Shortly after the September attacks on the World Trade Center, an incident occurred within the punk underground community that illustrates an unsettling hesitancy among purveyors of underground punk (or "street punk") culture to disseminate images that may be interpreted as "anti-American" or "unpatriotic". Maximum Rock N Roll (MRR), a 'zine that has been an integral part of punk culture since the early 1980s, refused to run a TKO Records advertisement for the CD reissue of the Bodies' EP Firepower Is Our Business. The ad, which really seems to be pretty tame, features a black and white image of the American flag with the Bodies' logo placed on top of the stars and the words Firepower Is Our Business fitted across the stripes. MRR coordinator Mike Thorn explained to TKO that the use of the American flag in the ad made the MRR editors "uncomfortable" and that the ad would not appear.
In a letter to MRR, the TKO staff asserted that the freedom of self-expression is not only essential to American democracy, but also vital to the punk movement. "Regardless of the current political situation, we refuse to succumb to any pressures, be it from extremists on the Idiot Left or the Idiot Right, to censor what these bands have to say", wrote Mark Rainey, Mike Winter, and Alan Hynes of TKO Records. "TKO bands will sing about flying the flag or burning the flag, all in a celebration of the right to free speech that we enjoy as Americans" ("TKO's Response to MRR", www.tkorecords.com). As a result of MRR's actions, TKO halted all advertising in MRR and the label no longer submits review material to the 'zine.
It's in this spirit of "right to free speech" that TKO -- known as "the hardest working label in punk" -- released its third installation in the label-compilation series, Punch Drunk. Certainly, punk has stood for many things over the years: anarchy, working-class politics, a do-it-yourself philosophy of making and distributing music, subversion of mainstream society, and the production of loud and raw rock 'n' roll for the slam-dancing, pogo-sticking pleasure of it. All of these ideas are contained in Punch Drunk III, along with a few gems about the ups and downs of love (Guitar Gangsters' "Safety Pin Through My Heart" is one of the catchiest tracks on the CD) and hanging out with your mates ("Down the Pub" by Hard Skin signals that the oi scene is alive and well). Appropriately, most tracks on the CD tout the values of banding together to fight authority, supporting your comrades in the trenches of class warfare, and going against the mainstream. "They tear it down," sings Sixer on "Tear It Down", "We build it up!" Several tracks are almost anthemic, urging punks to come together to "build a nation . . . In revolution, you can't stand alone!" (Class Assassins, "Uprise").
Given the positive, subculture-affirming themes of most tracks, Limecell's "Get the Bitch to Do It" seems oddly misplaced in this compilation. Punk is all about self-expression and the freedom to be socially and culturally offensive; perhaps TKO decided to include this inane track just for the sake of offending listeners: "When the clothes ain't clean and the house is a mess / Get the bitch to do it, get the bitch to do it . . . / When you got blue balls, and you just wanna scream / Get the bitch to do it!" While some may argue that Limecell is being ironic by satirizing the misogyny and machismo that still exists within some punk circles, the irony here doesn't work because there's nothing to indicate that Limecell is doing anything but perpetuating an anti-female message. A song like this would be effective as irony if a grrl band like Bratmobile or the Lunachicks performed it. However, as performed by Limecell, it's just tired, boring, misogynist rhetoric.
Despite its problems, Punch Drunk III is still worth some attention. TKO's consistency in releasing these compilations is to be commended. Punch Drunk III contains covers of some classics. The Forgotten cover Generation X's "Your Generation", Terminus City performs Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues", and Antiseen take the Ramones' "Commando" and make it their own. Some previously unreleased tracks -- including the Stitches' "Cars of Today", the Beltones' "Better than a Kick in the Head", and Bonecrusher's "Gotta Believe" -- are also worth adding to any punk audio collection.
Punch Drunk III is the kind of CD that you want to crank up on the stereo as you prepare for some of life's more difficult tasks. "Safety Pin Through My Heart" would help prepare you for dumping a girlfriend or boyfriend. "Uprise" would be appropriate music to play as you muster the courage to tell your boss, "I quit!" and prepare to leave the financial security of a mind-numbing eight-to-five job. There's a lot to be said for music that can help us overcome obstacles that we face as the result of living our lives.
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Punch Drunk III features the Beltones, the Generators, Reducers S.F., U.S. Bombs, the Forgotten, the Partisans, Thug Murder, Sixer, the Bodies, the Stitches, Class Assassins, Guitar Gangsters, Niblick Henbane, Those Unknown, Workin' Stiffs, Terminus City, Bonecrusher, Antiseen, Limecell, Electric Frankenstein, the Riffs, East Bay Chasers, American Pig, Bloody Mutants, Hard Skin, Angelic Upstarts
For a thoughtful discussion of the origins of Maximum Rock N Roll and criticisms of the 'zine's powerful influence within the punk scene, see the chapter entitled "Intra Movement Communication: Fanzines -- Communication from the Xerox Machine to the Underground" (pp. 62-69) in Craig O'Hara's The Philosophy of Punk: More Than Noise, 2nd edition (San Francisco: AK Press, 1999).