Philosophy of The Pit: Skins Talk Straightedge

Telling a `Skinhead' from a `Trendoid'

One minute the group wearing black leather jackets and bald pates stands huddled together laughing. A man, standing in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank on Mass. Ave., wails on the bagpipes. The skinheads laugh and heckle. He puts away the pipes, and a cheer erupts.

A reporter approaches to where they are sitting in a straight line along the wall talking to each other and listening to some speed metal on a large box. "Tell me a funny story," he asks. "Yeah, I know a funny story, it's about a newspaper reporter..." says one skin rather threateningly.

In the rapidly gentrifying Harvard Square world of smooth shiny-clean boutiques, the skinheads represent the counter-culture, and they are proud of it.

Dressed in black leather bomber jackets and shiny army boots, they hang out near the Harvard Square T Station kiosk, in the area nicknamed "The Pit." On a given Friday night, more than 20 skins flock to The Pit. At first glance they look like any other fringe social group. Punks, metalheads, skins--one would think they're all the same, but, according to the skinheads, the differences are obvious.

The Pit serves as a kind of Mecca for the Skinheads who come to Cambridge from Somerville, South Boston, Brookline and Springfield. Even though the skinheads hang out in other places, such as Kenmore and Copley Squares, Harvard "is the best place to hang," they say. The police are very strict in Copley Square about people loitering, the skinheads say. And "Kenmore Square is a violent place."

Chris, a skinhead who attends Metheuen High School, explains his concept of skinhead life. "The basic idea is I live in a lame town. So we come here and have fun."

The reasons the skins stick together aren't too different from that of any other group of American teenagers. "We hang out together, stick together, and help each other out," says Sean from Cambridge. "We like to hang out and go to shows together," Chris says. "We're a group of friends who like each others company."

"All we're doing is socializing with our brothers and friends," says another skinhead.

But even though their sentiments may be similar to those of mainstream American teens, their dress, music and ideas certainly are not.

Dock Martin army boots, a Bomber jacket with an American flag on the back or on the shoulder, red suspenders and a hardcore t-shirt comprise the skinhead uniform. Women skinheads dress similarly but don a bandanna over their heads, with a few tufts of hair jutting out from underneath.

The skins are careful to distinguish themselves from pseudo-skins or "trendoids" or "catalog kids." "A `trendoid' is someone who goes out and buys a $175 leather jacket and then puts studs in it," Chris explains.

Slapshot, Wrecking Crew, Minor Threat are the main skinhead bands, they say. It would be a rare day for these bands to ever be heard on Kiss 108, or any other commercial Boston radio station including `Rock the Boat Radio' WFNX. "That's more hardcore," says WFNX disc jockey Bowser. "We don't play that kind of stuff. It's too hard for commercial radio."

And if the skins seem hardcore in their music tastes, some them adhere to equally spartan political or moral ideals, which they sum up in the moral philosophy called "Straightedge." But unlike what one might expect from a fringe group, "Straightedge" connotes exactly that.

Shane, age 15, from Brookline High School, says, "You don't drink, you don't smoke, you don't drink, you don't have sex..." And five skins immediately interject, "You don't have sex." He clarifies, "You don't have casual sex."

Straightedge began around 1981 with a skin band called SSD. Slapshot, a local Boston band, has continued SSD's philosophy and influences many area skins. "Slapshot dedicates their life into having a pure life, a pure body," says Modley, who, though he considers himself a `Mod', is friends with the Skinheads. "They play a lot of street hockey and are bodybuilders."