BLAG., Vol. 17
When interviewing for jobs, a dear friend of mine has this prepared answer:
Q: “What is your dream job?”
A: “Hakeem Olajuwon, 1994.”
In punk, we’ll talk about a musician’s legacy, but the topic is rarely framed in terms of their canon. Punk "careers" are rarely long. The subculture celebrates outbursts of energy, be it a youthful spring or nihilistic upchuck. As quickly as this creative energy is harnessed, it’s as easily snuffed out: someone dying at age 27, the band signs to a major label, the only good drummer in town quits, or the singer gets all libertarian and their dogma weirds out the band chemistry. Has the edge gone dull?
That’s what makes reunions so tricky. To cop some rhetoric from Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming, much of (the first wave of) punk was a subversive reaction to its surrounding culture: political unease, socio economic imbalance, or mainstream cultural malaise. So when a band reforms outside of its native context, it’s inorganic – a zoo exhibition versus their natural habitat likeness.
No one ever wants to be Michael Jordan's 1994 baseball career.
A voice yells down the street, “What’s up, Old Man Emo?”
I had just left my apartment and crossed North Ave. to my neighboring falafel joint. Some friends from a recreational sports league were walking by. “Old Man Emo” was their nickname for me, based on my formative diet of Dischord and Gravity Records, whereas their tastes veered more towards bands that were poppier, more “_____core,” and had prepositions as names. Despite being into the same subculture, the generational chasm was vast, but we achieved enough common ground to talk at length about music.
“So, did you get tickets to see Refused?” The Swedish phenoms had reunited, and announced a tour, which included a performance at a 5,000 seat venue a few blocks from where we were standing. Tickets sold out pretty fast. My “No?” spurned anguished cries from all of them. “You’re gonna miss out on the show of the century!”
Refused / Guilford College, Greensboro, NC / October 3, 1998
Except, in the same century, nearly 15 years earlier, I saw Refused play in a basement of Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Afterwards, the band and a few of us all crashed at the Slave zine house. Ulf Nyberg, their touring bassist, and I were trading e-mails before the tour, but that night, the entire band seemed real distant and aloof. I learned later that the band had broken up a couple of days before. They all went to bed immediately, save for Dennis Lyxzen, who talked about revolutions with Brian D and Eric B early into the morning. A couple of nights later, they played Matt and Ben’s basement in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The cops shut it down. Refused flew home. Fin.
It was unceremonious then, but time turned pity into lore and the band’s posthumous life eventually sent them to Coachella. I remember that Refused in 1998 were pretty good, even among a stacked line-up of Frodus, Cavity, and Catharsis. In 2012, do I hold onto that memory, or dilute it with the capital-R Rock experience reflected on the “New Noise” music video?
The first draft of this was written in light of the Bikini Kill reunion. Or, the excitement pressurized when limited tickets were snapped up by scalping sites, then resold for outrageous prices. I returned to this writing upon the announcement that Avail was doing a reunion show in Richmond, Virginia. I'll probably upload this to the SSR site while Jawbreaker is playing DC. Here’s my thoughts on their reunion at Riot Fest.
I’ve seen all of these acts in their original incarnations, count them among my favorites, and still listen to their records with regularity. Will I see them in their afterlife? Maybe, if logistics work out, but I try not to dwell hard on that nostalgia.
Cultural zeitgeist aside, these bands are literally old. Young people – especially punks, with their nihilistic outlook and all – are oblivious to aging’s wear and tear: your knees don’t spring nearly as much as they used to, your back has a dull ache that inflames to changes in barometric pressure, or your butthole constantly leaks like holding water in your fist. Or, on a more serious note, your stamina and motor skills are affected by disease or chronic illness. Reclaiming that youthful exuberance is extremely difficult.
Everyone talks about Jordan vs. LeBron as the GOAT, but no one wants to actually see the two actually square off in 2019.
I’m not saying old people can’t rock. There’s an aging grace to it, and I’ve seen some bands embrace that: Mission of Burma are awesome in their modern form. I always enjoyed The Mekons in their later stages. Hot Snakes seem to get more ripping in their well-seasoned status.
