Subculture Soundtrack- The Road Trip

Playlist for a drive to Vermont and Montreal: been feeling a UK82/ No Future vibe lately.  I think because I feel as bleak lately, as I did when I was fifteen. I revisited some old tunes on a long drive. I’ve been thinking about how so many generations before my own have struggled with the same fears of being the final human beings to inhabit this planet. I wanted to go back and revisit the music and art of a generation of punks, the “kids of the 80’s” if you will who feared the nuclear fire next time.

The ExploitedPunk’s Not Dead.  The first Exploited record I actually heard was The Massacre.  Melanie got a copy of it when we were 14.  Her and Forrest and I scratched our shaved little heads thinking “What the fuck is this metal shit?”.  I didn’t like metal at all for a long time, based on the washed up heshers in faded Slayer shirts that would try and fight us for being “Punk Rock Faggots”.  It was funny when we tried to play the tape in Forrest’s Mother’s car and the track “Sick Bastard came on only for Forrest’s mother to ask us if Wattie was screaming “Shit Master”.  Might as well have been.

Oh yeah.  I was talking Punk’s Not Dead.  A baby punk rite of passage, at least in the 80’s and 90’s.  I don’t know anyone who liked The Exploited in earnest after they turned 18.  God this record is dumb, but it’s got its moments.  I maintain Out of Control and Dole Q got some genuine angst.  So do a few other tracks.  I Believe in Anarchy is just plain silly.  Fuck the mods is one of the more boneheaded throwaway songs ever written. I would rather listen to The Jam’s “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight” nowadays, hands down.

The ExploitedTroops of Tomorrow.  I liked this record when I was fifteen.  I traded Dan Jenkins an Alien Workshop t-shirt for a cassette version of this record and an Exploited T-Shirt.  I still think I got the better deal. I thought I was so cool. The cassette cover had a picture of Wattie playing live wearing a t-shirt of Sid Vicious wearing a swastika shirt.  Yikes.  Not cool Wattie.  I looked up the tape on discogs a while back.  It’s worth like $30 now.  I have no idea where mine went.  In tenth grade, Jamie Buckmeyer told me how she heard The Exploited toured the US with Skrewdriver back in the 80’s and we maybe shouldn’t like them anymore in case they were Nazi sympathizers.  I always kinda thought “Hitler’s In The Charts Again” was maybe an antifascist anthem, but I couldn’t make out what the fuck Wattie was saying.

I know now that 1. Skrewdriver never ever toured the US.  They had a hard time even playing England without getting some well-deserved ass beatings and 2. The Exploited toured the US with Agnostic Front, a skinhead band with far less reprehensible politics.  Life before you could just google anything you wanted to know was wild, and rife with misinformation, but maybe a bit more mysterious.  3.  I was about a year away from outgrowing The Exploited anyway.

The ExploitedSingles Collection.  All these songs are still pretty decent.  Dead Cities is The Exploited at their rapturous, apocalyptic best.  Romanticized hopelessness.  I still see the appeal in this song nearly 40 years after its release and 25 years after I heard it for the first time.  Rival Leaders gets you pumped for nuclear Armageddon. Computers Don’t Blunder warns of a nuclear holocaust brought on by computer error.  Nowadays I don’t know anyone who doesn’t’ immediately think of the all-seeing surveillance apparatus we willingly participate in with our smartphones and social media when we think of computers.  I still maintain Attack is such a catchy, weird punk tune from a band that just wrote a lot of the same song.

The ExploitedLet’s Start a War… (Said Maggie One Day). I never listened to this as a kid.  This record is fine. I might be able to concentrate on it more if I wasn’t driving.  This record came after The Exploited lost their classic lineup.  Only Wattie left.  I like the samples in between songs.  I like that the record is almost exclusively centered around opposition to the 1983 Falklands War. Rival Leaders got pulled off this record as a single. It’s just as fun here. The chorus of “10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1… here we go!” Gets me just as pumped for watching ICBMs raining from the sky here as it does on the singles collection.

