Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Maximumrocknroll #291 August 2007

Is this what winning looks like?
We know what it's like to be a small-town punk. The cool kids spat on us. The cops moved us along and poured out our beers. We're not going to forget. We've paid our dues. We've been run out of dive bars by rip-off promoters and greedy owners. We've played to empty clubs and had to call home for gas money to get to the next show. We deserve this opportunity. If we sign to this label, we can get our message out to a wider audience. Man, isn't it totally subversive that our song was used on that car commercial? And anyway, it was for a hybrid. I know our ticket prices are expensive now, but those tour buses don't run on air.
The platitudes come down like a spring rain. This time it'll be different. But time and time again, bands build a following and grow up in the DIY, underground punk community, only to leave when the money starts to come in. All of a sudden, the horrible corporate venues that you wouldn't go to unless you could sneak in for free become the only game in town. "We hate this place, but where else can we play? It's the only place big enough." Warped Tour, media whore, sadly this has become your life. All that crap about getting the message out there, it was all bullshit, wasn't it? Or when does it start? Is there a dollar amount, once you get to a certain point, then you start giving back to the community that spawned you? Or was it all just a ruse, a pose, saying the right things to climb that ladder? Because it just looks like business as usual. You said you were punks, but now you're no different. You play the same rock biz games, play the same high-door-price venues, hide behind the same violent bouncers. You've got a street team spreading the word about your gigs when you used to have street cred.
Punk rock is on MTV and in the shopping malls. Mainstream punk is getting bigger but the infrastructure is shrinking. Why is it that after all this time, there are still only a handful of reliable punk-operated music venues in the world (Gilman Street in Berkeley, The Smell in LA, ABC No Rio in NYC, Mr. Roboto in Pittsburgh, and the 1 in 12 in Bradford, England are the ones that spring to mind)? OK, I know that there are tons of punk-run squat venues throughout Europe but that's a slightly different situation. Either you're big enough to play the huge, corporate, beer-company sponsored venues, or you have to rely on people who are having shows in their living rooms and basements. Don't get me wrong, house shows are almost always more fun than bar shows or other regular venues. But it's hard to build a scene around a venue that could get shut down any minute by angry neighbors or disgruntled roommates. Also, sometimes it's nice to actually be able to hear the vocals.
I guess what I'm getting at is that if we had our shit together, there would be a network of punk rock venues/community centers, one in every medium-to-large size town. Bigger bands would play there and that would subsidize the smaller shows with less of a turnout. The bigger bands would have local bands on the bill, so that those bands could build a following and grow the scene, so that more people would come out of the woodwork and help keep the venue going. I realize it's a pipe dream - just about all the venues I mentioned earlier exist by the skin of their teeth. The kids are mostly just users who take a lot of stuff for granted, and even most of the people who do want to get involved and do more end up getting burned out, either by in-fighting and status-jockeying, or by the constant uphill struggle to keep things going in the face of apathy.
I got to thinking about this stuff when a local art space/venue, Balazo Gallery, was shut down by the city for permit issues. It was one of the few places in San Francisco that was available to rent for all-ages shows. I'd had a show booked there for months (in fact, the final show for my band, Giant Haystacks. I've never mentioned the band in my column before, but since we've broken up, I suppose it's OK), and when they had to close down I had to find a new venue, for a Friday night, at extremely short notice. In the end we split the show between two smaller places: an early show at a bar on Mission Street called The Knockout, and a later, all-ages show in the basement of Thrillhouse Records across the street. Both venues came through in a pinch, although unfortunately many unlucky people got turned away from the second show. I couldn't help daydreaming that if SF had a decent, reliable all-ages venue, we'd never have had the problem in the first place.
In the Mailbox: Along with my long-awaited copy of the Down & Outs "Minneapolis" EP on Rat Patrol Records (Reviewed in this mag by Andy Darling a few months ago), I received a four-track EP compiling some of the output of Randy 'Biscuit' Turner, to benefit the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. The record has two Big Boys songs performed by the Slurpees/Texas Biscuit Bombs, as well as a Cargo Cult tune and a live version of "Identity Crisis" performed by the Big Boys in 1981. The cool little package is rounded out by some of Biscuit's artwork. Not sure how many were pressed, but check www.ratpatrolrecords.com for details. While you're online, take a look at www.austinmusicianshealth.com.
My fairy godmother was really looking out for me, because she also saw fit to guide a copy of the Fucked Up/Hard Skin split 7" my way. On the Hard Skin side, genius Johnny Takeaway gets to do his best Jonesy impression on a note-perfect cover of the Professionals' 1-2-3. Someone from Fucked Up did a bit of digging and unearthed a candid snap of Fat Bob with a Neil-from-the-Young-Ones barnet on some hippie peace march. Can't tell when it was taken but it looks to be from back in the sixties or something. The Fucked Up song, "Toronto FC", is another work of genius on their part. Don't know if I'm picking up the theme but it makes me think of those American skinheads who bend over backwards to be as authentically close to their imaginary ideas of working class British life as possible - right down to forming little hooligan gangs and following their favorite Major League Sawkir teams. It's quite cute really.

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