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Rise and Legacy of the Straight Edge Music Movement: A Lifestyle Beyond Hardcore

Written By: Anonymous

I want to witness a musical revolution. I want to be interviewed in 30 years and tell the stories about what it was like to be there for the rise and fall of the attempts made by our youth to change the world. I want to help.   Straight edge by definition means a lifetime commitment never to drink, smoke, or do drugs. Some people include abstinence from promiscuous sex and others abstain from caffeine. Straightedge started in the hardcore/punk scene of the early 1980’s in Washington DC. Straightedge, to these kids, was more than just another local trend: it was a lifestyle.

Another popular link to straightedge is the X’s drawn on hands. In those days, bands would play shows in bars and the minors who couldn’t drink would get marked with X’s on their hands as a warning to the bartenders. This is where “X’IN UP” came into play.

Straightedge was one of the fastest growing “sub-cultures” during the 1980’s. For these kids with nothing to lose, yet nothing to gain, they needed a way to go against everything they had been taught. This movement was built up from the foundations of what today’s musicologists would call “American Hardcore.”

The Origins of Straight Edge Music Movement

In the early 1980’s, a band by the name of Minor Threat out of Washington D.C made punk headlines, when their front man Ian McKaye wrote a song called “I’ve got the Straightedge.”

“I’m a person just like you.

But I’ve got better things to do

Than sit around and smoke dope.

‘Cause I know that I can cope.

I laugh at the thought of eating ludes;

Laugh at the thought of sniffing glue.

Always gonna keep in touch.

Never want to use a crutch.

I’ve got the straight edge.”

Suddenly punks everywhere were interested in this new, and improved, way of thinking.

Despite other drug abusing bands at this time, Minor Threat believed in an alternative that would change the face of Hardcore-Punk, everywhere. As punk of the late 1970’s began to die off, a new breed of teenage angst was developing the woodwork—this new music by the name of “hardcore” was influenced by bands like the Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and Sham 69. Hardcore was created as a way to “stick it” to what radios DJ’s across America were calling “new wave” (an effortless form of indie-punk with sappy lyrics and foot tapping tempos). Soon teens everywhere were feeding on the fast tempos and gut wrenching lyrics: Hardcore had begun.

At the peak of Hardcore, times were hard and drugs were cheap. During the early 1980’s another epidemic was sucking the souls of the youth: Reganomics was session. Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. “He was the enemy of the arts, the minorities, the women, the gays, the liberals, the homeless, the working man, and the inner cities,” says Stephen Blush, author of American Hardcore. (American Hardcore pg 20). At this time, America experienced an economic recession where factories closed all over America and lives were affected everyday. But what better to influence a hardcore music scene like repression coupled with recession?

Like most teens today, these kids turned to anything as an outlet—this included alcohol and drug abuse, and promiscuity. At this time teenagers everywhere were going to clubs like CBGB’S or the Whiskey-A-Go-Go to get trashed and listen to music—they needed a quick escape. Most of the bands were also participating in this drug culture during this time. After a few deaths of local band members, teens began to realize that contrary to popular belief they were not invincible—this came as a shock to most.

Straight Edge as a Growing Subculture

While Ian Mckaye and his group Minor threat were enjoying the drug-free lifestyle, they weren’t aware that this choice to stay “straightedge” would soon turn into a cultural movement, and even develop into a musical subculture. Though Minor Threat was the first band to make this popular, there were still other bands influenced by this choice. S. S. Decontrol (also known as SSD), Youth of Today, Uniform Choice, BOLD, and DYS took the words to heart and expanded on them influencing Straight Edge’s presence within the growing hardcore music genre. (

The year now is 2007 and there are still teens all over American claiming straightedge everyday. Though the Hardcore genre has changed a lot it still brings to heart the same message and with change comes opportunity. Bands all over are still preaching the positive attitudes, and clean lifestyles. The 80’s were so influential for not only music, but for life.

I know that my life has changed drastically since I claimed: I no longer look to hollow substances to fill a gap in my life. Thankfully, when I look back in 30 years, I too will be able to say “I was there when this stuff was happening”. Straightedge, to us kids, is more than just another local trend: it’s a lifestyle. There is no doubt about that.

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