My favorite hardcore punk record of all time is 20 years old. I got my grubby little hands on this LP 20 years ago this month. I picked up my copy when Tragedy played Denver on tour for this LP. It would have been November 30th or December 1st, 2002. I don’t remember the exact date, but more on that gig in a minute.
When this LP came out, the hype surrounding it was inescapable. A testament to its power, considering this LP came out in the days before social media ruled our lives, making hearing new records no more difficult than making a sandwich or brewing a cup of tea.
In any punk house in any city, an annoying fanboy might talk your ear off about how this record was the perfect blend of Crust Punk and D-Beat and melodic Death Metal. They might even argue Tragedy was our generation’s DISCHARGE, albeit with superior musicianship, more impassioned, less contrived lyrics, and without the humiliating foray into hair metal.
I know this because I was one of those fanboys! I would still argue that Tragedy adding an element of melody to hardcore and crust punk changed the genre. They spawned countless bands who either imitated the style or took it and made it their own. Fall of Efrafa and Ekkaia come to mind, but I am sure I am forgetting other important bands.
I have connected with Tragedy’s output less over the last two decades, but I still love each record. However, none of them define entire eras of my life like this LP. I think some music just hits you in that pivotal moment. You’re in the right time, the right place for a sound to settle into skin you can never quite feel comfortable in. The music hits, and it gives voice to all the pain and frustration weighing you down on a day-to-day basis.
My clearest memories of watching Tragedy play on tour for this LP are how they did not waste a moment onstage. All killer, no filler. Not a single misplaced beat or misplayed note. They were a machine, honed to perfection. The room exploded when they hit their first note. At one point, an unruly slamdancer smashed into the band, since the gig was at a warehouse and there was no stage. The guitar player, without missing a note, grabbed the dancer by the throat, pushed him back into the crowd, and then continued playing. I got my own taste of aggro that night when a wasted local crust punk, aptly named “Mikeaholic” ran recklessly through the crowd, clothes-lining random dancers. Without thinking my actions through, I grabbed Mike and punched him, dragging him through the crowd and to the back of the warehouse. I threw him down and kicked him in the stomach and left him there to dive back into the swirling morass of dancing punks. Lucky for me, Mike passed out, or just decided not to escalate the situation. I never knew.
Do yourself a favor and revisit this LP today. It holds up. If you’re not familiar with it, get acquainted! I wish I could say that the seething rage directed at corporations and governments bloated by human greed and malice running our world run into ruin contained in this LP is not as relevant now as it was when the songs were written, but that is sadly not the case.
And hey… If you know Mikeaholic, tell him sorry for that sucker punch, but I paid my five bucks for that gig too. I had as much of a right to enjoy it as he did. And at least it wasn’t as bad as the time as Melissa beat both him AND his friend’s ass outside Bar Bar a few years later.
3. Cock Sparrer – Riot Squad The Second best anti cop punk song. As my dear friend Crain says “It’s a banger.” https://shop.piratespressrecords.com/collections/cock-sparrer/products/cock-sparrer-shock-troops-lp Pirates Press, in my opinion is a DIY label worth supporting right now. They did a lot of benefits to support their artists during the worst of Covid. When the uprising against police violence and institutional racism kicked off last summer, Pirates Press auctioned off a grip of tests presses and rare merch to support the cause.
K.T.’s mom used to let us party in her house, some non-descript, two story cookie cutter type deal, deep in the suburbs of East Denver. I would never be able to find it again, even if I wanted to. When I try and picture the neighborhood, I think it was somewhere near the intersection of Hampden and University, but I’m not sure.
Her parents had divorced sometime in the recent past, and K.T.’s mom got the house and she lived there alone with her daughter. At parties, I imagined I could see empty spaces on the walls and mantles, where family photos had once hung, later to be removed in bitterness. I was 17, smart beyond my years, but immature all the same. Black jeans, black boots, with a studded leather jacket and full of strong opinions and naivete. Observing, but never quite listening. I still cringe when I think about it sometimes.
