June 16th, 2002


All The Old Punks. . .

So I went to the Feederz reunion show the other night. The hadn’t played in the Bay Area since the infamous dead dog Gilman Street show (http://www.924gilman.com/BASIC/BBC-BHistory2.html) about 15 years ago. I was looking forward to the show because there are not many opportunities these days to attend a punk show and not know EXACTLY what is going to happen in advance.

There’s a lot to criticize in the olden days of punk. But at least it had unpredictability as part of the genre. Would the cops come? Would the Nazis show up? Would the people renting the hall freak out? Would the band turn out to be the most inspiring you’ve ever heard or a bunch of stupid, pro-Reagan nationalists? (Or would they pretend to be cuz that was their shtick?) Would people show up to protest the band or an individual member? Would the band throw dead animals into the audience?

I was at the Gilman show with the dead animals. Feederz singer Frank Discussion came out with a dead dog (German Shepherd if memory serves) and dropped it on the stage. Some mohawked punk boy then jumped on stage and threw it into the center of the pit during the next song. Audience members stopped the show and demanded an explanation.*

I think it was the most controversial Gilman show ever. Maybe that corpse stealing episode was a bigger event (can’t find a link), but show-wise it was a really big deal. Further evidence, if you need it, was there at the show last week in the form of a mini Gilman reunion. Looking at the audience was like being transported back to Gilman St. circa 1987 with everyone looking mysteriously old.

If you’ve never heard of The Feederz, the were/are a situationist/anarchist band originally from Arizona. They liked to turn TV commercial jingles (Tab Cola, Stay Free maxi pads, etc.) into songs against capitalism, god and country. Their cover of "Have You Never Been Mellow?" by Olivia Newton John is merciless in its destruction of the original. Their first album, "Ever Feel Like Killing Your Boss?" is a great album** and its sandpaper cover let your other records know that they couldn’t sit next to it with out their pretty facades being ruined. The not so subtle message: This record will change the way you look at all your other records. When you obtain "Ever Feel Like Killing Your Boss" the ugliness of the others will be revealed.

"1984", my favorite Feederz song, is an anarchist primer for work, school and society:

Living in a world where life's just a game
A game you've already lost
You go to school for twelve years where you learn just one thing
How not to mind being bossed
Oh you'll learn to follow orders when each day's just the same
And they all use the same voice
Just where you'll go to work for the next 50 years
That's your freedom of choice

Alas, the problem with last week’s Justice League show was that it just isn’t 1984 anymore. Things that were shocking or provocative back then just aren’t in 2002. It’s the root of my problem with punk, I guess. I don’t know what The Feederz could have done to rise above, but playing the old hits with a sneering comment or two between songs wasn’t it.

Situationist theory claims that shock and disruption of the way society is generally viewed can reveal the lies society is based on and present opportunities for revolution ala Paris ‘’68. One might think that being in a band claiming a situationist model for revolution, it might seem unwise to be using the same mode of spectacle for over 20 years. If you’re really a situationist, it might be time to acknowledge that punk, even your genre of confrontational, revolutionary anarcho-punk, is viewed by participants nowadays in ways more similar to conventional commodity-oriented music genres than a breeding ground for the great general strike.

The Feederz reunion show played out in the setting of an established punk club and for an audience of committed "fans". I didn’t know what to expect but I got exactly what I would have expected from a band’s, any band’s, reunion show. In other words, The Feederz did nothing to disrupt the (sub)cultural spectacle. What then, do we make of their politics? How can the line between singing to reveal the lies of society and singing a lie not get blurred in this setting?

I mean, don’t get me wrong. They played all the songs I wanted to hear. The sneering comments were funny. Frank Discussion had a shirt where the heart in "I (heart) NY was replaced with an airplane speeding toward the "N" and "Y". He held up a lost dog notice at one point and said, "I’m not responsible for this one." After I left, they brought a punk veteran, who’s now confined to a wheelchair, onstage to sing their big song ("Jesus Entering from the Rear") with them. "1984" sounded great.

But when a band ridicules compromise and normality, but plays everything according to the rules of a genre they helped create, it just illustrates the dead end of much punk philosophy. Shock and denunciation can take us a certain distance but the tendency is just to up the dose rather than move in a direction that increases understanding and analysis. Revolution by rote is as useless for anarchist punks as it is for the "studied" sectarian revolutionaries that ’68 Paris students and ‘’80s punks rightly denounced.

*This was back when Gilman had open mike periods between bands and people were used to getting up and discussing the politics of the bands’ performances. Maybe that still happens today. I haven’t been to Gilman since 1994 or so and that was to see Aztlan Nation

**I do still love the record. check out http://www.brokenrekids.com/ to buy it or
http://www.feederz.com/ to mp3 it.
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