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Mix Tapes From The Midwest:
Making Punk Month a Threat Again, Again

So you read the title of this column and you said – ‘What the hell is Punk Month?’ Let me try to explain it simply: in Aaron Cometbus’ novella-zine, Double Duce, he has this idea to have a month where he and his friends get back into the practice of being punks. This entails things like dancing at shows, hanging out on streetcorners, shaving their heads, and listening to all their records. You know, punk stuff. In February 2009, I decided to have a Punk Month, myself, because I needed to break the work-bar-cry myself to sleep routine I’d fallen into, and because I needed to remember why I fell in love with punk in the first place. It worked so well that every year since then, I’ve had a Punk Month.

I do it as a way to get myself out of any rut I may have fallen into. I do it so I have an excuse to work on all the projects I want to work on, and have all the adventures I want to have, and if I have to lose sleep to get it all done, I can say: “Screw sleep! You can sleep when Punk Month’s over!” I do it so if I’m feeling sorry for myself, I can summon the Undying Spirit of Punk Rock and say to myself: “Get over it and do something rad, or I’ll kick your ass.” Sometimes it winds up lasting more than a month. It doesn’t have an official start date, since it’s a made-up thing, but I always start it around the end of January or beginning of February, cos this is the time of year when I need something like this: a cure for the winter blues, a way to shake myself up.

I know, it’s totally silly – but if we can’t create our own silly traditions in this life, then what’s the point in living?

How does this column relate to it? Consider this a mix of anthems for Punk Month. Songs that make me feel furious, wild, young, and alive.

Check out Mix Tapes from the Midwest: The Podcast to hear a bunch of tracks that didn’t make it into the column, and stay tuned for my next column/podcast, which will be all about Wisconsin punk rock.

And when Punk Month’s over, I’ll start writing about other kinds of music again. Maybe.

Side A

1. Iggy & The Stooges – Search & Destroy

Iggy Pop. Iggy and The Stooges. They were punk before punk was even called that. They were glam, in a dirty way. They were metal, too. And they were from my ancestral homeland, Michigan. This song has one of the best guitar riffs of all time, and listen to Iggy’s scorched yowl:

I’m a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm / I’m a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb / I am a world’s forgotten boy / The one who searches and destroys

This one’s for: Feeling feral. Put on your cheetah-print pants, hide a switchblade in your boot, and go out prowling.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon

2. Circle Jerks – Wild In the Streets

Here’s a sinister tune from L.A. punk band the Circle Jerks. The drums are relentless, almost machine-like, and you can’t go wrong with Keith Morris’ knife-to-your-throat vocals.

’64 valiant, hand full of valiums / Couple of beers really do me right / You better believe us, better trust us / Teenage jive, walking wreck

This one’s for: Feeling like you’re in an ‘80s punk film. Walk down the street with all your weird-looking friends, scaring the normals.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon

3. X – We’re Desperate

One thing I love is bands with dual vocalists, especially when those vocalists have very different singing styles. That is one of the many reasons I love X –  Exene’s banshee-screech is the perfect counterpart to John Doe’s throaty bourbon-swilling croon. On “We’re Desperate,” you get to hear Exene and John Doe at their best, as well as Billy Zoom’s blistering pyschobilly guitar and DJ Bonebrake pounding away at the drums (particularly during the choruses).

I play too hard when I ought to go to sleep / They pick on me because I really got the beat / Some people give me the creeps / Every other week I need a new address / Landlord, landlord, landlord cleaning up the mess / Our whole fucking life is a wreck / We’re desperate, get used to it

This one’s for: Getting evicted, and/or reveling in the mess that is your life. Get drunk in the middle of the afternoon and break something.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon

4. Ashtray – Punk Rock Candy Mountain

More dual vocals, though these sound more like Blatz than they do like X. Davie and Sarah-Jane sound like they’re sneering as they sing. It’s not all spit and vinegar, though. This punk reworking of “Big Rock Candy Mountain” is silly and cute, too.

Well, the clubs, they are all ages / and the kids, they drink for free / There’s a lake of stew / and of whiskey, too / you can paddle all around ‘em in a big canoe / in the Punk Rock Candy Mountain

This one’s for: Dreaming of a punk utopia. Then, take some steps to make it a reality – put on a show in your town, or give copies of your zine away for free, or just buy a round of drinks for your pals.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon

5. The Replacements – Shiftless When Idle

In their early days, The Replacements were a punk band. They were already great musicians, but they were raw and angry back then, before they matured into a more polished, and, um, sadly beautiful sound. I love pretty much the entire ‘Mats catalog, but for Punk Month, nothing is better than this big Up Yours of a tune.

