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Sarre Chasm | column | Lollipop
The Shape of Punk to Come?
by Jon Sarre
Look around this magazine. Is there an Epitaph ad around somewhere? Probably. They're good like that. Earlier today, I was absent-mindedly flipping thru a magazine, doesn't really matter which one, it was a music 'zine, though. I noticed that Epitaph was still pushing that Refused record, The Shape of Punk to Come. I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be, mind you. They need to sell x number of "units," as the head of security for the Backstreet Boys refers to "product" (but not to his charges). "Product" is what this sleepy Time/Warner Exec said when he meant what Dischord usedta call "stuff we sell" as I held a conversation with him, mainly to keep the guy from passing out. I'm a bartender. That's my real job. I work in a nice hotel, y'see, so I meet people like that. People like Korn, Limp Bizcuit, and some guy named Warren G. who was on tour with Snoop Doggy Dogg stay there, too. They're all lousy tippers, too. The "entertainers," that is. I mean, I don't wanna be a "player-hater," but the suits at least shell out to the service sector bottom-feeders.
Anyhow, I got nothing against Brett G. making a living, that's not my point. Neither is Refused's Shape of Punk to Come not being the shape of any punk I wanna listen to, not with that icky Atari Teenage Riot digi-core shit. Nah, the issue has more to do with pushing a record as the future, now (as I paraphrase the geniuses at Kerrang!) when the damn band jumped ship on the whole thing shortly after (or maybe even right before) Epitaph put it out.
The reason Refused broke up had something to do with political view points, or direction, or dispute over donut distribution at the studio, or something equally as ludicrous. The singer ended up joining with a few other commies to do this Make-Up meets Das Capital (is that redundant?) radical political R&B band. Interesting, I know, but quite reactionary. I mean, The (International) Noise Conspiracy (that's the umbrella the collective releases their communiques under, just in case ya thought I was makin' this up) minus the rhetoric, ain't nothing more than another fucking garage band. Obviously the Refused guy didn't think his former band was gonna change punk rock, or he wouldn'ta up and done some Scandinavian blue-eyed soul, like he was Mitch Ryder thinkin' he was that Max Frost kid in Wild in the Streets, 'cept indoctrinated, not just fulla silly ideas cuz he's grown up really pissed off at having Shelly Winters for a mom.
Maybe this does or doesn't beg the question "So what is the shape of punk to come, huh?" How the hell would I know? Maybe Refused were right, but they were just too avant-garde to stick it out. Kinda like how lotsa lousy bands hope they'll turn out to be the Velvet Underground ten years after utter failure convinced 'em to call it quits, even though they couldn't possibly hope to gain from it cuz everyone who owns their records got 'em really cheap (as they were sold unopened by rock crits, promoters, or close friends - which reminds me of this time a month or so ago when this band gave my girlfriend a free copy of their newest disc, which she accepted, reasoning it was less awkward to do so than to refuse with the honest explanation that she had already hocked the promo their record company had sent her). Still, as a memo to Refused et al, it probably doesn't help to announce just how ahead of yer time you are right up front. Not even Lou Reed was that crass.
Back to punk, I'm still hopin' it doesn't turn out to be really clean, y'know, cut'n'dry, modern, even. It honestly isn't a really interesting thing to ponder, is it? All the half-decent half-asses nowadays are throwbacks anyway. They re-interpret '60s garage rock (Sons of Hercules, for one of a jillion), '70s blues-based arena (Zen Guerrilla being damn near in a class by themselves, but throw in the Hellacopters and all the so-called "stoner rock" bands, too), London/NYC '77 (pick a band, any band),The Ramones (ditto), AC/DC (Tight Bros From Way Back When, Nashville Pussy, Zeke), despite what Lemmy may say,Motörhead was the egg to the Ramones' chicken (uh, no, no! Damn circular logic!) or a mixture of any and all (the Candy Snatchers, most of the Junk bands), plus there's always neo-ska, neo-neo-ska, neo-ska-core, neo-hardcore, metal-core, uh, how did I start this pig-fucking list? So yeah, there's loads of folks doin' base riffs on old themes, and there's probably no one who likes all of it, and if there was some sorta "ground breaker" a la Trent Reznor/Beck/ Perry Farrel/some other jerk who can drop all the right jaws with The Hot New Sound of Punk, nine outta ten would avoid it like a job. Comforting, isn't it?
Usually, I just deny the existence of punk altogether. Wish fulfillment, perhaps, but the Standells were just as punk rock as Black Flag or Dropkick Murphys, plus they wore matching suits and smiled. Same with the Stones, same with Elvis or Charlie Feathers or Hank Williams or Sonny Boy Williamson (or Mozart, I guess, but ya gotta draw the line somewhere). Claude Bessy, in a sorta famous line from The Decline of Western Civilization, says new wavers were people who were afraid to identify themselves as punks "because you were afraid to get kicked out of the fucking party and they wouldn't give you coke anymore." When the original (let's say Pistols/Ramones/Television for clarity's sake, 'kay?) fans and musicians grabbed the "punk" label, they were afraid to say "rock'n'roll" cuz they didn't wanna identify with something so discredited in their eyes by the likes of the Allmans, the Eagles, Journey, and Styx (as opposed to today, when it's just unfashionable, unless yer a goofball with pants too big for yer hip-hop respectin' baddass, after all, you don't want them to kick you out of the fucking party and not give you nookie anymore).
Of course, using "punk" and "rock" interchangeably just brings us back to the same shitty situation where you could say, "So what's the shape of rock'n'roll to come then, huh?" Again, I say how the hell should I know? Something will turn up and when it does, it won't be much different. Then everyone'll get sick of that, too.