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With surging, marshaled, skatecore spirit and speed, Pennywise eschews trite formulation of “shreddin” and “skate to hell” attitude and instead offers a tough-minded, unblinking assessment of American gone wrong. From “corporate greed and perverted priests” to stolen elections rigged by the GOP, the band members set themselves as defenders of opposition and resistance, all coated with melodic tuneage that even Mom might be enjoy for a minute. Sure, they are not Profane Resistance crust punk types, but their scalding rancor is still easily felt through the humming din. While decrying the triple hydra head of “Government Hypocrisy—American Idolatry—Corporate Philosophy”, they resemble a version of Howard Zinn on amphetamines, but become much more readable and compressed, like a real high school education in antithetical feelings American.
Apart from the tongue-in-cheek, juvenile delinquent, snot-nosed aspect of NOFX, the group has continued to offer sardonic tunes, replete with vim and vinegar, that even Jonathan Swift might appreciate. In fact, singer Fat Mike was a major force behind Rock Against Bush, so while skateboarders and mall rats might prefer the band’s low culture tirades, others realize that such festering, fiery pop-punk is the perfect venue to subvert the public’s political sphere via tunes like “We Called It America” (remember the middle class-infused, liberal-leaning, pre-broke America?... now dying in a ditch), “Freedumb” (“Is freedom of expression just a load of shit? Just another farce?” NOFX ponders), the synth-dolloped “Franco Un-American” (which catalogs a youth’s change from apathy and ignorance to becoming a blind follower of Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky), and “USA-Holes” (which describes media-saturated, knee-jerk, go-to-war America reading “headlines with sweat and nausea”). If you thought NOFX only wrote simplistic songs about bongs, venereal disease, and enemas, think again.
Some will strenuously argue Green Day lost its authenticity after signing to a major label—or even worse, by going to Broadway and offering a Tin Pan Alley version of late-capitalist punk. Oh well. Like Nirvana before it, the trio still musters quality, cut-to-the-truth songs with subject matter that Bon Jovi would never touch, like the scalding “subliminal mind-fuck America”. Billie Joe Armstrong may not exactly be the everyman punk anymore, but a mansion on the hill hasn’t overshadowed his sense of injustice, especially during the “age of paranoia”, when the media environment stirs the citizenry to march lockstep (“do the propaganda”) to the redneck agenda. Catchy, irreverent, and stirring, it speaks to the punk’s ever-present sense of being outsiders—faggots, punks, rejects, weirdos, and losers—as the American dream steamrolls in every direction, squashing diversity and dissent in the pursuit of “one nation” policies. My 13-year-old nephew plugs into Green Day’s tunes with unabashed verve, which I much prefer to Justin Beaver’s milquetoast grooves.
From the Middle American rust belt realities of Pittsburgh, Anti-Flag pushed the limits of politics in popular music, signing to RCA but never giving up its brand of zealous radical ideologies. This title track to the album of the same name, which pushed past the barricades of the rock industry and flew the banner of punk rock crusades (the CD featured cut-out stencils and postcards designated to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights). This tune, however, is more down-to-earth, aimed at teenage fury in go-nowhere America: suburban wasteland U.S.A., “a concrete city hell”. where “they sell souls”. It’s armed with mucho desire and camaraderie, uniting kids of the suburban wasteland and urging them to “to leave this empty ugly place”, or at least remake it with Walt Whitman-style ethos. Sure, like the Clash, Anti-Flag produced major corporate product, but the group packed that opportunity tight with dissent and ready-made revolt.
Photo: David Ensminger
Most punks identify early TSOL as a prime example of potent politics, including the group’s iconic “Abolish Government/Silent Majority” (covered by Slayer), released in 1981 on Posh Boy. After a disastrous affair with Hollywood Boulevard glam rock in the mid-1980s that left only a single original member standing in the band, TSOL re-united in the 1990s and focused on its signature soundscapes again. Signed to Nitro Records (the offspring of the Offspring’s Dexter Holland), the group released the under-appreciated slab of succinct resistance, Divided We Stand in 2003, a multi-faceted record ripe with flavors culled from past efforts. “America” begins with the lulling gothic shades last seen on Beneath the Shadows and soon shifts into high gear, avoiding Romantic prosody in favor of socio-political analysis of an America gone wrong (“You got no life / And you live in a box afraid”). Yet, these dulled people remain ready to tame and kill those that are different or question the validity of this terminal paranoid lifestyle. Acidic Jack Grisham effortlessly subverts people’s fear and prejudices, their mishaps and misjudgments. “I try to deal with underlying conditions, not players”, Grisham reminded me in June. “Freedom comes at a price. 9/11 unified America like Pearl Harbor, but we surrendered some freedoms. We need responsibility and discipline to achieve ideals, but there is no quick goal or plan. Like Martin Luther King said, ‘We now have guided missiles and misguided men.’”