MRR #431 • April 2019
Ruthless criticism of all that exists! Nothing is immortal and the future is the only real thing! I was not going to eulogise. I called Brace from a busted payphone in the lobby of a hostel in the Mission in 2008 to deliver him some punk post. I apologetically jammed a copy of my zine into the box which he left at the compound and here we are. Printing my full real name and the address of every home I had in a magazine that went out thousands of absolute losers around the world has had its consequences.
Too many people were all too patient with me as I learnt to write past painfully overwrought puns and local vendettas. Intrepid legends wrote to me of ancient lost bands, men asked me personal things about my life that they have read in here at gigs wherever I went. Still do. Incarcerated people sent me their drawings and dreams. The most British thing about me is my abiding distaste for Americans but I met some really real real ones living the compound in 2010 while researching counter-institutions, the psychic profits and spiritual wages of working for free in our time beyond the end of history. Since then the field of vision has widened and shrunk at once.
When it comes to Maximum, opinions are like arseholes; those who claim not to have one are usually full of shit. Just remember that the frustration of seeing something you cherish deviate from your own vision for it is part and parcel of the cherishing! Punk remains a possibility explosion chock full of headless punishers circling the drain tryna grasp something pure, and may it always be so. Impure hooligans hamstrung by our own large, poisoned brains. Might have been at the compound that I first saw the Christ the Album artwork which used that old line about how “the institution is the lengthened shadow of one person.” Crass used it in fury, of course, but we can bend it with love. Following the steps of a one communist genius maniac, thousands cast the longest most fucked up silly shadow together, one that sweeps across every inhabited continent on earth, and that when the light is just right, it still looks like a huge, triumphant middle finger.
I had never heard of Asheville. On the way, we stop at a waterfall where all the rocks, on closer inspection, are jammed full of quartz. Tiny flakes of it cover the ground, reflecting back the weird light through the canopy above us. In some wordless ritual to the obtuse beauty of this odd place, my companions unwrap their taut (taught) bodies and I’m caught off guard by the old but always familiar sensation of my body being squeezed up a hard double-glazed pane of glass through which I cannot pass. It’s glass, though, so I’m close to undetectably quarantined, a clear view of how I might otherwise behave.
While they are swimming I smile and take pictures, considering the many other moments where glass has reverted back to sand between my toes. Temporary contingent utopias. I pick up and clean a fleck of quartz and slide it between two debit cards, looking up to see Max’s testicles, loose amongst the nature. We walk back to the van past the ruins of the decommissioned quartz mine. In town, when we get there, I immediately recognise the tone a small city of transplant/escapees mildly resentful that they weren’t the only ones with that idea. These locals (a relative term, it seems) have tried to insulate themselves against sharing their space with tourists and students through a network of bars with strict local ID laws. Gabe, who studied here, somehow talks his way in. I sneak past and shit in there with ferocious commitment. We tour a synthesizer factor, worker-owned in spite of it all. Hope and invention, bread and circuits.
A couple of days gone. Harrisburg, Mississippi. Our host’s housemate reminds me suddenly of the many boys I hung around between the ages of fifteen and twenty-two. Hardcore men with gold chains and shiny sneakers were usually ready with the putdowns, but this was an evolved one who incongruously—yet still perfectly—plays in a band called Eye Jammy that sounds like the Big Boys. He told us about his life with his whole face; ambitions to save up, to teach and help. I want to tell him that I’m so glad he’s a person in the world. We park up the van and I see our bands impromptu logo through an open set of doors. The doodle I drew on some scrap paper in Australia a few months before has been blown up, photocopied onto thirty-two sheets of paper and stuck together to paper the walls of Mississippi’s only queer youth space; the Spectrum Center. It’s a weird face (I have always drawn these faces) with “Hope Is a Prism” written above it, and “No More Prisons” below. The teeth and lips say BB and the Blips.
Someone young (they are all young) approaches me to ask if I have ever heard of Angela Davis. He wants to talk about living militantly in the steps of others. He teaches me about the organising baked into the earth both here (in Hattiesburg, site of one of the first voter registration drives, where the KKK burnt Vernon Dahmer in his home, the crucible of so much besides) and in nearby Jackson, and how it was crushed to dust and by whom. He rails against the compromises he feels have been made by the socialist mayor there, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, and how the staff of the only cooperatively-run business in Jackson still follow his Mom around the store while she’s grocery shopping.
We are all thrown into a ring of understanding through shared tendencies much more than the incidental music. Becoming more animated, he moves on to setting up his first DSA meeting, the good first showing of eight or nine, and I think about the coastal eye rollers I know who could use some of his earnestly stringent analysis, about how much better talking to people is than podcasts. In another corner, a mother’s chaperoning her girls, who attend the building’s youth group, to their first gig here. We drink in each others’ wide open accent and I’m charmed at the girls’ gawking shyness. Her girls were born just after Katrina. She was pregnant when it hit. “We lost everything, so this place was a new start.” I garble an approximation of their hyphenated names during our set.
The assembled crowd is one enormous grin. Everyone’s a woman; everyone’s dancing, a combo which always makes me want to cry and it crosses my mind that I can potentially channel and then transmit enough of this joy to guard everyone in the room from all future pain and then realise I’m getting (always) ahead of myself. The gig is a battle royale, set up so the locals—Judy and the Jerks, Soft Spot and Dee Dee Catpiss and the Fuzz Coffins—rotate song by song against the projected clock, and somehow everyone is casually insanely good at every instrument, and it works and thrills us all into fall-apart giggles.
Later, the cops show up. The cops are both young Black women who want to know if the organisers of the show (which ended, per curfew, at 21:58) have any idea who would called it in, because the caller would not leave an address or contact details. Neighbours, it transpires, have been regularly making police reports about the shows at the space. I think about cowardice and try not to look at their guns and feel very British. I tell everyone I have just met that I love them, we take a photograph, and leave.
It’s only two hours to New Orleans so we do it straight away, attempting to bottle the euphoria and arrive as the cicadas reach a gritty climax. Our host is Jonah; profound snark-sage, carries himself like someone holding the weight of at least twelve lives so far. He stalks the street as though treasure’s imminent and we march single file behind him at 2am towards decorated Halloween front yards, until the heavens open. “Ah, the Fleur de Lis,” he snarls from the side of his mouth up at endless flapping flags, “the French swastika.”
We don’t bother running as it pours, noticing the rain and the air are the same here. Jonah and Mary-lou share a large home with numerous shadows, set back from the road, a wobbly mansion surrounded by rusty protrusions (possibly art, hard to say) mature ferns and heavy palms. The walls are dark, wet wood, they seem to pulsate and glisten as we dry and, socks off, the tiles cool my soles. There’s an indoor-outdoor walkway to move you between rooms. These types of exception homes make my spirit sing, parallels to another past, another future, one I used to be able to describe so clearly, inhabiting sometimes, now faded to nearly nothing, loosening focus even more since they criminalised squatting in the UK. They have that overwhelming vibe of people living upon layers of bone-dust, everyday relics of deep lives, of survivors who came slowly back. I muse on this romantic half-thought like a prick then realise that apocalypse is no abstraction. New Orleans is a whole world.
For a while there I’m completely enchanted at the sense of having aesthetically and architecturally escaped America. The long, winding highway over water. I put it together over the first few hours of ears open/mouth shut that in fact there are deeply American reasons for the poverty that covers this place like an oil slick, for the poisonous fentanyl crisis, the stark fact that there are no public schools left here. Curdled slabs of marble jut out at slightly off angles. We climb the walls of St. Roche cemetery with the aid of some lost mourner’s plastic chair. Cars slow by. Ain’t doing nothing. Ten of us share one improbably long sandwich. I choose now to try my first ever seafood. It is a sort of breaded shrimp.
Later in the evening (a night I’ve been playing over in my head a lot since) we will play before Special Interest in a Laundromat and their set, twisted and heavy, will end. Then Alli will speak out over the mic, solid stood over the crowd on a washer, about grief. They begin “Are you scared?!” and the crowd, assuming this is some call and response number, gives it back tenfold. No. Rage hails down at the death cult and it feels like a laser pointer red dot right in the centre of the ease with which everything adjusts, shoving even this, a most revolutionary sound, style, and presence into a standardised entertainment module for buzzing youths just …checking out a show, man.
It’s gauche to say a moment like that was profoundly moving but what was generated over the space of a few minutes broke a hole in my standards for what our end time gatherings could further aspire to. Far from it, naturally, that they need deliver a sucker punch to the crowd through laying bare one persons’ raw loss and grief at their own expense, but still. Stillness. Still space, still reality and still re-connecting the dots. ‘I came here, I came here, I came here to dance.’ Of course, that. Still.
Memphis (an unbecoming twelve-hour glimpse of it, anyway) was a lowlight, simply. The smoke in the bar itches my lungs and, through various missteps, we disassembled the prior unity of the van, owing to excesses of both beer and pride. This gig, this episode, leaves me wondering what I need to sing these silly songs effectively, be in front of others, what was missing in Memphis, and indeed that it might be okay not to be totally self-contained. Then we are catcalled and kerb crawled during a walk around the block in a suburban street and I feel like the moon is laughing at us.
In St. Louis we play the last Lumpy and the Dumpers gig and I wring out the weight of everything on stage. “If you get in the way of women dancing I will make sure you never have sex again.” Then there is A Moment and I am convinced that we—me and this small army of pogoing bitches—have the power to ensure this sticks. “Sweat it out, don’t deny me. Fill me, just fill me, I live in my body.” Later there will be a fight at the Courtesy Diner (est. 1935, so neither the first nor the last) and my best friend and the one I love will (respectively) sit on and tackle the aggressor just to weigh him down and then the tired waitress will lock the doors and that man, defeated in the car park, will shout out some parting shot: “Trump won, get over it!”
There was a moment earlier on this tour where I had cause to source suboxone and fast. Navigating a foreign city on this urgent errand I shut out all rumination (my life challenge) and my engine was filled only with the desire to do the right thing and to help make it stop. It was a lesson in hyper focus seeing how others come through for each other over and over in these protracted crises, harm reduction as both a legacy and a lifetime. A whole culture. A whole world. We are all most alive as an instrument of a project, even and especially when that project is simply to keep our friends alive. Say no to the fetishized interior! May you, too, live.
I refuse to accept that punk is less appealing to kids than it was in previous decades. Gigs are still just as slimy, dark, and angry as they ever were, and I truly believe that teenagers live for dirty, angry, dumb garbage. But, as I’ve gotten older, the crowd at your average show started looking like the crowd at a Smiths DJ night (which, as a teen, was nearly as unappealing as a high school dance or some adult cocktail party). This is an almost universally accepted demographic shift, and I’ve heard a lot of people speculate on the reasons. Rather than ask what the reasons might be, I’m here to offer some (probably fruitless) solutions.
1. Book All Ages Shows
This is nothing new, and I’m sure I couldn’t say it any better than that raving lunatic from Another State of Mind, So here is his take: “The cramps come through here and they play a bar—21 and over. They ultimately eliminate three quarters of their audience by playing a bar. What the hell are they going to play a bar for? Who can go see them? Their fans can’t fucking go see them. It’s bullshit.”
2. Free Gigs for everyone under 18
There are a ton of laws that prohibit or restrict child labor here in the USA. The result being that kids are dead broke. Some freshman in high school might want to come to your dumb gig, but he doesn’t want to have to beg his mom for the $8 you are charging at the door, on top of begging for a ride. Just make you gig free to everyone under 18. Put that shit on the flyer in big letters—“Free for kids under 18.” Do this for all your gigs, and try to convince everybody else in town to do the same. It’ll work best if all of the DIY shows in your town are known to be free to everyone under 18. High school kids you don’t really know that well aren’t going to be sitting around trying to figure out what promoter is doing a show. They want to go to all of them, and if it’s a well-known fact around town that all punk gigs are free to all kids, they’ll know that they can bring any friends that they want and they might even be able to pool their money together after the gig to buy a record from the band, or maybe a pizza to share with each other.
Just take the hit. No kids are coming to your shows now anyway. Sacrifice the $8 dollars in the short term so that the scene can be young and vibrant again. Don’t be the selfish dick that fucks this up, ok?
3. Free Beer
Do you know what 16-year-olds want more than anything in life? They want a safe place to drink beer where there isn’t any risk of their parents catching them in the act. The trouble is, none of their friends are of age, nobody believes that they are 31-year-old Greg Solarz as their fake ID claims, and little Billy’s mom walked in on them the last time they were all drinking the rum they stole from their father’s liquor cabinet.
The good news is that little Billy just saw a flyer outside of his school for a gig that happened to say “Free Beer” on it. He and little Timmy are going to check it out. And when they get there, the music will be great, sure, but there will also be two 30-racks of Genny Cream Ale open and available for everyone to help themselves. Timmy and Billy are going to get a little tipsy, and come Monday morning, tell all their friends at school about this basement paradise where bands play hard, idiots beat on each other to the music, and the beer flows like wine, regardless of age.
*Idea #3 has been redacted because some people are just creeps.
You know how I used to find out about shows when I was in high school? Well, a quick Google search (though I think I was using Yahoo! at the time) of “buffalo punk shows” returned a forum, buffaloshows, that had a really good calendar of shows for reference. I was able to find it because it was an easily searchable neutral space. Facebook is not that. Sure, keep making your facebook event pages, but know that you aren’t going to get little Timmy and his friends out to gigs anytime soon. You have exactly zero mutual friends with any of them and they won’t be able to find your shitty facebook event page, even though they desperately want to find out about gigs.
So, if you want little Billy to get out to gigs, you need to make sure he at least finds out about one.
Start flyering. And don’t just flyer at other shows. Billy hasn’t been to a show yet, so he won’t be able to get one of those. And don’t just hang flyers up near the bars that you and your buddies go to on Saturdays (and Wednesdays and Thursdays). Billy isn’t old enough to go to bars, so he’ll never see that. And don’t just flyer outside of the local alt-leaning restaurants. Billy and his friends only go to Denny’s because that’s the only restaurant that is in walking distance of all of their houses.
You need to get your ass up and start flyering all the trees around the area high schools and middle schools. Your city has about 100 schools. Hit them all.
Have your flyers ready at all times, so when you are driving back to you parents’ house to do your laundry at 3:30pm on a Friday afternoon and you see some 12-year-old with blue hair and a Dead Kennedys t-shirt that you’ve never seen before, you can quickly pull over, yell something like, “hey freaker, you like punk? Come to this gig. Bring your idiot friends too.”