Most of my friends were under 18, but their boyfriends were older. I remember thinking something was just a little off there, shuffling awkwardly in the kitchen, watching combat boots and Doc Martens scuff and stomp across the linoleum, the hiss of beers cracking open, cigarette lighters igniting behind hands cupped in front of young faces all around. A smokey haze filled the kitchen. Empties lined the counter, discarded where they lay. Kids gathered together in cliques and whorls, talking shit and laughing, racing each other towards beer bellies and bad teeth. I played the wall, found my refuge in the corner, always wishing to be a part of it all, but feeling alone in a crowd all the same.
It was cold outside. December, the first day of winter break; the very depths of the cold and dark season. Someone put on a Discharge record, and visions of a nuclear winter engulfing the entire world, save for walls around us filled my mind. The world outside would go to ash and eternal snow, and we would be in here, partying against the dark; racing towards a self-imposed oblivion all our own
“Sometimes K.T.’s brother comes home from college, and her mom comes out of her room, and both of them party with us!” one of the boyfriends in a ratty black hoodie, stained brown with filth and smoke and beer, despite its very suburban origins said, as he cracked open another beer.
I coughed cigarette smoke.
“That’s cool, I guess.”
K.T.’s boyfriend called himself “Mikeaholic”, a seemingly ancient at 23 punk rocker, with drooping features and a prematurely alcohol aged face. He lived down in Colorado Springs, but came up to Denver to party when he could find a ride. Otherwise, he was just an invisible presence, K.T.’s boyfriend that she got into fights with on the phone late at night when they were both drunk. One night after everyone had passed out, I heard crying, and found K.T. crying on the stairs. I offered her the clumsy comfort I was able, and went back to sleep in the basement around the time the sun came up. I met Mike a few weeks later at a party and he copped an attitude when Annie and I put our Cure or Joy Division records on the stereo.
“Fuck this weak shit, put on some crust!” he muttered.
“No,” we’d reply flatly, doing our best emulation of elegant gothy spider dancing at 3 AM.
I drifted apart from that crew of punk rockers by the time winter ended, with some regret and some relief mixed in. I just couldn’t keep my big, over opinionated mouth shut about the inherent sketchiness of boys in their 20’s hanging around teenagers and feeding them beer, and how it all seemed just a little predatory. The last time I ever set foot in K.T.’s house, I somehow missed my ride home from the party as a snowstorm rolled in. 24 hours in the house with K.T. and her mom, watching TV and drinking glass after glass of wine was bleak enough for me. The roads cleared up, K.T. gave me a ride home, we hugged goodbye and she became a familiar face at shows until I stopped seeing her altogether. I heard a rumor tawdry rumors here and there, but paid them little mind.
I saw Mikeaholic a few years later, when Tragedy played the Monkey Mania warehouse on 21st and Arapahoe, right downtown, on tour for the Vengeance LP. I had just paid my 5 bucks at the door, and was walking back to the show space, when I caught sight of him, swaying with a tall boy of PBR in his hand, talking shit to one of my friends. He gesticulated aggressively with his beer, uncurling a finger from the can to point at my friend.
“Yeah, you wear those Carhartts, but you don’t work in them.”
“Damn,” I thought to myself. “Mikeaholic may or may not have a point about punk kids from the suburbs appropriating working class attire, but he still looks like he aged 10 years in half that time.”
Later when Tragedy played, he ran roughshod through the crowd, sloppily throwing elbows and clotheslining kids. Time slowed for an instant, and I caught his face; dead eyed, and obliterated, barely aware of his surroundings. His body crashed into mine, and I caught a whiff of beer soaked sweat and impotent rage. I ducked a flailing fist and spraying beer and thought, “Fuck this. I paid 5 dollars for this show too. This fucker isn’t ruining it for me.” I caught the hood of Mike’s sweatshirt and drug him back to the warehouse in the dark. His legs gave out, and he hit the ground. I kicked him in the stomach and dove back into the pit to watch the rest of Tragedy’s set. I didn’t see Mike again that night.
I saw K.T. one more time, the last summer I lived in Denver, almost 7 years since we had all partied in her mom’s suburban home. I was at Bar Bar, grabbing a beer after my shift at work one night, seeing if any friends were around before climbing back on my bike to ride through the concrete and glass canyons of downtown, across Broadway to the couch on Lipan Street where I crashed in lieu of having a home of my own.
