Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Everything Sucks for an aging punker

Way back in the day there was a little ska band called Reel Big Fish. Damn near all of my friends were going to see them play at the House of Blues in Chicago on a school night. It was near the end of the school year but my mom was unrelenting and wouldn't allow me to go to the show. I gave my buddy Jimmy a few bucks and he bought a shirt for me at the show so I could at least feel like I was cool enough to have gone. The shirt simply said "I Hate Reel Big Fish" in block letters across the front. As I was standing in the second row at the Irving Plaza in New York waiting for Reel Big Fish to take the stage roughly 16 years later I couldn't help but think about that shirt. While that shirt was obviously a joke I couldn't help but delve deeper into the sentiment behind it, at a couple of times in my life wasn't it telling the truth? Sure. Why Do They Rock So Hard? was definitely a disappointing album. And frankly I didn't really listen to any of the albums that followed it. They just seemed kind of crappy after that and with the exception of a few songs I never really knew any of their stuff, although I would throw on Turn the Radio Off from time to time. Then I got thinking of a bigger question:

Wasn't I supposed to hate Reel Big Fish? The answer to this is sadly yes, albeit for two very different reasons. The first reason being that they "sold out". The irony gets really thick when you accuse a band that became famous for a song mocking the idea of selling out of selling out but by definition it's true. They signed to a major label and appealed to the masses (for 15 seconds). The problem is that I think it's incredibly stupid to hate a band for selling out. It breaks my heart that the members of bands that I love have to work shitty jobs when they aren't on tour just to survive while no talent ass clowns like Flo Rida have a Rolls Royce in every color of the rainbow. I want to support my favorites in any way I can and hopefully provide a living for them by going to shows and buying albums. If a bunch of non punks like the new Bad Religion album it's because it's a fucking good album not because they compromised their values and turned their back on the scene. Hating a band because they become popular is idiotic. Sure, after becoming successful some bands will change their sounds in ways that I disagree with (Prime Example: The Offspring's Pretty Fly for a White Guy) and it will make me stop listening to them, but it's because I don't like the musical direction they are headed in. 

Which leads us to the second reason that I am supposed to hate Reel Big Fish; It has become accepted that punk/ska music is only for teenagers and that I am supposed to grow out of this phase. There is something about this kind of music that appeals to high school kids, I get it. What I don't understand is why it's suddenly supposed to be shameful to still like it when I'm older. As far as I can tell Losing Streak didn't change over the years, why should my opinion about it have to? If I had a dollar for every time I've had someone tell me that they used to like punk or ska music but out grew it I would have enough to by an original pressing of Minor Threat's Out of Step. Sure, some of the songs that I pumped my fist to as a teenager seem more than a little bit trite and juvenile as an adult. So what? Love me Do sounds like it was written by a 4 year old and no one ever says they outgrew The Beatles. Was I supposed to spend my 21st birthday by taking all of my Descendents and Bosstones albums to the record store and trading them in for the new Sigur Ros and whatever the fuck other band Pitchfork was praising that week? Fuck that. And I'm not trying to take anything away from Sigur Ros (who I enjoy) or indie bands in general; what I don't understand is why I have to stop liking one type of music in order to enjoy another.

With very few exceptions I never fall out of love with music. (The Spin Doctors are that exception) I might not want to listen to Sublime's self titled album every waking moment of every day anymore but I sure don't hate it either. Any time I hear it I think of all of the positive memories that I associate with it and enjoy the music. It's the same when I put on Goldfinger or Iron Maiden or Soul Asylum. It's all music that I got into a long time ago and I respect it as such. Any time I hear someone belittle the music they liked as a kid it makes me cringe. There was a time in my life when MU 330's self titled album was the most important record to me. I listened to it all of the time, knew every single word and went and saw them play live any time they were within 100 miles of me. During some of the darkest and loneliest times of my life that album comforted me. Seeing that band made me jump around with glee at a time when I wasn't sure I could even crack a smile. Yet now that I am 32 and my playlist has a heck of a lot more Black Keys than Black Flag I'm supposed to dismiss the music of my youth as a silly phase and that sickens me.  

It sounds corny but my love of punk and ska music is a huge part of who I am as a person. Bad Religion and the Descendents taught me that being smart and nerdy was actually cool. When I was heartbroken over a girl The Mr T Experience was there for me like a shoulder to cry on. The Vandals taught me that I could avoid talking about that heartbreak with a little white lie. When things actually worked out with the ladies The Slackers helped me feel suave. Mephiskaphales taught me that their really is no finer tuna in the sea than Bumblebee. Less Than Jake helped me understand that I was far from the only person desperately wanting to get out of their shitty hometown. The Suicide Machines told me what shoes to wear while NOFX told me which shoes I should avoid. I still carry all of this (relatively) meaningful information with me today.

I'm not ashamed of the music I love. Some of the best experiences of my life were spent covered in sweat (most of it belonging to other people) screaming along to bands in a shitty bowling alley in Chicago or at a VFW in the middle of nowhere watching a band no one outside of their area code had heard of tear the roof off the place. Seeing Slapstick play this September at Riot Fest to a crowd ten times larger than they ever drew when they were together was damn near a religious experience for me, I couldn't stop smiling for a week. Whenever I miss my good buddy Jimmy K I think of the time our hair froze after leaving a Suicide Machines show. I do a similar thing when I miss Foss except I remember when the Pilfers asked if he wanted to drop out of college to drive their van for them. And I can plug in countless other friends and countless other bands to get the same effect. If I laugh and belittle the music that was such an integral part of my most cherished memories what does it say about the memories themselves?

Which brings us all back to Irving Plaza the other night. In the days leading up to the show I had felt a little bit silly about going to see Reel Big Fish and the Pilfers and Dan P after all of these years. I knew that I was going to be close to the oldest non parent in the crowd, the only guy who was missing hair on his head for a reason other than fashion. Then from the second that Dan started playing an old MU tune on his acoustic guitar and I started belting out the words along with him all of that stupid self conscious bullshit faded away. I didn't give a shit what my friends and others thought about it, I was exactly where I wanted to be. 3 hours later I was screaming along to "All I Want is More" and throwing the bird in the air the way I wished I had been able to 16 years ago and I realized that the shirt was 100% correct, I do hate Reel Big Fish. I hate Reel Big Fish because they had that combination of goofiness and a catchy song that made them absolutely perfect one hit wonders. So when all of the people who latch on to the "next big thing" moved on beyond punk/ska they looked back on it with condescension and I was stuck here defending the music that I love. It gets pretty damn annoying to always have to defend that shit. I'm sure that some other band would have gotten people to jump on the bandwagon if RBF didn't and I'd be equally annoyed with them. I'll still go to their shows (which are great, by the way) and listen to their new album (which is the best they have put out since Turn the Radio Off in my humble opinion) and I'll always defend them. But I'm still going to use them as a scapegoat for my irritation about having to defend the music I love at my advanced age. I do already have a shirt proclaiming my hatred, why not make the most of it?

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