5. Create a scene that’s worth asking your parents for a ride.
Look, I get that you’re 29 years old. I get that you are really into Superchunk right now. I get you’re trying to focus on your pop project that reflects your diverse influences. I get it. But you know who doesn’t get it? 15-year-olds. They want to rage to bands that sound like Jerry’s Kids. They’re just waiting to have their minds blown by a ripping hardcore band at the first show they go to, because there might not be a second show for them if the first one doesn’t blow their mind. And if your new pop project (the one that doesn’t even have a drummer yet and plays songs with really intellectual lyrics) is playing, instead of some Neanderthal-ish, booger-eating hardcore band, well, you just lost us all a potential lifer.
So, what can you do? Well, why don’t you put your pop project on the backburner for a while? In fact, maybe just table it indefinitely. Focus on a real band. You know, the one you wished you could be in when you were 16 if you and your friends could just learn to play your instruments. You’re 29 now, and you can play. Time to start that band that sounds, as you said thirteen years ago, “just like the Faith/Void split, only harder.”
6. Give young bands preference
Ok, so maybe you’ve done everything on this list so far and by some miracle, four 15-year-olds actually start a band (with a really great name like Fart Brigade). Just book them. They want to play a show? Great, book them. It’s already booked up? Kick xAcceptxAllxAlliesx off the gig and put the 15-year-olds on it. xAxAxAx are all 42 years old and they suck anyway. I don’t care if they are your friends. One of them had a baby. They get the boot so that Fart Brigade can play. Make Fart Brigade feel important. They’ll probably flyer to their friends at school. Maybe their friends will be so jealous that the idiots in Fart Brigade are actually playing real shows (and not just the school sponsored pep rally), that they, too, will start bands with equally ill-conceived band names.
7. Record them (for free, jerk).
Kids only learn how to record by watching somebody that knows how to do it. Don’t let them flounder with that 4-track they got at guitar center. Don’t direct them to some professional studio that will make recording seem lofty and too complex to eventually do on your own. Just bring your 8-track and four mics to their practice space and help them record a demo. I know they can’t play to a click. Just help them do the best they can, and have some patience—they’re 15.
8. Put out their demo.
I don’t care that it sounds like garbage. All the best punk records sound like blown out garbage and were made by 17-year-olds. You’ll look back on this as the finest tape you ever put out—the best $100 you ever spent.
And again, they’ll learn by watching you. Walk them through the process as you put out their tape. Maybe they’ll be able to do the next one on their own.
9. Talk to the kids
If you see a random kid at a show, go out of your way to make them feel welcome. Give them a free copy of your bands 7”. Give them a flyer for the next gig with your phone number on the back so that they can call you for a ride if they need one. Maybe offer a ride home. A couple college aged kids used to give me rides to and from shows even though it was out of the way, and that was really encouraging. I felt like I was really welcome, and even though I was 14, I felt like the older guys (Dan and Rita, I really can’t thank you enough) wanted me there and had my back. Even though I was almost too awkward to talk to anyone, I could still count on older people to be my buddies and give me rides, and maybe tell me about cool bands to check out.
“Everything is infinite, nothing is eternal”
Well. I got The Email today. I couldn’t quite believe it until I spent the rest of the day lying in bed and listening to Dork Rock Cork Rod and crying. It’s kinda stupid, I guess. Or at least that’s how it would seem to most of the world. I spend enough energy trying to tell myself that punk rock matters in a big way. How am I supposed to get other people to understand that? As someone who is just starting to put her life in the hands of this… movement, or whatever you want to call it, it’s depressing to see a fantastic and irreplaceable idea that you can hold in your own two hands unable to continue to sustain itself.
This feeling reminds of when I was somewhere around the age of seven, listening to “Do You Remember Rock N Roll Radio?” by The Ramones. I was lying in bed, with the covers pulled over my head, and having a total existential crisis. I didn’t know anything about DIY punk, I didn’t know that punk bands still existed, and I was still mostly listening to stuff in my dad’s CD collection. Although I fell in love with the song because of the awe-inspiring power of the music, the lyrics totally depressed me. If rock’n’roll was on the verge of becoming “just part of the past” all the way back at the end of the ’70s (which was about a million years ago for me back then), the it must be really dead in 2010. And if it was dead, then I’d never get to do it. I didn’t have a concrete idea of was doing it involved, just that it had to be done and I wanted to be doing it.
For better or worse, MRR shaped a part of who I am. I think it was the first zine I bought myself. I’ve discovered countless bands by going through every entry in the reviews section and circling the ones that seem like something I would like (yeah, I know I’m a loser). I was asked if I wanted to do this column, and even though I’ve never done anything remotely like this before, I went for it, because I’d regret it if I didn’t. I am
grateful that I’ve gotten to be a small part of almost half-century long history of this magazine, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to accept this shitty ending happily. To the board: your magazine taught us how to see through bullshit, how to tell when we’re being treated unfairly, and, most importantly, what to do next. Print media will only die if you let it. Punk rock will be dead to you when you’re the one trying to fuck over the kids. Things are brewing underground, so keep your eyes and ears open. Long live the open-minded, and long live honest punk rock.
Harm Reduction and Pregnancy
By now we all know that there are only a few months left of physical MRR so I am going to use the last few issues to talk about some things that I’ve always wanted to address in this column but haven’t gotten around to yet. This month, it’s harm reduction and pregnancy. In my prior life, I was an abortion counselor, so this issue is really an amalgamation of my true loves. I’ve talked to plenty of women who are pregnant and who use substances throughout my time on this planet, and I’ve heard many unsolicited opinions about what these people should do with their bodies. I consider this platform to be conducive to this conversation (monologue) because I don’t have to listen to any shithead’s opinion and there’s no comments section, so I can say whatever I want and just get to assume that everyone agrees with me. I’ll miss this.
As far as stigma goes, it can’t get much worse than a pregnant woman using drugs. This should go without saying, but if you’re pregnant, regardless of whether or not you’re using substances, you get to decide what you want to do. You have options. Unfortunately, some of you have a lot less options than others, and that’s bullshit but here we are. Below are a few resources about options that I’ve always found helpful. If all else fails, please email me and I can help you figure out what the laws are in your area.
The first is called Women on Waves. For the past ten years, this organization has sailed to countries where abortion is illegal or inaccessible, picks people up on their boat, takes them out to international waters, and gives them the abortion pill. It’s completely legal. They’ve been to Ireland, Mexico, Guatemala, and Morocco. They also fly abortion drones now, which have successfully delivered early abortion pills to women in Ireland and Poland. It’s not the most practical option because chances are they aren’t going to be anywhere near you need them, but it’s still a genius idea.
If you need help figuring out what you want to do or what’s possible for you to do, call Planned Parenthood (1-800-230-PLAN). If you want unbiased referrals, information, or if you need help paying for an abortion, call the National Abortion Federation at 1-800-772-9100 or go the the NNAF website at https://abortionfunds.org/need-abortion/. If you’re not sure what you want to do and don’t want to talk to anyone, try the Pregnancy Options Workbook. It’s a little old, but I think it stands the test of time: https://www.pregnancyoptions.info/pregnant.htm.
Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of going to a crisis pregnancy center. These are anti-choice centers run by religious zealots who won’t give a shit if you live or die after you’re not pregnant anymore. You can often spot them because they offer “free ultrasounds”. Here’s a pretty good article on how to recognize a crisis pregnancy center: https://womenhelp.org/en/page/939/how-to-spot-a-crisis-pregnancy-center-before-you-walk-in-the-door
Before I get into tips to help you stay staff during your pregnancy, I want to get something straight. The effects of substance use during pregnancy are way inflated in our society. The stigma is nearly impenetrable, and by demonizing pregnant women we are giving men/the government more authority over our bodies and our lives, so please be conscious of that fact when you call people “crack babies” or when you call moms “junkies” or even just assuming that mothers who use during pregnancy are necessarily parents. It’s not as simple as that.
In fact, this overblown fixation on women’s’ womb’s has created a culture where it’s acceptable for lawmakers to sentence women to jail for using substances while pregnant. In 2017, a federal court ruled in favor of a Wisconsin woman who sued the state after she was thrown in jail for using methamphetamine while pregnant. Prosecutors used a 1997 state law that says an expectant mother can be held in custody if she demonstrates a lack of self control over substance use which “presents a substantial risk to the health of the unborn child.” But in 2017, the US Supreme Court overturned that ruling, and re-authorized the state of Wisconsin to apply this law.
In 2017, Amnesty International came out with a report which found that in 38 states, women can be charged with “fetal assault”, in which the embryo or fetus is considered the victim of a crime. In some instances, the fetus can be granted legal representation, whatever the fuck that means. In 23 of those 28 states, the laws apply from the moment of fertilization. In some states, you can be arrested for giving birth to a child who has been exposed to substances.
So women who are using before they even know they are pregnant are not shielded from prosecution. Before you go and get all judgey like, “how can someone not know they’re pregnant?” trust me, it happens all the time. I’ve talked to hundreds of women from various levels of education, socio-economic statuses, races, ethnicities, dietary habits, marital status, number of prior pregnancies, and even women that were on birth control who didn’t discover they were pregnant until it was too late for them to get an abortion in their state. There are many, many valid reasons why women both young and old don’t realize they’re pregnant until their second or third trimester so just hold your judgement on that one.
The authors of the Amnesty International report state, “We found stark evidence of discrimination in the implementation of pregnancy criminalization laws, which tend to be disproportionately enforced against low-income women and women of color. These women are often already facing multiple levels of discrimination and do not have the resources to navigate the court system or child protection services. For this reason, women who have historically faced discrimination are at heightened risk of prosecution when they become pregnant. Drug testing is applied selectively, often based on discretionary ‘risk’ factors such as low income. Some doctors admitted that their decisions about who to test were based on their own biases.” The effects of laws like these are obvious. As with all other laws that punish users, prohibition makes it way less likely that pregnant people are going to seek out appropriate healthcare.
Most women who become pregnant are able to stop using substances. It’s safe to say that the overwhelming majority of women want a healthy pregnancy and want to stop using while pregnant. Fear of having to go to prison, no less fear of having to give birth in prison is and should be a terrifying prospect to any rational human. Most major medical organizations agree and have denounced laws like these for jeopardizing the health of women, mothers, and newborns.
Joelle Puccio, is a traveling NICU Nurse and a Board Member at both the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance & National Perinatal Association. Joelle does a lot of really incredible work around harm reduction and pregnancy. In an interview with the Harm Reduction Coalition, she says:
“Illicit drugs are not as bad for babies as we’ve been led to believe. I’m not saying that every pregnant person should go out and start a habit, in fact I would advise any pregnant person not to use recreationally at all, including caffeine and cannabis. What I am saying is that there is simply no evidence to support the harms that our society blames on perinatal substance use. In scientific research, perinatal substance use is associated with negative outcomes. It is important to note that associations are not a cause and effect relationship…The way our society responds to perinatal substance use is BY FAR more harmful than any substance effects. In order to create useful knowledge and policies about the actual effects of perinatal substance use, we need to radically change the way we treat women and other people who can become pregnant.”
Here’s some things to expect and tips for keeping safe if you find yourself or someone you love using while pregnant.
Prenatal care is really important for the health of both you and your pregnancy. Babies born to mothers who don’t get early prenatal care are much more likely to have a low-birth weight and are 5x more likely to die than babies born to mothers who received early care. It is important to find a doctor that you trust but I know that’s easier said than done. It’s especially difficult to know what to expect when in some states and countries you can walk into an ER while pregnant and high and they’ll get you on methadone, get you financial support, and provide prenatal treatment that day, meanwhile in other states and countries if you can expect to be arrested.
Drug Screening and Department of Children and Families
US hospitals are mandated to report pregnant patients who show traces of opioids, cocaine, meth or alcohol via a urine test. This doesn’t mean the child will necessarily be taken away from the mother, but it does mean a social worker will follow up to evaluate the safety of the situation during pregnancy and after the baby is born. It means that the situation will be evaluated for safety. Usually, social workers advocate to keep women with their babies whenever possible.
Narcan is completely safe for people who are not pregnant, but due to ethical issues around conducting research on pregnant women, there are no adequate studies that prove whether or not Narcan could cause harm to a fetus. Theoretically, miscarriage, early birth, or serious withdrawal symptoms in babies may occur if Narcan is given to a person who is pregnant, but again, that has yet to be proven. Keep in mind that if a pregnant person fatally overdoses, the fetus is going with them. If you think that someone is overdosing, it is better for their health if you give them naloxone 100% of the time, regardless of whether or not they may be pregnant.
Hepatitis C and Pregnancy
The risk of passing Hepatitis C (HCV) from parent to child is low, approximately 5%. Babies who do contract HCV perinatally will often clear the virus on their own. Experts think that about 40% of children will fully recover by the age 2 without medical intervention. If needed, a baby may receive HCV treatment if they haven’t cleared it on their own after 2 years.
Opioid Use and Pregnancy
Pregnancy changes your body, and may also change the way drugs work in your body. Your metabolism may change and your body will be generating more blood. Drugs may be more or less effective than they were before you were pregnant. No matter the situation, it is always safer for you to smoke, sniff, or booty bump your shit instead of injecting, and that’s especially true if you’re pregnant.
Despite popular belief, quitting cold turkey is not what’s best for your zygote. Withdrawing while pregnant can be very dangerous and carries higher risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, and fetal death. It’s safer for the fetus if you taper down slowly, preferably with the help of a medical professional, or start substitution therapy.
Buprenorphine and methadone are okay alternatives to opioids and safe to take during pregnancy while under medical supervision. Both Methadone and Buprenorphine can cause Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal (NOW), which is a temporary, treatable, and is not life-threatening condition if you have appropriate medical care. There are ups and downs to both treatments so you and your doctor must decide which is best for you. Methadone requires daily trips to the clinic which can be good because you have constant access to medical care, however, most methadone clinics won’t let you bring your kids, so if you are already a mom, you’ll need to make sure you have childcare lined up every single day. Transport can get expensive depending on where you are.
Buprenorphine (Suboxone and Subutex) is a pill or sublingual that you can pick up in weekly or monthly increments from a pharmacy, so no need for daily visits. Subs also carry the risk of NOW in newborn babies. Buprenorphine is the active ingredient in both Suboxone and Subutex, however, if you are pregnant, your doctor will prescribe you Subutex because it does not contain Narcan in it for the reasons mentioned above.
