ArticlePDF Available

Living the Punk Life in Green Bay, Wisconsin: Exploring Contradiction in the Music of NOFX

Authors:

Abstract

This article studies song lyrics from three mid-period songs written and performed by Californian punk band NOFX. I discuss NOFX's skilful exploration of contradiction in the three selected songs, two of which are character studies of a single young male individual. The questions that the songs pose in true dialectical fashion (but do not definitively answer) include: Is it possible to maintain the carefree existential existence of the archetypal punk rocker in the face of the constraints imposed by suburban life and the voices of middle-class moderation? Can a Jewish gang in Fairfax, Los Angeles simultaneously affirm group self-identity, defend its turf, and practise its (marginalized) religion? Can a young man enjoy Christianity because it makes his life ‘seem less insane’ whilst simultaneously taking control of his life and not being a Christian sheep? NOFX poses these questions in admirable dialectical fashion, allows us to reflexively examine the issues involved, and form our own conclusions. The band rarely descends into moralism but moral values underpin NOFX's worldview. Above all, NOFX tries to maintain a sophisticated but precarious ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or’ approach to each one of the questions posed in this abstract. Clever lyrics, which highlight the contradictions that a punk rocker must face whilst living in suburban America, have become one of the band's most loved and most enduring themes.
1
LIVING THE PUNK LIFE IN GREEN BAY,
WISCONSIN: EXPLORING CONTRADICTION IN
THE MUSIC OF NOFX
By
Kieran James
The University of Southern Queensland
Address for Correspondence: Dr Kieran James, School of Accounting, Economics & Finance,
Faculty of Business, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba Qld. 4350, Australia.
Tel: +61 411447530. Primary E-mail: kieran_james@yahoo.com; Alternate E-Mail:
jamesk@usq.edu.au.
2
LIVING THE PUNK LIFE IN GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN: EXPLORING
CONTRADICTION IN THE MUSIC OF NOFX
Abstract
This paper studies song lyrics from three mid-period songs written and performed by
Californian punk band NOFX. I discuss NOFX‟s skilful exploration of contradiction in the
three selected songs, two of which are character studies of a single young male individual.
The questions that the songs pose in true dialectical fashion (but do not definitively answer)
include: Is it possible to maintain the carefree existential existence of the archetypal punk
rocker in the face of the constraints imposed by suburban life and the voices of middle-class
moderation? Can a Jewish gang in Fairfax, Los Angeles simultaneously affirm group self-
identity, defend its turf, and practise its (marginalized) religion? Can a young man enjoy
Christianity because it makes his life „seem less insane‟ whilst simultaneously taking control
of his life and not being a Christian sheep? NOFX poses these questions in admirable
dialectical fashion, allows us to reflexively examine the issues involved, and form our own
conclusions. The band rarely descends into moralism but moral values underpin NOFX‟s
worldview. Above all, NOFX tries to maintain a sophisticated but precarious „both/and
rather than either/or approach to each one of the questions posed in this abstract. Clever
lyrics, which highlight the contradictions that a punk rocker must face whilst living in
suburban America, have become one of the band‟s most loved and most enduring themes.
Keywords: Christian punk, Christianity, contradiction, dialectic, existentialism, Marxism,
NOFX, punk rock, SoCal punk, Joe Strummer.
3
Introduction
This paper explores contradiction in the punk rock music of NOFX (pronounced „No
Effects‟),1 one of the most important bands of the „SoCal‟ (Southern Californian) punk scene
of the mid-1990s. Although much academic and popular literature has been written on the
first waves of American and British punk, much less attention has been devoted to the SoCal
scene, especially from academics.2 Whilst many critics dismiss SoCal leader Rancid as a
Clash-derivative this judgement seems unfair (Spicer 2006, 262). Kevin Dettmar (2006, 129)
cites Nick Hornby (2002, 140) and criticizes him for adopting a naive Romantic view of the
creative process in rock whereby individual genius artists produce works of brilliance out of
nothing and independently of all that has gone before. By contrast, Karl Marx‟s sophisticated
dialectical understanding of the historical process can be seen clearly in the following quote:
Men [sic] make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do
not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances
directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead
generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living (Karl Marx, The
Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852 (Marx 1994b, 188)).
Likewise, in the same spirit, Keith Negus (1999, 35) writes that „record companies, like most
of us, have to create their own fortunes within specific social, historical and political
conditions‟. Clearly punk already had a history in the late-1980s and early-1990s when
Rancid and NOFX were setting the directions for their new bands. In this paper I explore
further, in relation to 1990s SoCal punk, the questions posed very recently by Steve
Waksman (2009, 208): „What is the meaning of rock‟s past? Which aspects of the past should
be retained, and which should be rejected?‟ I would argue that SoCal punks Rancid and
1 Androutsopoulos (2000) studies the use of non-standard spelling in German language punk rock fanzines and
concludes that non-standard spellings are designed to police the boundaries between insider and outsider status
and to signal sub-cultural capital (Bourdieu 1979, 1993; Thornton 1995). The incongruity between the spelling
and the pronunciation of NOFX is also a means of signalling insider status.
2 Literature searches for Rancid and NOFX on Elsevier and Blackwell websites revealed no matches in article
titles or keywords (of course excluding the multitude of scientific articles that discuss rancid). Bradford Martin
(2004) discusses „post-punk‟ in 1990s America without making it clear exactly which bands fit within this
category for him. Although pop-punk bands do not fit this criteria for Martin (see 169 where Martin names
Blink 182, Green Day and Sum 41), leading SoCal bands Rancid, NOFX and MXPX are not mentioned by
name in his article. Of these bands only the third has been frequently tagged as pop-punk in the popular
literature. In personal communication (e-mail dated 7 January 2009), Martin suggests that Rancid would fit into
his definition of post-punk.
