Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Avengers -- "The American In Me" (1979)



Ask not what you can do for your country
What's your country been doing to you?

Most of you are no doubt familiar with the line from John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural speech, which is turned on its head by the lines quoted above:  "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."  Kennedy's assassination was obviously the inspiration for the first two lines of this song:

It's the American in me that makes me watch the blood
Running out of the bullet hole in his head

This post is the last in my series of posts about songs I heard on WHFS's "Mystic Eye" program 30 years ago.  That's because "The American In Me" is the ne plus ultra song of that era -- trying to top it would be like Chuck Berry trying to top his opening act, Jerry Lee Lewis, who set his piano on fire.  (Some of the other "Mystic Eye" songs I've written about are somewhat frivolous.  But there's nothing light-hearted or tongue-in-cheek here.  The Avengers were not kidding around.)  

There's another reason to make this the final "Mystic Eye" post.  I stopped listening to (and recording) that program because I moved to San Francisco in 1980.  In San Francisco, I started listening to (and recording) a Pacifica radio program that featured hardcore punk bands.  (I plan to do a series of posts on the very obscure music played on the Pacifica program some day.) 

One of the hosts of the Pacifica program was Jello Biafra, the lead singer of the Dead Kennedys and arguably American hardcore punk's biggest name.  (According to his Wikipedia entry, Jello Biafra -- whose real name was Eric Boucher -- attended UC-Santa Cruz, where he "studied acting and the history of Paraguay.")  Many of the bands featured on that program played at the Mabuhay Gardens, a Filipino restaurant and nightclub on North Beach that became the center of San Francisco's hardcore scene -- sort of a West Coast equivalent of CBGB.  Among the regulars at "The Fab Mab" was the Avengers.

So this song bridges my "Mystic Eye" era and my San Francisco sojourn.  Actually, there's a chance that I first heard this song on the Pacifica program instead of on "Mystic Eye."  But I don't think so.  (I'm going to have to go down in my basement and start digging around in boxes that haven't been opened in 25 years if I want to know for sure.)

Before we get back to the Avengers, here's a video of the Dead Kennedys' biggest hit, "Holiday in Cambodia" -- preceded by a clip from the movie Apocalypse Now.


The Avengers were formed in 1977.  On the strength of a 3-song EP and their Mabuhay garden appearances, they were chosen to open for the Sex Pistols' final show at Bill Graham's Winterland Ballroom.  Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols then produced the band's eponymous (there's that word again!) EP, which included "The American In Me."

A couple of the band's original members (including singer Penelope Houston) re-formed the band after the release of a compilation CD in 1999.  In 2006, they performed "The American In Me" with Pearl Jam at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.  


"The American In Me" is a startling song -- a real kick in the you-know-whats for anyone who lived through the Kennedy assassination.  It is anti-government from a leftist conspiracy-theory sort of viewpoint (another of its lines is "Kennedy was murdered by the FBI!"), as opposed to being anti-government from a right-wing Tea Party perspective.  Punk/rock music should be anti-government, of course . . . also anti-parent and anti-teacher.   

Without further ado, here's a video of the Avengers doing 'The American In Me" back in the day.  This video combines a live performance with video of the JFK assassination and other TV footage from that era.  (I think this is the version of the song I recorded 30 years ago.)


Here's video of the song being performed at the Mabuhay Gardens:


Here's Pearl Jam doing the song in 2004:


And here's Penelope Houston doing the song with Pearl Jam in 2006.  (Warning: the video/audio quality of this is very poor.)


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