The best time to switch to methadone or Subutex is in the second trimester. Breastfeeding is safe when you are on opioid replacement therapy, and may help to treat NOW in your infant. It’s much less safe to breastfeed while using street drugs because you don’t know what you’re taking. Be extra aware of your lower tolerance, if you pick up again your overdose risk will be much greater!
Stimulants and Pregnancy
Cocaine (crack or powder), Meth in any form, adderall, ritalin, vyvanse, etc. Again, best to smoke, snort, or booty bump. If you are shooting up and you need to break down any solid substance, you can use citric or ascorbic acid. Don’t use lemon juice because it can cause infections. You also may want to use a finer filter than cotton, especially with pills, because if you inject any impurities or any small pieces of the pill you can get a really bad infection. Visit a local syringe exchange and get a wheel filter or a sterifilter.
Sleep is important during pregnancy, so make sure to take it as easy as possible. Try not to go on any long runs and make sure you are eating and drinking water. Stimulants can lessen the flow of blood to the placenta. There is some evidence that cocaine use during pregnancy can cause the placenta to separate from the uterine wall, which can limit oxygen and nutrients from reaching the fetus and can cause heavy bleeding for the pregnant person. Stimulants can cause high blood pressure, one of the leading causes of maternal death around the world. Stims have also been suggested to cause premature rupture of placenta (PPROM) which can cause infection, premature birth and other terrible shit.
Taking too much of a stimulant can cause an overdose. Stimulant overdose may look like heart attack, aneurysm, stroke, or panic attack. Withdrawal is not as risky as withdrawing from opioids or alcohol during pregnancy, physically speaking. However stimulant withdrawal can cause severe depression, agitation, cravings, etc. In terms of replacement therapy, there’s not many providers out there who are going to prescribe you anything so your best bet is social support. There is statistical evidence to show that therapy and group therapy can help.
If you’re smoking crack, always use some clean chore boy or a screen, and make sure to protect your mouth by using a rubber spark plug cover or some other piece of flexible PVC which you can get at the hardware store. Try to only use your own pipe so you don’t contract HCV or any other viruses.
In terms of breastfeeding, you may not produce as much milk as you normally would because stimulants can decrease your ability to produce milk. If you are using stimulants intermittently while pregnant, wait 24 hours after using to breastfeed your baby again. If you are using throughout your pregnancy, talk to a doctor you trust about switching to formula.
Alcohol and Pregnancy
Like opioids, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. Withdrawal from alcohol during pregnancy or any other time can be extremely dangerous. While you may feel like you are dying when withdrawing from opioids, you won’t. Alcohol withdrawal is the one and only kind of withdrawal that can kill you. You can always taper down by yourself, but it’s much safer if you do it with the help of a physician. Remember to try not to mix alcohol with any other substances.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the chances of miscarriage or stillbirth. can cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FADS). Babies born with FADS may have low birth weights, smaller head size, and organ and facial abnormalities. They may also develop learning disabilities and reasoning may be impaired as they grow up.
There are some medications that can help you quit drinking. It’s unclear how safe any of these meds are to pregnant people, but they are all thought to be safer than alcohol itself. Antabuse is a drug that is created to treat alcoholism by making you feel like total shit if you drink while on you’re taking it. Naltrexone (vivitrol) is used to treat alcohol addiction in addition to opioid addiction, though the benefits are modest. Naltrexone can help treat cravings. It works similarly to antabuse. Basically if you’re on either medication and you take a drink, you’ll get an instant hangover.
There’s a lot of groups that offer support for alcoholism. AA is an obvious one, but there are also other groups that don’t use the 12 step model or include any religious aspect. Try checking out a SMART recovery or Moderation Management group. Individual therapy works too.
Breastfeeding while using alcohol is not safe for the baby, since alcohol gets passed through breastmilk. Formula is safer for people who are frequent drinkers, and “pumping and dumping” is safer for moms who drink occasionally. Your body filters alcohol out of milk like it does with blood, so when you no longer feel the effects of alcohol, your milk is safe to give to your baby. I would give it several hours though. The recommendation is to wait 2-4 hours for each drink you have.
You can find more harm reduction tips for pregnancy by visiting the National Advocates for Perinatal Care and Harm Reduction Facebook: facebook.com/groups/AdvocatesPerinatalCareHarmReduction. Thanks to Joelle and the rest of them for providing a lot of the tips you saw in this issue. Keep hydrated and stay safe (but have fun) until next time. Do @me at email@example.com.
Farewell Maximum Rocknroll, We Hardly Knew Ye
Hearing the sad news about the changes MRR would soon be going though, I had a very difficult time finding motivation to compile a column for this month. It may seem strange to some to have been affected so heavily by such news, but few things have made as large of an impact on my life as Maximum Rocknroll has. Because of that I thought I would share a couple of short little stories about MRR that I have from my past.
For those of you paying attention, which the powers that be would have you believe are not too many since magazines don’t sell like they used to, this first little tale will sound familiar as I wrote one of my very first columns about it. I first stumbled upon Maximum Rocknroll as a 13 or 14 year old kid.As a bored youth, I mostly spent my time skateboarding, hanging around the arcade and cheap movie theatre at the mall, and recreationally engaging in whatever drugs I could stumble upon, which thankfully wasn’t very many. Getting out of school and not ready to go home just yet I dropped a hit of acid and took off on my skateboard. After a few hours out terrorizing the quaint little suburban town, I decided to start riding home. To break up the ride I happened into a book store and was walking around the magazine aisle looking for nothing in particular. Perched on a shelf amongst a number of slicker, more professional looking music magazines my eyes came to rest on the classic black and white newsprint cover that would soon be a monthly staple in my life, the very first copy of Maximum Rocknroll I ever laid eyes on. I remember excitedly picking it up and thumbing through it as the cover story, “Are Keyboards Punk?” had caught my eye. I was intrigued, excited, confused, and most of all hooked. I assume that those of us still reading Maximum are an aging crowd and I don’t know how well you, dear reader, remember being a teenager, but I recall that I knew absolutely everything at the time. I’m not sure what has happened to me since, but I certainly used to know everything. Picking up that rag while already knowing everything I was floored to flip from page to page and not recognize most of the bands referenced. I bought that issue and rushed home, reading it from cover to cover, again and again. This was the first inkling that I ever had in my life that the world of punk was a much larger world than I ever could have imagined it being. I believe I picked up a copy every month from that point on.
One of the first times I ever made it all the way from Western New York to Sunny California on tour, we had an amusing experience the night that we had a gig booked in San Francisco. Now, I couldn’t tell you where we played or who we played with, but I do remember one thing about that day. Arriving to the city early we drove around looking to find something to eat. This happening prior to the destruction of touring being an adventure with GPS becoming popularized and readily availability, we often would just drive until we found a busy looking strip and try to find something edible. Once we saw somewhere that seemed acceptable we began looking for a place to park our rusted out, half dead van. Up and down side streets for a good five to ten minutes we drove, finding nothing that would accommodate our obnoxiously large, oil leaking machine. As we drove I heard Barb exclaim from the back seat “Hey! Wasn’t that Martin from Limp Wrist we just drove past”? Now, one thing you should know about my friend Barb is that she would often suggest that two people looked identical who I swear had absolutely nothing in common. It happened all the damn time. It became something of an ongoing goof between Steve and I. We chuckled to ourselves as we found a parking spot and started walking back towards the busy strip we had originally been looking for. The joke gained some momentum as we walked past a short old Asian man. Steve leaned over to me, feigning being star struck, exclaiming “oh my god, I think that was Jello Biafra!” The two of us howled with laughter as poor Barb grew ever redder with rage. That is, until we passed the point where Barb thought she saw Martin. There he was, it actually was him. That ever sweet, kind man, waiting at the sidewalk to excitedly greet us. None of us had ever met Martin at this point in our young touring lives, so it wasn’t as if he had rushed out to meet a friend he saw coming by. Turns out, Martin was at the MRR compound and just so happen to see and hear a big sketchy van of punks drive down the street. Assuming that we were headed to MRR as our destination, he rushed out to meet us and proceeded to give us an extensive tour of the facility. I was floored by how welcoming he was and felt humbled to be walking through the place that made the magazine I had loved for years become a reality.
A few years ago I lived with a good friend of mine named Sheena, who many of you may know of due to her Lemuria fame. As her band gained some notoriety they began touring with more notable bands and made friends with a number of them. One day while I was working I got a text from Sheena making sure that I didn’t mind if a band crashed over at our house that night. Surely that was something that never bothered me, seeing as how I often rely on the kindness of others putting me and my idiot friends up while out on the road. When I returned home, Sheena was already asleep but the dudes from the band were still bedding down. I struck up a conversation with them and learned that they were a band I had never heard of called The Wonder Years. Nice enough guys, we chatted for a few minutes then I let them be and retired to my room. Trying to be a bit hospitable, you can never earn too much good tour karma, I woke up at a reasonable time and made a pot of coffee and let them know they were of course welcome to join me in a cup. One of the members of this well known pop-punk band came into the kitchen, poured a hot cup of coffee, and sat down at my kitchen table where the mail sat waiting to be gone through. Reaching out, he plucked the new MRR off the top of the mail pile and began to flip through it. “This is cool, is this a zine you do?” the lad asked me. Chuckling, I sarcastically responded positively before realizing that he wasn’t kidding. This dude, playing in a traveling band that claim to be some variant of punk, had never even heard of Maximum Rocknroll. I explained to him what MRR was and gave him a little rundown about its importance. I also expressed to him how insane it was that he thought even for a second that over 300 issues of a zine that size could have been compiled and released by a single person such as myself out of a tiny little home in Buffalo, NY.
What originally started as me wanting to share a few little anecdotal stories about the rag you hold in your hands now has me thinking a bit more. If that somewhat successful, out of touch doofus thought it were possible for a zine of this caliber to be run by a single individual out of their house in Buffalo, NY then I would like to officially put myself out there to do just that. Hell, maybe he is right!
However, being that this is the April issue and all I think I shall end by making my theory on this whole debacle known. I believe that we’ve all been duped by those in charge and that the board of directors over at MRR just played the biggest April Fools prank on all of us by making us think that this print zine we love so well will soon be no more. Well done, everyone. You got people talking and feeling nostalgic. Now it’s time to tell the masses that it was all a gag and that we will be picking up this magazine for years to come.
If, however, I do end up being wrong about this, it has been an absolute honor to regularly contribute to something that has helped shape my life as much as this magazine has.
Autobiography of a Trans Punk in 2000 Words
1985 or 1986. I learn about shame through Jem and the Holograms, a cartoon about an all-woman band led by a singer with pink hair. Ostensibly a boy, I know I’m not supposed to want to watch this, so I have vague and sporadic memories of being completely enraptured by the colors and the outfit and the keytars and stuff, but only when nobody else was around, which was almost never. Vague and sporadic, of course, because a bad memory is a powerful coping skill for dealing with ongoing trauma, and at age six or seven, wanting something that feels so big while fully understanding and believing that you shouldn’t want it, without skills to parse or resist that contradiction—not just in the context of a goofy cartoon designed to sell knock off Barbies, you understand, Jem and the Holograms are the tip of this iceberg—functions as ongoing trauma. In other words, you don’t have to know the word “trans” for it to fuck you up.
1988. I have a babysitter named Denise. She’s babysitting the night I have to make covers out of brown paper bags for my third grade textbooks. Across one book cover she writes all the cool bands she’s into, the best ones in a different color than the others. I feel cool for knowing about bands. Knowing stuff about bands doesn’t make you cool, though. It doesn’t make you anything. Poison seed: planted.
1993. I’m book smart so it doesn’t blow anybody’s mind when I qualify for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth nerd camp program early in middle school, but it’s hard to commit to anything when you can’t commit to a self, so I half-ass pretty much everything and it takes a couple years till I decide to go, summer after freshman year of high school. It’s a three week program in Creative Writing or English or The Essay or something at Franklin & Marshall in Pennsylvania. I get in with the nerd camp cool kids and have my first girlfriend. There’s also this kid, Jason, and I have a crush on him, but, still not having committed to a self, I don’t really know how to do anything unexpected, so I don’t recognize it as a crush. He’s from Long Island and sometimes he wears the old Bouncing Souls shirt with the poster from Pretty In Pink except it says “Bouncing Souls” instead of “Pretty In Pink.” He knows all about punk stuff and makes me a list of all the bands I should check out, with the ones that play in New Jersey (where I live) a lot in a different color. This is before the internet. You can’t look stuff up on YouTube so mostly I just get into the Bouncing Souls. I’ll go on to see them a bunch of times every year for the next, like, decade and a half.
1994. The thing about CTY (Center for Touching Yourself) is that one of its underlying missions is a social experiment: what if you take away the normal kids and leave the smart kids to develop socially, free from their natural predators, normal kids? Rad shit, is what. My second year at nerd camp I have a relationship with this girl Jenny as well as that kid Jason. Years and years later I’ll realize it was my first queer poly relationship. I’m 15.
1996. I start to run with a crew: Jen wears leopard prints and takes drugs, Jay wears bondage pants, Nick wears a Kangol and goes to the Warped Tour. Actually they all take drugs. Actually, we all take drugs. I’m in love with Jen. She has a redneck boyfriend. We play Gorilla Biscuits songs in their basement.
1997. I DI with Jen in her dorm room at Montclair. I still don’t really have a self. It doesn’t go well.
1997-2001. I go to college. I spend four of my five college years in a relationship.
A couple months ago, in 2019, I was in the grocery store looking for arugula. There was no arugula, so I took a picture of the whole fucking produce department on my phone in case I needed to prove to my current partner that there was no arugula. There was literally no chance that she would ask for this proof. It was all left over guilt and shame from that college relationship that I still carry around with me twenty years later.
Anyway, I’m in college. That girlfriend goes to another school and I’m pretty sure she cheats on me, but also, I’m not even really a person, so it’s not like I’m holding up my end of the relationship. One time we climb a fence to explore a construction site, then when we leave, she tears her jeans and punches me in the head. There might be other times she hit me. I don’t remember. We only see each other on weekends, so I stay up till sunrise pretty much every day of the week, half-assing classes (is there a clearer image representing “privileged and unaware” than going to college, half-assing it, and graduating with a C average), reading trans people’s blogs, obsessing over indefensible trans erotica, and generally doing everything I can to figure out that I’m trans—without any real awareness that that’s what I’m doing.
1999 is not 2019. There is not a lot of good information.
2001. We break up. Soon after, I admit to myself that I’m trans. It’s less like a bolt from the sky and more like a calmness slipping in underneath my anxiety, pieces fitting together: ohhh, I’m probably the kind of person who needs to transition to be a person.
