By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Do not be alarmed as America bounces down the back of its bell curve. Besides the cheap thrills of a bumpy downhill ride, you can now enjoy the security of a definite destination—the bottom—and some familiar scenery: basically, everything we saw out the windows on the way up. The new Manifest Destiny is a mandate to help natural entropy drill this once-country all the way down to the zeroes and the side effect is that everyone gets to know for sure the future, which is actually just the past returned for a second swing around. The Circle Jerks put out Group Sex in 1980, but 2006 is just about 1983—allowing a little distortion in the calculations—so it's completely fine they are still around and playing. It's not that things haven't changed; it's that they changed back.
The Circle Jerks were a much cruder Cassandra band than down-PCH South Bay fellows like the Minutemen, but that also made them much more enduring—the Minutemen were so bound to their own personalities that there could never be any duplication, and the Circle Jerks were basically franchise-model rock & roll available to anyone who cared to make the initial investment (Group Sex CD, running $6.99 on half.com at press time). They made one really good record and a few good loose tracks, but mostly they were so simple and cheap to run (bass/git/vox/drums is a rock band at its most basic; everyone has one thing to do and they do it) that they weren't ever going to go away. "Back Against the Wall" was supposed to be a bad thing, the way Keith Morris sang it, but there's a certain solidity to that kind of position, too: a band that couldn't be moved at all.
And now the world is moving back to meet them—stopped clock getting its second chance to be correct. "Paid Vacation" ("It's not Vietnam/it's just an oil company scam!") is so generically topical that it registers more as an indictment of unimaginative government than wide-open songwriting; "I Don't Care" is suburban hardcore's "Gloria"; "Live Fast Die Young" is suburban hardcore's "That's Amore" and "World Up My Ass" is suburban hardcore's "Star Spangled Banner," a statement of identity as penned by a pitbull with a Mogen-David hangover. They found some ugly shotgun timelessness there—not the kind of private connections you can still get from Minutemen or the crazier era of Black Flag, but a cross-eyed mass-applicable schizo spasm of violence and confusion and misunderstood desperation, primal baby-brain impulses sped up and amplified to incoherence. Sounds fresher than the webcast news: "Bodies burning/people die!"
Naturally, that kind of thing has always been true, but it's the way that Keith spiked repulsion with relish as he said it that keeps his own particular moment alive. And it's the way that 26 years later that same note is still sustaining, a weird validation not really of punk but of everything that punk singers loved to hate—a band and the world they left in 1980 now back for a perfect fit. It's funny that they actually played a famous show with Chuck Berry because they inherited about half his position: the voice of not just young America but of America itself, one of those medium-possession cases where the monster speaks through the man. In more distant times, America liked "Johnny B. Goode" enough to attach it to a spacecraft as a representative achievement of our civilization—that was actually the peak of rock & roll, if you ever wondered. But back on earth, tunes was changing: "You yell out in defiance/you back up against the wall/they're up there clutching their guns, man/makes you feel real small!"
THE CIRCLE JERKS WITH AMERIKAN MADE AND UNIT F AT THE BRIGG, 17208 PACIFIC COAST HWY., HUNTINGTON BEACH, (562) 592-2200. FRI., 9 P.M. CALL FOR COVER. 21+.