A Piece of Pizza, A Slice of Punk: The Cultural Significance of a Pie
We've got our mind on some pizza, and some pizza on our mind.
There’s this thing that’s been on my mind for a while now. I mean, it’s almost always on my mind, but it’s a food that’s been relevant in pop culture since as long as I can remember. It lurks in every corner of the Internet. It’s hard to escape — it’s there, lingering on Twitter backgrounds, being sung about by child actors in the stylings of Velvet Underground, teasing itself on your Tumblr dashboard at least once every two scrolls of your mouse wheel. This wonderful thing is a blessing from the Gods. And its goddamn name is pizza.
Think about this: pizza has been a piece of pop culture since Dean Martin compared it to the moon hitting your eye in “That’s Amore,” in 1952. It’s boss-ass food that’s been connected to your youth since school cafeterias first cooked it (peep The Aquabats – “Pizza Day“). It’s almost essential to life; a piece of nostalgia that most people associate with younger days and connect with instant coolness.
Most ’80s babies will remember it being a staple of the decade. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles preferred buying boxes of it and devouring them in between asskickings and leisure time. The Fat Boys got arrested for a couple of slices in “Jailhouse Rap,” with a later reprint of their debut album being packaged in a pizza box for 2012’s Record Store Day release. Spicoli ordered a pizza in class in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” In fact, most ’80s films paired pizza with the cool guy in high school who wore sunglasses and didn’t give a shit about his grades.
In the ’90s, it molded hand-in-hand with skateboarding and punk music. Bart Simpson, essentially the coolest fictional kid in the ’90s, was loaded on junk food and skating. Pizza was included in that junk food mix, and it became glorified by the punk scene and unified with the concept of friendship altogether. Loads of ’90s shows and films featured groups of friends meeting at a pizza places, or usually featured a bunch of friends eating pizza together, like “The Weekenders,” or the infamous “You’re Invited To Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Sleepover Party,” which got an obscure viral popularity after the folks at YouTube got their hands on it. There was also that weird recurring character duo of Earboy and Pizzaface from Nick’s “All That!” After all, having a bunch of friends to share a pizza with was the easiest thing to do in your youth.
To me, pizza’s been a universal sign of stonerism. It’s a symbol for slackers. It’s most every child’s favorite food, and if you don’t grow out of that, it’s an unhealthy, yet very pleasant relationship. It’s the symbol of friendship and high school. I mean, the food is a literal fountain of youth.
People who regularly enjoy pizza are those who hate cooking for themselves. They love having nights out with friends and sharing foods. Or, they’re fat and overeat when they have the munchies, which has been the case for me whenever eating pizza in the past year. Either way, it’s an important piece of food that can say a lot about who you are as a person. The deeper your obsession with pizza, the more prone to enjoying life you are.
More recently, however, I’ve been thinking of pizza in its relation to music. Think of this: There aren’t many foods that can relate to a genre of music better than pizza. Literally, pizza could be the mascot to a genre of music, and that genre, to me at least, is punk.
Most punks are full of rage and angst. Skating, being with friends, eating pizza together — it’s all a big part of the punk culture and being a youth. You were broke in high school. You might not have had a job and probably blew all your lunch money on drugs or gave it to older kids to buy you beer. There’s power in numbers, and when you didn’t have a job, you split pizza with your friends. $5 can only get you so far on your junk food game, but five friends throwing down $5 each? That’s a whole lot of pizza.
Metalcore band, Horse the Band, created an entire EP dedicated to pizza. Simply titled Pizza, it was packaged in a pizza box, and distributed by Koch Records. The EP was inspired after a trip to a pizza place called Lou Malnati’s in Chicago. The band had literally paused in the middle of “The Stampeding Machines” tour, to record an entire EP about pizza.
“The pizza was such that we were inspired by God to write music of the kind not heard in this world since Mozart was fed his first currywurst,” the band said on their official MySpace page in 2006. “A copy of Nietzsche’s ‘The Gay Science’ was onhand and for two days we struggled with the question posed in ‘The Greatest Weight’ passage, which follows. In essence, it asks the reader to examine their every action if they had to repeat their lives exactly for all eternity, begging the question in each and every thing, ‘Do you desire this once more, and innumerable times more?’
“We couldn’t decide if we should stay in Chicago and keep eating pizza for the rest of our lives. But after two days of rigorous theory, we realized we had to write divine music about the pizza. We decided to drive home immediately and write and record a five-song EP called Pizza before “Sounds of the Underground” and Warped Tour started. God was there.”
Lyrics on the song “Crippled by Pizza (Pizzarrhea in the Pizzeria),” dove deep into that passion for the pie. “I’ll take one more bite then lay down and die…and that one treasure / thick golden crust and a layer of cheese / I’ll face the consequences OF MY UNQUENCHABLE NEED!” The metalcore band literally recorded a solid five-track EP on the topic of pizza, pressed 550 copies of the EP, and it fucking sold.
Okay, hold up. Think about that for a second. First off, in what genre of music can you create an entire album on a single item of food AND have it sell? Second, in what other genre would this make perfect sense?
Punk and rap sometimes go hand-in-hand, though. Youth, rebellion, moshing, being ignorant, eating pizza. It’s almost the same as bass-ridden trap shit. Waka Flocka Flame coined the term “punk rap,” in reference to his own music and the genre he’s trying to create which perfectly captures the youthful energy he lets run free at his shows. Tyler, the Creator feeds off this exact type of energy, getting a swarm of youth to follow him, as he speaks to the rebel kids who love skating and being little punks.