2001-2004. A new relationship comes with endorphins, but trying to figure out how to transition does not, so I stumble into a new three year relationship as a fucking person-shaped hole. I think this is around when I start reading MRR. Theoretically I’ve been aligning myself politically with punk stuff since I was a teenager, but in practice I’m really just a shitty indie rock asshole. Like, in my heart, I’m a mess of anxiety and shame around my re-closeted gender stuff, but in Marxist materialist terms—where the rubber hits the road—I’m literally not doing anything punk. Ever. I spend all my free time in the apartment making abrasive electronic music on pirated programs that take like nine CD-Rs to install. Because it sucks to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t do anything except dissociate and make abrasive electronic music, my girlfriend breaks up with me and moves out. Soon I start going to trans support groups at the Gay Center.
2004-2007. I bounce around rooms and apartments in New York, working at the Strand, which does not pay enough to live in New York. Evan Kennedy, who will go on to be a notable poet, invites me to be in a band he’s starting, I think because he has a crush on me. I play bass and I also play referee between him and the other main songwriter, a straight guy. They basically hate each other. How’s that for a dumb metaphor for where I was at in my life.
I guess one punk thing I did at this time was, every time we’re working on a song, I say “I think we should play it faster.” Except one time I say, “What if we play it super slow?”
We play shows then eventually that band breaks up. Soon I join another band, an incompetent goth/scene band that does an AFI cover. I come out to the rest of the band—and to everybody else in my life—and then use that band as an excuse to wear thrift store prom dresses onstage. For a while I wear a lot of fake blood on my face when we play, too, although eventually I think through the difference between being a dude onstage with fake blood on his face and being a woman onstage with fake blood on her face and quit it.
2006. I meet the partner I’ll be with for thirteen years (and counting!) at Camp Trans while I’m on mushrooms. She invites me back to her tent “to play dress up.”
2007-2010. She and I move to Oakland. I put an ad on craigslist and start a band with Sonya and Alicia, stoners who have been a couple since forever. Sonya is an incredible drummer, Alicia is a terrible bassist. I sing. I’m a terrible singer but I have pink hair and it’s an all woman band. I also write the first few drafts of a novel. I continue to align myself with punk stuff but even though I’m in the bay I don’t really get involved with MRR except for, like, hanging out with Emma and Francesca a few times. I work really hard at building community among trans women. Practically speaking, though, I am still full of shit and don’t know anything.
2011. We move to Portland, Maine. I have a couple shitty experiences with trans guys and realize that I don’t just automatically trust the queer community. I frame it as a breakup: I know I’ll see the community around at shows and stuff, but I just don’t trust it the way I did when we first got together. An important thing: I realize that I’d just sort of expected queer communities to be waiting for me, automatically and unproblematically, when I came out, but why the fuck did I feel entitled to being supported and protected by a community that I had no hand in creating? Brutal but liberating. The moment when you realize that you’re going to need to roll up your sleeves and do this shit yourself—whatever this shit is—is the generally the moment you become accountable in a concrete way, and also the moment you become free to live your life and do your shit. That’s what this punk shit is. Until then, I’d sort of been waiting until somehow I became a rock star and never had to work again; suddenly I realized all the rest of the things were work, so I might as well learn to appreciate that work.
I was in my fucking thirties. Trauma arrests development and not being able to be trans, when you’re trans, is fucking trauma. This is when I start to move through it and become an adult.
Also, at a going away party for a friend, Emily, Lee and I decide to start Correspondences. I’ve been playing guitar and I’m stoked to get back to bass; Emily is great at cello, like literally studied it in school; Lee has been stoked to play drums, and has a kit, but doesn’t have a lot of experience. No prob: let’s play doom metal so she can play it super slow. It’s the best band I’ve ever been in and also the most fun. We go on tour. I bring my dog. Playing basements, touring with friends, meeting people doing this stuff in their own houses—photographers, artists, musicians, queer and trans people, stoners, weirdos—this is when I finally stop effectively being an indie rock piece of shit and actually start to understand what this punk shit really is. It’s work. Like a lot of things, until you’re there, you just don’t know what it’s like. This is what I figured out: punk is not a thing you align yourself with or believe in, it’s a thing you do.
Hey you: start a band.
I also start a column for MRR. You can basically watch me become a person over the course of that column’s six years.
2013. That novel I wrote finally comes out. People like it. It’s humbling. I tour on it for a year. It opens a bunch of doors. I start on a second novel. It’s not done yet but I’m a bunch of drafts deep. Among other things, it’s about the inarguable fact that Kurt Cobain was trans.
2015. I see the Jem and the Holograms live action reboot movie in the theater on the only weekend it is actually in theaters. I see it with somebody I’d been dating for four years (who I’m still dating in 2019) and a couple trans friends in Olympia. Every film critic is wrong. It’s incredible.
2018. We have a kid. I am not on mushrooms. I stop being able to even get a monthly column together.
2019. MRR is ending? Weak.
1. The Thou/Ragana split on An/Out was AOTY 2018.
“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852
“There’s no Left left.”
riffing on Gertrude Stein
Does history repeat? Are we living through a rerun of the interwar period (1918-1939) with a repeat of the wealth-crazed Roaring Twenties, the dark rise of Fascism, the growing international crisis, and the imminent threat to progressive politics if not all of civilization as we know it? Karl Marx
was using the debacle of Louis Bonaparte rhetorically to elicit historical comparisons, bitterly mocking the political situation of his time after the dismal defeat of the 1848 revolutionary wave. Dialectics kept him from falling into the aphoristic thinking of liberal historiography a la Santayana. In reviewing the current state of affairs, I’m tempted to sidestep Marx’s biting humor to acknowledge that history often happens first as tragedy and second as even greater tragedy.
“There are a thousand differences between what happened in Spain in 1936 and what is happening in Rojava, the three largely Kurdish provinces of northern Syria, today.” So wrote anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber in a 10-8-14 Guardian opinion piece in fleshing out the general parallels so far sited between the two time periods. Besides noting the striking similarities between libertarian socialist politics in liberated territories then and now and alluding to the resemblance between the International Brigades of 1936 and the International Freedom Battalion today, Graeber concludes: “If there is a parallel today to Franco’s superficially devout, murderous Falangists, who would it be but Isis?” In further praising the “remarkable democratic experiment” being conducted by the Kurds in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, otherwise known as Rojava, he reformulates the fascist enemy in a 2-23-18 Guardian opinion piece: “Today, this democratic experiment is the object of an entirely unprovoked attack by Islamist militias including Isis and al-Qaida veterans, and members of Turkish death squads such as the notorious Grey Wolves, backed by the Turkish army’s tanks, F16 fighters, and helicopter gunships. […] The religious extremists who surround the current Turkish government know perfectly well that Rojava doesn’t threaten them militarily. It threatens them by providing an alternative vision of what life in the region could be like.”
I’ll discuss the parallels and distinctions between libertarian socialist politics then and now in a future column. The international situation and disposition of forces today are radically different from what they were in 1936. Liberal parliamentary democracy seemed to be on the ropes back in the interwar period, steadily losing ground to Fascism on the Right and Communism on the Left. Modern decolonization movements in the form of socialist struggles for national liberation hadn’t yet begun. The Soviet Union was touted as a revolutionary socialist society positioning itself as humanity’s bright utopian future around which progressives, social democrats and even anarchists rallied, confirming a world in which “[b]ourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into
Barbarism” according to Rosa Luxemburg. Today there is no “socialist world” and “real existing socialism” is confined to a handful of Soviet-style relic states. A decolonized Third World continues to fragment. Social democracy and progressive politics generally are losing ground to rightwing populism in liberal parliamentary democracies, part of the rightward trend worldwide toward conservatism, traditionalism, authoritarianism, religious fundamentalism, fascism, neo-nazi totalitarianism, etc. There is no “transition to Socialism,” merely the threat from various forms of Barbarism.
The centuries-long legacy of European imperialism and subsequent Third World decolonization left the Kurds and their national aspirations stateless, divided between four artificially constructed Middle Eastern nation-states and among a dozen surrounding ethnic/religious communities. With the Cold War overlay and global contention between the Soviet bloc and the “Free World,” the Kurds had a brief few decades when they sought to choose between socialism or barbarism instead of competing imperialisms. Virtually every Kurdish political formation claimed to be socialist at minimum or Marxist-Leninist in full, with several dozen conflicting Kurdish political parties divided territorially, ideologically, and by tribe/clan, thus generating a highly fractious nationalist politics. I don’t have the space to discuss this complexity other than to note that when Soviet-style Communism collapsed internationally between 1989 and 1991, the US was left the victor and sole superpower. The Kurds reoriented themselves to seeking alliances with and aid from the US, which has repeatedly proven to be a mistake.
The US has blatantly used the Kurds and their nationalist ambitions for short-term American imperialist gain time and again, betraying them without a second thought whenever it was convenient. Through the CIA, the Nixon Administration fomented a Kurdish rebellion in northern Iraq against Saddam Hussein as a favor to the shah of Iran in 1975 which Henry Kissinger then betrayed. In 1991, George H.W. Bush personally encouraged the southern Shia and northern Kurds of Iraq to revolt against Saddam Hussein, only to balk at militarily aiding those rebellions, leaving the Shiite and Kurdish insurgents to be brutally crushed by the Ba’athist dictatorship. Kurdish autonomy and the Kurdistan Regional Government that emerged thereafter were more honored in the breach than the observance by the US, establishing a de facto Kurdish independence after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. That autonomy was compromised after the US withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 as the central Iraqi government, backed by Iran, rolled back agreements on power sharing, oil production, and territorial control with the Kurds. The 2011 collapse of Syria into civil war, and the subsequent rise of IS with its 2014 Northern Iraq offensive were followed by the battles for Kirkuk and Mosul, the consolidation of Kurdish power in northern Syria, and the Kurdish defeat of IS in both Iraq and Syria. The US aided this Kurdish military resurgence, but now Trump and the US threaten to betray America’s Kurdish allies once again by a precipitous withdrawal of troops from Syria.
The Kurds see the US as the political and military guarantor of Kurdish autonomy in northern Iraq, and now in northern Syria, where Rojava is carrying out a profound libertarian socialist experiment in self-government. But the US is a notoriously unreliable partner, first and foremost because America always pursues its own imperialist interests in the region. Second, the US consistently promotes the interests of regional client states like Israel and Egypt and regional allies like Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The US being the principal imperialist power remaining in the world means that support for the Kurds and Rojava is a complicated affair, especially for the left of the Left.
“Syria In Brief” is an internet project [syriainbrief.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/ leftist-groups-on-the-syrian-civil-war/] which summarizes the position of some fifty-four western Leftist groups, all of which “support secularism and socialism […] and oppose intervention by Western powers, but their attitudes towards the Assad regime, the Kurdish PYD/YPG-led Rojava, the vast and multi-colored opposition,” Russian intervention, “and the so-called Islamic State vary greatly.” For the anti-imperialist Leninist Left disparagingly called “Tankies,” those politics are rigid, vulgar and formulaic. Imperialism is categorically bad and US imperialism is particularly bad, so the Butcher of Damascus Assad and his Russian allies are to be supported at all costs. Thus Tankie anti-imperialism means defending the client Syrian state of the former “real existing socialist” state of Russia without fail. By contrast, virtually all of the left communist and left anarchist groups listed—as well as assorted independent Leninists, Trotskyists and Maoists—support the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria/Rojava, the PYD/YPG/SDF, and their libertarian socialist experiment on the ground. Many also critically or partially support the Free Syrian Army in particular and the Syrian opposition generally.
But how to square the circle and support the Kurds without endorsing US imperialism? The short answer is that it can’t be done. An open letter in the New York Review of Books from the Emergency Committee for Rojava on 4-23-18 called for the defense of Rojava by demanding the US government:
• impose economic and political sanctions on Turkey’s leadership;
• embargo sales and delivery of weapons from NATO countries to Turkey;
• insist upon Rojava’s representation in Syrian peace negotiations;
• continue military support for the SDF.
David Graeber signed the letter, along with Noam Chomsky, Debbie Bookchin and scores of others. Much as the anarchist Peter Kropotkin provisionally supported the Allied cause in the first World War by signing the Manifesto of the Sixteen, the left of the Left today cannot easily back the Kurds of Rojava without tacitly supporting American imperialism. But the crude support for Assad, the Syrian government, and their Russian backers by “sundry ersatz progressives” and “fatuous self-styled ‘anti-imperialists’” means supporting “the genocide and democracide now being planned over in Ankara” and complicity with “the torture, abductions, killings and ethnic cleansing of Kurds that will follow,” according to Anna-Sara Malmgren and Robert Hockett (Haaretz, 2-2-19).
Welcome to Machiavellian realpolitik.
PERSONAL PROPAGANDA: You can download free EPUB, MOBI, PDF, and DOCX files of my latest cyberpunk mystery story “The Death of David Pickett” at 62milepress.com/the-death-of-david-pickett. To find links to my blogs, websites, Facebook, and Instagram, visit my social media aggregator at www.gamatiasz.com. You can purchase copies of my near-future science fiction thriller “1% Free” through either site.
From the introduction to the first Teaching Resistance column in 2015: “Though the institutions of education are historically problematic and often oppressive, students who have experienced them as ‘outsiders’ understand the importance of learning from teachers who have struggled with the same systems as outsiders themselves, and who have developed radical notions of what education is and how it works. Sometimes, these students become teachers themselves, helping to subvert these educational institutions or find outside alternatives to them.”
Given that much of punk (such as that usually covered in MRR) embraces idealism, strong personal ethics, and intellectualism, it makes sense that so many radical punks have become teachers while remaining punks—it is one of the few “professional” jobs that potentially leaves room for radical expression and empowerment. The personal journeys made by these teachers can help them to have a strong degree of empathy and connection to marginalized and non-conforming students, those who don’t fit in to the neat boxes that dominant culture demands and strongly encourages through its institutions (very much including schools).
This month’s Teaching Resistance column is by Christiana Cranberry, the guitarist and singer for SISTER RAT and a public school educator presently located in Kansas.
I watched the movie Suburbia when I was eleven years old, so 1984. It was overflowing with sexism and violence. It was exploitative, but with a clear eye for how it actually is in real life–toxic from day one (earlier). Director Penelope Spheeris also focused her camera lens on these attitudes toward women in the revealing documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. I was willing, as a male-presenting young punk rocker, to overlook most of the misogyny. It came off as silly and reactionary. Suburbia was a drama, a movie. Decline was an honest expose of the friction that existed in the highly charged beginning days. Then there were the women in Decline. They seemed anything other than weak or passive to me, in fact, I immediately saw my role models in these women. Exene Cervenka takes up the entire stage, larger than life, and full of heart. The women of the punk movement were kicking against these pricks and winning.