Everybody that’s on my block / They’re tired of me that ain’t no shock / And I ain’t got no idols / I ain’t got much taste / I’m shiftless when I’m idle / I got time to waste

This one’s for: Pissing off your neighbors. Leave a pile of cigarette butts on your porch and listen to your music so loud the windows rattle.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon

6. Dillinger Four – Q. How Many Punks Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?

Here’s another, more recent Minneapolis punk band, Dillinger Four. In this song, we get a little criticism of the punk scene – namely, of the kids who are just in it for the fashion, not the passion behind it. They’re not glorifying the past here, either – they tell us it was basically the same. Hey, you’ve gotta be able to be critical of the things you love. And though it’s critical, it’s fun as hell to sing along to.

A change of appearance, nothing more than adherence / the new you’s looking strangely like the old / I guess the more things change / the more they stay the same

This one’s for: Feeling disillusioned. Then, listen to the next song, and remember all the good things about punk, and about life.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon 

7. Cock Sparrer – Because You’re Young

Cock Sparrer have been around in some form or other since 1972, and they’re still at it. Impressive, eh? This tune is from Guilty as Charged, which wasn’t released until 1994, and is probably their best album. That’s even more impressive – to have your best work not even come about until you’ve already been a band for twenty-plus years. “Because You’re Young” is an anthem to top all other anthems. Oi! is good for that – solid, simple, rollicking beats that are equal parts rock’n’roll and drinking song. Raise your fist or your pint glass for this one.

Because you’re young, you’re torn between / A world of hate and a world of dreams / So much to lose, so much to gain / So much to fight for, so much to change / You don’t look back, you don’t look down / You gotta turn everything around / You live your life like a loaded gun / Because you’re young

This one’s for: Feeling young, whether you actually are or not. Ignore the authority figures in your life, whether they’re parents, bosses, or cops.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon

8. Generation X – Kiss Me Deadly

Billy Idol was my first celebrity crush as a child, as far as I can recall. I’m surprised my parents didn’t see that as a sign that I’d turn out a punk – or maybe they just didn’t wanna think about it. Of course, my childhood crush was on “White Wedding”-era Billy Idol; and I didn’t hear his punk band, Generation X, until close to a decade after that.

Kiss Me Deadly” – the opening chords can have me nearly in tears, if I’m in the right mood. Then the drums start, and the rest of the instruments blast in, and it becomes this loud and wild yet still beautifully melodic punk tune. Billy Idol’s vocals in this song have less of his signature sneer and more of a ragged edge. He was only 21, so very young, when Gen X formed, but in this song he sings like he’s already mythologizing a youth long since passed.

Seven o’clock they stand in rank / For the thirty bus uptown / And later in a downstairs room / She pulls her lover down / In ecstacy but they can’t make a sound / Case her mother might come down

This one’s for: Feeling nostalgic. Then, go out and have an adventure so you have something new to feel nostalgic about in the future.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon

9. World/Inferno Friendship Society – The Disarming Smile

World/Inferno has never been what one would call a ‘traditional’ punk band. They’ve incorporated elements of cabaret, klezmer, ska, calypso, and so many other genres, into their music; they’re kind of like an orchestra, or a circus…or a cult. Sartorially, they don’t look punk, either: you’ll find no studded belts or leather jackets on them, no, for them it’s more like ball gowns and tuxedos. To me, all of this makes them more punk than most punk bands around these days – because they do their own thing, and don’t follow the rules or trends.

Many of their songs would have fit in this column, but I chose this one (from their most recent album, The Anarchy and the Ecstasy) because it’s all about keeping on doing what you do, even if other people think it’s a fool’s errand.