4
NOFX both offer „an authentic voice of opposition‟ (Martin 2004, 169), Rancid a serious and
angry one, NOFX a camp and sometimes ridiculous but equally sincere one. Without
implying that either band did not have full freedom, in Sartrean terms, to create themselves, I
also acknowledge that previous punk bands had been a major influence and neither band
could in some sense avoid building on what had gone before. Even Sex Pistols vocalist John
Lydon/Rotten (hereafter John Lydon) has commented that there are no original thoughts in
rock and that his band built upon its 1960s influences which it then in turn protested against
(Lydon et al. 1994, 113). Likewise, Bradford Martin (2004, 156) talks about „a salient
continuity among post-punk fans [and bands] with the transgressive discourses of 1970s
punk‟ but he does not resort to essentialist discussions of punk‟s „true spirit‟. In the
terminology of the French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (2003), facticity and
transcendence are both essential aspects of our lives in this world. As Sartre (2003, 517,
emphasis original) writes, in the spirit of Marx, „[i]f the past does not determine our actions,
at least it is such that we can not take a new decision except in terms of it‟ and „no free
surpassing can be effected except in terms of a past‟ (Sartre 2003, 518).
Dettmar (2006) points out the dangers of essentialism in rock popular journalism and
academic scholarship where rock is proclaimed „dead‟ because it has mutated and
transformed itself so drastically that its baby-boomer authors now feel alienated and
disenchanted. The term classic rock (there is even a leading magazine by this name) is a
good example of essentialist thought in rock. Punk popular literature (but rarely that written
by the musicians themselves) is full of essentialist references to the essence‟ or „true spirit‟
of punk. I aim in this paper to avoid the popular literature‟s essentialist logic without
attempting to reduce the importance to punk history of its long since reified heroes and anti-
heroes, John Lydon, Sid Vicious, Joe Strummer, Wattie Buchan, the Ramones, etc.
Glenn Pillsbury (2006, xiii-xiv) has written in Damage Incorporated: Metallica and the
Production of Musical Identity that it is always dangerous to write academic work about a
living artist since obviously the academic could be proved hopelessly wrong by future events.
This problem, whilst it will always be present to some extent, can be minimized by focusing
on a particular clearly defined period of an artist‟s career. NOFX formed in Berkeley,
California in 1983, based around an original trio of „Fat‟ Mike Burkett, Eric Scott Melvin,
and Erik Sandin, and its first album to hit the stores was S&M Airlines in 1989 (Spicer 2006,
218). In this paper I focus specifically on songs from the mid-period of NOFX‟s long career,
5
and especially from the band‟s gold-selling 1994 album Punk in Drublic.3 Enough time has
now passed for us to be able to view these years within the context of the whole of NOFX‟s
career to date and developments in the punk music scene. I avoid discussion of the late-period
of NOFX‟s career other than to point out in a footnote that the lyrics are now not at the high
standard they once were, the band having largely substituted subtle exploration of
contradiction for direct abuse.
I agree with Dettmar (2006, xii) that it is impossible for any scholar in popular music to
fully free herself/himself from her/his emotional investment in the music being studied. I am
a fan of punk, the Clash, Dropkick Murphys, MXPX, NOFX, Rancid, and the Sex Pistols,
although I came to punk only in the last six years. As a teenager in 1983 and 1984 I was a
committed fan of both traditional heavy-metal music (especially AC/DC, Deep Purple, Iron
Maiden, Judas Priest, Rainbow, and Saxon) and the new thrash-metal sounds coming out of
the San Francisco Bay Area (such as Metallica). As will be discussed in the next section, both
of these heavy-metal scenes (traditional and thrash), and especially those post-1977 versions
of traditional heavy-metal such as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) of the
late-1970s and early-1980s, owe much to the first wave of punk‟s energy, freshness,
immediacy, and do-it-yourself (DIY) ethic (Waksman 2009, 147).
Why was it that in 2003 and 2004 (age 35 and 36) I suddenly developed a curiosity about,
and then a passion for, the Clash? I was, after all, a metalhead and had been so since the age
of 15; traditionally punk and heavy-metal have been viewed as „genre‟ and „counter genre‟
(Heather Dubrow, cited in Waksman 2009, 148). Basically, the Clash‟s Joe Strummer‟s
complete conviction concerning his own quasi-intellectual, street-based socialism appealed
deeply to me as a 30-something urban guy struggling financially whilst studying for a PhD in
accounting (yes it‟s just about as fun as it sounds!) and teaching part-time. Break-up songs
such as „Train in Vain‟ appealed as I had gone through a recent separation. The Clash spoke
loudly to, in, and from my personal circumstances, and led me in turn on to Marxism. In
addition, I could see clear similarities between Thatcher‟s Britain and John Howard‟s neo-
liberal Australia which made Strummer‟s quasi-Althusserian critique of the British
governmental institutions of his era especially prescient. My musical background, as a
lifelong metalhead, but with a growing interest in punk, makes me somewhat like sociologist
Georg Simmel‟s „stranger-observer‟ (discussed in Blumberg 1989): inside but also outside,
close but not close.
3 According to Wikipedia (accessed 6 December 2007), Punk in Drublic peaked at No. 12 in the US album
charts (Heatseekers).
6
I conclude that part of NOFX‟s appeal during the mid-1990s was its relentless
highlighting of and rejoicing in the contradictions of modern American suburban life.
Contradiction is a primary theme in NOFX‟s best lyrics and it is this rejoicing in
contradictions that has helped to fuel the band‟s camp fun image. Lead vocalist/bassist Fat
Mike (real name Michael John Burkett) and his bandmates have also not been afraid to see
and rejoice in the contradictions in the band‟s own position as defenders of the punk rock
elite‟.4 By contrast, fellow SoCal punk band Rancid rarely examines contradictions (the
complex lyric to 2000s „Radio Havana‟ that explores the bundle of contradictions that is
modern Cuba is a notable exception). Instead Rancid is content to tell straight-forward
narratives of working class alienation and brotherhood. Because of this, Rancid has been
saddled with a serious image which can be contrasted with NOFX‟s camp image based on
dialectical humour and self-parody. Likewise, Christian punk bands do not revel in
contradiction;5 instead they present Christian doctrine, as well as a positive humanitarian
message, to an audience that comprises both Christian and secular punk fans.
