The manner in which the Asskickers suddenly popped up nearly full-grown is just like the volunteer sunflower that springs to life seemingly overnight in a neglected section of the garden. Their wispy pedal-steel guitar and easy country twang might remind you of the band onstage at the basic C&W tavern in your very own town. Here, the Asskickers frame a series of poignant yet funny vignettes about those who inhabit The Other Side of Town, which if a town has a railroad, is always to be found on the wrong side of the tracks. These are genuinely funny songs about the small lives of a small community’s misfits, the sort of people that city fathers might pretend don’t exist. Populating a land of small opportunity with scant promise for improvement, all are social outcasts. Most are merely people down on their luck who are driven to collective distraction in their desperation to survive in or escape from the small hick one-horse country town they call home.
Sometimes the only way out of the “One Horse Town” is to imagine what a bigger town might offer. Small towns can sometimes seem unbearably stultifying, and the claustrophobia they generate can even extend into the surrounding countryside where “all these trees keep closing in”.
Farther back in the hills, people once actually made a living of sorts from the forest. The next song “Trees” is dedicated to “Butterfly”. That is, Julia “Butterfly” Hill, the tree-hugger who spent two years hanging out in an old-growth redwood tree to protest the rapacious habits of lumber companies. With the rural areas increasingly overrun by environmentalist types, now the lumberjack is considered outre even in a tree-filled territory. Because mills are closing as unprofitable, many who once had work in the lumber industry are hoping to move over to the better-paying positions the new economy has created in new careers that promise real job security, such as becoming policemen or prison guards. Still, there is a reminder of unforgotten social tensions broiling: “Ain’t no trust-fund hippie / And I didn’t spend my youth eating LSD / And I don’t drive an SUV / I cut down trees”.
Not much in the way of economic opportunity on the other side of town, the employment situation is always uniformly bleak. Now that the K-Mart’s gone bust, there’s not even calling out a blue light special as a way to make a living, which might mean resorting to the red light special and possible employment in another position offered by the new economy, as an Internet sex worker (“Porno Queen”).
Those who were fortunate enough to ever hold a job in the first place at least can get a small benefit check from the government when they’re laid off, as they inevitably are. But trying to find work where there is none is sometimes more of a waste of time than daytime television watching. “The EDD’s been paying me / To sit around and watch TV / Joe Brown and Judge Judy”. The “Springer Show” gives a glimpse of both who was on and who was watching the The Jerry Springer Show. The television show, while genuinely horrifying, frames stories about everything. Social scholars might say the show is beneficial because it demystifies the variety of the human condition with candor, although that form of diversity and frankness certainly has a downside. Apparently, sometimes the show works to ameliorate isolation, allowing the viewer to feel like less of a freak and more like a regular human being, especially when compared to some of the guests: “I may not be much of a man / But I ain’t no midget in the Ku Klux Klan / Like those freaks / On the Springer Show”.
Always irreverent, the Asskickers remind us who might inhabit the other side of town. There’s “Wide Eye Leroy”, the speed freak who’s been steadily mething up his life since he was fourteen and cooks meth as naturally as other people cook dinner. With “Cooking Chicken”, the Asskickers manage to put the glitterpunk back in punkabilly. “Cooking Chicken” is about an unlikely character named Bobby, who is a drag-queen kid in a rodeo. “Dressing up in women’s clothes is a whole lot harder than riding bulls / Criticized and ostracized / Kids they can be so cruel”. The story also outlines a humorous lack of understanding between generations. While Grandma’s in the kitchen cooking up chicken, and Bobby’s plucking his eyebrows getting ready to go, Grandpa merely doesn’t understand kids these days.
The Asskickers kick out C&W-style songs about the usual C&W range of topics, including hard drinking (“Goddamn Bad”), dang dogs (“Punk Rock Dawg”), and broken hearts (“24 Hours”), but it’s “24 Hours” that prove that the Asskickers can deliver a genuine country weeper.
Moving through the environment of 13 songs, somehow we end up pretty much exactly where we started out on The Other Side of Town. The final song reprises the theme of the first cut, though the frustration has notched up into a steady state of being downright pissed-off with what passes for life here. If you can get a job, that job will suck, so still dreaming up a way to leave, too. “Lottery” (dedicated to the Colusa Casino and Bingo Parlor) is easily 20 times better than “Take This Job and Shove It”, but you won’t hear this on too many C&W radio stations, and the Asskickers play it like they really mean it. If you’ve ever worked in a job that was stealing your soul (and who hasn’t?), you’ll like this song.
The Asskickers and their gifted songwriter/singer Bob Howard popped up very nearly in my own backyard. Don’t know how they’ll play in your town, but slip this disc in for one of your redneck friends and see what happens.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/asskickers-other/