You’ve got to never give up the joke, never fall down the stairs, soldier on, soldier boy, soldier on / There’s no man behind that curtain, this won’t work if you’re not certain, / soldier on, soldier boy, soldier on… / And if you quit, your only severance will be this scar, soldier on / Viper at my breast, twitch below my eye, soldier on, soldier on

This one’s for: Never giving up the joke, or the fight.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon

Side B

1. Bomb The Music Industry! – Stand There Until You’re Sober

I was sad when I found out BTMI! broke up. I’ll miss their goofy brand of super-sped-up geek-punk with synthesizers and drum machines, and their occasional horn section that never quite fit into the skapunk genre; I’ll miss Jeff Rosenstock‘s depressed/pissed off lyrics that were shouted over bars of music too short to contain them so that most BTMI! songs sound all breathless and bursting at the seams. And listening to them still makes me feel like I’m bursting at the seams of my torn up old hoodie.

“Stand There Until You’re Sober” is one of my personal anthems. At first I thought it was a little too gloomy for Punk Month but then I thought – “Nah, Punk Month doesn’t mean never feeling bad, it just means dealing with your bummer mood in a punk rock way.” Such as listening to this song.

I’ll make you party at my funeral / ‘Cause mourning is for suckers. / I’ll rent a ferris wheel and / cotton candy machine and have open bar / with all the Pabst that you can drink / the PA blasting my Clash records. / You’ll finally know that life’s okay / Even when bad things happen. / So just one more beer, then grow up. / So just one more beer, then grow up. / So just one more beer. / Go to work. / Pay your bills. / Eat a dick. / One more beer, THEN grow up.

This one’s for: Getting too drunk and missing all your friends and feeling like you failed to mature into a real adult. Then drink one more beer. Then grow up.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes

2. Against Me! – Armageddon

The last Against Me! album I purchased was As the Eternal Cowboy (. I’ve heard some of their newer stuff, but it just doesn’t speak to me the way their old stuff does. I think Laura Jane Grace is an amazing woman, but I miss the days when they were less polished; I miss when they did a lot of acoustic stuff yet still managed to sound punk as hell.

“Armageddon” (which is listed on The Acoustic EP as “Untitled”), is one of my top five favorite Against Me! songs. The guitar chugs like a freight train or a semi truck, and Laura growls an impassioned plea to the gods of the open road. It makes me restless as all get out; maybe it’ll make you restless, too.

From Hoboken to L.A. / From Portland to Gainesville / From the great plains to Niagara / Route 66 straight to California / Electric lights carry the night / We move in 4/4 time / On our feet on wheels and in the sky / Yes we’re going, cause we’d die if we stayed here / And those dying dreams will carry what’s good and real and pure / And the rest can burn in hell

This one’s for: Getting in your car and driving until the gas runs out, or getting on your bike and pedaling until you can’t pedal any more, or hopping on a train and riding it ‘til it stops.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon

3. Mischief Brew – Punx Win! (Acoustic Version)

Mischief Brew are pretty much the best folkpunk band in existence. Their songs run the gamut from acoustic Woody Guthrie-style folk, to punk that samples from musical styles and instruments from the around the world, to pure ragers of punk fury. Check out their most recent album, The Stone Operation – it has fine examples of all that they’re capable of, though it does lean more toward the loud, brash punk stuff, which is of course not a bad thing at all.

I suppose I could have chosen one of their more raucous songs as an anthem for Punk Month, but dammit, I just love this acoustic version of “Punx Win!” so much. This song, it’s not even folkpunk. It’s a straight up folk song that just happens to be about punk stuff. I think that makes it all the more poignant.

so, I collect these crumpled, / beer-stained flyers, / seven-inches, photographs, / all your old letters that remind me / to look down and back. / it’s then I realize our romance / has its roots in one Subhumans patch.

This one’s for: Digging out all your scene-related ephemera (flyers, photos, zines, etc.) and feeling sweetly melancholy. Alternately, it’s for exploring a town you’ve never been to before and talking to someone just cos they’re wearing a patch for a band you like.

Listen: via YouTube

4. The Queers – Fuck This World

You didn’t think you were going to get through this column without some pop punk popping up, did you? If you’ve been reading my column for any length of time at all, you know that I’m a pop punk nerd for life. A-whoah-oh.

So here’s some bratty pop punk from The Queers, about how much life sucks, but it doesn’t even matter cos you’re gonna hang out with someone you really like.

