Personal Essay: Gray hair can't get in the way of a lifelong DIY ethic

Illustration by Narrator 

Illustration by Narrator 

Punk is Dead, Long Live Punk

by Tim Canny

In my early 20s, I embraced the punk rock DIY ethic when I played in a band and published a fanzine, both of which you’ve never heard of. But that’s okay. Back in the early ’80s, the goal wasn’t fame or fortune; it was the experience and sense of accomplishment. I was enamored with the idea that I didn’t have to stand by and be a spectator. I could jump in with both combat boots and do it myself. I didn’t care if I was a little fish in the big sea (the name of my band’s record, which you’ve also never heard of): I was creating, not consuming. Experiencing things firsthand and not living vicariously through others—and there was a whole community of like-minded individuals to share in my DIY adventure.

After my punk rock days, I gravitated toward technology. The advent of the Macintosh computer and ImageWriter felt as important as the Gutenberg Press: technology was breaking down the barriers for regular people who’d been given the power to publish and open new avenues of communication. I parlayed my interest into working with computers in the world of publishing, pre-press and printing. I even spent a little of my free time putting out an art zine, which—you guessed it—you’ve never heard of.

For 30-plus years, I’ve watched technology revolutionize industry after industry, including music. It’s made digital do-it-yourselfers out of anyone with a smartphone, laptop and internet account: You can start your own punk band; record, mix, release and sell your music; make your own videos; manage your fan club; sell your swag; and then publish your tour tell-all when the band breaks up.

 For me, punk is now the equivalent of the Golden Oldies my folks used to listen to; it’s the Internet meme picturing two old punk rockers that says, “Punk Rock Isn’t Dead, It Just Has Grey Hair, and Goes to Bed at a Reasonable Hour.” In my case, it is also balding and smokes a tobacco pipe. But beyond the fact that I’ve outgrown punk, I started to feel I was outgrowing the digital revolution, even though it’s still my day job. 

After all those years sitting in front of a computer, all my work—all my creations—had become virtual. There was nothing that I could hold up, and, like Tom Hanks dancing around his just-made fire in the movie Cast Away, shout“Yessss! Look what I have created!” I found myself looking for a creative outlet with a physical, tangible component. Something I could jump into with both Dr. Scholl’s Oxfords.

I landed in the DIY community here in Philadelphia by attending Make:Philly and Hacktory meetings, and taking welding and forging classes at the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym (PSG). Eventually, with the help of the welcoming artists at PSG, I was able to take an idea I had for a pipe stand and make it a reality. So far, I have produced almost 100 of my Workbench pipe stands, forged from repurposed vintage wrenches.

I consider myself very lucky that there is a community of DIYers here in Philly that make it possible for me to get my hands dirty again as I gravitate toward more “analog” technologies. I like the direction things are going—I’m meeting many like-minded individuals who want to get out from in front of the screen and make something real. If you are one of those people, you’ve got a great resource in the maker community here. Feel free to look me up; I’ll be more than happy to show you my creations, introduce you to pipe smoking and tell you all about that punk band you’ve never heard of.

Tim Canny is a technical writer and graphic artist living and working just outside Philadelphia. You can follow his pipe smoking and metalworking adventures on Instagram (@timcanny).