Punk Rock: A History of Political (In)action and Social Response

Earlier this evening a friend tweeted:

“Punk Rock: A History of Political (In)action and Social Response.” This is a class I would attend. Any teachers out there?

And my head instantly exploded. Because obviously this should already exist, yet for some reason dosen’t. Which means I have no other course of action then to try and rectify that.

One of the main draws to punk rock for me when I was going up was that here was a group of people who by all accounts had been rejected by the society around them – they were the freaks and the weirdos – yet this small group refused to sit still and was going to actively play a roll in shaping the world around them. This was incredibly appealing to me on so many levels, and shaped much of my world view going forward. I’ve never questioned that a small group of dedicated individuals could have a huge impact on whatever they set their sights on, and I’ve always scoffed at the people who assume individuals can’t make a difference.

Upgrading MP3s with iTunes Match, or Adventures in Cloud Syncing

I heard about this little hack that will upgrade old low quality MP3s you might have hanging around your iTunes library and thought I’d give it a shot. Basically iTunes Match gives you access to any song you have in your library, from any of your devices. It can do this because they have a huge archive of songs and just match up song titles, the trick is that all the files they have are in 256 kbps quality.


It’s not just in my head it’s in my heart…

(pic H2O soundchecking, 2/6/11)

I haven’t been to many shows in the last few years, certainly not that many punk / hardcore shows. I’ve seen some bands play here and there but there’s quite a difference between standing in the audience bobbing your head to a catchy tune and maybe tapping your toe if things get really bouncy, and jumping and clawing to get to the front of the room so you climb on top of someone and scream the lyrics that you know by heart into the mic that the singer of a band is holding out into the crowd. There’s quite a difference between a band thanking the people in the room, their fans, for coming out, and a band rattling off the names of half the people in the room, expressing their love for them, and treating everyone there like brothers and sisters, like family. I’ve been to a lot of the stand around and get thanked shows recently, but not so many of the jump around and get hugged ones. This is only really noteworthy because I spent probably 5 nights a week at those kinds of shows until somewhere around ’98.

I quite working at Victory Records in ’98 and when I walked away from that job I walked away from a group of people that meant more to me than I can ever explain. If you grew up in the punk and hardcore scenes than I don’t even have to try because you already know exactly what I’m talking about (I started going to shows when I was 12 – my formative years revolved around this world). I didn’t realize I was walking away at the time, but in hindsight that’s exactly what I did. The problem for me was the music that I loved had become fused with a job that I hated. My feelings for one spilled on to the other and rather than think of shows as places were all my friends were and where I’d be surrounded by people who knew me, loved me for who I was and would always be there for me, I began to think of shows as places where I might run into that someone from that band that said that thing in that one magazine or who went with this label instead of that one, or whatever. It became a nest of business politics instead of a positive comfort zone. I let that happen without realizing it, and when I had the chance to get out of the business I left the scene and the people behind as well.

Not one of my better decisions I might add.

Sure I’ve been to a handful of real hardcore shows over the past 13 years but mostly friends bands, and I mostly just stood around to see them and support them, and soaked up the mellon collie of what used to be but no longer was. I missed it, but it was the past. That’s kind of how I think I felt about it, without having actually consciously been thinking that at the time.

Twitter has helped me reconnect with many old friends and I’m glad they still remember who I am and want to talk to me from time to time. Over the last year I saw that Toby from H2O was talking about a new project of his called One Life One Chance – something like motivational speaking, but for kids in schools, and really more of a sharing stories and trying to set a good example. I often talk about things I’m doing in my own life, knowing full well that most people won’t change their lives because of it, but if what I have to say inspires a few people to change their lives for the better it’s worth it. Toby’s project was like that but on rocket fuel. By talking to school aged kids he was really reaching out to people who it might really make a difference to.

