grow up in that scene and I was shocked. First of all, rents were sky high. I couldn't understand how New York's “worst” neighborhood became one of the most expensive areas,” said White. “Then I realized it just became fashionable and was considered “artsy.” It just seemed so fake. I saw people paying loads of money for ripped clothes and hair gels to do their Mohawks. We used to wear ripped because we didn't have money. Wear the same pair of jeans for years, you will see what I mean. And, we did our Mohawks with Jell-O!”
White saw several of her old friends who seemed very tired, but she found that most of them were dead, and all the places she used to go were closed.
“I knew real punk was gone, never to be back.”
Today White is a nurse living with her 16 year-old daughter and sometimes wants to return to her gypsy punk lifestyle, but she knows it no longer exists. She now back where she started, in New York City, reminiscing with old friends “who are still hardcore, real punks.”
“The Punk scene might be dead, and all the old punks may seem like they are getting along with the society by having regular jobs. But I know they all are the same old kids inside, dying to go back. Punk is living inside us.”