For today’s #NotbytheClash challenge (A Song About Disliking One’s Boring Job) I chose “1999,” a song that Arlen Gun Club composed for the incredibly fun indie film Turbo Cola. In the process, I discovered that the band filmed a ’90s-style promotional tie-in music video for the track, complete on set at the mini-mart from the movie and the film’s star Nick Stoesser.
From what producer/actor Brandon Keeton told the audience at Mt. Pleasant International Film Festival screening earlier this year, the Arlen Gun Club’s involvement wound up being one of the film’s happy accidents. He and the director were in a bind, unable to afford royalties for the likes of Blink-182 or other top pop-punk acts who sound-tracked the millennial era. Fortunately, his nephew’s band from Cincinnati released some new recordings right around then, and he immediately reached out. The result breathed so much life into the film, especially “1999,” which became the movie’s opening anthem.
Either way, Arlen Gun Club are fantastic (for reasons other than their name) and have been on the road throughout the Midwest to promote their debut full-length album. Give it a listen here.
I know I need to write a bit more about my upcoming book on Palgrave, Capitals of Punk, but one of the epiphanies I hit in the conclusion (spoiler alert sorta) is considering how much hardcore defined itself as antithetical to the mainstream, it’s a real testament to its universality how hard the mainstream has been working to catch up to hardcore four decades later. These are the things I think about while listening to Minor Threat playing on the stereo system at an indie coffee shop overcrowded with multiple generations of patrons on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Anyway, I braved the flooding roads and 908th consecutive night of rain here in Knoxville to check out a fantastic pop-punk show last night. A friend got his band back together for a night that felt like a family reunion I’d just been adopted into. In the spirit of the evening, I was listening to Squirtgun’s 2003 LP Fade to Bright beforehand. In case you haven’t heard their music, Side A Track 2, “Burn for You” [video] is one of my favorite songs in the whole subgenre (which is saying something).
This afternoon, I was looking for a YouTube video to prove to a friend that Mass Giorgini (Squirtgun bassist and producer extraordinaire) was a Spanish language sports reporter, and I happened upon this: Dr. Massimo Giorgini presenting a TEDx talk about “The Don Quixote Code.”
What a cool study. At the beginning, Mass discusses yet another in the litany of overlaps between punk and critical thought/research. It’s like Christmas morning whenever I find out another punk veteran is a PhD, especially in a topic I’m invested in academically. What a cool presentation, and it got me thinking about Don Quixote in a whole new light, which is the point of any research. Well done, Mass! And thanks for your hand in this Murderers’-row of records at Sonic Iguana.
I’m appearing in a new documentary called The Last Scene, which covers pop-punk’s millennial epoch and surprising transition. The director, Kyle Kilday, approached me with questions about scene dynamics and the social role of rock music, and I show up (briefly) in his sizzle reel, embedded here:
It’s always weird seeing myself on camera – particularly as a talking-head “expert” in a documentary. As someone whose love of bands like The Get Up Kids and Hot Rod Circuit helped him endure the end of high school, I can’t wait to see where the project goes. I’ve already been invited to (production pending) re-film an extended interview in LA this Fall.
I recently read Ronen Givony’s book on Jawbreaker’s 1994 album 24 Hour Revenge Therapy (Bloomsbury 33 1/3 series), which I highly recommend to anybody interested in the pre-internet circulation of underground music. While it’s so easy to wax poetic and nostalgic about 20th century pop culture, Givony illuminates the dark side of that era. The backlash that Jawbreaker faced for signing to a major label was downright savage. As many of their friends and colleagues have implied, it would likely not have mattered if it had happened five years earlier or later; the conditions in 1995 were just right for righteous indignation among their fans. The Dismemberment Plan, who I’ve focused a lot of my music writing on, followed a similar early-to-the-party/first-to-leave timeline (though it took Jawbreaker 21 years to reunite, whereas the Plan reunited in earnest within 8).
Givony’s Jawbreaker story made my jaw drop exactly twice.
First, I was genuinely amazed to discover that their bassist Chris Bauermeister went to high school in my hometown. He grew up in a German-speaking household in Connecticut and attended a prep school in Madison that closed down in 1991. I only have vague memories of the school; my mom recently told me she voted in the town’s referendum on whether to purchase the property (with the school building on it). I didn’t have any real overlap with Chris, who graduated and moved away to New York in 1985, the year before my family moved to town. Still, it’s a remarkable coincidence considering how (1) I always considered Jawbreaker to be a quintessential San Francisco band, and (2) I tended to assume nothing cool ever came out of my hometown. It’s taken half a lifetime away, a PhD dissertation, and some sprinkled-in hindsight to realize how wrong I was about that. Also, the youngest person to graduate from Hammonasset is in their mid-forties now.