Despite Rancid‟s doubtless commitment to the punk scene and to the punk ethos,
NOFX‟s love of contradictions makes the band arguably the true inheritors of the Sex Pistols‟
and the Clash‟s legacy. Both bands‟ dialectical worldview owes much to the „cultural
Marxism‟ of Malcolm McLaren, Sex Pistols manager, and his friend Bernie Rhodes, manager
of the Clash as well as to Joe Strummer‟s father Ronald Mellor‟s possibly more intellectual
Marxism. Mepham (1979, 171) writes that „if there is an Hegelian inheritance in Marx then it
will be found to reside in his use of dialectical method‟. Cultural Marxists, heavily influenced
by Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, retained a strong emphasis on the dialectic (as,
of course, did their antithesis, the „structural Marxists‟ of the same period, such as Louis
Althusser and Mao Zedong, who retained at least some belief in the continued equating of the
Soviet Union project with living Marxist-Leninism).
The dialectician sees society as in a constant state of motion and flux; how the past will
be transmitted into the future depends crucially on the balance of forces in the class struggle.
Furthermore, there is contradiction built into the essences of all things (Mao 2007), and this
unity-of-opposites in society (e.g. between the forces and relations of production, between the
aristocracy and the industrial bourgeoisie, between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat) is
4 The band wrote a (very tongue-in-cheek) song entitled „It‟s My Job to Keep Punk Rock Elite‟ which appears
on 1997s So Long and Thanks for All The Shoes album.
5 To assert that Christian punk bands do not examine contradiction is an oversimplification. However, it is less
problematic to maintain that they typically do not rejoice in it. Christian punk is discussed in more detail in
Section 2 of this paper.
7
always one of tension (Meikle 1979, 26). For both Hegel and Marx, the essentialist (A cannot
be not-A) logic of the natural sciences and mainstream philosophy is replaced by the
dialectical logic that A can be not-A through a process of becoming (Ruben 1979, 39-42).
Crucially, the not-A contains within it the A-seed. To the question whether Leninism
contained within it the seed of Stalinism, one senior Bolshevik replied dialectically that it did
but there were many other seeds in Leninism as well. Dialectical materialism is not the same
as either essentialism (A cannot be not-A) or determinism (A must become not-A).
Crucially, NOFX has adjusted the punk message so that it fully responds to the true
reality of teenage life in contemporary American suburbia. However, the band‟s thinking
remains dialectical in the best cultural Marxist traditions of the Pistols, the Clash, McLaren,
and Rhodes. NOFX‟s approach is consistent with John Lydon and Joe Strummer‟s repeated
calls for punk music to continue to address real contemporary issues rather than becoming a
reactionary parody of its former vibrant self (see Gilbert 2004; James in press; Lydon et al.
1994, 63, 70, 72, 215, 241; Salewicz 2006; Savage 2005). NOFX‟s approach is truly
dialectical as it works within, but does not accept as essentialist given, the status quo of
modern American suburban society. The band always recognizes both personal and social
change as possibilities. Fat Mike and bandmates realize that to replicate mechanistically the
lyrical topics and preoccupations of the 1970s British punk heroes would render the band
unable to effectively address modern American issues. On the other hand, much of that 1970s
tradition is a seed that continues to reproduce itself today in modern punk and other
alternative post-punk sub-genres (such as death-metal, grindcore, grunge, hardcore,
metalcore, rap, and thrash-metal).6 As such NOFX draws upon themes and perspectives
expressed earlier but transports these and adapts them to the modern American suburban
context that is the band‟s present home.
The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. The next section provides a (very)
brief history and sociology of punk rock, including both its English first-wave (1976 to 1978)
and its Southern Californian second-wave (1994 to 1996). Section 3 includes lyrics analysis
of three topical and influential middle-period NOFX songs, and Section 4 concludes.
‘Turning rebellion into money’: A (very) brief history and sociology of punk rock
6 Mikkelson (2009) explores the history of grindcore, usually regarded as a sub-genre of extreme-metal, and, in
particular, the historic and present social and political activism of bands and musicians within the sub-genre.
8
Punk is a sub-genre and a scene of rock that, like the philosophies of Marxism and liberalism,
continually reinvents itself as its key tenets, ideas, and aesthetics are continually revised and
renegotiated. Negus (1999, 174) defines „genre cultures‟ (such as punk and rap) as:
an unstable intersection of music industry and media, fans and audience cultures,
musician networks and broader social collectivities informed by distinct features of
solidarity and social identity.
The UK „first wave of punk‟ remains especially important as its ethos has a continual
significance today for modern punks and alternative rockers of every persuasion. Its
legendary performers and performances have taken on mythic status in western popular
culture. Jon Savage (2005, 588) provides the best definition of the first wave, generally
defined as 1976 to 1978, as follows: This includes the very first groups formed in response
to the Sex Pistols or the existing groups who sped up their R&B modes: common throughout
is the Ramonic style which became the standard definition of Punk‟. As one of this paper‟s
anonymous reviewers has wisely pointed out, punk has always had both its thinkers and its
drinkers and of course most of the thinkers also enjoyed a drink or two. In fact, each member
of the UK first wave‟s original triumvirate, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and the Damned,
brought different ingredients to the table and hence each contributed something special of its
own to the movement: in punk journalist Caroline Coon‟s words, the Pistols had the „personal
politics‟, the Clash had the „serious politics‟, and the Damned had the „theatre, camp, and
good fun‟ (cited in Lydon et al. 1994, 108). John Lydon, Chrissie Hynde, later of the
Pretenders, and Paul Stahl have all expressed their considered views that punk as a movement
(of course Lydon very often equates „punk‟ with „the Pistols‟) was anti-monarchy, and anti-
the British class system (cited in Lydon et al. 1994, 3, 81, 120, 196, 221, 282-3, 285-6, 313-
14, 319-320). Savage (2005, 336) writes, in his classic punk history England’s Dreaming,
that „there was a real sense in which Punk‟s accurate record of England‟s tensions hit the
desired chord a clash, not between generations, but between rulers and ruled‟. This theme,
began by the Pistols, was continued by the Clash, which expressed the same sentiments from
the time of its first gig on 4 April 1976, supporting the Sex Pistols at the Black Swan in
Sheffield (Antonia et al. 2006, 67; Gilbert 2004, 95-6; Heylin 2007, 126-7, 132), up until
what Savage (2005, 589) terms „the last great Punk Rock 45‟, 1985s „This is England‟/„Do it
Now‟/„Sex Mad Roar‟ (Waksman 2009, 156).
