A Year of Creating Dangerously, Day 96: Punk Rock Names, Top Five

On day four of my week of Top Five lists I come to a list that I had a difficult time keeping to only five! Today is a list of Punk Rock names and, frankly, there are a lot of great ones. Of course, Punkers are not the first musicians to rename themselves. For example, Richard Starkey loved American Westerns and bling on his fingers and so became Ringo Starr. But Punkers have definitely taken renaming to a whole new level. In fact, quite often the renaming is part of the Punk process: a way to show that you’ve embraced a new life, or rejected an old one, by taking on a name that sets you apart from “normal” society.

My favorite Punk names are those that are funny and self-deprecating. I could’ve had quite a list that included names like Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten, Rat Scabies, Captain Sensible and Cheetah Chrome. However, I will follow the rules in a most un-Punk-like manner and stick to five. So here they are, My Top Five Punk Rock Names. You may not like them, you may have a list you think is better, but that’s just fine because, y’know, that’s so Punk Rock.

5. Siouxsie Sioux – nee Susan Janet Ballion

She’s the British Punk fashionista with the name to match. When you combine it with the band name – Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees – it is even better.

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4. Iggy Pop – nee James Newell Osterberg, Jr.

Iggy predates the Punk era but he was a massive influence on the music, style and, of course, the rite of renaming. As with Siouxsie, when combined with the band name – Iggy Pop and the Stooges – it becomes just about perfect. And, seriously, does this guy look like a James Osterberg, Jr. to you?

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3. Jello Biafra – nee Eric Reed Boucher

He’s the front man for the Dead Kennedys, a band name you may find offensive or humorous, depending on your perspective. But the name Jello Biafra is just plain funny and wonderfully nonsensical. It contains within it a true “F#&k you” to any convention whatsoever and therefore makes it truly Punk.

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2. Poly Styrene – nee Marian Joan Elliot Said

One of my favorites because it is so funny and so British. What we call Styrofoam in North America the Brits call Polystyrene. It is self-deprecation combined with a sharp sense of humor. Poly was with the short-lived all-women group the Slits but her name lives on as one of Punk’s best.

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1. Joe Strummer – nee John Graham Mellor

At the number one position on my list is the name of the front man for the Clash, and perhaps the least showy Punk name of them all. Why is it my favorite? Because it conveys a humbleness and a sense of the everyman which perfectly encapsulates Joe Strummer’s vision of what Punk Rock was about. He said he couldn’t do all those “fiddly bits” on guitar and that led him to the name. But he was also aware of the power of this new brand of folk music. “This is Joe Public speaking!” he shouted out on the track “Complete Control” and he was, maybe more than anyone else in the history of Punk Rock, the voice of the people.

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Random Thoughts from Joe Average

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I am a big fan of 1970’s Punk Rock, especially the British variety (though I have a soft spot for the Ramones, those adorable ragamuffins!). In the nascent days of that fast and furious music genre, many Punks gave themselves new names, often with a self-deprecating edge to them, like Johnny Rotten, Poly Styrene or Joe Strummer. I have thought about what name I’d take if I was in a Punk band (it’s kind of a fun exercise which I strongly recommend, by the way). After some consideration, I’d choose the name Joe Average. It’s not too edgy or anything but contains an homage to my Punk hero mentioned above and it also sums up my view of myself quite nicely.

I’m an average guy. I’ll never be famous. I’ll never be a CEO. My name will not live on past my grandchildren. I’m okay with that (I think). It is my reality. That’s not a grand idea but it is still worthy of embracing. After all, being average puts me in the company of billions of people. And being average isn’t all that bad. I can do some things really well, some things okay, and some things I ask my wife to do (she’s far above average).

And in the spirit of Punk, being average should in no way keep me from being out there, creating, expressing myself, writing a blog, whatever. After all, it was pop music in the hands of the “rock gods” – those mythical figures in leather pants and flowing locks – that got enough average people riled up to create Punk in the first place. Rock was reclaimed as the new Folk: the expression of the common person, the Average Joe (or Average Jo) and was boldly screamed out over simple guitar riffs played really fast. Punk emboldened an entire generation of kids to grab instruments and start playing, writing their own music, embracing who they were in every shape and color and pattern that could be. I believe it to be the single most significant movement in popular music, the ripple effect of which just keep going on and on.

Anyway, enough Punk preaching from me (can I get an “Amen”, brothahs and sistahs?!). What I’m trying to get at is that billions of average people are, really, not average at all. At least not in the way we often define average. For some reason, no one wants to be known as average at anything. In our world, that is often related to just slightly above failure. Why? Maybe it is because the “gods”, be it “rock gods” or “beauty gods” or “intellect gods” or “money-making gods” are constantly venerated and thrown in our faces. It is that tiny percentage of people who are worthy, we are told in a variety of ways. Average is not worthy. Average is just too average. Who wants to be that?

But the irony is that 97.3% of us are average (I’ve done extensive research and stand by that statistic). So what is average, exactly? What does average look like? Again, after extensive research, I think I have a pretty good idea…

Average looks like the guy who works his ass off in two jobs to support his wife who can no longer work because of health issues. Average looks like a man committed to his spouse and to the vows they took no matter what. Average looks like love not just spoken but acted out day in and day out, selfless and constant.

Average looks like the woman who raises two young children on her own because her former husband left her. She not only is the sole bread-winner but also the sole care-giver. In the midst of this she has to sell her house and find another place to live, tasks she tackles virtually alone and unassisted. All the while she refuses to bad-mouth the man whose actions put her in this place to begin with.

Average looks like the family that opens their doors to foster kids. Average deals with the after effects of horrible trauma some of these kids have endured. Average stays up at night, dealing with children whose only form of coping is a kind of animalistic behavior. Through it all, they never fail to make those same kids feel loved and feel accepted into the family.

Average looks like the woman with cancer who continues to smile, laugh, enjoy life. Average is in tremendous pain on a daily basis, yet radiates healing through the connection she continues to make to those around her.

Average looks like two sisters from Africa who lost their parents to AIDS. They had to care for them as their parents slowly slipped away, something no child should have to endure. Average is adopted, uprooted and brought to North America where a new life has to be crafted. After all this, they shine with life and with purpose.

Average looks like the mom who stays up into the early hours of the morning, talking, listening and laughing, guiding her adolescent children through their battles with depression and anxiety. Average puts many of her own dreams on hold to help them achieve their dreams. Through it all she displays an unfailing grace.

All these people would be considered average by the standards of our world; not supremely gifted in anything, not famous, not movers and shakers, not headline-makers. But if this is average, does it sound like almost failure to you? If this is average, don’t we need more average in our world?

The truth is that we celebrate those we deem above average, the Great Ones. But our world runs on the power of the Average Ones. They’re the ones who create a world worth living in and worth protecting. They’re the ones who craft lives of real purpose. Their names may not be remembered to history, but without them this place would certainly be hell on earth. Maybe it is time to celebrate them.

Thank God for those blessed to be average. I know I’ve been blessed by them. So, yes, I’d proudly call myself Joe Average. Now to find some other middle-aged guys who want to form a Punk band…