For all the macho posturing, punk men often wore makeup and dyed their hair. Punk men cared about the way their clothes fit; how they expressed their internal mood. Punk was feminine, it seethed underneath the surface, rising sporadically to growl and hiss at the bourgeois. Punk brought blaring attention to the reality of child abuse, sexual abuse, and broken homes, most often our own. The cycle of abuse and the toxicity of strict gender roles was apparent in the seventies on televisions shows like Happy Days. Mass media latched onto the spectacle of punk, usually focusing on safety pins, colored and charged hair, and make up (best portrayed in The Day My Kid Turned Punk). The early ’80s were the golden age of punksploitation, but it can still be found today. This was of course a step behind the times, media classically couldn’t keep up while punk was at its first fork in the road, definitively split between new wave and hardcore.
New Wave picked up the more colorful elements of punk rock, while hardcore honed in on the aggression. It mirrored the polarizing times of the Reagan era. Reagan: a showman and war hawk who pushed politics back to the far right. His addled presence at the end of the ’80s was analogous to the tenor of the country: angry, misguided, and rapidly more militant; the nation would learn about shadow wars in Latin America. Conversations about Nicaragua that were being had in the lyrics of punk songs would make their way into the living rooms of the middle class. Punk Rock was acting as a pragmatic political tool, but it wasn’t immune to the burn out that often leads to meandering, nebulous retrospection. New Wave, beginning as a dada-esque, perfectly valid artistic rebellion, was quickly picked over by the media; its corpse left to slowly decay in gay dance bars. While punk rock’s macho expression often feels tempered by irony; it is an expression of a strength and will to power that is far too aware of itself. Hardcore punk is not Mick Jagger’s puckish swagger, but more often a drill instructor in the war of poor, white blues [and I agree with the author that this broader image and public perception of hardcore as such has remained stubbornly persistent despite the long (foundational in fact) and vital history of POC punks in the scene —ed.].
In punk music, whether it be hardcore, new wave, proto-punk, or beyond, there are those whose main impetus is to entertain, and another strain that strives to teach: anarchy, peace, social libertarianism; mostly, the social became political, as we tried to understand our place at the end of the millennium. We wandered subconsciously aware that we were at the beginning of some great experiment. The ’50s image of a relationship was clear male domination, but it was also propaganda employed to quash the undeniable movement of liberation that was seeded during the anarchist and labor movements, post-suffragette women heading were toward a reckoning. The parents of the punk rockers grew up with the civil rights movement that feminism forgot, and they behaved themselves accordingly. Free love was code for sexual recklessness, and the skewed psychosexual power dynamics of suburban key parties. The cracks in the youth movement of the sixties became rills of ego posturing in the seventies, carving out canyons of rock and roll excess in the eighties. Punk’s reply to this entrenched male domination was incapable of including trans people and the neurodivergent community. Punk tokenized the hell out of the fringes of these groups, but never fully incorporated them. Unfortunately, punk can be as elitist as it is populist. Still, it pushed into the ’90s, and the scrappy underdog of a subculture shifted and rearranged through the relatively mild Clinton era, into the emerging world of everlasting war.
Punk is best understood through zines. They brought a real cohesion to the worldwide community. I read about kids hanging out in parks, a sort of early occupy movement. I grew up reading about punk in my dad’s issues of High Times from seventy-eight along to about eighty-three. There were often short articles and letters from punks and the parents of punk rockers, and though I took it as a source with a grain of salt, I feel like it was a fairly unfiltered look at the era. Besides being students of counterculture, my father and I also shared a physiological trait that made us feel diametrically opposed, mind and body. My dad, incapable of facing ridicule and lowered status as a trans woman, hid it nearly his entire life. I do not begrudge him this, as I witnessed the shaming when any signs of his transsexual yearnings bubbled to the surface. My mother openly hated him for it, and equated him with myself. Punk Rock got me out of that house, several years after my father and brother made their exodus. Homeless the day I graduated high school, I was dependent on my gang. We were a very disparate group of people, all looking for the perfect balance of independence and family. As a trans woman, I was properly armed with female role models, but desperately, few trans. I found myself despondently scouring Maximum Rocknroll, Profane Existence, Slug and Lettuce, etc. for any sign of life from trans punk rockers, what I found was very bold crossdressers, brilliant and funny drag queens, the self-hating Jayne County, and several others from the same generation.
The founding punks who dared to cross gender lines, to fuck gender roles entirely, were very inspiring but seemed trapped in the mores of the seventies and eighties, unable to fathom the future movement of transgender and transexual folks. The trans kids today tend to lean way farther to the far left than the trans population of these generations and older. They are the children of punks and metal, removing themselves from its sexism and misogyny. The internet has taken the conversations we had in MRR and ran with it thanks to trans punk rockers. Punk in the beginning of the 21st century has been revitalized in the Trump era. Kevin Seconds, Ian MacKaye, Dave Dictor, and many more seminal punk singers challenged strict, male gender roles in the eighties, paving a way for men in these last few years of the two-thousand-teens to give me hope for a better future. Because while I didn’t see the representation and alliances with trans women and men, and the neurodivergent community then, these communities could only truly coalesce in the internet age. The time when information is key, and conversation, both dialectical, and myopically social, we are finally freed from the yoke of upper crusty gatekeepers.
Social justice and freedom of speech are not anathema, they can work together to expose hate: without being able to see the problem, how can we fix it? I refuse to believe that trans and queer punks bringing the notion out of the safe space out of the riot grrrl movement is an admission of defeat. I believe that when marginalized people are allowed to gather together, they can heal emotional traumas, and set about doing the larger work of economic and other reforms. When people are under attack, they tend to group together, and are wary of those who offer comfort when they don’t appear to be suffering in the same ways.
Today, I look around and I see the hardcore kids are mostly adults. I see my crust punk friends sobering up. My friends are taking jobs in social work. Some of us learned these concepts at youth shelters like P.H.A.S.E. in Austin. I heard it in the lyrics of Jeff Ott’s Fifteen. I gained emotional intelligence and considered socialism through the lyrics of Lance Hahn. Punk taught us to be better humans. Even the most macho hardcore guy is often someone I trust a little more than your average Joe, not always though. I’m happy that there is still hardcore music. I miss melodic hardcore, but there have been some solid whisperings of a return to intelligent pop punk. This makes me happy because while I love hardcore, crust, d-beat, powerviolence, I also love pop punk, roots punk, and at the risk of being exiled, a lot of music that isn’t punk. In the ’90s, this wasn’t a very popular place to be.
Growing up in the bible belt was far from easy. Being transgender only added significant weight to the load. I couldn’t be open about being trans, but at least there was a decent punk scene when I started going out in ’87/’88. Unfortunately, hardcore punk was heading toward crossover, and metal attitudes were the exact thing I was desperate to get away from. There were plenty of metalheads at my junior high willing to add to the daily torture of being different in the center of the bible belt, and there was nothing punk about that. Another example of my early disenfranchisement became evident in the difference between the first Agnostic Front album compared to the extremely conservative second album. My earliest memories of punk was the deep excitement I felt from the urgency and pure energy, and conversely, the revulsion I felt from the sexism, macho attitudes, and growing nationalism.
Fast forward to long after the days of crossover, which retrospectively produced a few fucking great albums. In the late nineties, the men around me started claiming they never were punk, and I found myself surrounded by metalheads with no discernible politics. While homeless, I’d often find myself in very frightening situations, because I was clearly feminine. I had knives pulled on me, I was kicked in the face repeatedly. Fortunately, I was able to sober up 16 years ago, and transition fifteen years ago. It took getting off the streets. I had to have my baseline needs met before I could even consider transitioning. Besides the support I received from my wife, and the lyrics of Fugazi, Stiff Little Fingers, and Fuel I would probably be dead. I have a broken femur and splenectomy to prove it was possible if not imminent.
When I was getting thrown into cars by boneheads in high school, I was armed with words, set to driving music, that expressed nearly-exactly how I felt inside. When the ignorance that surrounded me tore down all my defenses, I would grow strong by the lyrics. It was the most powerful elixir in the world. “Thanks for telling that joke to me, I have a name for that.” When singer Sarah Kirsch came out as trans, I finally felt like there was someone in the world who was similar to me. I finally felt like I would be able to talk to someone who explicitly understood my pain. We would bond over what we hid, how it harmed us, and the hope we had for our futures. I dreamed of these things as I sent all the money I could to try to alleviate her suffering. Tragically, I had to do that because weeks after I found out she was transitioning, I learned she had a rare disease: fanconi anemia. I wished over and over she would pull through. I needed a sister who was born out of punk rock. I needed her to tell me that we would be okay. When she died, I felt more alone than ever.
Laura Jane Grace bravely came out of the closet to a massive audience. The internet had for several years been making it easier for young transitioning trans, non-binary, and gender fluid kids to find each other. They were building a revolution. They used social media platforms to get their voices out. They shared videos highlighting their changes, and they didn’t need the counterculture the seventies built to get there. Gender exists outside of that, and punk is a side note, but hardcore music is life affirming. We know how well it can instill resilience, something trans people need. There is a growing, tight-knit underground of trans punks keeping each other alive. It makes me feel sixteen again. I feel like I did when I just found punk rock. We all absolutely should be screaming for the rights of these kids.
What punk got right was its social justice; its dedication to harm reduction. Matty Luv of Hickey and his girlfriend Ro started the San Francisco Needle Exchange, for example. I was homeless, I was an alcoholic, I hit rock bottom and moved in. It took a long time to heal from that. While floating helpless as a plastic bag caught in the wind, I learned what organizations were doing the work to keep homeless people alive. Government has provided nearly no safety net when your life goes down the tubes. Punk rockers are often the ones sewing these gaping holes shut. We, the egalitarian intelligentsia, have to take care of one another first, so we can have the energy to fix everything else. Right now I do my part as a paraprofessional at a high school in Kansas. My only hope is that the presence of a punk rock trans woman in the halls shows teens the power of survival.
Trans rights are part of the modern era, and there is much work left to do there. It is no fault of zine editors to have excluded or mocked trans people in the past. We have been one of the most acceptable punching bags forever. What is new is being used as a wedge issue in politics. We are under attack, in actual danger, and definitely could use the strength of punk. We struggle to take it, to be seen, to walk together with culture warriors. A cursory glance of older issues of punk rock zines will see the word retard used for almost every single slightly frowned upon subject. In reviews, letters, columns, the neurodivergent weren’t seen as humans with something to offer the world. Things have improved though. There is an incline in education and understanding in punk that these communities deserve humanizing and protecting. When I was a teen, I met some skinheads at a show. This was 1988, and though they intimidated me, this was before the Metzgers radicalized them into white nationalism. They described themselves this night in Oklahoma City as the “big brothers of the punks, there to look out for the weaker ones.” I actually thought that was noble. It made me feel like life was working the way it should. I don’t know how truthful they were being honestly, yet I still believe the strong should care for the weak. Punk through its revolutions might have not been equipped to help some groups, but it did create generations of people prepared for the task to come. —Christiana Cranberry
The Teaching Resistance column is designed to provide a platform for radical, subversive teachers/educators to share their ideas and draw attention to important issues around education; particularly compulsory- and community-based education. If you are a teacher (anywhere in the world) for students of primary or secondary school ages (K-12), Community Colleges, or alternative learning arrangements such as collectivist free schools, and you want to submit an idea for a column, please write an email to teachingresistance@ gmail.com; the column will continue in a new form after the print version of MRR ceases production so your submissions will be heard! Also, keep an eye out for the TR book, coming in Fall 2019 on PM Press. –John No, Teaching Resistance editor
I was dismayed and saddened to hear about the end of MRR as a zine. I will write more about this in my final column next month. Let it be known, I had zero input on this decision, I am just a contributor. My year end top ten didn’t make it into the Top Ten issue, so here it is for all who care. I do think it offers a different angle to many of the other top tens.
Again, I didn’t pay as much attention to new records last year as I could have, but some great records reached my turntable. There was a while in the early ’90s when stuff like Screeching Weasel and Green Day was big that me and my friends thought hardcore might never come back. We imagined being like the surf or rockabilly guys, reliving the past and fetishizing old records. I am very grateful that hardcore marches on and I am not living in that grim reality.
BLOOD PRESSURE Surrounded LP (Beach Impediment). Aggressive and tough hardcore. A very contemporary sounding hardcore record, this still has a raw and snotty in your face attitude that obliterates the more technical or accomplished hardcore bands. And it’s certainly tight and furious in a meat potatoes hardcore vibe as opposed to anything more progressive or experimental.
BEYOND PEACE What’s There to Be Proud Of 7″ (Slugsalt Records). When the history of hardcore is written, the chapter on Iowa will not be the thickest. But Iowa generates a crucial band every few years. A few years ago it was Nerv, but now Beyond Peace are laying down some raw, ferocious hardcore that pushes them to the very top of that short list of Iowa Hardcore champions. Catchy, angry, fist pumping hardcore filled with energy. These guys deliver the goods live, probably the best hardcore band to play around here in a while. When world class hardcore like this comes out of a small town in the Midwest it makes me very happy and gives me hope for the future of the movement.
EXTENDED HELL Call of the Void 7″ (Desolate). It’s 2018 and we are still listening to D Beat Raw Punk. Why? Listen to this record and you will understand. When you strip down hardcore to it’s most essential elements and still need some memorable riffs, you wind up in one of two camps, D-beat Raw Punk/Kang or 82 hardcore. Everything else is just kind of muddying the waters with artsy stuff or musicianship. This style of hardcore is like drinking hard liquor with no mixer, or coffee with no cream or sugar. The pure essentials on display uncut and unfiltered. I am overjoyed bands like Extended Hell and Urchin are still putting out records this good 30 years after Anti Cimex and Shitlickers.
EXPLOATOR LP (D Takt och rapunk) Totalitär existed for some years before they became widely known beyond a handful of record collectors. For a while around 2000 it seemed like their brand of Kang was going to blow up. Then things quickly blew over, and this genre went back to being to domain of elitist record collectors. In the years since Totalitar broke up there has been a steady stream of awesome records from the ex members playing in different projects, Kvoteringen, Institution, Dissekerad, Katastrof none of which have caused much of a stir outside a narrow range of fandom. But now we have Jallo, Poffen and Lanchy (but not Ante) back together again cranking out a rock solid LP that could have been recorded by the Totalitär of 2002. This record was indeed, music to my ears, a tireless champion of this genre I was so pleased to see it sell out briskly and be so enthusiastically received. All the essential elements are here, it falls just short of the classic 1990’s LPs, but is on par with Vi Är Eliten. You can’t go wrong with this one.