9
When Lydon sings, in „Anarchy in the UK‟ (1976), „is this the IRA?/ I thought it was the
UK/ or just another country‟, he challenges the English ruling class to acknowledge that the
post-war „consensus‟, built on the presumption of military and moral superiority, might be
unfounded. Firstly, the UK is mistaken for (and hence rendered equivalent to) its modern
enemy the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and, secondly, the UK is labelled as „just another
country‟. Just being another country is the last thing the ruling class wanted to hear or wanted
people to believe. Then, after a pause, Lydon barks out the next line „another council
tenancy‟, implying that the bourgeois administrators who designed and built the council
estates have much to answer for; they are to blame for the physical and visual squalor of
modern England. What had been in 1945, in most English people‟s eyes, much more than just
another country had become, by 1976, visually and socially, little more than an extended set
of interlocking council estates (and all that implies for the nation‟s social relationships).
The Clash‟s revolutionary socialism is possibly the clearest political message to have
come from the UK first wave bands, with the Sex Pistols being generally seen as anarchist
rather than socialist. However, Lydon, for one, refused to give much credit to the Clash,
arguing that the band‟s revolutionary sloganeering was phoney and that the band was a
latecomer to the punk scene which added little to what had gone before (Lydon et al. 1994,
106-7). In Lydon‟s words:
To me the Clash looked and sounded like they were yelling at themselves about
nothing in particular a few trendy slogans stolen here and there from Karl Marx. …
Although they were a bit better than your usual mainstream punk bands (Lydon et al.
1994, 106, 107).
Meanwhile, north of the border, although the band‟s first album was not released until 1981,
Scotland‟s the Exploited‟s political rallying against Thatcherism contained powerful social
and political critique. The band‟s critique of Thatcher‟s harsh neo-liberal imperialism was
rendered much more potent, realistic, and sincere because of lead vocalist „Wattie‟ (Walter
David) Buchan‟s personal status as a disillusioned former British Army soldier (Spicer 2006,
134-6).7 As Spicer (2006, 135) points out, „The Exploited‟s comments on the futility of war
and the hidden agendas that cause it had a resonance born of their singer‟s time in uniform‟.
7 The band altered its musical style from traditional punk to thrash-metal around 1987 and now has a dedicated
page at the heavy-metal website Metal-archives.com (accessed 15 April 2009).
10
Joe Strummer (1952-2002) of the Clash, an immense contradiction if ever there was one
(Charles Shaar Murray, cited in Antonia et al. 2006, 276), had a public school education and
had been privy to a grounding in theoretical Marxism from his father, Ronald Mellor, a
British career civil servant (Salewicz 2006, 38, 44, 77). As punk (like Marxist-Leninism
before it) needed to be a synthesis of theory and practice, Strummer combined his intellectual
knowledge of far-off ideological battle zones such as Nicaragua, Civil War-era Spain, and
Vietnam with an appreciation of the realities (and the romance) of a down-and-out proletariat
life lived out in west London. Interestingly, as Pat Gilbert (2004, 283) points out, it is
Strummer‟s depiction of English life and its outcast characters (as in the masterful
„Something about England‟), rather than his anti-American rants, that have proven to be his
most enduring legacy. Strummer‟s analysis of the workings of British governmental
institutions, in early material on the 1977 self-titled debut album such as „Career
Opportunities‟, „Cheat‟, „Remote Control‟, and „What‟s My Name‟, and in later songs such
as „Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)‟ and „This is England‟, were intellectually exacting and
chillingly close to the lived experiences of a generation of British youth under firstly
Callaghan and then Thatcher. Theoretically his descriptions share remarkable similarities
with the French structural Marxist Louis Althusser‟s classic work on Ideological and
Repressive State Apparatuses „Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (notes towards an
investigation) published in English in 1971 (Althusser 2008). One wonders whether
Strummer‟s early education in Marxism from his father included lessons on Althusser. Years
spent alienated from his family in his early-20s and living for free in „squats‟ in west London,
around Camden Town, Ladbroke Grove, and Notting Hill (Emery 2007; Heylin 2007, 61-94;
Lydon et al. 1994, 63-68; Savage 2005, 112, 2006), gave Strummer a powerful mix of theory
and practice. He could sing about the government departments of 1970s London because he
had been to their offices and stood in their dole queues. He would add to that briefcase of
experiences by visiting Jamaica with Mick Jones and later Thailand with the whole band.
These visits led to two new songs, both grounded in a better appreciation of local issues and
contextual factors, „Safe European Home‟ (1978) and „Straight to Hell‟ (1982).
The Clash‟s clearest Marxist or socialist statements appear in songs such as „Bankrobber‟,
„Career Opportunities‟, „Clampdown‟ (one of the few songs to actually critique the nature of
social relations on the factory floor), „Something about England‟, „Straight to Hell‟, „This is
England‟, „The Right Profile‟, „Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)‟ (a detailed realistic yet poetic
description of life in a multi-storey council tower-block, built and administered by „the
11
bourgeois clerks who bear no guilt‟8), and the brilliant „White Man in Hammersmith Palais‟.
Something about England is a lengthy 1980 song from the Sandinista! triple-album about a
World War Two veteran, „whom time would not erode‟. Most of the lyrics involve first-
person commentary by the war veteran, with Strummer as audience. The veteran explains the
changes that he has observed in English life, most of which were purely technological, amidst
the one constant of the class struggle which is one of the few factors that Old England shares
with New England.9 In the last line of the song „the lights clicked off in the bedsits/ and Old
England was all alone‟, suggesting that social stratification always co-exists with alienation
as the young Marx had duly pointed out in 1844.
