I did an interview last weekend with Todd and Kat from Razorcake and they were both very gracious and intelligent. Kat brought me a record she was involved with called "Let's Get Rid of L.A." which is kind of a nod to the old Randoms song (substitute N.Y. for L.A.) and the "Yes L.A." Dangerhouse comp at the same time, but the title is more than a passing reference. It's a way of acknowledging the past and moving forward. Todd brought me some issues of Razorcake and a copy of his own book, "Born To Rock." Kat mentioned to me how glad she was to find that I was a fan of The Gossip, since they're one of her favorites too. Reading through Razorcake later on, I found many of my own feelings and values mirrored in the writing. It'd be so easy to think that punk was really dead if you just watched MTV or listened to mainstream radio.
You don’t often hear older generation punks like me praising the efforts of young punk bands. The attitude of my age group tends to be one of “been there, done that” or “yeah, that was cool - when (insert old timey band name here) did it first, twenty five years ago.” It's difficult to explain to someone who didn't live through the mid-seventies punk explosion what it was like. For me, the Ramones and punk rock literally changed my world. When the tightly knit L.A. punk scene splintered and disintegrated around the time of the filming of The Decline of Western Civilization, it was as if a soap bubble we'd been blowing for the last three years had suddenly burst. No wonder so many of us think of that era as a moment frozen in time. But punk didn't die when that scene ended, though we might've felt that way. Punk evolved and survived. It didn't stay the same, nor should it have. As Todd Taylor writes, "History used correctly is a springboard."
Part of the reason I'm so resistant to performing old Bags tunes is because I feel that those songs were already done by a younger, better version of Alice Bag. I say better because I'm not the same person I was twenty years ago. I was angrier then and The Bags was an angry, confrontational band. Like most people, I like to listen to my favorite old songs, but I'm not into nostalgia. I'd much rather sing about something that's relevant to me now, today. That something might be my frustration with household chores or my anger at the muzzling of dissenting opinion in our country. But it will have personal meaning for me or I probably won't sing it.
For me, punk has always been more of an attitude than a fashion or a style of music. Seeing the Germs inspired me to get onstage because they had the nerve to play with the Weirdos at the Orpheum, despite their almost complete lack of musical ability. I guess that's why I still get such a charge out of young bands. Beginning musicians often are not sure of what they can and can’t get away with. They’re young enough to wear their influences on their sleeves and not feel self conscious, brave enough to try something that could easily fail. They feed off the audience’s energy in ways that more experienced performers don’t, since older performers tend to know what works and what doesn’t from years of experience. Young performers can be fearless in the way kids are and older people usually aren't. It's why seeing the Dresden Dolls in concert recently was so much more exhilarating for me than seeing PJ Harvey and Patti Smith in the weeks before and after. The Dolls weren't better than, just more exciting than. I love Patti Smith and I wouldn't be who I am today without her but for me, nothing will top the experience of seeing her for the first time at the Roxy in 1976 when she rewrote all the rules of what a woman rocker could be and do.
Speaking of not doing old Bags songs, I hope that those of you in L.A. will come see my band, Stay At Home Bomb, perform with The Gears, Thee Undertakers and Plastic Letters tonight *Thursday* at the Echo in Silverlake. Click here for more details.
No Bags songs, guaranteed or your money back!