RAT CAGE Blood on Your Boots 7″ (La Vida Es Un Mus) Ripping, raw and energetic hardcore. Not breaking any new ground, but it’s totally sick in your face spite filled hardcore.
WARTHOG self-titled 7″ (Toxic State) No stranger to top ten lists, this NY hardcore band delivers another crusher. The cover art is kind of cheesy, but at least it’s a break of mysterious abstractions in favor of camp horror. Far more contemporary sounding that most of the bands on this list (which are primarily rather retro in their style) this proves you can drop killer hardcore without straying far from the basics. That is to say, a lot of hardcore today sounds like it was made by and for 30-something record records, but you can totally see young kids who don’t know anything about 77 or 82 getting low to jams like this and the Beyond Peace 7” cited above.
PROFOSS Profosss 7″ (Adult Crash) This features Jona from Infernoh and Fy Fan and it’s simply rampaging ra Kang in the Totalitär mould. If not for Exploator this would be the top pick for the year for me from Sweden. Hard-hitting, raw hardcore punk that manages to capture that desperate urgency lacking in so much of today’s music.
TRAGEDY Fury 12″ EP (Tragedy) Did you know Tragedy put out a new record this year? How times have changed. I don’t care what anyone says, or how styles have changed, this band and record are sick. It’s too bad that Tragedy inspired so, so many weaker clones, because the original is still the great.
DISSEKERAD Tomma Ogon 7″ (Phobia) Another one of the under the radar post Totalitär bands. With Poffen on vocals. Killer Swedish hardcore.
DEADLOCK Deadlock 7″ Painkiller This band shares members with other UK bands like Obstruction and Arms Race, but this is more basic, stripped down 1982 hardcore. Has a bit of that UK punk bounce that made early Negative Approach so infectious. The whole package adds up to some simplistic but powerful back to basics hardcore in the NA/Xclaim! Tradition.
Also cool, Cankro 7″, Physique 12″, Tarantula 7″, Strul 7″, Damaged Head 7″, No Future 7″, No Problem LP, Absolut / Svaveldioxid split LP.
Where were you when you heard the news that Maximum Rocknroll was going to be ceasing publication after the next few issues? I saw the announcement in my inbox while I was walking around a grocery store in Houston, Texas, of all places—back for a really short visit to the city that I grew up in, where I first got involved with DIY punk and non-mainstream music when I was a young teen in the late ’90s. As a weird kid isolated on the outskirts of a huge, sprawling city that always seemed like a total cultural wasteland, the only connections to the underground that I had available to me in that era before widespread internet access were college radio and whatever mass-distributed zines (including MRR) I could find at strip mall newsstands. It’s a sentiment that I heard echoed repeatedly by others as they processed the big announcement from MRR, unpacking how this magazine had helped them feel connected to something bigger than the reality of their own small-minded towns, and how it had unlocked a secret door leading to almost infinite pathways of information and resources that had been previously inaccessible and were just waiting to be explored. I won’t go too deeply into that idea here because this column will be the last chance I have to go about things relatively normally and just talk about obscure early ’80s femme-punks or new demos from basement No Wavers like I always do, but it’s something that I’m definitely going to come back to next month in the final issue of this magazine. Take nothing for granted; you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
The debut cassette from the SHIFTERS was one of a small handful of things that I talked about almost exactly four years ago in my first column in this magazine, so it seems strangely appropriate to be coming back to them and their new split LP with fellow Melbourne group PARSNIP right now in this last music-focused column that I’ll write for MRR as a print entity. PARSNIP’s technicolor mod-pop has a wide-eyed wonder similar to the TELEVISION PERSONALITIES and their Whaam! Records cohort, delivered in a freewheeling rush of warbling organ and sugar-spun harmonies. On “Counterfeit” and “Dailybreader,” they draw equal inspiration from ’60s sunshine psychedelia and the smudged smabolic jangle of the C86 movement, before capping off their side of the record with a tambourine-bashed, Girls in the Garage-styled hipshaker called “Hip Blister” that’s as wildly raucous as anything that the PANDORAS or THEE HEADCOATEES ever put to tape. On the flip, the SHIFTERS offer up three tracks of their own, skirting the shaky line between wiry post-punk repetition and off-kilter pop scrawl. Comparisons to the early work of the FALL (including my own) have been a little inevitable—the cryptically sardonic lyrical narratives, the rhythmic tunnel vision, the scratchy sparseness and occasional lackadaisical twang, all constantly on the verge of collapse—but the SHIFTERS have really always been pulling just as much inspiration from other, more disparate directions. The paranoid and tightly-wound “Conscript” is the closest that the group get to Mark E. territory here, while “Photo Op” touches on raw, ramshackle garage stomp in the Back From the Grave tradition, and “Righteous Harmonious Fists” hits twin inspirations of no-fidelity UK DIY messthetics and the skewed pop experiments of Flying Nun’s more eccentric 1980s wing. Believe the hype. (Future Folklore, futurefolklorerecords.bandcamp.com)
One of the casualties of the year-end list that I had to send off in mid-December was CHRONOPHAGE’s debut LP Prolog for Tomorrow, which quietly turned up in the last few days of 2018. Their Give Chance a Peace tour cassette from earlier in 2018 skimmed through the textbook of outsider pop inspirations from the past fifty years (the VELVET UNDERGROUND, the whole Flying Nun/Xpressway scene in New Zealand, scratchy ’78-’83 UK DIY, early ’90s lo-fi home recorders, etc.), and while the group is definitely still citing many of those same references this time around, the songs on the LP really work together as a much more cohesive and singular statement of intent. Sometimes the end result is urgent and skittish (the shambolic primitive-punk crash of “Days of Our Lives,” or the jittery HUMAN SWITCHBOARD-isms of “She Paid the Ultimate Price), sometimes it’s more spartan and sweet (“Dance to Guitar” recalls the best of BEAT HAPPENING, by which I mean the songs that Heather sang), but CHRONOPHAGE alway strike the perfect balance between noise and melody, leaving all of their rough edges exposed but never venturing too off course from a fractured pop accessibility. Prolog for Tomorrow somehow manages to sound both completely timeless and utterly out of its time; an unassumingly charming and wonderful record. (Cleta Patra, cletapatrarecords.bandcamp.com)
Matthias Andersson, the mind behind the experimentally-bent underground musical empire built around Swedish label I Dischi Del Barone and print zine Fördämning, has just launched a new archival reissue offshoot called (appropriately) Fördämning Arkiv, and its first release is an amazing anthology LP for Sweden’s early ‘80s DIY heroines SPORTEN ÄR DÖD. The group’s name translates to “the sport is dead,” and if you’ve seen the great 2013 film We Are The Best!, there’s more than a few parallels that could be drawn between SPORTEN ÄR DÖD and the movie’s unnamed fictional band of teen punk girls from Stockholm circa 1982 (whose signature song was, perhaps not coincidentally, titled “Hate the Sport”). The real-life story of SPORTEN ÄR DÖD is essentially as follows: three 16-year-olds enamored with early Rough Trade-style post-punk (RAINCOATS, MO-DETTES, etc.) start playing music together outside Gothenburg around 1980, record an eight-song demo and release it in a tiny run of 100 cassettes in 1981, then completely splinter the following year. The trio’s self-taught sound was generally more in line with the minimalist, pop-informed approach of contemporaries like NEO BOYS or UNIT 4 than with the more jagged and angular DELTA 5/ESSENTIAL LOGIC school of late ’70s/early ’80s femme-punk, although KLEENEX might be their personal bridge between those two impulses—check that choppy, stop/start rhythm and the doubled “ahhh ahhh ahhh” vocals in “Raider,” their ode to the Swedish version of the Twix candy bar! In addition to all of the original demo tracks, the LP also includes a live set of nine songs recorded in 1982 (most of which are otherwise unreleased), plus a beautifully presented insert booklet with photos and notes from guitarist/singer Ulla Åkerström, and the entire package is a totally essential artifact for disciples of the international DIY girl underground. (Fördämning Arkiv, iddb.se)
I know essentially nothing about this fairly new three-piece from Olympia called TOY, beyond the fact that their debut cassette Live at Curry Night was apparently recorded at their very first show and the five songs therein are all positioned squarely at the nexus of things that I like—dark, repetitive bass lines at the forefront, vocals that manage to be simultaneously anxious and detached, sparse No Wave guitar scrape, insistent and writhing rhythms. As might be expected of a live tape of a new band’s debut performance (and at what I’m assuming is a DIY space), the recording is pretty raw and stripped-down, but it also lends a welcome immediacy to the demo, emphasizing the sorts of off-kilter and imperfect elements that made art-punk in the Messthetics lineage so appealing to me. “3” snakes along to some heavily hi-hat-spiked mutant disco drumming and a mostly two-note infinite loop bassline like a modern Oly-spawned BUSH TETRAS, with vocals buried deep in the mix as almost subliminal incantations, while the slow-burning and sinister post-punk crawl of “1” ultimately builds up into a hauntingly caustic chant of “shouldn’t have wasted my time on you” that’s unmistakable and cuts deep. This TOY demo is exactly the sort of unheralded and out-of-nowhere discovery that’s kept me writing this column since 2015, even when I felt overwhelmed and on the brink of mental meltdown (almost every month, without fail), and I really hope that I have a place to keep shouting out to the overlooked weirdos and geniuses of punk future and past in whatever form MRR might take on next. (Reflective Tapes, reflectivetapes.bandcamp.com)
Say hey at firstname.lastname@example.org, more sights and sounds at futuresandpasts.org.
“Everything that detractors say about it is true. It was a raggedy-ass thing held together with paste and staples. It didn’t have really high production values.”
Lately I’ve been working on a French translation of The Stickboy Saga. For those unlucky saps who haven’t heard about it, Stickboy was a U.S alternative comic created by Dennis Worden in 1988. There were eight issues, the first three of which were published by Fantagraphics. To me it’s one of the best comics ever, up there with Hate, Angry Youth Comics, Eightball, Schizo and Suicida. Since this is MRR and not The Comics Journal, here’s a bit of punk context for y’all—Worden used to draw for Flipside, he saw Middle Class and TSOL in the early ’80s, his favorite bands then included Discharge, Flipper and the Meat Puppets, and the last of the rock critics, Byron Coley, ranks Stickboy pretty high.
Worden’s drawing style is a unique combination of simple, flat cartoon invention and screwball hallucinogenic primitivism, he wrote in Forced Exposure at the time “it sends you barreling down a wide river of shit that you notice is actually pretty sophisticated just about the time you go flying out over the edge of the falls and begin yr plummet into the unforgiving turd-reef below”, he added, before concluding that “this continuing saga of self-investigation and active loathing just gets better as its episodes explode down the corridors of life, moving between levels of realism w/ a smoothness that would make Phil Dick twitch enviously inside his coffin.”
Aside from translating his work, I’ve been studying Worden’s life, hoping to write a decent foreword. One thing I can say for sure? This guy is one of us. He dropped acid in conservative Orange County during the ’60s, got permanently damaged after a bad trip, purposely became homeless and travelled around in the ’70s, got involved with a cult in Hawaii, went to HC punk gigs by himself in the early ’80s, and spent the ’90s translating that life experience into Stickboy. Last but not least, he was a regular contributor to Weirdo magazine.
As you may know, Weirdo was Robert Crumb’s publication. It ran from 1981 to 1993. Crumb always drew the covers and contributed comics, but that mag was a collective venture. Notable contributors included Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Julie Doucet, Gilbert Hernandez, John Holstrom, Raymond Pettibon, Savage Pencil, Gary Panter, Joe Sacco, S. Clay Wilson… But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What’s most important, and separates Weirdo from other comic anthologies, is that it included comics by a bunch of people who, most likely, would have never been published anywhere else. Unlike Raw, the other big alternative comic anthology at the time, Weirdo was lowbrow and open as fuck—it seems that the only condition to be included was for the work to be liked by Crumb (and later by Peter Bagge or Aline Kominsky, when they took the editing reins). “We printed works by certified lunatics, primitives, psychopaths, artists who came and went…” said Crumb in retrospect. “It was the work of idiot savants,” confirmed Peter Bagge, “putting content and personal vision above all else. It was stuff that was totally amateurish. Crumb in particular would use it if he thought the person who did it was crazy enough. He ran stuff literally by inmates of insane asylums.” Of course, this meant Weirdo wasn’t for everyone. But those who loved it, loved it deeply. It filled a void and created a community of outcasts, oddballs and revolutionaries, who all read each other, collaborated together and created their own world, regardless of the commercial viability of it all. “Once Weirdo died,” said Peter Bagge, “there was nothing exactly like it. There’s other anthologies that I like, but nothing has that iconoclastic spirit that always floats my boat.”
Sounds familiar? When I heard Maximum Rocknroll was gonna cease print, I was in the middle of compiling infos about Weirdo, and the parallel struck me. Both magazines were born in California, both around the same time, and both were the products of generous and hard-working minds—older, stubborn fuckers who loved their subject with a passion so pure and unfiltered it was bound to attract others like a giant magnet. In this context, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to say that Tim Yohannan was to MRR what Crumb was to Weirdo. “Crumb was open to anyone submitting stuff,” Worden told me recently, “which we all loved him for.” I don’t think the word love is an exaggeration here—at their best, magazines like Weirdo and MRR have been tools to give a voice to the voiceless. Empowering tools. They gave a chance to people (cartoonists, musicians, writers…) that others wouldn’t deign to consider.
It might not be obvious to the youngest readers, but for most of its lifespan, MRR has been home to a wide variety of unruly voices, and when I say unruly I don’t only mean politically speaking. I mean, GG Allin has written in these pages, remember? So did George Tabb and Mykel Board who, not so long ago, were integral parts of this mag’s identity. I’m not mentioning these three to be controversial, but because for every clueless fucker complaining MRR was “too politically correct” or that it was “the CIA,” there’s been a column by one of these guys or an interview with the Last Sons of Krypton or Out With A Bang. I think a lot of people don’t get this; in many ways, writing for MRR means total freedom. I mean, sure, the aforementioned columnists got fired eventually, but MRR gave them a voice every month for a decade or two. On a personal note, all I can say is that I’ve written 56 columns for this rag, and no one ever told me what to do. Not once. Not even when I started. I can’t imagine many printed magazines functioning like this… Especially not today.
