It's All A Blur

Agent Oranges Mike Palm is happier now

"But most of those punk bands back then were taken advantage of," Palm continues, "and we were no exception."

That's being kind. To this day, Palm is still dealing with the bad choices he made when he was young and naive. That bad deal he made as an 18-year-old with Fields came back to haunt him in 1994, when Fields submitted a claim against Epitaph, then the Offspring's label. The claim sought a penny-per-album royalty for the band's alleged lifting of a key surf-guitar riff from Agent Orange's Palm-penned "Bloodstains" for the Offspring's "Come Out and Play." The Offspring told Fields to drop dead; Fields never filed a suit.

But the brief legal fight seemed to drag on; to Palm, it must seem like a tin can tied to his trousers. "This comes up all the time in interviews, and I can't say I don't care because of course I do," he says. And so he patiently explains his side of things: he had nothing to do with filing the claim but didn't disagree with it. "I could show you interviews in which [the Offspring's front man] Dexter Holland outright admits that he took that riff from my song and used it in his song," Palm asserts. "In the rap world, when something like that is taken as a sample, they pay for it the same way I pay for guitar strings and picks."

What might have remained a minor disagreement between intelligent people became big news when the Offspring talked about Fields' claim on MTV. "They were saying that I was out to sue them," Palm recalls. Important distinctions—it was Fields, not Palm; it was a claim, a kind of request, not a lawsuit—were lost on most. "Some punk kid's perception of that is to think that I'm the bad guy," Palm says. "But they don't understand that the Offspring are millionaires and I'm just trying to retain whatever little tiny thing is mine."

The petty feuding raged on. A year later, the Vandals released an album on Holland's Nitro label that included a song called "Aging Orange." The tune was a pointed attack on Palm ("I'm Palm-Palm head, and I wrote one good song/But that was almost 20 years ago," it began), reaming him for what they saw as an brazen attempt to take money from punk upstarts.

"I thought the song was lame and out of line," Palm says now. "You think there was some ass-licking going on there?"

When told that the new Agent Orange and Vandals albums share the same Aug. 29 release date, Palm can only roll his eyes. "Great," he says. "Maybe we should all have one big party."

In an odd twist, the Offspring covered "Bloodstains" outright this year for the soundtrack of the film Ready to Rumble. "It's great that they recorded 'Bloodstains,' but it doesn't help me personally," Palm says, playing Willie Dixon to the Offspring's Led Zeppelin. "Sometimes I feel like an old black bluesman who got ripped off."

That Palm can still make music despite the headaches is something of a marvel. And there is new music to talk about, albeit not entirely new. Greatest & Latest is the band's first album in four years, but for the most part, it's a re-recording of older catalog material. The few exceptions are "Message From the Underworld" (a Weirdos cover) and two new songs, "What's the Combination?" and "It's All A Blur."

Palm says he has already gotten a lot of feedback about "Blur," in which he wrote about all the people who constantly approach him with not exactly accurate stories about Agent Orange's old days. "You'd be amazed at the number of people who remember these things that never happened," he says. "Riots, shows, crazy stuff. How do you tell somebody like that that they're wrong and it didn't happen? You just don't because in their minds, it did. That's the lyric 'No one knows what happened because every story fades with time.' And it's true."

While it seems strange for a band whose creative output has been relatively small to re-record an album's worth of old songs, Palm says he's got some good creative reasons to do so, basically improving on what he feels were inferior original takes. "The way it was with the punk bands back then, everyone wanted to record things pretty cheaply," he says. "I was never happy with the original energy level or the sound quality. Those original Agent Orange songs were great for their time, but they don't really hold up. Sure, these are old songs, but I don't think of them that way. They're played better now, with a fresher approach. For people who haven't heard us before, I don't think I'd want them to start by going back to the beginning—for a young kid just getting into punk rock, I'd hope they would pick this up first because this is what the band sounds like now."

With Greatest & Latest, you get a sense that it's also Palm's little way of somehow reclaiming songs he had lost. "A lot of people will say these songs are classics and that they shouldn't have been messed with," he says. "And in a sense, that's true—Living In Darkness is a classic; that's why it's still in print and people still buy it. If you want to go back and hear what the band sounded like at its inception, you can—I'm just saying that if you want to know what Agent Orange sounds like in the year 2000, this is a perfect example."

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