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NewsJun 25, 2018

Taking action through hardcore punk

Insider Joe Mageary ’06 explores the intersection of 'loud music' and becoming a force for positive change

On left: Joe Mageary headshot, looking off to the side. On right: A black and white drawing of skulls and skeletons with the words hope and revolt.
Left: Lesley faculty member and punk rocker Joe Mageary. Right: An image from the socially conscious zine published in conjunction with the Now or Never punk rock tour.

By Georgia Sparling

Hardcore punk music is known for being kind of angry and full of disillusionment and contempt. If you think it stops there, then you’ve seriously underestimated the genre, says Joe Mageary, an alumnus and adjunct in the graduate Counseling and Psychology Department.

Mageary’s recent research explores the intersection of social activism with the hardcore punk rock scene, as observed in the politically charged 2017 Now or Never music tour. The two-week, 12-city music event brought together three bands, including Mageary’s own, to incite action in light of the post-election upheaval throughout the United States.

Not your uncle’s punk

As Mageary describes it, 1970s punk rockers consciously separated themselves from societal norms, often with a focus simply on destroying the status quo. The emergence of the hardcore punk subgenre in the 1980s, however, was a move toward active creation of the world in which the punks want to live, through “everything from political activism to personal choices people make,” Mageary explains. They are still fringy like punk rockers but might also be straight edge (abstaining from drugs and alcohol), vegan or staunch environmentalists.

This distinction attracted Mageary, who started listening to “loud music” as an 11-year-old. Growing up, he was angry and confused by the world, and the corresponding malcontent in punk music resonated with him.

“If you’re angry inside but the world is all smiles, things don’t feel right,” Mageary says, “but if you can have the outside world and the inside world match up a bit, it can help you make sense of your place and your situation.”

What he heard in the music was purposeful anger as well as social consciousness in musical acts such as Minor Threat, the Dead Kennedys and Have Heart.

“Pretty quickly I started stumbling onto bands and songs that were educating me about events in recent history, political ideas and causes, or to ways of living that I was not previously familiar with,” he says.

A black and white image that reads The Greed is Unquenchable
The "We Must Resist" zine featured political images, safety tips for DIY concert venues and an article on mindfulness.

Channeling anger to activism

That holds true for Mageary today. In addition to teaching at Lesley and serving as director of Clinical Services at New England Academy, Mageary, who earned his master's degree at Lesley, is also part of Boston’s hardcore scene. Counseling and music help him to understand clients’ feelings of rage and frustration and give him a map for how to channel those feelings into action. Both show him “how to be an active participant and creator in our world as opposed to a passive recipient.”

That played out practically last summer when Mageary’s band, along with two other socially-minded groups, organized a tour focused on social justice and direct action. As a clinical mental health counselor, researcher and hardcore insider, Mageary had a unique perspective. His question for the summer was “how is this effort aligning with the intentions and values that people have for themselves and for their communities and for the world?”

Throughout the tour, Mageary collected data on everything: interviewing and observing the touring bands, local opening bands, audience members and vendors; evaluating the fliers posted at each venue and the pamphlets handed out; and keeping a tour journal.

Making it happen: The DIY ethos

According to Mageary, hardcore revolves around the do-it-yourself ethos.

“The DIY ethos is acknowledging that there are systems in play in the dominant culture that do not completely align with the way we want the world to be. By eschewing the financial incentive and finding ways of constructing both physical objects and community ourselves, we can do it on our terms,” he says. “I’ve played in basements, I’ve played in cornfields, I’ve played in giant venues. It’s about just making it happen.”

For the Now or Never tour, the DIY ethos included booking venues, setting up benefits for causes important to the bands, providing tangible tips for how people could become active in social justice, soliciting the help of local acts in each city, and producing their own merchandise. Local contacts publicized concerts, housed the tour bands for free and arranged venues and food.

A scene from the tour with the merchandise table in the forefront and blue lights from the concert in the back.
A scene from the tour, which embodied the DIY ethos.

The bands also created “We Must Resist,” a zine in line with the tour theme. It featured an article on mindfulness and stress reduction techniques, politically charged images — some with anti-Trump themes, others pro-reproductive health — and a freshly pressed record with new songs from each band. Given that many punk rock venues themselves are DIY and lack proper fire safety, a New York City firefighter from one of the bands also contributed a list of recommendations for how to be safe when attending or organizing a DIY show.

“We’re acknowledging that we want to continue to have these spaces and cultivate community but also using what we have in terms of knowledge,” Mageary says.

The bands donated all proceeds from the zine sales to the ACLU and their T-shirt sales to Planned Parenthood.

According to Mageary, the Now or Never tour was a rare confluence of the DIY ethos.

“We reveled in the fact that there was a large group of people working en masse together who had no previous connection other than this music and this culture,” says Mageary.

No one had an expectation of profit or of gaining social status or notoriety, he says; instead, a community grew stronger and people were empowered to engage in social justice.

Hardcore change

To some degree, these DIY elements can be seen in every hardcore punk event. It also extends beyond the movement. Some members of the Boston hardcore community started Greenvans, an eco-friendly and affordable van rental company for touring bands. Each van runs on vegetable oil instead of gasoline. Other people in Mageary’s circle transferred the skills they learned planning gigs into hosting a rally on Boston Common. Still another man became an immigration lawyer.

“If folks can channel the things that got them angry in the first place then it’s not just chasing your tail, but it’s moving on and fomenting change,” says Mageary.