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.

 

 

 

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.

A sadness spell.

Close the blinds in my room
Blackout curtains drawn against the gray
Morning light greeting the world outside
Last night, the hands of the clock hovered at 2 AM
For four hours straight
I’m on my lonely bedroom bullshit again
Spirit whispers scratch pen to paper
A poem written to no-one and nothing
Save for the safety of locked doors
Shelter found behind four walls
A monument to empty rooms

A recurring theme, for sure
I just need the quiet tonight
With the sound of East Carson
Ringing in my ears for hours
After I punch the clock

The smell of smog and exhaust
Coats my throat
Sticks to the inside of my lungs
I love this city, or I don’t
Or I like it as much as anything else
That passes for home these days

I fear the cold hand of death reaching down to collect
This tired body, sending it on its way
To greet the heart I long ago discarded
Visions of the end
Out here on the pavement, alone
Crushed under under the tread
Of indifferent wheels running
The race to nowhere fast
A casualty cast to concrete canyons
With those mountains so beloved
So far gone to shadow
Of memory and time running low

Pedal to the pavement, anyways
Playing the odds
It’s the end of days
Or so they say
And nobody can think
Of anything better to do.

Falling Asleep to 1990’s marketing Extravaganza Dick Tracy

The plot isn’t much to speak of
Scattered and hard to follow, but the colorful and garish
Sets, they just soothe the edges of my soul
Eyes adjusting to the darkness ahead of rest

I might always live like
A faceless wraith stalking my way
Through the avenues and alleyways
And haunted spots of anytown, USA

I liked that about the movie
How those obviously painted hulking
Concrete and steel monstrosities
Static and frozen, yet still somehow in motion

Could be a metaphor for the underbelly
Of any city, the concrete canyons of New York
The cold labyrinthine streets
Carving the wastes of Chicago

Okay, those are actually the only
Two cities that come to mind
When I think about just where
“The City” might have been based on

Not nearly enough sunshine
For the soulless sun soaked streets of LA
But I’ve always been such a sucker
For a hardboiled detective anyway

I love the two-dimensional villains
Out to get theirs at any cost
All physically deformed and amoral
Impeccably dressed in tailored suits all the same

After a day’s worth of eating shit and air pollution
Cutting two wheels across cold pavement
For a hundred bucks and some exercise
Knees that creak and wrists that ache

I think I understand
Just how busted hands
Could reach for a gun
Trading the violence wrought

On aging bones
Through toil and exhaustion
At the end of every workday
For the violence of

Striking out into the cold
Of this heartless world
To take what’s rightfully yours
Instead of what those hogs at the top say you deserve

So meet me tonight at the docks
Underneath a yellow moon peering
Indifferently though the smog
Down at streets seeped in soul and sorrow below

I’m a sultry songstress
Bruised but unbroken, just like you
Always on the same side
With a loaded .45

Pressed against my thigh
Sticking to circles of streetlight
Until the hour arrives
To slink back into the shadows

Of The City and strike
Out at its black heart
Because in this life
There are hard truths they teach us

Before we can even grow
First and foremost
We come to know
That only suckers fight fair