By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
You don't need a war to stir up a band that gives a shit: yeah, Vietnam got us the MC5, but Thatcher and Reagan did as much or more for rebel art with sheer incomprehensible force of personality (adrenalized, of course, with a few hamfisted police actions and notoriously tender regard for social services). We had the Minutemen write political songs for Michael Jackson to sing; we had the Clash ask us who needs remote control. We had the Dead Kennedys' jet-turbine falsetto to counterpoint all those prime-time cold-war Emergency Broadcast System tests. And now? The bombing began five minutes ago; so, um, does anyone have any requests?
The crust-core bands—if they got their lyrics from real life, instead of just the insert in the Antischism discography—are probably already in jail for civil disobedience right now, wiggling around their plastic cuffs enough to get circulation back into their guitar-picking hand. And so it's up to the rest of us to give the shits they would have given and more, to stand up and be counted instead of just giving a count-off. Or so we'd hope, anyway: the mass media drones loud and long down the front and center, but somebody has to pick up the chorus from the fringe. And the punk bands are supposed to get us started.
Tonight, no one has more than a word or two to say about the war—maybe, "Did you hear?" Which, we figure, is acceptable. We don't have much to say, either: frustrated, scrounging change for beer, trying to talk to girls and thinking about World War III, and waiting on the debut night of Operation Valiant Pariah to see Oakland's Fleshies, our first band during wartime.
Singer John Anglo Tango (he changes his name every tour, like the Dead Milkmen; we liked Johnny No Moniker) has only one shtick, but it's masterful: he's part slapstick-y dope, part misunderstood genius, as at ease with fucking shit up as he is with Foucault (he's a professor's kid—'nuff said). And he has an uncanny knack for sizing things up: Fleshies wrote "Fire Bad, No Doors" months before Great White made that a little less—or, with time, a little more—funny. But sometimes he's too good. Who knew that when Cassandra came back, she'd be a dorky white guy from the suburbs of Berkeley? And that her band would be so HARD RAWK? And that even though it's really fun to drink beer and throw the empty cups at the band and watch the singer seizure around the barroom floor, all it takes is one too-right-on lyric to pop that happy little bubble and make you realize there's not much of an escape left in escapism?
"We'll see the sun tomorrow, gleaming out from behind the smoke/The pigeons will make their rounds/There will be screams from your TV/Someone you know may die, and the grass will still grow," John sings, splayed out on his back in a muck of beer, staring cockeyed into the ceiling lights. "There will be no apocalypse, but things will get worse."
WORSE. We wonder. Our friends—who are pretty meek little guys—got dragged off a sidewalk and arrested by the hundreds in San Francisco, we saw a motorcycle cop hit a girl on Sunset back in February, we duck and cover at a protest when something loud suddenly pops in the middle of the crowd (turns out someone slashed the CBS news truck's tires—score one for alt.-media!). How ugly are things going to get, and what are you—what are we—going to do about it? Fleshies have a song about that, too, and they play it tonight without anyone even asking, letting it build meekly out of the clatter and the ragged tuning-fork hum that ends every Fleshies song.
It's good to roll around to, but it's good to listen to the lyrics, too; that's actually what Fleshies do best. It's called "Big Green Teeth"; it's Billy Bragg's "Pict Song" gone Patty-Hearst-and-the-SLA, and it's about starting small ("Neutron bomb! It's one atom that clears nature's plate," sings John). And it ends with John up on a pool table, keening "I DON'T CARE!" back at his band, one hand slipping after a fluorescent light as he tries to keep his balance—but it's not I-don't-care as easy-way-out, it's I-don't-care as all the roiling frustration everybody who doesn't want this war is getting a heat rash from, it's I-don't-care as a flaming sword through the TV set and the riot cops and the State of the Union address. It's a good song, we think: "I may seem small; I may seem insignificant! I don't care! I have not yet begun to exist!" Now would be a good time for a lot more like it.