Where other punk bands wrote protest songs, so many Exploited songs have this air of lackadaisical nihilism to them. We are all going to die. Whatever. Might as well keep doing drugs and screaming in infantile rage about our impending doom.

I can’t help but admire that right now.

The ExploitedHorror Epics and Death Before Dishonour.  These records are fine for mid-80’s punk fare, starting to veer just into metal territory, but not nearly as tragically as Discharge would around the same time.  Horror Epics is a really stellar record title and I always liked the cover.  Three punks sitting in an old school movie theater with a vampire looming creepily over them. Really, so much of what I loved about the 1980’s is right there in that cover. I like that they wrote a song about Margaret Thatcher that just says Maggie Maggie Maggie you’re a cunt.  Is there a historical figure more maligned within punk rock then Margaret Thatcher? Maybe Ronald Reagan. I hope teenage punk kids are out there somewhere in a thousand basements and garages writing songs about stabbing Jeff Bezos to death in a post climate change wasteland.

I don’t remember anything about Death Before Dishonour.  The cover, Margaret Thatcher embracing the grim reaper in front of a haunted looking church is pretty great. All The songs on both these records kind of sound like the band was just mainlining speed and putting music to Wattie’s paranoid ramblings.  I’m kinda into that, given how I struggle with paranoia.  Do I have a kindred spirit in Wattie Buchan?  Fuck.

Broken BonesSingles Collection – I heard Broken Bones for the first time on one of those Cleopatra UK82 comps put out in the 90’s.  For whatever reason, my friends and I thought buying a record without having heard the band first, just because you were curious or whatever, meant you were buying the record because the band’s logo looked cool painted on some other punk’s jacket and therefore you were just buying the record to be cool, and you were definitely a poser.  I could give a shit about this kinda thing now, but I will cop to having been a pretty insecure kid.  Comps were a loophole to hear bands before you bought the record, thus saving yourself from poserdom.  I guess it also saved you from the possibility of buying a shitty record based on seeing the logo painted on some other kid’s leather.  Anti-Nowhere League, for example were on the same comp, and their track demonstrated to me that they in fact sucked, despite the frequency with which I saw their logo painted on Jackets.

The Roberts brothers really saved themselves a lot of humiliation by getting out of Discharge while the getting was good.  Broken Bones did the whole crossover thrash thing well, without veering catastrophically into hair metal territory like the aforementioned Discharge.  I like all the songs on this record.  Perfectly dark with tons of killer riffs.  I don’t really know how to write about music.  The opening riff of “It’s Like” feels huge and dark, like a plunge into a black leather abyss.

On the topic of painted leather jackets, I saw a kid outside an Aus-Rotten/Stratford Mercenaries show at Stalag 13 in Philly way back in 1997 in a leather trench coat with the Broken Bones logo painted elaborately across the back.  I wonder where that jacket is now?  Where are all the studded leathers of yesteryear?  I sold mine for $50 when I was hard up for traveling money at 22.  I wish I hadn’t now.  The buyer at the thrift store even tried to talk me out of it.

Broken BonesDem Bones – Started to get highway hypnosis while this one was playing.  Thrash thrash thrash.  Had to skip over the title track due to its silliness.

Broken BonesBonecrusher – I like this record more.  Probably because it contains a lot of the singles I had been listening to for a long time.

BlitzVoice of a Generation – Okay.  I still listen to this record pretty regularly.  An Oi/Streetpunk classic.  Most of the hits.  A few filler tracks that I normally skip over at home.  I can do without the almost surf rock vibe of “T.O?”, and whatever “Vicious” is.  Ironic though, because I do admire Blitz for being willing to experiment Blitz musically, coming from a scene seemingly full of knuckle draggers more looking for a soundtrack to a brawl than branching out musically.  I mean…  They literally have a song named “Fight To Live”.  Blitz will always epitomize so much of the No Future vibe emanating from the second wave of punk for me. Maybe it was the bleakly tough promo photos, or how seemingly fast they self-destructed, despite being remarkably prolific for a group of broke punks and skins.

