Are the kids all right? Because Good Riddance would like them to be. They'd like the kids to do a little more than just slip their new album, Symptoms of a Leveling Spirit, into one of those velcro-tab CD cases next to the rest of their slick poppy-punk albums (next to basically every other band on Good Riddance's Fat Wreck Chords label, actually) and tepidly rock out the next time Mom lets them take the SUV with the 100-disc changer to the mall. Instead, they'd kind of like the kids to think a little bit. Sure, as political punk goes, Good Riddance is pretty cute 'n' cartoony in comparison with, say, Nausea or Christ on a Crutch or Capitalist Casualties, but maybe they think that'll help them penetrate a teenage demographic insulated by television, corporate radio and excessive homework. Maybe they think cute will help them get their message—of political awareness and social consciousness—into the mellowed-out brains of people like my roommate, whom I made sit down with me and listen to their whole CD—just to see if a change was really gonna come.
My Roommate: Is NOFX on Fat Wreck Chords? OC Weekly: Yes, they started it. Are you coloring a dime with a Sharpie?
Is the record making you do that?
Because they're so critical of capitalism and consumerism, with lyrics like, "Just live to work and then expire/Keep your mouth shut and you might retire/Stretched far beyond your means/Pledge allegiance to the corporate machines"?
Are you politically aware yet?
No. They just make me think that anyone can make it.
That's what punk bands are supposed to do. [. . .] Okay, this song, "Enter the Unapproachables," is about people who build walls to keep themselves isolated from other people.
Shut up. Do you relate to this at all?
No, we don't even have any doors inside our apartment [just curtains between rooms—ed.].
Does this music make you want to break down those walls of isolation and cram yourself into a room with a bunch of other sweaty guys, all yelling the same slogans together?
Shut up. Do you think their formula of catchy songs and thoughtful lyrics, much like the approach used by their label mates Propaghandi, is an effective way to reach people?
Okay, whatis a good way to reach you?
More effects on their guitar pedals.
You know, I think youdo put up a lot of walls. You're afraid to let this music mean something to you.
It's gotta be catchy.
This is catchy.
The singer can't sound so scary.
He doesn't sound scary; he sounds small and whiny even though, judging from these photos, he's really a big, blond, beefy guy who likes to wear hockey jerseys. Okay, this song is called "The Great Leap Forward." It talks about Marx and Lenin.
Are these guys communists?
Maybe. Would you like them better if they were? How could they make this so you would like it?
Not talk about the government.
How come you don't want to hear about the government?
I come into this apartment to get away from life, not to have it thrown back at me through music. I like happy songs.
You don't like songs where they say, "Genocide a new class warfare/Drop dead because freedom's a cancer"?
I don't like anti-patriotic songs.
Shut up. Is this making you think yet?
No, I wasn't paying attention. I don't pay attention to lyrics.
Do you want to read the lyrics yourself?[hands over lyrics]
Okay, skip ahead . . . next one.
[We skip ahead to a song called "Trial of the Century."] "What does it mean when you're 16/And the world's a cold and lonely place?"
This reminds me of when I was a fat kid. I was 16, and it was cold because I lived in Virginia.
Didn't the fat keep you warm?
How did you become fat?
I was born that way.
I used to be kind of fat in elementary school because they'd feed us all-you-can-eat bologna sandwiches, but then I got skinny again.
My mom used to leave a lot of cake lying around. God, I wish we had that kind of food now. There'd always be cake lying around, or she'd make you eggs every morning. . . .
Can you relate to the alienation they sing about because you used to be fat?
But I wasn't alienated.
You were popular and fat? How did you work that? Were you just jolly?
I made people laugh. That was my defense.
So do you think the political art they're attempting here is something that can ever practically work, or is it sound in theory but unrealistic in application?
Not with singing. Maybe if they had pictures.
I like pictures.
It's an enhanced CD; let's look at that.
This is pretty HB bro music.
But they're way more intellectual than that.
I don't know about that.
[We put the CD in the computer and begin watching a video of the band cheerfully playing their songs.] They look so happy.
Of course they're happy. How can you be mad at the government when you're making money off them?
But they aren't making money off the government. They make money off people like you.
No, they make money off songs that make fun of the government.
So you're saying they owe the government because if the government wasn't such a mess, they wouldn't have anything to make songs about?
Yeah. Like if we were all communists. . . .
Like if we had a government they were satisfied with, they'd have to find something else to do with their lives?
Yeah. I don't like people who complain.
Shut up. How about this? [Now there's another video about a lovelorn fat guy eating ice cream. Later, some fashionable punk rock girls are mean to him.]
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Yeah, I like Dairy Queen.
Are you having fat flashbacks? Did fashionable punk rock girls used to be mean to you?
No, actually some girl wanted to have sex with me. I was really surprised.
Good Riddance perform with Missing 23rd, Downway and Audio Crush at Chain Reaction, 1652 Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067; www.allages.com. Sat., 7:30 p.m. $10. All ages.