There’s no question to me that punk and hardcore, and straight edge specifically, saved my life. No question at all. I was a pretty depressed kid with a fairly bleak outlook on life. I didn’t see much of a future for myself, and didn’t get along with most of the kids in the schools I went to. I tried to get along with them, but for whatever reason it just never clicked. I was trying to be something I wasn’t, and it was obvious to everyone. And then I found punk rock and a group of people who didn’t want me to be anything other than me. I found hardcore and a group of people who treated me like family and I knew I could count on for anything. I found straight edge and realized that every day, every moment was a chance to do something positive. These things changed me forever and I’ll never forget that.

Lately I’ve been feeling old. I’ve been wallowing in missed opportunities and failed attempts. I try very hard to be positive and sometimes that is easy, but sometimes it’s harder than others, and sometimes the weight of the world gets really fucking heavy.

Toby has been doing OLOC for a year know and spoken at a ton of schools. Looking at the videos and photos of the students he’s talked it, it’s pretty clear he’s making an positive impact and I think that’s amazing. Some schools can pay to bring him out to talk, but others can’t afford that, and those are likely the ones who can use this message the most. When I heard H2O was going to play a benefit show for OLOC I paid for a ticket right away, without even seeing if I’d be in town when it was happening, just because I knew it was a good cause and I knew that was money well spent. Turns out I was going to be in town and as the date got a little closer I saw Toby put out the request for some people in LA to give “testimonials” on film for a mini doc they are working on about OLOC. He was looking for people who had positive things to say about how hardcore impacted their lived. I offered and was asked to come in and, I said yes right away.

The day of the show, as I was driving in for my scheduled filming time I was thinking about all of the above and all the great things I could say. I could talk about directions my life could have gone without it, I could talk about amazing friendships I’ve made thanks to it, so much I could say. But then I got in front of the camera and blew it. I froze, totally blanked, and likely gave the worst testimonial they have recorded yet. I don’t even remember what I said, but I think I spoke for about 20 seconds. Maybe. It was bad.

I’d been trying to channel the positivity so much but it just happen. Which was kind of a bummer. The dudes said it was great, but I knew they were just trying to be nice.

Does it sound like I’m feeling sorry for myself? Well, just you wait.

With recordings done and sound check out of the way I had a few moments to walk down the street with one of my super old friends from the hardcore world. I hadn’t talked too him much in many years and that sucks, so I was really happy to catch up with him a little bit. But it reminded me, hell kind of smacked me right in the head with the reality that there are a ton of people out there who I really care about, an entire scene of people I really care about that I had been completely out of touch with for a really, really long time. This is simultaneously a good and bad thing, bad because I feel like I missed something I shouldn’t have, and good because now that I’ve identified it I can try to correct it.

When the first band played, I saw them and the kids who came out to see them so filled with everything I remember once being filled with. At one time I would have felt perfectly at home in that crowd, but I felt like an outsider. I didn’t know the band, I didn’t know the songs, and I didn’t recognize a single face around me. This used to be my briar patch, but now it was kind of jabbing me where it hurt. I felt out of place, and after the stellar performance on camera earlier I thought maybe I should just go home. I stopped myself when I got to the front door and thought about it a little more.

If I was going to wallow and feel bad for myself, I could do that anywhere, and if I went home now that’s certainly what I would be doing. Or I could stay and see what might happen. Hell, I have PMA tattooed on my wrist, it’s there for a reason. It’s a reminder and I needed it right then. I reminded myself that giving up was a guaranteed loss. If I stayed I at least had the chance of turning that around.

So I stayed.

Toby showed some footage before the H2O set of previous OLOC talks at schools and it was inspiring. I could see the kids it was inspiring, and I could feel it inspiring me. This was a good thing that was going on, and this was a good thing to be a part of. Through out the set there was constant talk, both in the songs and between them, about the positivity, support and friendship that makes up the hardcore scene. Seeing Toby, now 40 years old, thanking his wife sitting off stage, and his 6 year old son standing right there on stage really hit home for me. I thought about how I’d been feeling so old before, and who I’m turning 36 this month, and how my own son Ripley is turning 1 next month, and how not only does this world which means so much to me not have to be just a part of my past, it can actively be part of my future. I just have to make the decision for that to happen. I was kind of floored by that revelation. And a bit ashamed it wasn’t obvious to me before this.