BlitzSingles Collection – This is my first and favorite Blitz record.  Not a bad track on it.  Someone’s Gonna Die introduced my friends and I to both the Oi chant, and the entire genre when we were fifteen.  Somewhere lost to time, or a Pennsylvania basement, there’s a demo recording of my first punk band.  We set a boombox at the top of the basement stairs for the clearest (yet still terrible) sound.  If one were to unearth those recordings today, they would hear the static empty air hiss of the cassette as the spindles lurched to life to record our messy teenage tunes, immediately followed by our drummer shouting “It’s recording!  Oi! OI! OI! and stomping down the stairs to take his place behind his drumkit.  His snare head was constructed almost entirely out of duct tape and sounded gloriously awful.

Listen, I even like the New Wave singles at the end of this record.  I’m not afraid to admit it.  They’re solid songs.  Maybe not on par with New Order, but I think these singles and the Second Empire Justice LP would have done better had the members of Blitz who ended up with the name when the initial lineup split had recorded the records under a different name.  As it stands, the new wave records were resoundingly rejected by Blitz’ established fanbase and the records, and the band faded into obscurity.  Most of us didn’t even know about later period Blitz until well into adulthood.

One Way SystemAll Systems Go – Give Us A Future is a classic anthem of desperate youth demanding a better world.  Stab The Judge is one of the best punk revenge anthems of all time.  “What we gonna do if it all goes wrong, keep on running for how long?”  When I was young, I think I romanticized my emerging punk rock life as one which would inevitably end in tragedy.  My friends and I talked about murdering at least one our tormentors with a casual ease. I never saw any kind of happy ending to that story. I wanted to go out in a blaze like the unnamed character in this song, striking out against oppressive authority figures.  A punk rock last stand. 

I never imagined making it to 18, then 21, then 15, then 30.  Now I’m almost 40 and have been in proximity to enough tragedy for two lifetimes while our collective future feels more uncertain than ever and I feel like I want to cling to consciousness harder than ever before.

I always thought Stab the Judge would work great covered as a darkwave track, but I don’t know how to make music.

DischargeHear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing – The almighty D-Beat was born right here. There is nothing I can say about this record that has not been said a thousand times by writers more talented than me.  Discharge’s masterpiece, their plateau before a disastrous descent into hair metal territory.  The opening bass lines and guitar riffs of The Final Bloodbath sound like the mouth of hell opening (or an enormous door slamming?) and it remains one of my favorite urgently haunting hardcore punk songs of all time, a desperate warning for humanity (or at least the punks) to recognize the imminent danger posed by war mongering leaders and ravenous corporations.

40 years later, you wonder if anyone heard it, or if we’re all just so beaten down by trying to survive that it saps our will to resist.

Syndrome 81Beton Nostalgie – For whatever reason, my car’s stereo system would switch to this record whenever I got a text message.  I was gonna listen to it at some point during a long ass drive anyway.  A compilation of all of Beton, France’s Syndrome 81’s recorded output so far.   Everyone knows France’s punks and skins are producing some of the best Oi! and Street Punk in the world these days.  Syndrome 81 are no exception, save for adding a healthy dose of dark/post punk into the mix.  These songs sound like what I think Blitz could have done following the New Age single.  Dark punk with a slightly thuggish edge.  These records remind me of Olympia.  I think mainly because I’ve read in interviews with Syndrome 81 that Beton is a port town where it rains all the time.

 

 

 

Subculture Sunday Vol. 7

I have been writing these short posts about subcultures I have been a part of, or respect on my personal social media for a few weeks now. It’s just something fun to do to practice writing.

