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Bad Religion | Along the Way | review | dvd | Lollipop
Along the Way (Epitaph)
By Tim Den
It's been over 10 years since I first saw Bad Religion's documentary of their '89 European tour, Along the Way. Funny how much has changed since then, both in my perception of punk rock as a culture and Bad Religion's place in said culture. Back in '89 - or even '91, the first time I saw the film - there was still a sense that outcasts, dweebs, and weirdos made up punk rock's participants. Okay, so the "forefathers" would argue that such purity died back in the mid-'80s, but as evident in Along the Way - as well as in the misfits I grew up with during the early-'90s - there were still disenchanted youths during this era who didn't fit in anywhere other than sweaty, maniacal punk rock pits.
As Bad Religion riled through 20+ songs at top speed, musicianship not yet sharpened to a T, packed crowds of gangly, euphoric social outcasts never stopped writhing to the pounding beats. They bathed in the 45 minutes of their lives that weren't crammed with alienation and angst. It showed in their faces, in the way they kept pumping their fists, the way they never stopped throwing themselves around or screaming the words. Carefree and un-self aware, a sense of from-the-heart loyalty and this-is-where-we-belong canvassed the air. Even the band - both on stage and during the interview clips - were no different: Fidgeting, dressed charmingly sloppy (again, the beauty of un-self awareness), and awkward in that we're-dorks-who-belong-in-punk-rock way. It all adds up to a nonstop, joyous rawkus that's as energetic as it is inspirational. "Man, remember when shows were like this?"
Along the Way, today, feels like a relic from better times. In 2004, there are no longer "punk rock" bands that dress as inept as their social skills, and no audience that bring so much loyalty to the culture that they completely lose themselves in the moment. Today, they are both overtly calculated: The way they look, they way they pose, the things they say, everything. Outcasts are no longer welcome in the popular kids' version of modern "punk rock," as ironic metal shirts, Gothy eye make-up, $30 studded belts, and tight jeans have taken over what was once the unity of the rejects. "Punk" now means hip, a variation of '80s jocks, except with AFI shirts instead of varsity jackets. At shows, they stand as still as pillars, unwilling to give in to the music's inherent messages of alienation. But then again, why should they? They're not outsiders to mainstream culture, nor are the bands playing on the fringes of mass consumption. They are the masses, they are the pedestrians of life. They don't lose themselves at shows because they don't know how to. They don't relate to the ugly, bullied, underbelly-of-life nature of what punk once was. They go to shows to be seen, not cuz it's the only place they belong. At the end of the night, they can hop into their SUVs and drive home to their parents' safe, suburban home.
All of this, of course, doesn't mean that older punks are somehow "better people" than their current counterparts, or that punk rock was "better" "back then." Plenty of senseless violence and unnecessary harm were caused by borderline-criminal kids united by the sounds of the underground, which (obviously) is what happens when you bring seriously delinquent individuals together with testosterone-driven music. No, it simply means that, in the 15 years since Bad Religion was captured on Along the Way, the culture of punk rock has completely changed. Not only its context in the mainstream, its social acceptability, or its deliberateness, but also its focus. Bad Religion, like Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, 7 Seconds, Minor Threat, etc., had issues to tackle and thoughts to address. Self-inspection and advocation of hands-on "change" were part of the norm. But now, high school romance outweighs relevant topics about 50 times over. Wanna know why you'll never see crowds losing their shit to Bad Religion these days? Cuz the songs aren't about girls.
Modern day punk rock is not where Bad Religion belongs anymore. It's not where Along the Way's crowd belongs, it's not where I belong. But for 20+ songs, those of us who experienced it firsthand can relive "the old days" without having to stand next to Hot Topic teenagers at bland summer tours.