Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday July 23rd 2019


“Punk Helped Me Talk Back”

By Savannah Evanoff

Amy McDowell cut her first slice of punk in the summer of 1994 inside a white stucco building in Gulf Breeze called Cramm Records.

Her father, Clyde, opened the mini record shop on a $2,000 budget—of which only a small portion was dedicated to actual inventory. At 16, McDowell worked the tiny store every day after high school from 3 to 6 p.m.

“I wasn’t paid; I just got music back,” McDowell said. “I would take records from the inventory. My father was thinking about buying a small boat. He decided to go with an investment in a music store because he liked listening to music and buying old records and trying to find good deals.”

Not long after opening, they upgraded to a larger storefront nearby—although the vibe never suited the venue.

“We had these very bright purple floors, so it had this very Florida vibe,” McDowell said. “We weren’t selling Jimmy Buffet; we were selling hardcore, screamcore punk rock, 7-inches for 2 and 3 dollars, then a lot of used R&B and rock ‘n’ roll LPs from the ‘60s. It had these two personalities. The old hippie music and the new super-edgy hardcore punk was our specialty.”

The store grew enough to move to downtown Pensacola, a space that doubled as an independent music venue in the back called Section 8. It was there that McDowell first met Valerie George—a current member of the board of directors for Pensacola’s 309 Punk Museum Project.

An angry then-21-year-old George walked into Cramm Records after her ex-boyfriend made off with half of her records.

“I remember (McDowell) looking up at me and saying, ‘Wow, it’s really amazing to see another woman buying records for herself,’” George said. “I looked at her and I was like, ‘What? Women don’t buy records for themselves?’ She was like, ‘You’d be amazed how many guys come in here, and their girlfriends don’t buy records.’ She just struck me, and we were best friends ever since.”

George also identified as punk as a teenager. She lived in The Javelin’ Joint, a punk house.

“I was very much inspired by punk community as a young kid because I really desperately needed a family,” George said. “It was the punk kids that really taught me resilience and problem-solving skills and being able to take care of myself.”

If you identified as punk, you had a family—a large one, George added.

“All I had to do was roll up, go to a punk show, and I had something to eat and a place to sleep at night,” George said. “It’s just because I walked into a room. They were total strangers, but they’re not. It’s this understanding that we’re going to take care of each other. There’s something really powerful and important about a community that strong.”

The music also drew her to the scene. Punk talked about issues that mattered to her, she said.

“The songs we were listening to talked about sexual assault and racism and politics—the issues I was literally growing up with,” George said. “The popular music wasn’t doing that. It was sappy and pacifying and fun to dance to, but it didn’t address the issues I was facing.”

“The punk scene really helped me identify who I was and what my place was in the world but also what I could do about it,” she continued.

A controversial band, Earth Crisis, unintentionally brought down Section 8 and the record shop in one swoop in 1998. People rioted against the straight-edge musical group in the form of spray paint on the bank’s signs next door.

“The bank was our landlords,” McDowell said. “We had a short notice that we had to get out of the building, and we just stopped. We didn’t try to open it again. That was the end.”

It was the end of the music store but only the beginning of McDowell’s lifelong punk exploration.

Today, she is an assistant professor of sociology in the University of Mississippi’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Her experiences in the punk community gave her an advantage in her sociological studies.

“Punk shaped the pursuit of independent DIY culture, and what I learned through that helped me question social norms in ways that enhanced my ability to recognize and analyze social inequalities,” McDowell said. “That’s kind of the core of what sociology as a discipline does. Punk primed me.”

The dissertation she completed at the University of Pittsburg was a comparative study looking at how evangelical Christian youth and Muslim and non-Muslim brown youths expressed their religious identities through punk rock. For her master’s, she researched the feminist and queer music scenes in Pittsburgh.

McDowell hopes to discuss her research in the coming lecture at T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum.

“I’m not just going to talk about punk, feminism or religion,” McDowell said. “I’m going to be talking about Islamophobia and racism. I think it will likely resonate with audiences in different ways because my research is at an intersection of various issues.”

“I’m hoping a lot of people can connect to it, whether or not they’re interested in punk,” she said.

McDowell also looks forward to seeing the Punksacola exhibit—currently on display at the Wentworth—that the 309 Punk Museum Project co-curated, she said.

The goal of the lecture series is to bring people back to Pensacola who were part of the punk scene to talk about how punk has influenced their personal and professional lives years later, George said. It’s one of many events the 309 Punk Museum Projects hosts to raise awareness about the importance of punk and DIY culture.

“What I’m hoping is that the audience will recognize that punk philosophy has some very powerful roots in social engagements and really does influence the way people live the rest of their lives,” she said. “To understand the punk culture and DIY culture is valuable.”

“It’s a different way to live. It’s not the only way to live, but it’s one that works for us. It certainly shifts the way we look at the rest of the world,” George said.

309 Punk Symposium Lecture Series
WHAT: A lecture and reception with Dr. Amy McDowell, part of the Punksacola exhibit programming
WHEN: 5 p.m. Saturday, May 4
WHERE: Trader Johns Gallery at T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum, 330 S. Jefferson St.
COST: Free