I’m going to repost some of the longer entries here.

I still feel a certain way whenever I see the distinctive cover art for the early Sisters Of Mercy singles. I am forever taken back to that twinge of clove cigarette and leather scented subterranean excitement upon coming across one of these gems in the record store. They felt like these beautiful black pillars, shaping what the goth subculture that my generation of outsiders inherited looked like. We were just a decade too young ⁣to catch this band in their prime, but so much of the scenes we loved were influenced by those deep and dark bass lines and Andrew Eldritch’s just slightly overwrought baritone. ⁣

I know this band means a lot of things to a lot of people. I still remember where and when I heard them for the first time – a candlelit attic room in a farmhouse in New Freedom, Pennsylvania on a frozen night in January. I will always love how they took so much what I loved about punk and turned the lights down on it, adding melodrama and a healthy dose of brooding melancholy. I was an obnoxious punk kid; hyperactive and an opinionated loudmouth, but also hypersensitive and insecure. After the shows, or late at night alone these records were the perfect soundtrack for laying to rest the hundreds of tiny heartbreaks from the day. They still are, even with my youth long behind me.

For a while when I was sixteen, one of my best friends was this burly skinhead kid who would just destroy himself in the pit at whatever show we had been at that night, especially if there were anyone we suspected of being Nazi skins at the show to tussle with. Later, we’d get home, and he’d take his boots off and collapse on the fold out bed in my room, claiming to be too sore to move. “Oh… if you can’t move, you can’t stop me from putting this Sisters Of Mercy tape on…”, I’d laugh in the dark. He would swear he was going to kick my ass in the morning for subjecting him to my gothic rock, but he never did. The tape would run out into the night and we were always friends again in the morning, listening to more knuckleheaded Last Resort and Blitz records to greet the day.

Andrew Eldritch is arguably the most hard headed shithead in all of goth, and that’s saying a lot, not only because he’s always claiming to not be goth (scroll all the way down to see two pictures of him and his bandmates looking very, very goth. He supposedly wrote all the lyrics to their first full length in a few days while on an epic speed bender. When the first incarnation of The Sisters Of Mercy acrimoniously split up, he wrote a throwaway record under the similarly named “Sisterhood” in an attempt to snatch up the recording advance for the unreleased follow up to that first LP and so his bandmates couldn’t use the name. He then reformed the band without them and continued to put out new music until the early 90’s when conflicts with Warner Brothers led him to simply stop recording rather than put out new music that would financially benefit the label at all. I remember reading an article he wrote in the 90’s where he listened to contemporary bands and pointed out where they must have taken influence from him.

The Sisters Of Mercy also played a horribly matched gig with Black Flag that Rollins wrote about in Get In the Van. I have always wondered who booked that show, and just… how that happened. They went on a brief (and very awkwardly received) tour with Public Enemy, and made a rad shirt saying Nazis were not welcome at their shows sometime in the early 90’s.

I’ve been arguing with one of my childhood friends for something like twenty-five years about how good these records are. If he’s reading this, here’s to another twenty-five, buddy.

Like Andrew, I am also maybe just a bit of a hardheaded shithead.

A love letter written to survival and community.

I have been living with this broken-toothed grin for fifteen years as of this morning.

I had just locked up my bike outside of the Villa Kula house to cook Wednesday Food Not Bombs. I was probably looking forward to baking vegan banana bread or something. I always enjoyed to the sense of connected purpose that Wednesday mornings brought.

Nobody was awake at the house yet, so I decided to walk up to Auraria Campus and check my email. Remember what it was like before we all voluntarily started carrying these nightmare boxes that allow us to stay connected to absolutely everything much to the detriment of our mental health, all while they monitor our every move and we had to go places to check our email?

