Duncan Barlow:I Resign
Duncan Barlow interview reprinted without permission from Punk Planet. This interview (among others) is available in a great book called "We Owe You Nothing: Punk Planet - The Collected Interviews". Pick it up from Punkplanet.com, Ear X-Tacy, your locally owned bookstore, or Amazon.com. Interview by Ryan Downey.
The first night I met Duncan Barlow, his red hair was shaven into a close crop. He was wearing baggy shorts, Van's tennis shoes, and a white Endpoint longsleeve. We sat outside at a show in Indianapolis and argued for twenty minutes about hardcore bands. I was a wannabe tough guy who loved Judge. He was posi-core and pro-Gorilla Biscuits. That was in 1990.
By 1995, he was singing for a new band instead of merely playing guitar in Endpoint, but we could still engage each other about music. He was touring with Guilt, feeling like he was fighting a losing battle against mediocrity, all the while unwittingly taking part in the creating of what would become the burgeoning noise-metal post-hardcore scene.
His bands changed over the years, from the crossover proto-skate punk of Deathwatch to the uplifting, pro-gay and feminist charge of the otherwise decidedly moshcore Endpoint, to the post-metal of Guilt, the straight-edge-revivalism-cum-savagely-underground-punk of By The Grace Of God, and the indie pretensions of The Aasee Lake. Though the fashions changed, there were always constants with Duncan.
For one, he was always warm, thoughtful, and inspiring. He was sometimes distant, but never cold. He was often withdrawn, but willing to talk. The deep-seated depression in his gut that fueled some of Guilt's most harrowing and beautiful songs and the most crazed and cathartic Endpoint performances was sharply, bi-polarally contrasted by the soaring pro-community message behind Endpoint or the spirited anti-capitalism of By The Grace Of God.
Duncan was always fighting to find the light within his own darkness, and the raw materials from which to forge the tools with which to dismantle the corruption corroding human civilization - part hardcore hero, part poetry-reading intellectual, and altogether just a Southern punker looking to leave this world a better place.
Oftentimes, despite the overwhelming positivity apparent during certain performances - characterized most blatantly by the tendency of Endpoint audiences to spontaneously embrace Duncan or his long-time soulmate Rob in heartfelt hugs on stage - Duncan felt like he was fighting in vain. As '90s hardcore turned toward more and more fashion and violence and less and less compassion and progress, Duncan gradually grew disconnected.
At some point, By The Grace Of God played a show with Floorpunch, whose on-stage banter ran contrary to much of what Duncan had fought for during his lengthy tenure in hardcore an dpunk. Soon after, By The Grace Of God let it be known that Floorpunch was a band that they would never play with again.
The suckerpunch that followed was the last straw in a long chain of events that forced Duncan to think long and hard about his involvement in "the scene".
He decided to leave. But unlike most people who walk away, he felt like explaining his decision to the entire punk community. In 1998 I was speaking with Duncan over the phone about a letter he was writing. He was going to formally "resign" from the hardcore scene via the Punk Planet letters section. "Duncan," I asked, "you're writing a letter? Why don't I just interview you?"
This interview was it. In the months that followed, Duncan stopped playing hardcore music, refused interviews, didn't go to shows. But the overwhelming support, advice, and friendship of the loving few who remained behind convinced him to occasionally hang outside a few Louisville shows to say hello to touring buddies. Eventually he started making his way back inside. Soon he was putting out records again. And playing live. And going on short tours.
But in many ways that count, Duncan's "retirement" stuck. He was never again a part of the scene where racism was "funny" or violence ended a debate. He stayed his own man, fighting the good fight together with Rob, for compassion, honesty, and equality, trends be damned.
Interview by Ryan Downey.
Duncan, what's going on? What's happened? There's been a lot of talk.
I guess what happened is that at the age of twenty-six, I looked at what was around me and I looked at what I was a part of and felt really disassociated with it. The movement was dying, transforming into something alien to me. Either it was changing or I was changing. I saw it becoming something that was based on a brotherhood of ideals that never were of value to me. Ideals like "stand by your friends whether they're right or wrong." It's becoming a gang mentality. The current perception of the straight edge movement as being a "gang" is a good representation of that.When I got involved with straightedge and when you got involved with straightedge and I would have to say when fifty percent fo the straightedge movement became involved, it was a very pure movement. It was a movement of "these are our personal choices". America wants you to drink, smoke, consume, to forget that you hate your job because you can lose yourself in sex and pleasure - to opt out of that was a personal thing. Now it's becoming almost a religious struggle where they have these codes, but it doesn't matter if the rest of their morals are gone. It doesn't matter if "I'm straightedge and I hurt people". It really became warped.
Hardcore in general has become the same way. I noticed that people were no longer talking about ideals. There was never a rule to hardcore that said what it was supposed to be, but there was an accepted aesthetic. That accepted level was, "Ok, sure, there's going to be an occasional fight at a show. Somebody gets hut while dancing, somebody hooks up with somebody else's significant other..." But it became pointless violence: "Yo, you messed with my crew! I'm going to take you out!" Or, "You don't believe the same things I do, so I'm going to fight you!" That's not the way it's supposed to be. The beautiful thing about punk rock and hardcore was that it was an open line. You do something that I don't agree with, and I mock you. That was common. You called each other out. Maximum Rock n Roll was famous for that.
-To be continued.