Friday, February 29, 2008
journey to the end:
I just got reacquainted with my old ABC No Rio friend Liz Baillie, and yesterday a compendium of her comic book My Brain Hurts arrived in the mail. I can't recommend it enough, especially if you were, um, a mid-1990s New York City punk rocker. In the span of five panels you'll find nostalgia-trip references to Munchies (remember when Camille got thrown through Munchies' plate-glass window?), Coney Island High (remember when Defiance played one of their last shows, and Stuart Schrader was the only one who still cared about them, even though I maintain they were an underrated band?) and Mike Blank chickenhawking a 13 year old dude with the promise of kamikazes (remember when he gave Lauren scabies?). It's enough to make a guy feel... extremely old.

So one thing you can use as a barometer of taste is the band t-shirts that appear in the comic. Liz is less interested in strict realism than she is in capturing a sensibility, particularly for her queer teenage protagonists: they can go to a show at the Coney, for instance, while wearing Limpwrist patches on their hoodies, even though Limpwrist didn't exist for nearly half a decade after Coney Island High closed its doors. But of all the bands that the My Brain Hurts kids enjoy -- credibility-infused mainstays like Aus-Rotten, Screeching Weasel, Choking Victim, the Subhumans and Crass -- the absence of the Band That Shall Not Speak Its Name is unmistakable. I'm talking about Rancid.

"Salvation" was a dagger to the heart of New York City punk rockers of my age. A brilliant, perfect song that was suddenly mainstream. The Constitution of punk rock dictated you couldn't like it, even though every punk-rock statute and common-law tradition demanded that you did. All of a sudden, everyone who loved Rancid's first record ("Adina's cryyyyyyyyyin'!") had to pretend they didn't like -- and, perversely, didn't listen to -- Let's Go. My freshman year, Jamie Weiss had RANCID written on his green backpack. When "Salvation" hit MTV he dutifully wrote SUCKS below it.

Lord help us when November 1995 rolled around and ...And Out Come The Wolves came out. That record is track-for-track perfect. If you don't like it, you neither like nor understand punk rock. And yet none of us allowed each other to listen to it. It was OK to be gay in punk rock, and out -- as it should be -- but if you so much as caught an earful of Rancid as background music, you kept that shit to yourself. There was practically a riot at the Coney on a Sunday that month when Lars and Brett showed up for a Blanks/Casualties show after playing Saturday Night Live the night before. (You're goddamn right I watched it, and you're goddamn right I jeered them both when Jorge invited them on stage.)

But much as it must be frightful and liberating to finally admit that you're gay, so too was it a relief to finally scream, at the top of your lungs, that Benzonatto was waiting for you on the 60 bus out of downtown Campbell or that Jenny DeMilo don't care nothing about you. This afternoon/evening I drove up to Brooklyn, and the whole way I blasted the first three Rancid records and the last two. Indestructible? Great record. Kids, don't give in to fear. Jenny DeMilo may not care nothing about you, but Rancid? They're gonna take care of you.
--Spencer Ackerman
Yeah, I kind of smeared the timeline a bit with the band names. Forgive me! I've gotten more than one slightly annoyed, perfection-obsessed email about that, haha...

The reason Rancid isn't in there is precisely for that reason, that most kids that age at that time would have been "too cool" to like, or admit to liking Rancid.

The funniest thing about this post though, is that I am in the process of writing a short comic for an anthology about music that's TOTALLY about Rancid! How funny is that, seriously? It's pretty funny. I'm gonna call it "Radio Radio" and without going into it it's a straight-up autobio piece about this time when I was about 21 and I was at a friend's house after another friend's funeral, and we were all really sad until someone found a Rancid CD and at first everyone was like "haha, Rancid."

But then someone put it on and we were all "I forgot how awesome Rancid was!" and before you knew it we were singing our little hearts out together, in total defiance of our former teenage shame regarding the band.

Also Rancid was one of the first bands I saw play live when I first starting going to shows. I was very proud of myself at the time, I had never even heard of them but my brother insisted they were good and ushered my 14-year-old self to the front of an around-the-block line at Wetlands (he worked there then) to get in for free to see them.

Okay this comment is too long, I'll stop now! But you get the idea.
Blogger Liz Baillie | 9:31 PM

In the interests of historical accuracy and self-congratulation, I should point out that the infamous Rancid guest appearance occurred the same night as the totally forgotten Hysterics guest appearance. Our first show, in fact. We had to play without bass, because Mike Geller was too lazy to come in. I, of course, had to go home to NJ before the kids rose up against their betrayers. But I still consider myself to have been spiritually present.