I don’t remember what I was so distracted by when I stepped off the curb onto Colfax Avenue, but I remember hearing a woman standing behind me scream “No!” and feeling the truck hit me. The last thing I remember before blacking out is a passing thought of “shouldn’t getting hit by a car hurt worse than this?” I met that woman later and she told me how after the car hit me I sat up and tried to pull myself off the ground before I passed back out. I’ve always thought trying to walk off a broken pelvis and two lacerated internal organs while basically blacked out tops the list of ridiculous shit I’ve done to prove to everyone I’m the toughest tiny person they know. She told me how when she went to work that day and the first thing she said to her co-workers was “I think I just watched some kid die.”⠀⁣

I came to on the street with that woman holding a napkin to my bloody face, doing her best to assure me that I would be okay. I immediately got this sinking feeling that I’ve thankfully only had a few times in my life. There’s probably a concise word for it in another language, but it’s the feeling that comes immediately after doing something as innocuous as crossing the street, something that seemed so innocuous and normal, and your life changes forever. There was your life before that thing, and now there is your life after.

I wiggled my toes inside my boots and felt a sense of relief at knowing my spine wasn’t broken. After that i became aware of a pain in my mouth and stuck my tongue out to check on my teeth. They weren’t entirely gone yet, but they were mangled. Doctors told me later that the impact of hitting the street face first broke my teeth, ramming what was left of them into my jaw, necessitating their complete removal. They also told me my teeth absorbing the shock of my hitting the street saved me from death or a traumatic brain injury, for which I have always been so thankful. I remember that gratitude on the days when my back hurts, or my shoulder won’t sit right riding my bike.

The weeks after that day, the crew of punks I ran with in Denver, and all around showed up harder than I ever could have imagined. I remember yelling at the doctors before they would let anyone see me that I was so scared and I just wanted my fucking friends. You can imagine the relief that rushed in when I finally got to see familiar faces in the ICU. I remember feeling so thankful to be alive and to be surrounded by the love that pulled me through the scariest day of my life.

I endeavor to carry that love with me always, to carry all the love living through that accident allowed me to experience and share over the last fifteen years, on days where life on this planet leaves me so drained and demoralized, that it’s all I can do to keep living on it. I wish I could say those days have been few and far between, but they have not been, and I’ve always had a problem with being dishonest. I endeavor to offer that love back to everyone in my life, and I’m not afraid to admit that I fall short in that more often than I wish I did. I think of how many of our friends are gone, and I’m grateful for not having joined them in the hereafter, regardless of the ache their absence leaves.

If you’re reading this, I love you. Thank you. For all of our friends who are gone, I’m glad you aren’t one of them. Thank you for the privilege of our crossing paths. Thank you for the love and light you have shared, that you bring to your people. Thanks for hanging in. All we have is each other and that’s really not the worst thing in the world.

Untitled

How many graveyards
Of the soul
Live on
And on
In your skull

Every night

Are you tired
Worn down
From the years
Spent dragging your
Heart through
The abyssal dark
Alone

All the late nights
In cold rooms
Lived in loops
Playing the same
Sepia soaked scenes
On repeat

I don’t want them anymore

I’m tired, baby
Just so tired
Of restless ghosts

Falling forever
Through the firmament
Of the lives
We could have
Should have
Lived

Here’s to the past
Raging beneath tired skin
Like an ocean
With no end
The tides of comfort
That never come in

Here’s to the futures
Lost and mourned
Faded and yellow
Brittle
Maps to a country
That never existed

Twenty-Eight

Ugly people
Haunt you
Just enough
To remind You
The day you left them
Felt
Like a first breath
Back
From the shadow
Of the valley of death

There is magic
Living
Breathing in
In this world
I know this much
Is true
Too bad
There’s none left
Living in you.