„The Right Profile‟, from 1979s London Calling album, recounts the story of the 1950s
Hollywood actor, Montgomery Clift (1920-1966). The song‟s narrator recounts how Clift is
observed in a car-crash (which occurred in real-life on 12 May 1956) and, as an older man,
living as a destitute in New York City. The song is a sad tale about how capitalism turns upon
its own once they have outlived its usefulness. The only humanitarian spark in the song is the
warmth and affection in Strummer‟s voice as he mentions Clift by name and asks the car-
crash scene onlookers about his welfare. Strummer‟s humanitarianism is counterpoised by the
callous curious questions of the car-crash onlookers so that each fades into its opposite and at
times we cannot be sure (without the lyrics sheet) which lines belong to Strummer and which
to the crowd. The song opens with Strummer name-checking four of Clift‟s movies (Red
River, A Place in the Sun, The Misfits, and From Here to Eternity). Later he uses the
language of the cinema as a mark of respect for Clift and to signal his own [Strummer‟s] chic
insider status („I see a car smashed at night/ Cut the applause and dim the lights‟). However,
the cited line does more than simply signal insider status: at the same time it indicates
Strummer‟s respect for the present-day Clift by asking that distance and privacy be offered to
the car-crash scene and to its unfortunate victims. That Clift was found wandering around
42nd Street is sad as well, that being the theatre district around Times Square; Clift is clearly
reminiscing and trying to cling on to former glories. The song shows that the Clash often
drew upon the history of popular culture rather than repudiated it. Strummer presents the car-
8 Clash guitarist/vocalist Mick Jones, in the years immediately prior to the formation of the Clash in the summer
of 1976, lived with his grandmother on the 18th floor of a council tower block called Wilmcote House which
was located on the Warwick Estate, Royal Oak, London W2, and which directly overlooks the Westway, the
major arterial road entering central London from the west (Gilbert 2004, 26, 29, 39, 46; James in press; Savage
2005, 233). The song „Up in Heaven (Not Only Here)‟ draws in part from Jones‟ experiences living at Wilmcote
House.
9 The lyrics to this song are fully explored, utilizing a Marxist framework, by James (in press).
12
crash initially as a literal misfortune, but it also becomes a symbol of the ruthlessness of the
capitalist system as it later simultaneously forgets and troubles Clift in his difficulties.
A further source of inspiration for the Clash was its eccentric Jewish socialist manager,
Bernie Rhodes, who once asked a very young pre-Clash Mick Jones and Paul Simonon if
they had read any Jean-Paul Sartre! Whilst punk has always held a strong anti-capitalist
message, few bands could be said to be Marxists-Leninists in any conventional sense. Free-
thinking, free-drinking, and a Nietzschean rejection of herd ideologies has always been
important to punk. Theory was always subordinated to practice. In his autobiography Rotten:
No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, John Lydon dismisses those who want to analyze punk from
the confines of their modern-day university towers (Lydon et al. 1994). He cites a claim by
Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook that the French Situationist movement had no influence upon
punk (cited in Lydon et al. 1994, 186). To back up the point, Lydon also cites a statement by
Chrissie Hynde that Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones would have given any observations
claiming a link with the Situationists short-shrift had they been made in the 1970s. In
response to a question as to how the UK punks would have reacted to mention of the
Situationists back in the 1970s, Hynde replies that: „They would have gone down to the pub
certainly Steve would have. Steve wouldn‟t have grasped it for a second, he wouldn‟t have
wanted to know‟ (Chrissie Hynde, cited in Lydon et al. 1994, 186). Although there is a vast
gap between a Steve Jones and a Joe Strummer, these thoughts were arguably echoed by
Strummer himself in the 1979 song „London Calling‟. The line in the song and you know
what they said/ well some of it was true‟ can be interpreted as a sneering challenge to future
armchair critics to grasp the dialectical truths of the movement and the facts associated with it
better than those musicians and fans who were actually there.
With the reference to „England‟s Dreaming‟ in the lyrics to the Pistols‟ „God save the
Queen‟, an interesting ideological point can be raised. Is Lydon, even only at a subconscious
level, drawing a comparison between punk and the „dreaming‟ or „dreamtime‟ of the
Australian aboriginal people? For the aboriginals, the „dreamtime‟ is a long-ago mythical age
when myths and legends were made and when men were supermen, a ground zero in the
national story narrative. Given the mythical status attached to the first wave of punk
performers, can it be said that they were also a mythical ground-zero for youth anti-culture, a
radical time when that culture‟s self-identity, values, and mission were being formed?
The late-1970s UK punk aesthetic had intellectual links to Sartrean existentialism and
cultural Marxism (through Ronald Mellor, Malcolm McLaren, and Bernie Rhodes) but, in
addition to that, punk was a rebellion against the bloated and arrogant progressive rock and
13
heavy-metal bands of the early-1970s, such as Yes and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and
heavy-metal‟s unholy trinity, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin (Lydon et al.
1994, 87, 107, 196). Strummer railed against Elvis, Beatles, and the Rolling Stones‟ in the
Clash song „1977‟ (Waksman 2009, 171) and against „phoney Beatlemania‟ two years later in
„London Calling‟. John Lydon also never kept it a secret how much he despised Elvis (Lydon
et al. 1994, 245-6). However, again and especially with the Clash, viewpoints were never as
simple as a straight anti-musicianship line. On the 1977 Clash 7‟ single A-side Complete
Control‟, Strummer appears to tease Mick Jones by calling out „you‟re my guitar hero‟ in the
middle of Jones‟ extended guitar solo (at 1:10 out of the song‟s 3:15). There are multiple,
even contradictory, meanings at work here. On one level, Strummer is simply voicing the
traditional punk anti-musicianship message. However, on another level, the act of placing
inverted commas around the guitar solo (achieved by the interjection) also serves to literally
acknowledge, in the positive sense, both Jones‟ skills and his right to self-expression.
Strummer rejects any dogmatic and simplistic anti-musicianship line. The placing of the
guitar solo in inverted commas achieves a complex and wonderful effect that the simple non-
playing of the solo could not have achieved. We also have no simple clash of heads here
between Jones and Strummer; the song reflects the fact that punk‟s values were always
contradictory, dynamic, open, flexible, and subject to endless re-negotiation. As „Complete
Control‟ closes out, Jones sings „C O N control‟, which is usually misheard as „see you in
control‟ without a lyric sheet (Savage 2005, 399). The last words of Strummer are „that
means you‟ followed by another „see you in control‟ melodically sung by Jones. As Savage
(2005, 399) suggests, the song comes across and is received as an empowerment anthem and
a declaration of autonomy in large part due to the misheard lyric.
