Duck!October 8, 2009
The day Gimme Something Better: the profound, progressive, and occasionally pointless history of Bay Area punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day arrived, it took every bit of willpower I had to go to class. I did my best Jean Grey impression and threw myself out the door before I could succumb to temptation. So naturally I spent the whole class thinking about the book.
I admit I was mostly interested because they promised to talk about Green Day. That will always get my attention. This time, though, I was determined to start at the beginning. It was time to learn the history of the scene that spawned my favorite band properly. I dug in.
And found myself in the kind of delightful mayhem that happens every time the teacher leaves the room. Paper planes and spitballs everywhere. Everybody had their own ideas, and everybody was chucking them at the nearest person who would listen. Sometimes they aimed at a kid across the room, just to keep things interesting. They spent a whole chapter extolling the virtues of Flipper only to end it with Kriss X saying “I still think that they are the worst band on the planet”. That’s punk; you never know what’s coming until it has already hit you.
My favorite part was the debate about punk entering the mainstream. I’ve always had mixed feelings about it, because while I respect people who want to keep it underground and “pure,” I would never have found punk if it hadn’t come crashing into the limelight. When you live in a one record store town, you’re mostly stuck with what they sell. Since they want to make money, what they sell are the popular albums. The megastar bands. They wouldn’t know who Crimpshrine was if a copy of Sleep, what’s that? fell out of the sky and onto a sales rack. I don’t want to take anything away from the underground scene. I just love it when they choose to share. The quote from Noah Landis on page 392 says it beautifully: “And to see the world finally catch up, desperate for music that makes you feel something, music with emotion, honesty, truth and aggression. These feelings that are undeniable in every young person born on the planet, especially people who have had to-god forbid-live through hard shit. The world finally caught up to that and wanted some”. Amongst the pitfalls and pratfaces of the mainstream are people who have been waiting to hear punk their whole lives, whether they know it or not. Then they get a taste and it resonates. It forms a connection that can’t easily be shrugged off. Think of it this way: you either give people a chance at punk or you condemn them to a wasteland of Top 40 radio stations. That’s just mean.
Gimme Something Better is as crazy, vibrant, and mildly horrifying as the music it is devoted to. It’s a free-for-all in the best possible sense. Go ahead and ignore class to read it. Just hide if a teacher is coming.