I know it’s super dorky to plug SSR stuff on the SSR blogs – I’m really just an “at-large” denizen – but Double Negative was a perfect example of a band that did old folks’ hardcore correctly: instead of rehashing the sounds of their youth, they kept it fresh in today’s context. The best way to show the kids how it’s done is to beat them at their own game.
Back to “Old Man Emo.” One of those guys grilled me at the post-game bar over bands I had seen.
“How’d you get to see all of these bands?”
“By going to shows?”
“Well, obviously! But I mean, how’d you get to see all those great bands?”
“What are you talking about? I went to a lot of shows back then. I still go to shows now.”
“Yeah, but bands today aren’t as good.”
None of these reunion du jour bands had “greatness” attached to them when I saw them. Jawbreaker were major label sell-outs. Bikini Kill shows were bummers due to confrontational misogynists in the crowd. Refused were on Victory Records. Avail... well, Avail shows were pretty consistently great. They were only a handful of bands who made impressions on history. For every handful, there's as many bands that time forgot, and scores that are best left forgotten.
The point is, I saw all these bands because their Then used to be Now. So, why not see the Now, now? Click on that Featured Release Roundup and start a'readin.'
b/w Brief Opinions
Various - American Idylls compilation, 2xLP (Sorry State)
So, so, so, so proud of how local punks galvanized around this. It's a wallop of a record because it's a wallop of a scene.
Butthole University - Slow Learner, 7" (self-released)
I copped a t-shirt. It's a hit at parties. The record's pretty good, too.
Haram - Where Were You on 9/11?, 7" (Toxic State)
I wish Haram would just sell out, sign to Relapse, and get airplay on some Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. This personal angle on our national trauma needs to be broadcast far and wide.
Devil Master - Satan Spits on Children of Light, LP (Relapse)
It's a catchy record! I wore one of their shirts to a 4-year old's birthday party, and it was not quite the hit the Butthole University t-shirt was.
Richard Vain - Night Jammer, LP (Big Neck)
The former The Ponys / Bare Mutants frontperson put this (probably literal) basement dwelling post-punk to tape. It's minimalist motorik that's not mundane: subtle touches layer out with each listen.
Uranium Club - The Cosmo Cleaners, LP (Fashionable Idiots)
The hook is just chaos that seems to always nail their parts, flip on a dime, and simply impress on sheer musicianship. Then you get to opaquely odd concepts that revel with in-jokes and references that this band is a glorious wall of WTF.
Czarface Meets Ghostface - s/t, LP (Silver Age)
Inspectah Deck as one of the more underrated Wu-Tang solo artists isn't a controversial take, but when you add Ghostface into the mix, that's when heads start turning. The real double take happens when one realizes the production's reference-packed sound collages overshadow the spitting.
Deep Tissue - demo, CS (self-released)
I caught their set at The Bunker, which subverted my hardcore expectations with tightly knit, haunting punk.
Fury - Failed Entertainment, LP (Run for Cover)
This doesn't have quite the epic sweep that 'Paramount' has, but I also do like how willing these post-Internet hardcore bands try out different sounds.
Shit Coffins - Termination, LP (Iron Lung)
Oh hi, ex-Talk is Poison and ex-Deathreat kind of automatically drops it in your Cart, right?
UPDATE: I read wrongly. Shit Coffins does not have a member or Deathreat. Or even Death Threat, for that matter. But there are ex-members of Mass Arrest and No Statik. Thank you firstname.lastname@example.org for the correction.
Rakta - Falha Comum, LP (Iron Lung)
Admittedly, I found the last couple of Rakta releases a bit tedious, losing me in gracious swaths of guitar noise. So. what now? Lose the guitars. This freed up the band to a behemoth of freak sounds that's, like, the cosmos, maaaan.
great post! y’all dingdongs need to get back to blogging on the reg. it is noticed and appreciated!
Shit Coffins does not have any ex-members of Deathreat