Savage (2005, 597, 598) writes that, by the northern summer of 1977, punk had divided
itself into the arties and the social realists, with the social realists becoming the dominant
trend. The British punk „Oi‟ bands of the late-1970s and early-1980s, all social realists, had
their bona fide socialists (Angelic Upstarts) but most bands just enjoyed protesting obliquely
against the system, getting drunk, watching football, and stealing cars (Cockney Rejects,
Sham 69, and UK Subs, amongst others). Early punks that were there for the first gigs of the
Pistols in the second half of 1975 and the first half of 1976 especially despised the
reactionary intolerance of Sham 69 fans in the late-1970s. Paul Stahl writes that when Sham
69 came in and the Pistols broke up [in January 1978], that really was the end [of punk]‟
(cited in Lydon et al. 1994, 223). Savage (2005, 597) explains that Sham are the bridge
between early Clash and “Strength Through Oi!”‟ although it is hard to be sure if this is
14
meant as simply an objective statement of chronology or as further criticism of Sham.
Famously, Strummer denounced the new emergent punk bands in „White Man in
Hammersmith Palais‟ (1978): The new groups are not concerned/ with what there is to be
learned/ they got Burton suits, ha you think it‟s funny/ turning rebellion into money‟.
In contrast to Stahl‟s view that punk died when the Pistols broke up in January 1978,
Scottish punk band the Exploited (originally from East Kilbride and later of Edinburgh)
proclaimed as late as 1981 that „punk‟s not dead‟. The Exploited‟s optimistic perspective has
merit if punk is viewed as a historical movement of ever-changing social relations rather than
as a fixed eternal essence. As Negus (1999, 126) writes, in regards the Nashville country
music industry, „the dynamics of country culture are best understood, not through any textual
codings, but through the [ongoing, re-negotiated] connections between fans and performers‟.
In the world of Marxism, of course Lenin‟s New Economic Policy (NEP) is the best known
historical example of circumstances forcing a modification of the original plan (McCauley
1996). Although Marx referred at times to essences, he did not fall into the trap of
essentialism since for him essences were always defined in terms of real social relations
(Ruben 1979, 71-3).
Later British heavy-metal bands, especially Iron Maiden, with their short fast stripped-
down songs and spiky-haired punk vocalist Paul Di‟Anno (fired in 1981), and Saxon, with
their working-class struggle songs such as „Never Surrender‟, had absorbed something of the
punk ethos although they belonged to a genre of music that has traditionally been viewed as
the antithesis or „counter genre‟ of punk (Waksman 2009, 148, 172-209). Indeed Waksman
(2009, 202) writes of Iron Maiden‟s Di‟Anno that „he carried much of what gave Iron Maiden
a punk-inflected aura away with him when he left‟. As Waksman (2009, 201) points out,
Di‟Anno‟s gruff punk vocals on the 1981 song „Killers‟ contribute to the listener‟s feeling of
being trapped within the confines of the foreboding atmosphere of the song. By contrast, his
replacement, Bruce Dickinson aka The Air Raid Siren, has a much wider vocal range; his
soaring vocals provide a further element of heavy-metal transcendence.
Mungo, reviewer on the dedicated heavy-metal website Metal-archives.com, says that the
album Killers, whilst [s]till retaining a strong NWOBHM sound, it increases the punk
influence to create a grittier sound than what came before (posted 22 April 2007; accessed
20 April 2009). The much criticized (by metal fans) song „Gangland‟, on 1982s The Number
of the Beast album, is one of the final residues of punk lyrical themes to survive the end of
the Di‟Anno era. On Iron Maiden‟s 1981 album Killers, the last with Di‟Anno, only two of
the eleven songs on the remastered version deal with the traditional heavy-metal themes of
15
history/mythology/occult. The other songs explore urban street themes and the album cover
shows terraced houses at left and centre and what appears to be a council tower-block at
right; the lyrics and the album cover are very London and very punk. Waksman (2009, 199)
even quotes Di‟Anno as saying „[w]e‟re an HM band with punk attitudes‟. NOFX offer the
band‟s perspective on Iron Maiden in the 2009 Coaster album song „Eddie Bruce and Paul‟
where „punk‟ Paul Di‟Anno is lauded whilst „metal‟ Steve Harris and Dickinson are
ridiculed; hence „Paul got fucked, fucked by Steve‟, and „kudos to Paul, fuck you Bruce/
Number of the Beast is in bed with Rob and Judas Priest‟. The last line here is a non-PC
reference to both the classic metal sound of The Number of the Beast album and Rob Halford
of Judas Priest‟s (homo-)sexuality.10
Even traditional metallers Judas Priest, who predated punk by at least three years,
stripped down and shortened their songs on 1978s Killing Machine album. Furthermore, the
band included first-person working-class urban struggle songs on 1980s British Steel
(„Breaking the Law‟) and simplistic anthemic football chants on both Killing Machine („Take
on the World‟) and the follow-up British Steel („United‟). The football chant songs attracted
much disdain and ridicule from the band‟s long-term heavy-metal fan base. Then of course
there was Motörhead, a fast-living, fast-drinking hybrid of punk and metal whose first album
dated back to 1977 (Waksman 2009, 146-171). As Negus (1999, 183) points out, and he
could well have been speaking of punk-influenced heavy-metal acts such as Di‟Anno era Iron
Maiden, Judas Priest, Motörhead, and Saxon, „[c]rossing genre worlds and bringing new
genre cultures into being is not only an act of musical creation, it is also an act of social
creation‟.