When flipping through issues of Weirdo, it’s nice to see the content evolving year after year, depending who’s in charge. Phase one ended when Crumb, “sick of all the hippie nonsense you have to put up with to be editor of something like that,” handed the reins to Peter Bagge (“He just asked me to do it” remembers Bagge. “We didn’t even know each other, other than a short snail-mail exchange. He told me later that I was the least neurotic person he could think of.”). Bagge was younger, he hung out with people like John Holmstrom (Punk magazine), and Crumb chose him because there was a new generation of punk cartoonists, particularly on the East Coast, who he wanted to include but felt he wasn’t the most qualified to deal with, if only because he lived in California. So Weirdo entered its punk phase, with younger, more modern, less hippy contributors—people like JD King (who in those days played in the Coachmen with Thurston Moore), but also Pettibon, Savage Pencil or, well, Dennis Worden, just to name a few. The third and last phase began in 1986, when Aline Kominsky became editor. An interesting turn of event, if only for the fact that Weirdo so preeminently featured comics dealing with sexual matters in a rather crude way, and Kominsky decided to be more inclusive towards women cartoonists, which means that the focus shifted from crude drawings of dicks to crude drawings of dicks and period blood—a shift angry readers regularly complained about in the letters section (in those days it seems that alternative comics were primarily read by sweaty, isolated, nerdy white males).
Again, it’s hard not to draw a parallel with MRR and its many phases. Do people realize this magazine works like this, too? When I say people, I’m thinking of these punks who barely if ever read it, but still insist on trashing it. My guess is they just follow MRR on social networks and, with their vision blurred and twisted by corporate-based addiction, somehow view their online interactions as significative. I mean, when they tell me “MRR sucks these days,” all I can do is scratch my head. Seriously, what do they mean? It sucks since Grace Ambrose left? Or, it’s not as good as during the days of Arwen Curry and Mike Thorn, when MRR firmly stood against post-9/11 patriotism? Do they mean current columnists aren’t as entertaining as George Tabb? Or perhaps that those columnists write too much about themselves and too little about punk history? Do they wish all columnists were as unselfish as Felix Havoc? Do they mean MRR should feature more comics? More fiction? More Peruvian d-beat, more Icelandic grind, more UKDIY, more Layla Gibbon, more stories about the ghost of Tim Yo? Fuck if they know.
I hate to sound like a bitter, cynical nerd, but with the mag on his deathbed and all, I can’t help remembering all the ignorant comments heard over the years, from people who didn’t get MRR was theirs as much as anyone else’s, and who never deigned to get involved. Because at the end of the day, of course there’s been phases when this mag was less interesting to me, and of course the music covered wasn’t always what I was into at a given moment, and some of the decisions of certain coordinators made me cringe, but come on : in the grand scheme of things, those are just details. What’s important about MRR is the network it created, and no, I’m not talking about the punk network, but specifically about the MRR network. What’s important is that, for close to 40 years, it remained a one-of-a-kind social experiment, a collective all-volunteer venture IRL, trying and sometimes even succeeding (!) at creating the kind of world we still dare to hope for when we’re not crushed by corporate nightmares.
Like Weirdo, MRR is or was first and foremost an interface, i.e, to quote a dictionary, “A point where two systems, subjects, organizations, etc. meet and interact”. I might be stretching the meaning of the word here, but bear with me, OK ? What I mean is that a computer, regardless of the particular way how one uses it, is one type of interface; a printed mag like MRR is another. When one’s mind enters a digital interface, it’s stuck in a world that happens to be corporate-based, profit-driven, and full of ads, designed to lower its attention span and turn him/ her into some kind of addict. Whereas in the printed world, the mind is stuck in another type of interface, free from a lot of the aforementioned BS, more inclined to actually think. When it comes to punk, MRR-as-a-printed-mag was one of our last non-corporate, autonomous, international interfaces. So what’s left now ? A little earlier, I was saying Weirdo gave a voice to the voiceless, by printing the works of cartoonists who couldn’t fit anywhere else. Some would argue the voiceless now have a voice anyway, thanks to the web. But screaming into a microphone handed to you by the richest and most powerful people on the planet will never be the same as screaming into a microphone of your own. So, what I hope for is that the end of this mag will force people to see the bigger picture, re-evaluate MRR, study its long and insane history, and better understand what it always stood for. And, eventually, try to create something similar somewhere else.
1. Please read Amusing Ourselves to Death : Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neal Postman. From 1985, it’s mainly about our relationship to TV, but its analysis of what we lose when we go from a print-based culture to a screen-based one is more relevant then ever. Main point : no matter the content, by nature screens aren’t made to learn, nor to communicate, but to entertain.
2. The book of Weirdo is out soon on Last Gasp. Someone send me a copy ?
3. Current jams : Shifters split w/ Parsnip, Screamin’ Mee-Mees 7’’, Fungus Brains LP, Jazz Destroyers live 1981, The Fugs, Ursa and Doc Corbin Dart.
4. For weirdos still buying small fanzines, these days I write for Psycho Disco (music fanzine, in French) and draw for Aдra (graphic zine, no language), both of which have new issues out soon.
Sound Guide 2: The Mix
Welcome to the second part of my sound guide series. This month, I’m bringing a topic that was requested by a reader. It’s also a highly relevant topic that always comes up in conversations about sound. You can have a perfect grip on all technical aspects, high end mics and what not, but what is sound without a good mix?
To understand how to mix, it’s important to understand that good sound requires a good mix but that a good mix is only 2% of what makes good sound. Good sound is like baking a cake. If all the ingredients are shit, it’s gonna be a cake of shit. It’s the good old tale of “shit comes in, shit goes out”. The first step is obviously making sure that you aren’t trying to obtain good sound by mixing shit.
The next step is equipment. A high end expensive oven won’t magically turn your cake of shit into a tasty dessert, but an old rusty oven won’t necessarily destroy your crisp tasty cake as it bakes. A common misconception, especially in punk where money is tight and equipment sparse, is that you can’t get good sound with bad gear. Obviously, you’re not gonna get world class sound with mediocre equipment, but you can get at least decent sound with bad equipment if you’re willing to make the effort to work around it.
The last step is the actual mix, the 2%. It’s a delicate figure that can easily be destroyed by the wrong turn of a few knobs. Or by blindly following a recipe of what should be right instead of trusting your ears.
Let’s start with the first step: Making sure you aren’t mixing shit.
Maybe you’re looking for a way to make your band sound better, maybe you overestimated your abilities when you said “sure, we can mix our band ourselves” and are struggling to meet your goals, or maybe you’re (aspiring to be) sitting in the sound technician’s chair. Nevertheless, the tricks to get good ingredients for your mix are identical. The key factors are volume, tone, comprehensibility and context.
In terms of volume, the struggle with many punk and hardcore bands is loudness. Loudness doesn’t make a good mix and there certainly are other ways to obtain an aggressive roaring punchiness. On the other hand, any band can be too silent. And recording or playing at a too silent volume will destroy the mix before you’ve even begun the mixing process. The overall volume must be adjusted to the setting and the volume of individual sound sources must be adjusted to each other. A sound dogma is that the bands with the quietest lead singers are paired with the guitarist who turn their volume all the way up to beyond ten.
Tone is important both to define your specific sound, but also in terms of a) tuning your instruments and b) not overshadowing each other in a band context. We’ve all listened to a band’s recording to later realize that ooh so they have two guitarists. Good tone is also knowing that you’ll need to tune your snare differently to make it distinct and tolerable depending on if you play in a noisy raw punk band or a semi-acoustic folk punk band.
Comprehensibility and context go hand in hand. No matter how narrow your sub-genre is, you’ll want your audience to comprehend what you are musically communicating. Context is the key, as muffled delay ridden vocals that might be the norm in raw punk hits would never work in a Top 40 pop tune. However, no matter how noisy your raw punk band is, you do want to obtain a sound with elements intelligible to the human ear.
I won’t go much into the equipment topic in this column. In the past, there have been columns dedicated to musical equipment and I think that fact alone illuminates why that’s too complex a topic to go into in a superficial matter. As well as the fact that any gear talk brings along talks of budgets and class. Of course I enjoy mixing on a brand new $50,000 desk more than on an old $250 desk, but having access to such a desk is a huge privilege. And talking about gear in that league isn’t relevant for this column, as it’s not going to be relevant for you, the readers. And I’ve had shitty mixes on an expensive desk and really good class-A sound on an old desk that should belong in a museum.
And exactly that is the point. You have to make it work with the equipment that’s available to you, both in punk contexts and in corporate gig contexts. Better gear can be a helpful tool but limit your skills to that and don’t be scared off by using not so good gear.
Now, let’s take a look at the 2%. The number one tip to mixing is to trust your ears and not your eyes. If it sounds good, there’s no reason to make adjustments because your settings don’t look “right.” Digital desks and appliances bring many visual tools, such as a frequency visualizer. While tools like that can be great for finding tricky feedback frequencies, they can also fool you into believing you should get or manipulate a completely linear frequency output from your sound sources. I recommend to only base your mix on visual tools that are available with analog gear—such as input and output meters.
Sound source fidelity is an important factor for good sound—and a reason to trust your ear and not your eyes when mixing. Only in cases where you are purposely trying to obtain a non-true sound of a certain sound source (such as heavily reverbed drums, vocals with effects, and so on) can you break the rule of fidelity. And if you’re the person performing the music, you can of course go crazy in the name of creativity and musical expression.
In live mixing situations, a tool I use a lot is to simply listen to the sound sources before I start turning my knobs. This can both be handy in order to make sure you’re not trying to fix things in the mix that are caused by acoustic problems—i.e. Badly tuned drums. But also to make sure you’re obtaining the sound that the band is aiming for. Often miked up guitar and bass speakers don’t need much work apart from gain and volume settings—just make them sound as the sound coming from their speaker cabinets. In terms of sound fidelity and mixing, note that this counts for staying true to genres as well. Obviously you can’t have the same approach for acoustic folk music as death metal.
A dealbreaker for a good mix to me is if the music is living inside an authentic and audible dimensional space (with room for exceptions when the music calls for a more lo-fi sound or a two-dimensional space).
A mix that has width, depth and height is the key for excellent sound. These physical measures are easy to transform to terms for the audible world.
Width is about contrast and the relationship with your left and right ear. The width of a sound is a matter of if we perceive it as coming from the center of two speakers or how far to the left or right it’s coming from. The greater contrast between what’s coming from the left and right side, the wider we perceive the sound image.
Hence the key to a wide mix isn’t just placement. Two identical guitar tracks panned to each side won’t be as wide as you might expect it to be. The trick is to bring in more contrast, for example by using different microphones, or using two takes rather than copying a single track or using a doubling effect.
Note that a mix having width doesn’t mean the more width the better. For example, panning cymbals all the way to the left and right, isn’t true to the acoustic drum kit sound, neither for the listener or the drummer, and can make a mix sound overproduced.
Height is a strange phenomenon where we perceive high pitched sound as physically coming from above and low pitched sounds as coming from below. Hence, contrasts in the frequency spectrum can create a taller mix. Of course, while still staying true to the sound sources. Where you choose to place a sound source in terms of height is also a way to define the mix—for example a low pitched punchy bass drum versus a clicky, more high pitched bass drum. Overall, the trick to a tall mix is to make sure you use the entire frequency spectrum audible to the human ear. Adding a bit more of low frequencies to a bass drum can do wonders for a mix lacking elements in the low frequencies in terms of height. In my opinion, unlike width you can’t be too extreme with height—as long as you stay true to the true sound sources—unless you’re aiming for a very lo-fi mix.
Depth is the most complex dimension. The greater contrast in depth, the deeper a mix is perceived. In order to make something sound very close, something else has to sound very far. A rule of thumb is that depth is dependent on three factors: loudness, brightness and the amount of reverb. The louder a sound is, the closer we will perceive it. When mixing, consider where in the space you want a sound to live. Think front to back when you set levels. Where you for example place the vocals will make a huge difference for the mix in general. Keep in mind where a sound is expected to live—for example having backing vocals more to the back and main vocals pretty much up front for most bands and genres or making a choice to place a bass guitar more up front than the norm.
The brighter a sound is, the closer we will perceive it. Often brightness is confused for loudness because of this. Instead of adjusting volumes, rolling off some high frequencies can move a sound more to the back and boosting a bit can move a sound more to the front. This works great for guitars that are too much in the front and overshadowing other instruments too much or vocals that need help getting more to the front to stand out from the band and be more understandable to the audience. But handle with care as this is easy to backfire and create feedback or make a sound even less intelligible.
The more reverb we add to a sound, the further away we will perceive it. Reverb is a big topic in itself, but we can work with this rule of thumb for simplicity. Reverb can be used both as to create a realistic spatial sound but also as an added effect to the sound. It seems that every punk and hardcore band is using heavy reverb on vocals these days, which is getting a good amount of criticism in the scene. I’m not necessarily against the reverb trend, as I see it as a way to create depth and a personal style. But what I’m seeing is that most bands have no idea how to use the effects and don’t seem to have put thought into what it does to their sound. Unless they’re all aiming for having their vocals sound like muffled reflections coming from across a canyon. A tip for reverb pedals is to find a good relationship between the wet and dry signal, usually adjusted on the “mix” knob or similar.
This is a shame as the key to aggressive hardcore lyrics is to have the vocals barking up front in front of the mix. For reverb, consider how long the reflections are as well as the level of the wet and the dry signals to adjust to your desired sound, no matter what that might be.
What a good mix is, is quite complex and it’s impossible to pinpoint a single factor that makes for a great mix. While there is no “great mix” knob to turn, there sure are many knobs you can turn that’ll make your mix sound like shit. There are no quick fixes. It’s all about learning for experience and knowing that you will never stop learning and improving. But it’s also about knowing when to stop working, when a mix or certain sound source sounds good enough. A one hour snare drum sound check is good for nothing, and once you have a live band up and running with a good mix, don’t fall for the illusion that you should be turning knobs constantly.
Happy mixing out there and remember that sound, like us, lives in a three dimensional space!