Tropical Appalachia

January, and it’s that proper cold
Flick my tongue out, taste the snow
Frozen Reassurance of a world spinning on
Offered from the gray expanse above

A throwback
To the kiss of winters long gone
Icy winds blow ill
Crossing the threshold of my lips

Wishing to breathe the clock backwards
Before that cataclysmic industrial thaw
Ushered in the unease of
A Tropical Appalachia

71 degrees in January, Just last week
Everyone knows something is very wrong
As the minute hands crawls
Ever closer towards a colossal Midnight

My best friend’s paws
Hallow
Hold
Every inch of ground
She walks upon

I’m not ready.
I’m not ready.
I’m not ready.
I’m not ready

World Burns To Death

The lead up to another yet another war in the Middle East has me thinking a lot about the young punk rocker I was 17 years ago, and the music that provided the soundtrack to my small acts of resistance to the war machine. The recorded output of World Burns To Death came into sharp focus. Releasing 3 LPs and a handful of EPs before they faded away at the end of the 2000’s, World Burns To Death were at the forefront of American Hardcore Punk.

World Burns To Death wrote some of the most crushingly brutal D-Beat to grace our turntables, including a sonically harrowing concept album about the failures of state communism. Finding their EPs always felt like such an exercise in giddy horror, so much so that I remember finding one I didn’t have in the summer of 2004 while traveling and carefully wrapping it up in spare black crusty shirts in my pack and hopping trains all the way home to Denver with it in my pack. Stark black and white covers, and some of the most straightforwardly ugly lyrics, in the grand, desperate tradition of Discharge before them. Exactly what I needed. Exactly the ugliness I felt roiling inside of me every single day.

That whole summer, I struggled with a sense of despair so massive that I was quietly suicidal, though I told none of my friends. A sense of apocalyptic failure haunted my dreams. The Iraq war had entered its second year and the torrent of opposition to it that had flowed through the streets had dwindled to all but a trickle. That winter we learned climate change truly would be the doom of us all, and the burning world spun on. We drank like our livers wouldn’t last and the poison would let us forever opt out of a futile future. I made a tape of someone’s Sucking of the Missile Cock LP and listened to it on repeat, fantasizing about an ending in self-immolation every time Apparatus closed out the LP, so tired of all the horror, the hurt and the desperation for my life to mean something.

A friend said something to me the other night that really resonated about feeling all the same anger and motivation that we felt when we were young people circa 2002-03 during the lead up to the Iraq invasion, the weight of age having done little to dull those feelings, but they just come accompanied with so much more fear and absolutely none of the optimism nowadays. A feeling of “this could be it; the final war punks have been screaming about, living in fear of for our entire adult lives might be here” hangs heavy on the hearts of all the youth of yesterday I know.

It’s hard to look back at the years between then and now and recognize the ease with which the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan gradually became relegated to the white noise of atrocity in the background while we all just tried to survive and make it to our thirties without catching felony charges or going to an early grave. There’s an undeniable privilege there, but if you’re reading this you probably know that already.

I feel that same despair today, but with almost two decades worth of cynicism and existential depression added to the pile. Whatever horrors those in power are readying to unleash on the world, I have little faith the left will mount any real resistance to. My cynicism and distrust make it hard to connect with community, in a time when we all just need each other. I’m in a new city alone, trying to live like the world isn’t collapsing. So I get up in the morning, eat my breakfast, walk my elderly dog, go to my dumb job, and try and find a dentist that will take my insurance in the feeble hope that my teeth will stop rotting out of my fucking skull, despite how regularly I brush and floss.

In solitude, I turn to music for solace, and these records still give voice to the seething revulsion I feel at the way power maneuvers throughout the world. The anger. The hopelessness. The Despair. I’ve realized lately that I’m at that age where I think I’m at that crossroads of settled into the music I love in a way that makes me less interested in newer punk, and finding myself drawn to music made by people my age or older who are still trying to be creative. More and more, I feel alienated from younger punks, too. With punks not always being the most long-lived people, 40 is roughly “ok boomer” age in punk rock.

It is what it is, but I also miss punk and need that shit more than ever lately.

If you are a creative person out there making music and art despite your despair, please keep creating.