Second, in the middle of a “get off my lawn” screed about the contemporary state of the music industry, Givony drops an incisive observation that I think bears block-quoting here (emphasis mine):
In the music and media industries today, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a band in possession of a good single must be in want of a fortune. In a time when almost no one still buys albums, and tens of thousands of streams will earn a band pennies, the reasoning goes, artists deserve to get paid any way they can manage, and rightly so. Who are we to blame them if the only people still paying musicians their true worth are corporate advertising and branding companies? It’s a difficult claim with which to argue, which is why almost no one ever still does.
As much as I balked at the assertion that “almost no one still buys albums” (pressing plants wouldn’t be backed up to hell if that were true), this bold statement hit me like a ton of bricks. The idea that musicians can only make a healthy living through licensing (title idea: Better Living through Licensing) has been analyzed comprehensively at this point. Todd in the Shadows broke it down beautifully in this video late last year. However, the specific angle that corporations were the only ones either capable of (or willing to) pay musicians their true worth has been banging around in my head for days. I am steadfast that Google and Spotify have both been instrumental in institutionally and purposefully devaluing music to create a paradox in which artists would be beholden to them. I’m aware that music piracy on the internet long pre-dates either of those companies, and label heads were freaking out over cassette tapes much more in 1987 than they were over MP3.com in 1997 (Thanks, Telecom Act!). Regardless, whether people want to pay for music is not the issue. That so many people feel entitled to not pay for music, or even own it, is noteworthy. Then again, this is nothing new, and people have still not slowed at creating art. Artists, as Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964, always have the advantage since they are sitting at the point of creation:
In the history of human culture there is no example of a conscious adjustment of the various factors of personal and social life to new extensions except in the puny and peripheral efforts of artists. The artist picks up the message of cultural and technological challenge decades before its transforming impact occurs.
We can’t travel back to the point in time when 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was created, but fortunately the internet has enabled the next best thing: virtual flânerie! Here is some Super-8 footage that Adam Pfahler found of the trio driving around their adopted neighborhood in 1992. Just like Jawbreaker encapsulated the pre-internet era of underground America in their music, this video does well to provide a peek into pre-Google, pre-Facebook San Francisco, when the Mission was cheap and bursting with potential. Also, it gives “Boxcar” the long-overdue music video it deserves.
I recently assigned my Geography 101 course a writing project whereby they select a song with geographically-oriented content and report on all of that song’s inherent regionalisms. In the body of their assignment text, I include a list of suggested songs for anybody who may be interested in them or may have difficulty selecting a song on their own. The following is one of them.
Broadway Calls – “Back to Oregon”
Anybody who knows me outside of Academia (and most inside, to be honest, too) knows I am an unapologetic fan of pop-punk music. I grew up listening to the usual suspects (MxPx, Green Day, Saves the Day) and upon discovering The Ergs!, I dove headfirst back into it as an adult, and I regret absolutely nothing. As Jason Heller once wrote for the Onion A/V Club:
Pop-punk remains a readily dismissed, ostensibly disposable form of music—the kind of high-fructose junk that adulthood is supposed to spurn, regardless of the fact that some of the best pop songwriters of the past 40 years, in any genre, have come from pop-punk. But the sweet tooth lingers, and pop-punk’s timelessness is no longer in question, no matter how much critics and purists might want to wish it away.
That being said, Broadway Calls is an interesting case. Their production is pretty clean and their vocals are stereotypically high-pitched and melodic, but unlike many of their three-chord forebears, their ostensibly sunny disposition quickly plummets into a wholly depressing vortex whereby they “suffer the kids that inherit this world.” The first track on their self-titled album doesn’t even hit the one-minute mark before declaring that we’re bombing “ourselves to hell and back again.” A lot of pop-punk is political and nihilistic, of course, but rarely is it this effectively two-faced.
Track three of their self-titled album, “Back to Oregon” is a welcome change of pace. It’s actually a love song, a trope into which pop-punk is highly associated yet Ty Vaughn and company rarely cave. This song, however, seems to straddle the line between traditional love song sung to an estranged lover and a pastoral declaration of love for the band’s home state. It’s one of many great examples of emotional geographies at play; places have amorphous, subjective meanings that vary greatly depending on whomever’s mind they are on.
You could say I’m a little insane… and you probably will.