The 1990s punk revival, after lean years for mainstream punk during the 1980s, is usually
referred to as „the second wave of punk‟ or the „SoCal scene‟, SoCal being short for Southern
California which was the geographic centre for the new movement. The SoCal scene reached
its peak of popularity in the years 1994 to 1996. However, there had been an emerging scene
in Los Angeles since at least the late-1980s and early-1990s when ska-punk band, and an
early incarnation of Rancid, Operation Ivy, released its self-titled album (1990) and the
Offspring released its debut album (also self-titled) (1989). Commercially the scene exploded
in 1994 when pop-punk bands Green Day and the Offspring released big-selling albums
Dookie and Smash respectively (the latter featuring ubiquitous „hits‟, gorged upon by the
10 Sadly, direct ridicule and abuse has tended to replace subtler dialectical lyrical messages on the more recent
NOFX output.
16
radio stations needing something to fill the vacuum created by the implosion of first Sunset
Strip hair-metal and then Seattle grunge, „Come Out and Play‟ and „Self-Esteem‟). Green
Day rose to public consciousness after their appearance at the Woodstock II 25th Anniversary
Festival of 1994 and the band‟s Dookie album was eventually certified multi-platinum,
having sold over twelve million copies worldwide (Antonia et al. 2006, 258-65). Of course it
was the pop-punk bands that sold the most CDs and were the most visible manifestation of
the scene. Nevertheless, older classic punk bands, such as Bad Religion, traded on the scene‟s
mass impact factor to relaunch their careers whilst younger bands, slightly too rough and
streetwise (in Rancid‟s case), or quirky and obscene (in NOFX‟s case), also rode the wave of
the SoCal scene to some extent with their names reaching larger audiences in 1994 and 1995.
Rancid‟s …And Out Come the Wolves album from 1995 and NOFX‟s Punk in Drublic from
1994 are these respective bands‟ most commercially successful releases and are also often-
cited by fans and critics alike as their best albums (see Antonia et al. 2006, 221 where this
Rancid album is listed, and justifiably so, among the best 77 punk albums of all time). Both
Rancid and NOFX were based in the spiritual home of SoCal punk, Los Angeles, and this
fact facilitated fans‟ identification of these bands with the emergent scene.
If the Pistols‟ unexpected break-up (being also the end of punk for many people; Savage
2005, 477) and Sid Vicious‟ death produced shock, disappointment, and a feeling of
incompleteness, SoCal bands were able to, in the words of Zizek (2008, 81-2), retroactively
retrieve and redeem the past by filling in the present and working towards the future.
Ironically the Sex Pistols was able to surf on the popularity of the SoCal scene for the band‟s
reunion tour of North America in 1996. Whilst the SoCal punks tried to retrieve and redeem,
the director of Sid and Nancy (1986) Alex Cox had earlier attempted a false resolution: at the
end of the film Sid encounters some young black boys rapping in a desolate waste ground in
inner New York City. As Sid exudes friendliness in this fictional scene, there is an
appearance of resolution as one youth counter-cultural movement (punk) seemingly gives
way to its successor (rap). Meanwhile, the Exploited tried to expunge the ghosts of punk‟s
past by denying it, hence the band‟s 1982 song „Sid Vicious was Innocent‟. This is the
opposite sentiment to that expressed by the post-Lydon Sex Pistols on „No One is Innocent‟,
train-robber Ronnie Biggs on lead vocals, where the band prays for God‟s blessings upon
even Moors murderers Myra Hindley and Ian Brady. The understanding here, however, is
that sins are not wiped out, simply forgiven, in this very Christian song originally titled A
Punk Prayer‟.
17
There was also an emerging „Christian punk‟ scene as a part of the broader SoCal scene
with MXPX (from Bremerton, Washington) and Squad Five-O (from Savannah, Georgia)
being the bands of this movement that rose to fame in the 1995 to 1998 period. MXPX
rapidly increased in popularity and came to be the most high profile Christian band to ride on
the wave of the SoCal scene, mostly through the band‟s Life in General album of 1996 and
the Chick Magnet‟ single and video of the same year.11 The band is generally associated
with the SoCal scene by most fans despite its home base being in Washington State. Only
MXPX of these two bands had the ability to persevere through difficulties (itself, of course, a
„Christian value‟) and to adapt their image and lyrics in a way acceptable both to the
Christian youth-group demographic and to a large segment of the mainstream punk audience.
Squad Five-O disappeared from view at the tail-end of the 1990s (their 1997 and 1998
albums What I Believe and Fight the System have not been reissued since 2001, as at the date
of writing, but are worth tracking down). Wikipedia (Squad Five-O entry, accessed 14 April
2009) correctly states that the lyrical themes on the first two Squad albums, the second of
which leaned in a ska-punk direction, include the power of the youth, the effects of social
ills, and Christian unity‟. Later less commercially successful releases (including 2000s Bombs
over Broadway) suggest that the band‟s Christian stance and imagery have been all but been
abandoned. The band has also changed musical style to glam-rock. Squad Five-O‟s website
went dead in early 2006 and Wikipedia suggests that the band has most probably split-up.
MXPX and NOFX are also referred to sometimes as „skate punk‟ (Spicer 2006, 291) due to
their popularity with youth heavily into skateboarding and the synchronization of punk
clothing and skateboarding clothing. Some regard skate punk as a (sub-)genre of its own
whereas others point out that skate punk bands can also be said to belong to other sub-genres
such as pop-punk, hardcore, and/or melodic hardcore (Spicer 2006, 291).
11 The original „Chick Magnet‟ video clip can be viewed on Youtube.com at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOmL8SZxfyU (accessed 14 April 2009). The popular video clip (over
270,000 views as at 14 April 2009) shows the seeming band „nerd‟, drummer Yuri Ruley, a redhead who wears
thick-rimmed glasses, attract girls a plenty at a diner. At the same time, the other seemingly cooler tattooed and
earringed members of the band (guitarist Tom Wisniewski and bassist/vocalist Mike Herrera) eat dinner alone in
the same diner. Later Yuri dances on the table, in nerdish style, in front of his new fans, while the simple chorus
of „Chick Magnet‟ repeats itself. Did the band write this song from a specifically Christian perspective? Does it
have a „Christian message‟, however well hidden? If so is the band trying to communicate to us that „the world
is full of vast possibilities‟ and/or that „God is with the lowly and the underdog‟? Or is the song designed for
enjoyment and nothing more? Another possible interpretation is that, by exposing the modern-day dating „meat-
market‟, the meat-market‟s dehumanizing power can be partially countered: Yuri remains completely human
throughout the clip.
