Peace Punks NOT Dead!

Flying the Anti-Flag

He kicked around in various bands, but always ones with a political bent. At one gig, a gaggle of skinheads showed up—American-flag jackets, no necks, the whole bit, but too stupid to notice that Justin was onstage singing about overthrowing the state. "It was very frustrating," he says. "I didn't want there to be any confusion as to what the band was about, which is why we named ourselves Anti-Flag."

Anti-Flag, meaning, in Justin's mind, anti-nationalism, anti-blind patriotism, anti-division. But not, as he'll point out to you, anti-American.

"Our name means that we're pro-positive change, pro-making a difference for the better."

Realistically, though, calling for change and revolution—whether it's from a stage or from a round piece of plastic—is one thing; implementing those beliefs is quite another. "Unless things get really horrible, people aren't going to rise up and take over the government," Justin says. "It would take even me a lot to get to that point. But I do believe there could be a cultural revolution, a revolution in the way that people think—just the idea that people should care more about one another would be a really good first step. There's such a horrible attitude of me-me-me in our country."

Which is what the New Kind of Army track "The Consumer's Song," maybe the album's best tune, touches on. Different from Anti-Flag's usual menu of hard-fast-loud punk, the song has Justin, armed only with his Les Paul, coming off like a spiky-haired Woody Guthrie, throwing down biting lines against big-business downsizing ("Go ahead and be the corporate stooge that they trained you to be/ And then you'll see what you get for your loyalty") and empty-headed, uninformed mass consumerism ("But the fact, my friend, that you don't see/Is the money you spend on the goods they make/Supports their methods of abuse on the Third World scene/And in your very own back yard, yes, your country").

"When you're not thinking about where you're buying your products and who is suffering so you can have another pair of Nikes you don't need—that's what that song is about, the idea of caring about people other than yourself and not just about what's going on immediately in front of you."

Ultimately, Justin says he sees himself and Anti-Flag more as educators than punk rockers.

"And it's not an easy job, especially in punk," he says. "As soon as somebody puts themselves on the line with any kind of message, people want to shoot you down—people don't attack bands who sing songs about girls. But I'm willing to do it. It's so inspiring when we get mail from kids who say that we made a difference for them, and I think that's what we're shooting for. I think if people can make a change in themselves and slowly pass that change along to other people, if we can educate people in that way, I think that could really help."

Anti-Flag perform with the Criminals, Pinhead Circus and the Atomic Bombs at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067; www.allages.com. Fri., 7:30 p.m. $8. All ages.
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