– The Ergs! “Books About Miles Davis”
The Ergs! Final Show, 11/15/08 (Marc Gaertner Photo)
A quick note to say that if any of you are interested in my music writing, I’m contributing a week of entries on The Ergs!, a seminal pop-punk trio from middle New Jersey that conquered a tiny slice of the world between 2000 and 2008, to the site One Week, One Band this week. I chose to write about them because, simply, they were a great band (possibly era-defining) and their accomplishments deserve more attention. Mikey, Joey, and Jeffy Erg represented that ideal (hard-working, down-to-earth) type of band that simply were not built for mainstream popularity. Geographically, their strongest following grew and remains on the East Coast. They had fans all over the country and world, but were The Ergs! one of the last touring bands with such a geographically-isolated fanatical following? Only history will tell, but there’s something to be said for that.
I’m updating OneWeekOneBand over the course of this week with insights into the pop-culture references in their songs, politics buried in their lyrics, the musical evolution that alternately delighted and confused their fans, and various pieces of photo and video evidence of their legacy (like that picture above). I hope you take a look and enjoy it.
In other news, I just got my first email about the SEEDAG Meeting this fall. IT BEGINS!
I write this, regretfully, not in Roanoke, VA at the SEDAAG Meeting. The abstract/registration deadline proved too tight for me after I moved to Tennessee and began working here. Next year! At least I’ve received word from a few of my colleagues who are there and having a great time. Serious respect is due to my colleague Derek Martin, who took home the honors for best PhD paper. I linked that video because he hates it.
Respect is also due to my colleague Matt Cook, who I just discovered drew inspiration from my site to resurrect his. So, I’ll feed the worm of mutual inspiration its tail and use that as inspiration for me to throw a quick update out there. I’ve relayed a number of fun announcements about new books in the works (both involving and not involving my work), but since I’m knee-deep in the end-of-semester crunch time, I don’t have a whole lot of time to contribute a substantial essay to the glut of web content for now. But there are a couple of items you all may enjoy coming in the next few weeks. For now, here are a couple thoughts about Canada.
In case you’re at all interested in underground/punk culture, progressive politics, or just great writing on underrepresented issues, Razorcake is absolutely essential. It’s a non-profit monthly fully dedicated to the universe it covers, and subscriptions are inexpensive and worth every penny. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute band interviews to the magazine and their (soon to be overhauled, I think) website in the past few years.
For those of you who have access to it, do try to find the latest issue and have a read of their interview with Steve Adamyk of the Steve Adamyk Band. It’s a simple, straightforward conversation about the restrictions that he and his band face in trying to set up shows south of the border (in the United States). Between the months-long application process and expensive equipment rental and management, to simply play three hours south of his hometown of Ottawa (without risking getting banned for years) has become nearly impossible for a musician of his means.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen bands from the Middle East remove all dates from their websites in order to fly under the radar of the State Department, and I’ve heard singers from the Great White North tell crowds “if anyone asks, we’re here for a bachelor party!” Granted, if you knew the latter band I’m talking about (they’re pretty good), you’d probably question their singer’s ability to say anything serious.
Toronto: Exhibit A (source: beatgoeson.com)
Considering what fertile power-pop music scenes Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal have grown over the past decade (or for that matter, have had for decades), it’s incredibly disappointing how our government denies us this goodness by leaning on poorly managed and antiquated border laws. I’ll never understand what the United States accomplishes with roadblocks for visiting artists, forcing musicians to construct elaborate lies just to build their fan bases and bring their music to potentially tens of thousands of fans. Fortunately, countries like Germany have been a boon for Adamyk and bands like his, opening their arms to his music (even releasing records for him). Here’s hoping that the network of American fans will, sometime in the near future, be able to show up and shout along with the solid, hardworking Canadian bands that don’t happen to be filling arenas (and asking their fans to play dress up).
I’m currently working on a large piece about Boston that will function as a preview or pre-cursor to a research paper I may be working on soon, but unfortunately that entry has been delayed. Instead, enjoy what could one day generate a paper in itself : power-pop from the Mediterranean.
Congratulations to Málaga’s Airbag on celebrating fifteen years as a band with a retrospective DVD and I would imagine a greatest hits album. In this video, watch/hear them distill the aesthetic of the Ramones’ “Rockaway Beach,” as well as the early Beach Boys, (i.e. iconographies of both US coasts) into a song about their own home on la Costa del Sol.
And what celebration of cars, girls, and fun-in-the-sun would be complete without a song about Russian Mafia invading their beautiful hometown? Bonus points for the Transformers cover.
Here is a live video of them playing it in Madrid in 2006, with a roomful of fans screaming along. So, who wants to buy me plane tickets to see them in Granada this weekend?
Tengo que huir. Más palabras pronto, os prometo.
Apologies to F.A.N.T.A. and many other Ramones-worshipping Spaniards I left out. Also, apologies to any of you who don’t understand the lyrics. At least the music is catchy enough regardless.