I didn’t go to this show to be inspired. If anything, I just went to say hi to a few friends and show some support to a cause I thought was a positive influence for other people. Turns out it had a pretty positive influence on me too. I realized I was smiling when I was walking back to my car to head home. I liked how that felt.

Sissy Bounce, a taste of the real underground

Last week my old friend Scott Beibin IM’d me asking my thoughts on Sissy Bounce. My reply was pretty immediate:

“What the hell is Sissy Bounce?”

After he got over the shock of realizing he knew about something before I did he went on to tell me one of the most interesting stories about an actual underground music scene. I say actual because I’ve known Scott for close to 20 years since we met through the early 90’s hardcore and straight edge scenes across the US. We both booked bands, ran labels, and generally tried to foster the scene. At that point underground meant something. It was actual sub-mainstream. Today it’s largely a marketing term and the notion of having to hunt to dig up information about a band or a style of music is completely gone. Information that used to require hours of driving and good words put in by the right people to get ahold of can now be googled in seconds. That’s not good or bad, it just is. So when Scott started telling me about a completely unknown sub-fork of the already crazily obscure New Orleans Bounce scene I dropped everything I was doing and started hitting him up for info.

Encores are dumb

I mentioned this last night, but as a performance device I hate the encore. I completely and totally hate it. Is there anything more contrived and conceited that pretending the show is over, walking off stage and standing behind the curtains while you wait for the audience to cheer enough that your ego is sufficiently stroked so you go back out and play a few more songs?

Let me just say that some of my favorite bands in the world do encores and most of the shows I’ve been to in the last 10 years have been capped with encores so that isn’t a comment on any particular band but rather the whole stupid concept. Oh sure at one point in time they might have made sense – there was actually a time when an encore was not so common. Bands and performers would make a set list and perform it and then the show would be over. On the *rare* occurance that the performance was so overwhelming and the audience was so moved they would cheer so much that the band would have no choice but to come back out and pull out something extra but now it’s expected. Bands include the encore on their set lists and audiences just play right into it.

I know I’m in the minority on this one but for crying out loud what is the fucking point of all this? If you are a band and you want to play a show which includes 12 songs, play those songs and then go home happy that people liked your stuff enough to pay to see it and stay through all the songs you played. Don’t tease the audience and dangle extra songs only if they applaud enough. It’s a superlame rockstar move that sadly is completely commonplace now. Puke.

Don’t get me started on standing ovations either.

Thorns of Life Rumors

thornsIf a few random sources are to be believed then it’s official Thorns of Life’s debut album Legislators and Prophets will be released on June 30th by Desoto Records. Desoto of course is run by J Robbins from Jawbox who recorded the Thorns album, and even more rumors have him actually playing base in the band now. There is no confirmation about any of this on the Desoto Records site, the bands MySpace or Twitter so who knows. The album songlist that has been circulating is as follows:

1. The Black Arts
2. Kryptonite
3. My First Time
4. Ribbon Head
5. Available
6. Anti-Song for Barthelme
7. Not a Track Bike
8. Mont Blanc
9. I Hate New York
10. Oh Deathly Death
11. Gemini
12. Vivid Green
13. Building Al Qaeda in Washington
14. Tuning Out

If you haven’t grabbed the live set from Gilman yet then you are on crack because it rules. One thing that that is blowing my mind right now is that “Gemini” is listed on this track list, which Jawbreaker fans will recall was one of the super bad ass Dear You era songs that existed only in live recording format. I’ve been dying for a recorded version of it for years and if Thorns is doing that, whoah….