Sunday, April 15, 2012

Vice Squad -- "Britain Is Still Burning" (2006)

Stand up for the true punk rockers
They know what they wanna be!

You may think that punk rock died out years ago.  (Some of you no doubt hope that punk rock died out years ago.)

I've got news for you, boys and girls -- punk is very much alive.  2 or 3 lines knows this because it recently heard from some true punk rockers who are still kicking ass and taking names.  In fact, these guys are appearing this very night at the "Punk and Disorderly" festival in Berlin.  

Do you remember when Texas governor Rick Perry caught a major case of brain freeze during a Republican presidential candidates' debate last year?  Perry had promised to eliminate three federal cabinet-level departments if elected, but could only come up with the names of two of them when asked about that promise during the debate.

"I'm glad I had my boots on tonight," Perry told reporters later.  "I stepped in it out there."  (If you've ever lived on a dairy farm or cattle ranch, I'm sure you can guess what the "it" Perry was referring to is.)

Well, 2 or 3 lines stepped in it in its April 3 post about "Last Rocker" by Vice Squad.  Click here to read that post if you haven't read it already.  

You could say the whole thing started with the Who's Super Bowl XLIV halftime performance in 2010.  

I love the Who -- you could make a good case that the Who is the greatest rock band of all time.  But I cringed during that halftime show.

After all, the Who were a quintessential anti-establishment rock band.  If you believe (as I do) that the greatest rock songs are by angry young men (and women) who are rebelling against the powers that be, the band that is best known for its us-against-the-establishment songs like "My Generation" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" had no business on stage during the Super Bowl, performing for fat and semi-fat cats who paid an average of $2800 for their tickets, squeezing in an abbreviated medley of their greatest hits between commercials for Budweiser, Doritos, and  Plus Pete Townshend was almost 65 at the time, and Roger Daltrey was almost 66, which also bothered me.

Pete Townshend
After the Who's SuperBowl performance, Rolling Stone noted that many of its readers who watched the show agreed with me that the Who were well past their prime.  But others in the TV audience thought their performance was remarkably energetic.  One commenter thought it was great that the band was still "living the dream" and sharing their music with a new generation of fans.

Why did I insist on seeing the glass as half empty rather than half full when it came to the Who's performance?  Perhaps the obvious contrast between the Who now and the Who in their heyday in the late 1960s brought home the equally obvious contrast between me now (at age 59) and me in my heyday.  Let's face it, 2 or 3 lines -- you can't handle the truth!

Sexy grandpa Mick Jagger
I've been even more critical of the Rolling Stones, who have more money than God but continue to stage grandiose live tours despite the fact that they peaked 40 years ago and haven't come up with a decent new song in a very long time.   Mick Jagger will turn 69 this summer, and he has FOUR grandchildren, for cryin' out loud.  How in the world can he hope to still carry off "Get Off Of My Cloud" and "Street Fighting Man" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" like he did when I saw the Stones play at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City in the summer of 1973?

And if geezer-rockers like Mick Jagger and Pete Townshend look silly performing songs written by and for much younger versions of themselves -- "Hope I die before I get old" indeed! -- how much credibility could an aging punk rocker have?  Rock music may sneer at the establishment, but punk rock goes much further -- it kicks the establishment right in the bollocks and then breaks a beer bottle over its head.  

That's when my April 3 post stepped in it really good, opining that any self-respecting punk would have either died from a heroin overdose (like the late Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols) or asphyxiated on someone else's vomit (like the fictional Eric Childs of the equally fictional Spinal Tap) before reaching age 50.  I went for a cheap laugh by reducing punk rockers in general to a cartoonish stereotype of unwashed, drug- or alcohol-addled louts who couldn't play more than three chords on a guitar if their lives depended on it. 

I put a link to that post on Vice Squad's Facebook page -- I'm always looking for people to click on my ads -- where it got the attention of the band's guitarist, Paul Rooney.  I never contemplated that one of the band's members would actually read what I had written, but I guess I should have -- because Paul did read it.

Paul Rooney of Vice Squad
He not only read it, he wrote to me about it.  Not surprisingly, he was not happy about what I had said and he told me so.  I have to admit that he made some very valid points -- and made them in a very civil manner, I might add.  Mea culpa, Paul, mea culpa.  

Paul's comments reminded me that he and lead singer Beki Bondage and the rest of Vice Squad are not caricatures, but very real human beings.  They are still performing partly because that's how they make a living, but primarily because they are passionate about their music.

Here's part of what Paul had to say:

I have dedicated 30 years of my life to music and to have people knock down one's commitment in a few words is rather sad.  I have committed to music wholeheartedly and never sold out -- and I never had kids, a mortgage or a pension because I dedicated my life to my art form.

In the case of Vice Squad, we are in at the sharp end, carrying our own equipment, sweating away and struggling to pay the inflated London rents. We do everything 100% do-it-yourself, including recording and online sales, which generates a very modest living but is also very rewarding.

Vice Squad is not a hobby or a mindless bit of fun.  For Beki and me it has been many years of pure dedication and unwavering belief in punk music, so I hope you appreciate my upset on reading your blog.

Vice Squad
That last paragraph points out one very fundamental difference between Paul and me.  I write about music for fun -- it's not the way I pay the bills.  I haven't had to sacrifice a thing for 2 or 3 lines, while Paul has laid everything on the line for music.

Paul also had an interesting response to my dismissal of Jagger, Townshend, et al., as "geezer-rockers": 

I do understand the quandary about millionaires wheeling themselves on stage and whether it is a good idea or not.  Personally I think the fact that the bands I loved as a kid -- KISS, Aerosmith, Ramones, Motörhead -- are still doing it means that they must have the same love of performing as they certainly don't need the money.

With regard to older bands packing it in . . . what exactly would they do?  We do not know anything else but do know how to play -- that's how an artist grows and we are actually at the top of our game right now, which would not have happened if we had become normal 9-to-5 wage slaves.

Thinking about all this made me realize that there was a big hole in the position I had taken.  If there's something wrong about aging rockers performing music they wrote decades ago, isn't there something equally wrong about an aging rock music fan listening to and writing a blog about that music?  (Geezer-rockers, meet the geezer-blogger . . .)

Paul said that Vice Squad is "at the top of our game now," and I would certainly agree with his assertion that they "kick the ass of many teenage bands" after listening to their more recent albums.  Clearly they are more skilled musicians after the additional years of practicing and performing, and their life experience and greater understanding of the ways of the world have raised the level of their songwriting to a different level.

You've persuaded me, Paul.  And I'm glad to come around to your point of view.  Because if Vice Squad can be at the top of its game despite the fact that its members are not as young as they used to be, then 2 of 3 lines can be at the top of its game, too.

Paul was kind enough to share Punk Rock Radio, Vice Squad's latest album, with me.  And I'm going to be kind enough to share a song from that album with you in a future post.  

But today's post features "Britain Is Still Burning," a song from the group's 2006 album, Defiant.  

Click here to listen to "Britain Is Still Burning" -- you can use this link to download the song for free:

1 comment:

  1. That's some gracious crow eating Gary. Nice job. I've always really enjoyed seeing some of my favorite bands still hitting the stage.