As for "And Out Come the Wolves": it would be a perfect record if they had cut a few songs from the back end. Doesn't much matter which, because everything after "Journey to the End of the East Bay" is almost indistinguishable. But the emotional impact of the record as a whole is reduced by going on too long. I'm not with you on Indestructible, though. Too D-Beat for my taste.
Blogger TheWaldganger | 6:21 AM

For years after that show, I lied and said Lars spit on me after I confronted him on the sellout question during the spill-out onto St. Marks Place. Now I confess: that never happened. But Mio believed me.

I thought that show was like the Tampa or Port St. Lucie debut of the Hysterics. You might not want to admit it, but you weren't really the Hysterics until Mio joined. (Mike Geller... Think he's selling insurance these days?) However, you get credit for being the first one of us to admit that "Maxwell Murder" was genius.

Go back and listen to AOCTW and you'll see how wrong you are. "Journey" is like the halfway point on the album. "Avenues and Alleyways" does not sound at all like "As Wicked" which does not sound at all like "You Don't Care Nothin'" etc etc. I agree that everything from "Maxwell" to "Journey" is flawless, but you're overstating your case here.
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 7:22 AM

The exact same thing happened out in my teenage punk rock scene (the Bay) except it happened several times over: Green Day, Rancid and the most crushing of all, Jawbreaker.

I still surreptitiously listened to my copies of 'Bivouac' and '24 Hour Revenge Therapy' throughout the backlash.

Spencer, you should write more about music and more often - I enjoy the mix of policy analysis and punk rock wonkery.

Blogger - A | 8:55 AM

Andy, I promise you that will happen. Also, big things are in the works for this blog. Check this space for details.

I would love to hear a detailed account of what it was like in the Bay Area in 93-95 when the scene blew up. MRR never really gave me the reporting I needed. Those were heady times: the excommunication of Larry Livermore, the Lookout!-MRR beef, the birth of Punk Planet and HeartattaCk, the beating of Jello Biafra, and of course the Green Day/Rancid/Jawbreaker signings. What happened? Email me and I'll post a scene report.

Jawbreaker raises an interesting question. To the best of my knowledge, out east (or at least in NYC) we never had the same reaction to their major-label defection. I don't think Jawbreaker carried a stigma. Then again, I didn't hear 24 Hour Revenge Therapy until 1998 (sad but true) so they never got the chance to break my high-school heart. Maybe the fact that 'Dear You' flopped had something to do with it. But as far as I can remember, the only Jawbreaker dis from that era of NYC punk was... from the Hysterics, in a song called 'Trendy Asshole,' who sang, "Warner's signing Jawbreaker/ Gimme more pop-punk, please."
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 10:15 AM

Spencer -

I'm afraid I'm the wrong person to deliver that overview, but thanks for asking!

We (my group) were relatively young at the time (15 in 1993) and while we knew a bit about the history of the scene (we all cut our teeth on the early Lookout! catalog and other local labels like David Hayes' Very Small/Too Many and, to a lesser degree, Slap-a-ham) we didn't really have the background to put it all in perspective at the time. Looking in at our elders from the outside, it seemed to be silly squabbling, but it was disorienting and sad to see one band that you adored after another catapulted into stardom (or semi-stardom... there were a lot of also-rans, too, like Samiam or Tilt), to come to school and see the jock kids wearing Rancid shirts or what have you.

Looking back on it now, while a lot of the ugliness was about principle, a principle I happen to agree with, a lot of the personal nastiness was the result of people who had once been close friends going different places in life, I think.

The whole thing turned me off, though, even at the young age of 16 and was what propelled me towards the Heartattack (sadly RIP now) end of the scene, because while it was based on principles similar to MRR, it was less doctrinaire and was more critical of some of hardcore's masculinist bullshit.

Anyway, to cut this ramble short, I'll ask a friend who is a sort of amateur historian of the bay punk scene for his thoughts, and see if he is interested in posting them.

I've also been considering lobbying MRR to let me digitize their archives - for a related project I am working on about punk rock and anti-imperialism in the 1980's - so perhaps I can report back in the future?

Jawbreaker: the tension went back to even '24' - witness the lyrics to "Boxcar", for example. I think I de-magnetized at least three cassettes in high school through overuse that had "24" on one side, and "Duct Tape Soup" on the other!

Glad to hear there'll be more music!

best, andy (bklyn)
Blogger - A | 11:33 AM

um, i believed the spit in your face story tooo....
Anonymous Anonymous | 6:38 PM