Me and you will walk around so pointlessly / Smashing things, jacked up on way too much caffeine / I’m really going nowhere / I hate this shitty life / Fuck the world I’m hanging out with you tonight

This one’s for: Hanging out with your crush or even a close friend, walking around your town, being obnoxious.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon

5. Descendents – Coffee Mug

Speaking of being jacked up on way too much caffeine…no mix of anthems for Punk Month would be complete without a song about coffee. And if I’m gonna include a song about coffee, it has to be by the Descendents. Cos they love coffee. They’re obsessed with coffee. They NEED coffee.

And here’s their 35-second-short-fast-caffeinated ode to it.

I don’t need no booze or drugs / I just chug-a-lug-o my coffee mug / And i don’t need your kiss and hug / I just chug-a-lug-o my coffee mug / They haven’t banned my liquid drug of choice / There’s too many hooked and they’ve got too much voice / So for the moment we’re all pretty good to go / With 98 cups and 98 more to go

This one’s for: Drinking coffee, obviously. (And don’t forget the “All-O-Gistics” – Thou Shalt Not Partake of Decaf)

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon

6. Smoking Popes – Brand New Hairstyle

Before they became more popular, and poppier, the Smoking Popes actually had a bit more of a punk/rock sound. There were signs of what was to come, but there was also something more unrestrained and unhinged than any of their later work had.

Though this song isn’t about a serious topic, I feel it’s important. Having a hairstyle that make you feel awesome is a necessity, especially during Punk Month. And sonically, this is just a really good tune. It has a great frantic guitar riff, and the guitar and bass play off each other like a debate.

I’m tired of caring about / What other people say / My hair is on my head / My hair is mine

This one’s for: Cutting, coloring, or styling your hair into whatever weird configuration you want it in – and not caring what other people think about it.

Listen: via iTunes

7. Minor Threat – Good Guys (Don’t Wear White)

I could have chosen a mile-a-minute us-versus-them Minor Threat song to include in this column, such as “Out of Step” or “I Don’t Wanna Hear It.” Those are excellent songs, to be sure. Instead, I chose their cover of “Good Guys (Don’t Wear White),” which was written by Ed Cobb and made famous by The Standells. Why? Well, because I think it’s important to question capitalist ideas about who’s good and who’s bad – being rich doesn’t make someone a better person. You could also think about it in the context of punk: someone with dirty, patched-up pants and green hair isn’t inherently any worse (or better) than someone in a polo shirt and khakis.

Also, it may not be hardcore like their other stuff, but Ian MacKaye’s snarling shout is still perfectly defiant.

Good guys bad guys which is which? / The white collar worker or digger in the ditch / Man who’s to say who’s the better man / I’m always doing the best I can

This one’s for: Feeling like a good guy (or gal, or person), no matter what you look like or what your financial situation is.

Listen/Purchase: Amazon

8. Bikini Kill – New Radio

Bikini Kill were a great band. They weren’t ‘a great riot grrrl band’ or ‘a great punk band.’ They were a great band, period. Sure, they sang about angry, fucked-up girl stuff that not many people sung about before that, and that was crucial. But they also had Billy Karren’s grinding guitar, Kathi Wilcox’s thrumming bass work, Tobi Vail’s nonstop drums, and of course, Kathleen Hanna’s killer wail.

This tune makes me wanna say unf. It’s sexy and nasty. It struts and shrieks. It bites.

I’m the little girl at the picnic / Who won’t stop pulling her dress up / It doesn’t matter who’s in control now / It doesn’t matter cause this is new radio

This one’s for: Kissing your crush. And/or, feeling like a bad ass babe.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes

9. 7 Seconds – Young Till I Die

So let me tell you something – 7 Seconds were not a sXe band, though they often got lumped into that. Sure, they were against substance dependence, and Kevin Seconds still maintains a drug/alcohol/cigarette-free lifestyle – but he has also said that he found sXe as a movement just a little too strict.

What they were was a melodic, positive (or ‘posi’) hardcore band (or, as they once called themselves, ‘hardcore New Wave,’ which doesn’t even make any sense and that’s kinda why I love it). They were also a lot of fun.

This song is a loud-fast-rules, yet still melodic, tune, with a gang chorus. Though I do drink, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment of this song.

I don’t wanna grow up, / I’m never getting old. / I’d rather work from 9 to 5 / Than drink to stay alive. / I’m gonna stay young until I die!

This one’s for: Never growing up. Growing up is for suckers. Peter Pan ain’t got nothing on us.

Listen/Purchase: iTunes / Amazon

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