Sid Lives (Actually, He Doesn’t)
Kenmore Square in Boston (forever immortalized in LAST RIGHTS’ “So Ends Our Night”) used to be a much more happening place—it was seedy, it was grimy, it could be a bit dangerous. I’ve written about this in the past. Anyway, those days passed a long time ago. It’s been (or is in the process of being) taken over by overpriced hotels and planned high-rise,“mixed-use” developments. One block was completely bulldozed for the hideous, monstrous, overpriced Hotel Commonwealth. It eradicated a lot of Kenmore’s history and charm. The legendary Boston punk club The Rat, low-priced pizza joints like Nemo’s and the Pizza Pad, Charlie’s Cafeteria, an Army-Navy store and a few record stores were part of the landscape. I spent a good amount of my four years at Boston University (’78-’82) going through the bins at Nuggets, which always had promo copies of new LPs at cheap prices, as well as gem-filled bargain bins. The first record I snagged was AC/DC’s “Powerage” (still their best album) for $2.99. I found a copy of the SUICIDE COMMANDOS’ unjustifiably overlooked classic “Make A Record” for $1.99 about a year later. They even had Lenny Kaye autograph the wall.
Lenny is best-known as PATTI SMITH’s longtime guitarist, but he was also the “curator” (God, I hate that term) of the original “Nuggets” compilation from 1972 and that’s obviously where the store got its name from. Lenny’s words of wisdom were “It’s a Nugget if you dug it!” The compilation, whose full title was “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era,” was a double LP of not-exactly underground bands like COUNT FIVE, SHADOWS OF KNIGHT, ELECTRIC PRUNES, THE SEEDS, BLUES MAGOOS, THE NAZZ and a lot more, and the liner notes said, “The name that has been unofficially coined for them—“punk-rock”—seems particularly fitting in this sense.” Remember this was 1972 and perhaps those songs weren’t getting played that much on the radio as they were in the 60s. This was before the so-called garage revival spurred a lot of interest in those bands and more obscure ones. Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh (Rolling Stone) and Greg Shaw (founder of Bomp! Magazine) all used the term in their writing in ’70 and ’71.
So much for the history lesson. Kenmore was also home to Strawberries, a regional record store chain. I forget when they went out of business but their heyday was over by sometime in the 1980s. They had a pretty good selection of punk records in the downtown Boston location. I mentioned them in last month’s column—it was where I bought my ticket for the first local CLASH show. Strawberries would have Midnight Madness sales every so often where all the records would be discounted. I got the REZILLOS’ “Can’t Stand The Rezillos” LP on my first excursion. I also went to one on February 2, 1979. That date might sound familiar. We’ll get to why in a moment.
My hometown friend and newspaper delivery crew co-worker Tom was attending Northeastern University. He was living in a frat house and called me up and asked if I’d ever heard of a band called the REAL KIDS. Tom wasn’t into punk at all. Pop and disco were more of his thing—I still cringe when thinking of listening to CHIC’s “Yowza Yowza Yowza” or whatever the fuck that song was called while riding around in his Ford Bronco (you know—OJ Simpson’s vehicle of choice). I told him, “of COURSE I’ve heard of them…” Turns out they were playing his frat on that fated evening of February 2, 1979. I made it to the show and was ridiculed by my dorm-mate Bob, who accompanied me, for wearing a cardigan sweater. Bob kept calling me Ozzie all night—not as in Osbourne but as in Nelson i.e. Ozzie Nelson from the old “Ozzie and Harriet” TV show. The REAL KIDS were great, although my attempt to connect with any women there was a miserable failure.
Incidentally, if you ever wondered where I got my colorful vocabulary, it was on that crew. I can still hear another co-worker, Joe, complaining in his nasally, Mass-accented voice, about a route being “a real pain in the pud.” That was before Tom pulled over, went around to the other side of the Bronco, opened the door and pushed Joe into the snow along with the newspapers he was supposed to deliver. And “pud” was one of the milder terms that Joe used.
Sorry, got sidetracked yet again. On the way back to my dorm, I popped into Strawberries for the midnight sale and, this time, I picked up the SEX PISTOLS’ “Never Mind The Bollocks” album. Believe it or not, I hadn’t bought it up to that point even though “God Save The Queen” was the song that changed my life in 1977. When I got back to the dorm, another dorm-mate looked at my purchase and said, “oh you must have heard then…” I looked at him quizzically and he said, “Sid died…” I had no idea. It was a complete coincidence. Strange and eerie. Of course, it’s not like I was listening to anything that he played on. The story goes that Steve Jones played all the bass tracks except on “Bodies” and Sid’s bass-lines were buried in the mix.
I have another perhaps eerie Sid-related anecdote. A few months before, I was dating a girl named Becky and we went to a Halloween party at a local dance club. She was a huge movie buff and went as Charlie Chaplin. I decided to let my inner punk flag fly and took a torn white t-shirt and scribbled SEX PISTOLS on it and borrowed a chain necklace (no padlock, though) from Jim, one of the only people in my dorm into punk (I mentioned him in last month’s column, too). I went upstairs to pick up Becky and, the second I walked into the room next to hers, one of the girls started screaming at me. Becky quickly got me out of the room and then explained to me that the girl’s sister had been best friends with Nancy Spungen. This was about two weeks after Nancy had been murdered so, yeah, my timing wasn’t too great. Becky said I shouldn’t feel badly about it and that I obviously didn’t know. Maybe I should have borrowed Jim’s ULTRAVOX shirt instead. Our relationship fizzled pretty quickly after that but I don’t think it was about me being a PISTOLS fan. In fact, it wasn’t but no one wants to hear a sob story so…
But, yeah, it’s the 40th anniversary of Sid’s death. And there were plenty of punks who admired and perhaps wanted to emulate him or pay tribute. During the summer of 1980, there was the Heatwave festival outside of Toronto that featured some nominally punk and new wave bands (opened by the underrated TEENAGE HEAD and headlined by ELVIS COSTELLO) and the review in Trouser Press mentioned there were tabs of acid being passed around with Sid’s name on them. I’ve always wondered—not that often but in passing—if, had Sid lived, Malcolm McLaren would have installed him as their frontman and brought in a competent bass player (maybe Glen Matlock again). He actually had an OK voice, if you listen to the EDDIE COCHRAN covers on “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle” album and “My Way” is an all-time classic. I own the “Sid Sings” album (a live NYC recording), mainly to keep my admittedly-incomplete PISTOLS collection together, but can’t bring myself to take it off the shelf and see how it holds up. I remember reading another Trouser Press review that said it was “morbid and disgusting.” I’ll take their word for it. I only paid a buck or two for it, anyway.
I’ve never been much for hero worship, idolizing so-called iconic individuals. I’ve certainly admired people, generally those who I’ve met in person and have left a positive impression, making some sort of personal connection. They’ve influenced certain things but I’ve really never felt the urge to completely emulate them, but use that inspiration to better my own situation. MDC, ARTICLES OF FAITH and TOXIC REASONS were all bands who had songs that got me thinking about the world around me and my own life. They planted the seed that made me realize I didn’t have to do what others expected. I didn’t have to buy into the whole “American Dream.” I figured out very quickly it was all bullshit, anyway.
I’m not looking for any sort of guru. There are shelves full of books and TV and online stations full of programming from various self-help hucksters (let’s call them what they are) offering you enlightenment, the key to a better life and fulfillment. I’m not talking about religious figures, although a lot of the people peddle some kind of bogus spirituality. I’m not sure if it’s narcissism or wanting to make a quick buck or maybe a combination of both. I always chuckle that I’m in the wrong business. Maybe I should become some sort of punk rock shaman. I think there are probably at least a few people who aspire to do just that. It’s true that I’ve found some sort of salvation, in a way, through punk rock, but also learned to not take everything at face value. I’m embarrassed to admit that wasn’t always the case in my younger days. I also learned that some people I admired or respected turned out to be full of shit.
But enough about me. I was talking about Sid being an icon to some punks and GG ALLIN also seems to have achieved that sort of status in some quarters. GG was not dumb by any stretch but, from my armchair observation, it seemed as though he felt he had to be the disgustoid GG 24/7 during the last few years of his life. Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies is one of the most depressing music documentaries I’ve ever seen. His antics and his fans, in particular, are often difficult to watch.
The recent The Allins: One Hell Of A Family is better crafted but also somewhat depressing, for a number of reasons. This movie focuses not only on GG’s musical and personal escapades, but his family dynamics, as well. His mother Arleta laments that she loved Kevin (his real name) but hated GG. His brother Merle, on the other hand, has flogged GG’s legacy for all it’s worth, even continuing with a current incarnation of the MURDER JUNKIES. Their drummer shoves sticks up his ass, autographs them and then sells them. Merle takes a dump in the toilet and uses the excrement to create paintings. Not too many things gross me out but that was almost a bit much. As for the fans, you can see one paying tribute by literally pissing on GG’s headstone at the cemetery. In fact, there was so much vandalism to the stone that it ended up being removed. Punk as fuck, right? It’s still worth seeing—I caught it on Showtime.
I knew GG a bit. He was always generous sending me records for review—I’ll never sell my copy of “Eat My Fuc” with the hand-drawn cover of a cock shooting its load. He also contributed a pretty sharp and lucid column shortly before he died (it was published posthumously in issue #33-34 of Suburban Voice). Some of it was fairly self-aggrandizing and bombastic. He also suggested I use the full-color photo of him smeared in his own shit for the cover. I have that photo tucked away in the file cabinet along with the hand-written text for the column and a few other letters he sent from prison. But I think these words that he wrote are timeless: “It’s time to send a message to the corporate music industry that we, the real non-conformists, in the rock ’n’ roll underground cannot be bought and sold-out.” He did urge dropping bombs on Lollapalooza and various music biz conventions. Maybe he meant it in a literal sense, since he said, “true terrorism must reign in rock ’n’ roll.” But the underlying theme, that it’s important to resist co-optation and defy those entities, is something to always embrace. I’m not sure I would give my blood and guts for it. I’m not sure if people trying to imitate what he did is exactly non-conformist, either—it seems like a herd mentality. You could say that about any sub-group, including in the punk realm. But I still take pride in trying to at least go against the grain and try not to go along to get along.
Next month—the final print column. Hard to believe…
Al Quint, PO Box 43, Peabody, MA 01960
email@example.com / subvox.blogspot.com / sonicoverload.net
Bandmates require time, attention, patience, forgiveness, stimulation, trust, and a general sense of commitment, same as a partner, and I believe that band relationships are just as important as any romantic relationship. They’ll become a part of your life, good or bad, and if you’re going to stay together all these things need to be addressed. That’s what this column is here for: to discuss why bands fight, why bands work or don’t work, why bands succeed, and why bands break up. In almost every way this is kind of a relationship column, to examine the fragile relationships that you have with your bandmates.
None of us that contribute to MRR were told ahead of time that the magazine was going to cease print publishing, we found out via social media just like everyone else. It sounded like a lot of us were really upset about that and felt blindsided and disrespected. I for sure felt blindsided, but what made the whole thing hurt a little less was that I was in the same boat as everyone else. Immediately I started getting texts from people saying “No more MRR??” or trying to ask if I had any more information, and I got to feel like a member of the same community with them. I didn’t know any more than anyone else, so I was given the chance to grieve and reel from the blow with everyone else. That was a really hard and scary day, but I appreciated feeling some camaraderie amidst the stunned silence. We had a meeting at the compound seven days later and I came in with a few big ideas to help turn this ol’ ship around and save the cause. We were told more details and more about the financial and personal realities that Maximum faces, and slowly each of my ideas became obsolete. This wasn’t a meeting to figure out how to save global print media in 2019, it was a meeting to let us know that it was time to move on. Obviously no one in the room was happy to hear that, and no one instinctually wants to walk away from a good feeling thing, but the reality of the situation was that it’s time to figure out where to go from here. It’s hard to convince someone that there’s no other way, but putting them in a situation where there are no other options forces them to accept it that much faster. At least that way they’ll move closer to the healing process without wasting time wondering, in my experience.
I’ve described this column as a relationship column for bands, and I tend to tongue-in- cheek compare it to romantic relationships and find similarities. Truthfully I often call on my romantic history almost as much as my history with bandmates when dealing with heavy things like this. My first relationship lasted for eight and a half years, from the time we were 17 years old to 25. We lived together, we had a dog together, we paid bills together, we talked about marriage and the future together. The last two years we were together were rough, but looking back it was more like the last four years. Regardless of how bad or uncertain things got I always assumed that we’d work it out. I saw her as family and family doesn’t leave because of a fight. Worst case scenario we’d get couples counseling or something and become better because of it. We had a big fight one night and she laid out that she wasn’t happy. I heard what she was saying but still didn’t take it seriously enough to believe that this could be the end. Things got worse, and then much better out of nowhere, and then nothing. She totally checked out, and then admitted that she had slept with someone else. Nothing has ever hurt me like that before, but honestly there was a sense of closure from it. She knew that we were both growing into different people and that ultimately we needed to move on from each other at some point. She also knew that my personality wouldn’t let me accept that and I’d spend the rest of my life internally trying to fix a model that we had grown out of. So she knew that she needed a death knell for our relationship. This way there was no going back, and therefore no use in thinking too much about it. I’ve learned so much about letting things go because of that. Maximum Rocknroll making the announcement publicly before telling those of us that contribute was the right move. Otherwise all of us would have broken the doors of the compound down with schemes to get us back to how things were fifteen years ago. The reality is this decision was a long time coming, and the best way to move forward is to adapt to the world that we live in rather than trying to hold on to the practices of a world that no longer applies to us in 2019. I’ve written a few BD issues about the scene changing, friends and venues closing or moving, bandmates moving on, and this is another example of just that. At some point everything ends, but more often than not it’s because we’ve outgrown what we originally knew it to be. It’s not like giving CPR to a corpse, and it’s not like leaving our best years behind us. It’s just like it always is: things come to an end when we grow out of them, and the only place to go is the next scary and uncomfortable place that fits who we’ve become.
(I also what to note that I recognize that I just compared MRR’s announcement to my ex cheating on me, and I want to communicate clearly that those are two suuuper different things. I didn’t mean to compare the two, only that the blow that I felt from the later was much easier to digest due to the things that I learned from the former.)
Each month BAND DRAMA will either be reviewing a universal issue that all bands face, or I’ll be reviewing one of your band’s issues. If you’d like a fresh perspective, advice, or just to vent in general (anonymously or not) reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve been in a lot of bands for the past sixteen years, which means that I’ve been in a lot of bands that have ended or failed. I’d like to think that I’ve grown from each, learned from each, and taken the time to reflect on each failure or success. I’m also still learning and experiencing and I always will be. So I want to share what I’ve learned, as well as learn from all y’all punks in bands too.