We Need Another “Nazi Punks Fuck Off!”

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Dead Kennedys’ 1981 single, “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” – as the title suggests – is an order to punk rock fans who align with the far right to get out of the scene. The track is a tightly-coiled blast of harnessed energy, as powerful as a nuclear bomb, as political as anything the band ever did, as brief as it is intense. One minute and it’s over.

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Released at a time when so-called “white power” bands (Skrewdriver might be the most well-known, or at least most notorious) had developed something of a considerable footing within a relatively small scene, “Nazi Punks” was more a necessity than a piece of art. If you were bothered by its tone and subject matter (rather than disgusted by white supremacy in a counterculture fundamentally opposed to it), either you weren’t listening or you were the very thing Jello Biafra and company were railings against.

With the current social and political climate, I’d argue we need this song more than ever. With a worldwide resurgence in fascism and white nationalism, it feels more appropriate than when it was first released.

The first verse goes:

Punk ain’t no religious cult

Punk means thinking for yourself

You ain’t hardcore ’cause you spike your hair

When a jock still lives inside your head

Followed by the chorus:

Nazi punks

Nazi punks

Nazi punks, fuck off!

Nazi punks

Nazi punks

Nazi punks, fuck off!

What makes the message work is its simplicity and sincerity. There’s no hidden meaning, no message to decode. It’s all right there, laid bare like a body on an autopsy table – and just as stark, too.

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Unlike much of the protest music coming out of the hippie folk scene, the group doesn’t ask you kindly to consider how you can change the world. They don’t even ask you to change the world. They do, however, demand that you confront a growing problem.

Almost forty years ago, this band and others like them (Reagan Youth is another that comes to mind) were well-aware of a major tactic the fascist underbelly employs to spread its message of racism and hate: inserting themselves, appropriating an image and symbols, and making it more difficult to erase them from whatever they may have infiltrated. It can be downright impossible to do so once this has happened. Much like an insect infestation, they must be stomped out before it gets unbearable.

The song continues:

You still think swastikas look cool

The real Nazis run your schools

They’re coaches, businessmen and cops

In a real fourth Reich, you’ll be the first to go

This really gets to the heart of the stupidity of the neo-Nazi movement, especially in scenes such as punk rock. Punks are supposed to be opposed to the state and about giving marginalized people and weirdos a space to be themselves, create art, and go against the grain. Being a neo-Nazi goes one-hundred percent against what it means to be punk.

These types complain about folks that punk traditionally gives a voice to, except they do it in song. Music and art is the best way to change minds and get your views across in a way people will pay attention to. This is why protest art and music exists in the first place, after all.

Bands like Skrewdriver understand this as well as anyone else. By performing music for enraged teenagers to shake their fists to, they can warp young minds who need a community and shape them however they see necessary. It stands to reason this is more harmful than anyone might know or be willing to admit.

This may or may not have been another facet of “Nazi Punks.” I can’t attest to whether or not that went into consideration when writing and recording the single. It’s likely it went through their minds, at least.

The song concludes with a warning:

You’ll be the first to go

You’ll be the first to go

You’ll be the first to go

Unless you think

This is a very fitting note to end on, and it’s not as negative as one might think on first listen. While stern, there’s a forgiving quality at play (or at least a resigned acceptance). Biafra is making a case for leaving your hateful beliefs in the past if only to save yourself. The Nazis would kill you just as they would anyone else, so think for yourself.

At the same time, it’s obvious he’s expressing a blatant hatred for their mindset, and giving a final warning to anyone tuning in that might be one of them, “Your time is up. Get out of here, or you’re finished.”

We need this song more than ever. We need songs like it more than ever. With the rise in white supremacy that we’ve seen over the past few years (or perhaps merely the surfacing of what was already there), we all know it’s impossible to rid ourselves of fascism completely. We can, at least, call attention to it and confront it through art.

Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_Punks_Fuck_Off

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