(Yes, this is a re-post, you aren’t crazy.)
While this may be a bit of a controversial statement these days, I love Against Me! If you’ve been following the United States punk scene (or, lets face it, if you’ve been reading Punknews) for the past give or take six years you’ve heard of these guys. It’s a pretty typical story of “band starts out performing in basements, becomes noticed and signed to an established independent label for a few years before moving to a subsidiary of Warner Brothers and alienating half of their fans in the process.” Given the current state of the music industry, stuff like this happens pretty often. What was once the unforgivable sin of “selling your soul” and signing to a major label isn’t as taboo as it was when Henry Rollins didn’t have gray hair. However, bands still take shit for it (from the fans who ostensibly gave them their career in the first place since all majors are looking for bands that come with a built in audience these days), but few took it as badly as Against Me! did (though some HAVE gotten worse.) Mind you, this is probably due to the song titles like “Baby I’m an Anarchist” and lyrics like “we want a band who plays loud and hard every night and doesn’t care how many people come in at the door; they would drive a hundred million miles and ask for nothing but a plate of food and a place to rest” along with a general dislike for the establishment that they based their early career on. However, from a strictly musical standpoint, they’re still making some of the best rock music out there (their latest effort (and Sire Records debut) New Wave is easily one of the best records of any genre of the last five years…although, calling it a punk record might be a little bit of a stretch) and I would personally rather see them getting attention than whatever emo band that formed last year is popular on MySpace this week. While I still see the validity of the scorned anarchist arguments against the band, I personally don’t see it as enough of a reason to stop listening since I generally don’t have problems with musicians making decisions that make it easier for them to be musicians as long as the music itself continues progressing logically (and remains entertaining.) To each his (or her) own I suppose.
However, none of that is really the point of this post. It’s really just the unnecessary (and admittedly flimsy) pretext to me coming across this quote from Against Me! frontman Tom Gabel taken from an April ‘08 Racket Magazine interview:
“So, okay, when you started out as a band, when we started out as a band… NO ONE fucking liked us. (laughs) No one! Our first year of shows was just like us showing up, me and Kevin and unloading my acoustic guitar, and Kevin unloading his drums; which was like this weird home made kit, and people were like “What the fuck is this?” and making fun of us.
No one liked us at first, and now there’s all these people saying “I’ve loved you since (Vivida Vis).” “No, you didn’t. No one liked us when (Vivida Vis) was around. I was there at the shows! There were TEN people there, what are you talking about? I know you weren’t there.”
I find this concept intriguing on so many levels. I have encountered people like this (and, as long as we’re being honest, have BEEN people like this), and never really considered the implications of this apparent “superfandom.” Just to give this a little bit of context, I’m sure all of you have discovered a band through what you would later find out is not their first album. You then (sometimes obsessively) collect their entire back catalog and eventually decide you’ve been a fan since *insert Band X’s first record* (not to be confused with X, the well established 70s punk band.) Now this is a perfectly common and relatively forgivable wording choice. It’s entirely possible that upon listening to the band’s older stuff that you like it more than the material that introduced you to the band, but that still doesn’t change the fact that you discovered the band when you did, therefore you can only have liked the band since THAT point in time. You can like their old stuff just fine, but theres no need to say you’ve liked them since the very beginning if you clearly didn’t.
Or is there?
I thought about it for a while and I realized an unwritten rule (one of many) within the punk scene (possibly within other music scenes as well) that basically states that a certain amount of credibility can be earned for “being there from the beginning” (or at least pretending to be.) In fact, I would go so far as to say that the ONLY way to achieve ANY credibility within certain circles is to have been there from the start. In High Fidelity, John Cusack’s Rob Gordon character speaks negatively about those who “shaved their head and said they were ALWAYS punk,” but what I’m starting to realize is that there really is no way to be considered “punk” at all UNLESS you were always punk (or, again, pretended you were.) This seems like a pretty concrete and in some cases crippling social mandate from a society that claims to be against rules and social mandates doesn’t it?
All of that having been said, it’s time for me to come clean: I have, on many occasions, cited Against Me’s 1999 full length Reinventing Axl Rose as one of the most important records of my lifetime and have even told Tom Gabel to his face that the record changed my life. I said this because it is absolutely true, the record did change my life and the way I thought about music and, to some extent, the world around me. However, I was listening to Smash Mouth in 1999 like every other 7th grader I knew. At this point in time I own the entire Against Me! catalog, including 1998’s Vivida Vis (which I personally find to be a badly recorded piece of shit.) However, I have loved Against Me! since 2004, which is the year I first heard them and also a year where they released no new material whatsoever.
I feel a little more clean now.