Tyler spits on “Cowboy,” “Do you know how weird it is knowing I make a bunch of cheese, While my friends can’t afford little pizzas from Little Caesars / And their whole goal is to roll up and smoke bowls, So I don’t feel bad when they not eating.” Again, references of youth culture, drugs, and pizza. Slackerism, which I guess also relates to being a punk ass kid, more so than being “punk,” in terms of music culture.
Super loud mathrock/emo/punk effort, Heccra, named one of his EPs Pizza Is Emo. “I believe I was looking between either Gnarwolves or Airman Trout’s page when I muttered to myself ‘pizza is emo,’” Heccra said on the decision to name his EP.
“I think one truly elementary ’emo,’ theme is irony; juxtaposition of these desaturating, life draining emotions with the atmosphere and peripherals of happiness and fulfillment,” he continued, diving deeper into the genre and relation to pizza. “That’s just about when I started noticing on other emo and post-hardcore band’s Bandcamps and Soundclouds, it seemed just about everywhere there were references to the very comforting food of victory. Pizza is a lowest common denominator; everyone has eaten and enjoyed it. It’s become nearly impossible to have bad pizza — even the cheap frozen pizza is pretty tasty.”
Hardcore punk band Cerebral Ballzy listed pizza as a big inspiration for their first recordings. “We just knew what we did when we were 19 years old – living off pizza and drinking,” frontman Honor Titus said in an interview with Topman Generation. When asked if pizza and drinking was still a routine for their writing process, Titus told the publication, “That stuff is like a tattoo – it ain’t ever leaving.”
And it seems like it almost never will leave the punk scene. Last summer, emo band A Great Big Pile of Leaves released an album called You’re Always On My Mind. The album cover featured a simple design: a bold drawing that featured a skateboard, a hamburger, a mug of beer, and a big pizza pie dead center. But as simple as the cover is, the phrase, “you’re always on my mind,” being associated with pizza is something almost everyone can universally relate to. It really grasps your attention and begs to be listened to. It’s sparked curiosity with its design, at the very least.
Mac Miller’s got a track called “Kool Aid and Pizza,” that opens with the lines “Hey, Kool-Aid and frozen pizza / It’s a work of art, I ain’t talkin’ Mona Lisa.” Miller’s young, and most young dudes love pizza, so why not rap about it? Chris Travis has a mixtape literally called Pizza & Codeine. Meechy Darko of the Flatbush Zombies rapped the following lines on a song called “Death 2,” “Police pull over to me, asked if that blood on my shirt / Said nah, it’s a pizza stain, He laughed, gave me a ticket / Said nigga, don’t speed again.”
At the time of me writing this, Danny Brown’s current Twitter avatar is a slice of pizza with his signature hair and gap toothed smile. Pizza, bruh. Pizza.
I talked with local-Orlando bigwig rapper, Mr. 3 aka the Black Liz Lemon, of the pi(e) of life. The dude’s selling beanies around the O that literally say “Pizza,” on them, with his Bandcamp page representing the “Pizza Posse,” and all of his releases being tagged as “pizzacore.”
“Pizza is life,” Mr. 3 said. “Pizza is a philosophical mode, rather than simply a culinary treat. It represents the infinite universe and the finite lifespan, all in one box. I personally make pizza music, so to me, hip hop is pizza as hell. Metaphorically, it’s the universe. We all must come together to enjoy the pizza. It’s one of the few foods where you share, it’s universally beloved, and it’s one of two foods that can warrant its own party. Pizza party, ice cream party — [you] can’t have a hamburger party, that doesn’t make any sense.”
There are other items on Bandcamp that go under the tag of “pizzacore,” and music defined by artists as just “pizza.” Last.fm has a slew of artists under the “pizza,” tag, along with a big list of songs with the word “pizza,” in its subject matter.
Imagine if people stopped saying “we Gucci,” and started saying “we pizza.” What if pizza becomes recognized as so cool, it’s used as a descriptive word? What if we can one day actually describe a genre of music as “pizza”?
Tumblr plays a huge part in forming this idea of friendship and relationships being represented by pizza. It makes sense, being that you typically share pizza with your friends and yearning for the food is one of your only adolescent intentions. Numerous images on the blog software essentially repeat what Mr. 3 said, placing bold typography over images of pizza in space. Some of these images replace significant others in situations with pizza, claiming pizza is eternal, or that pizza is awesome.
Let’s not forget pizza and skating, either. There’s Pizza Skateboards, a company that makes decks and clothes derived from pizza delivery-box inspiration. Big Time Distribution makes various pizza decks, as well as incredible looking pizza grip tape. We at Mass Appeal already talked about The Good Company x Henry Gunderson‘s amazing pizza-slice skateboard, “the slicer,” which debuted last year with a pizza party in New York City.
I got a coupon code from Hide & Seek Clothing that is literally printed on the backside of an image of a pizza. It hangs off my fridge and I have no idea how I received the flyer in the first place, but I have it. It’s cool, it’s fitting for a fridge. It caught my eye, like Dean Martin’s before me. It’s fucking pizza. Pizza is awesome.
…And that could be the only cultural significance of the food in today’s culture, or even culture forever. Pizza is awesome, simple as that. It’s been noted since its birth numerous times, recorded in punk-history as a foundation of lyrical content and inspiration, and it tastes fucking great. It’s basic knowledge.
I do think at times the praise of pizza is seen as juvenile and an ironic obsession; I can’t really deny the term “Pizza is forever.” It’s been here, it’s been embedded into everyone’s head in pop culture, and no one will disagree: Pizza is cool, pizza is great, pizza will maintain its relationship with youth, culture, and music for an infinite time. In a way, pizza is eternal. It may be grossly unhealthy and greasy, but it’s here to stay, and no one can deny that power.