None of my friends were around, but I grabbed a beer all the same. I glanced up from my half-drained pint glass and saw K.T., in the back room playing pool, flirting with a man who looked old enough to be her father. An aging yuppie type, graying hair, with liquor rosed cheeks and a slack, slightly empty look on his face. He put down his cue and ordered another round. K.T. put her finger seductively on his nose and mouthed what I thought were the words “What a sweetheart” and a look crossed the man’s face like he had just hit the goddamn lottery. K.T. glanced over towards the bar, and my eyes shot back towards the dregs of my drink. I don’t know if she remembered me or not. I finished my beer and rode home.
I saw Mikeaholic one more time, a few weeks later, also at Bar Bar. Ross, and Melissa, and Grant-O-War and I were drinking our way through two-dollar pitchers of PBR when Mikeaholic and a friend sat down at a booth near ours. The details blur together now, lost to alcohol and time and fading memory. I do know for a fact that the night ended in a one-sided fight on the corner of 21st and Champa after closing time. Something about Mikeaholic calling Ross a faggot, and everyone glaring icily at one another as pint glasses emptied and refilled and tempers flared steadily and vision blurred.
Out on the sidewalk after last call and closing time came and went, with an invisible line drawn in the sidewalk between Mike and his friend, and us. Someone slurred something about the inherent oppressiveness of homophobic slurs and a stalemate ensued. All of the potential combatants swayed and glowered in place, not giving any ground until Mikeaholic swung on ross. The punch went wild and wide, telegraphed by sheer clumsy inebriation. Ross ducked the shot as easily as Melissa caught it.
Melissa, the toughest punk rock woman I ever knew, easily a girl gang of one, who had once initiated a brawl that ended in her and a few of our friends stomping the living shit out of some frat boys who threw out a racial slur at one of our friends, caught the punch midair, despite it seeming miles away from Ross’ jaw, and twisted Mike’s arm behind his back, and took him to the ground, somehow dragging his friend down with him.
She pushed both of their heads into the gutter and growled: “Are you going to apologize to my fucking boyfriend?”
“Yes,” they both whimpered.
Someone told me later that Mikeaholic was so humiliated by that trouncing that he told his friends how he got jumped by “At least ten of those bike punks who live on 11th and Lipan” and how we beat him with our U-locks to the point where he pissed blood for days afterwards. He had apparently sworn revenge.
“Whatever, I’m not really going to be afraid of someone who drinks himself to the point of pissing his pants nearly every night,” Ross laughed.
I moved away a few weeks later, driven more by boredom and directionless than any distaste for the city of Denver. I never saw Mike, or K.T., or many of the names and faces in this story again. They became passing, detached characters flitting through the cinema of memory, an occasional “I wonder whatever happened to…” An assortment of strange and sordid characters that haunted the landscape of the first city I ever loved, a city I now barely recognize when I pass through it. The punks who drank, and fought and fucked, and played loud music in the warehouses and the dive bars and the basements all scattered to the wind by gentrification and the weight of age.
I heard later that Mike caught the mother of all bad reputations when he goaded a friend into shooting himself during a bad mushroom trip in a warehouse on 21st and Larimer. The way the story went, the kid was freaking out, spiraling into drug induced paranoia. “All my friends fucking hate me and I should just die!” he screamed.
“Yeah, whatever, just go do it already,” he said.
The kid ran off into his room, and then a gunshot.
There’s no moral here. No lofty, sweeping proclamations about sobriety and self-abuse, and generational cycles of addiction and trauma. I’m tired of talking about romanticized self-annihilation. I can only expect a reader to be so invested in whatever sad and/or possibly redemptive ending someone named “Mikeaholic” wrote for his story. He either pulled himself back from the precipice, or he didn’t. I have no idea. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it a thousand times. Punk taught us how to survive, but never quite how to thrive. Wherever Mike, and K.T., and so many other characters that the world could never go easy on, or had opportunities and squandered them at the bottom of a bottle are, I hope they have found whatever passes for thriving in this thresher.