18
MXPX‟s debut album, 1994s Pokinatcha, overtly presented Christian themes.12 However
the album demonstrated remarkable lyrical maturity for a band of then 17-year-olds
(MXPX‟s Mike Herrera and Yuri Ruley were both born in 1976); Christian beliefs are used
as a backdrop for very angry diatribes, sans swearing, about „friends‟ that betray or take
advantage (see especially the first six songs, „Anywhere but Here‟ through to „Unopposed‟,
with the exception of the third pop-filler joke song „Want Ad‟). Christian faith is presented
dialectically as an opposition to both dishonesty and consumerism. In later albums the
Christian themes are either abandoned or veiled to be replaced by a positive humanitarian
message but the band members all remain professing Christians. Relationships and break-ups
are a frequent lyrical topic but the band‟s Christianity allows it to be honest but not overly
hostile or revengeful. Secular punk fans seem to appreciate this „Christian‟ mix of honesty
and humanitarianism. To identify with the punk ethos and to claim a punk heritage (as
MXPX clearly did early on with popular songs such as Punk Rawk Show‟13), MXPX by
necessity must emphasize the punk movement‟s humanitarian and constructive aspects rather
than its nihilist and destructive aspects. MXPX must, therefore, be more Clash than Pistols
(Steve „Roadent‟ Connolly, cited in Savage 2005, 239). Consistent with this MXPX plays the
Clash‟s „Janie Jones‟ on (some versions of) the Clash Burning London (1999) tribute album,
a song that MXPX must find easy to relate to with its theme of devoted boyfriend driving to
girlfriend‟s house after work to enjoy some innocent and well-deserved companionship. That
anything other than companionship might be had is only implied in the Clash lyrics and the
Clash, primarily Mick Jones, did have a clearly visible poppy, romantic/sentimental side
evident in the Jones compositions „Lost in the Supermarket‟, „Should I Stay or Should I Go‟,
„Stay Free‟, and „Train in Vain‟.
I attended one night of a punk festival in Perth, Australia in 2004 where MXPX was
second on a bill headlined by Unwritten Law (another SoCal scene band from California) and
supported by Regurgitator. The Friday night crowd of around 400 was strongly supportive of
MXPX which put on a very professional and disciplined performance. A young female fan
next to me screamed repeatedly for the band to play „Chick Magnet‟. Although many people
in the crowd were clearly there to see Unwritten Law, the mixed Christian and secular crowd
knew and strongly appreciated MXPX as well. The average of 4.5 out of 5 stars given to the
1996 MXPX album Life in General on Amazon.com (based on 82 customer reviews as at 8
12 The band name is an abbreviation of Magnified Plaid with the two x‟s simply being full stops using the
conventions of hardcore punk notation.
13 The original video clip for „Punk Rawk Show‟ can be viewed at Youtube.com at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfZFTRVH5wE (accessed 15 April 2009).
19
December 2008) does suggest strong fan support for, and not much hostility, against MXPX.
The fact that Satanism has not been an important or even a marginal ideology in punk rock,
unlike in heavy-metal (Moynihan and Søderlind 2003; Waksman 2009, 193-5), has meant
that good and committed Christian punk bands, willing to „turn the other cheek‟ and „go the
extra mile‟ when needed, can „cross over‟ and gain and maintain secular fan support.
NOFX Lyrics Analysis
In this paper, I discuss three NOFX songs from the mid-1990s, all but one of which is from
the band‟s gold-selling Punk in Drublic album.14 The songs discussed are: (a) „Bob‟ (1992);
(b) „The Brews‟ (1994); and (c) Happy Guy‟ (1994). All three NOFX songs were written by
NOFX‟s lead vocalist Fat Mike. All lyrics were accessed from the dedicated punk lyrics
website, Plyrics.com, and are in the public domain.
„Bob‟ (1992)
He spent fifteen years getting loaded/ Fifteen years „till his liver exploded/ Now what's
Bob gonna‟ do now that he can‟t drink?/ The doctor said, „What you been thinkin'
'bout?‟
Bob said, „That's the point/ I won‟t think about nothing/ Now I got do something else,‟/
OI OI OI! To pass the time./ Bob shaved his head/ He got a new identity/ Sixty-two
holed air cushioned boots/ And a girl who rides a scooter/ Gonna take him out, of
town/ They would get away/ Riding around, as the trucks drive by/ You could hear the
mother fuckers go...BEEP!
(Trumpet solo by El Hefe).
A couple of lines, an extra thermos of Joe/ He'll be kickin‟ in heads at the punk rock
show, yeah/ Bob‟s the kinda guy who knows just what/ Bob‟s the kinda guy who
knows just what to do/ When the doctor tells him to/ Quit your drinkin', now's the
time.‟/ Will he ever walk the line/ „To all my friends, I feel just great/ But will he ever
walk the line/ Kickin‟ ass and bustin‟ heads/ Red suspenders/ Once a day he shaves his
head/
14 It might be wondered what interpretation(s) the members of NOFX put upon their own song lyrics. There is
almost zero preserved scholarly or quasi-scholarly literature on NOFX that goes into that level of detail about
the band nor has there ever been a history book written on either SoCal punk or NOFX. As such the band
members‟ opinions remain unknowable. I did post a message on the band‟s official website in December 2008
indicating that I was doing a research project on the band and leaving my e-mail address on the site. However,
no-one from, or connected to, the band has ever made contact. As such I labour on alone with my
„interpretations‟, all of which follow-up papers are invited to correct and to challenge!
20
But will he ever walk the line?/ Will he ever walk the line?/ Will he ever walk the
line?/ Will he ever walk the line?/ Oh will he ever walk the line?/ ....BOB! (Spoken
part)
In the popular song „Bob‟, from the White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean (1992) album,15 we
are introduced to a punk rocker named Bob who has consulted a doctor who has warned him
that he needs to curb his drinking. We have a single person character study somewhat
resembling Count Leo Tolstoy‟s The Kreutzer Sonata (1983a), The Devil (1983b), and
The Death of Ivan Ilyich (2008), or Fyodor Dostoyevsky‟s (2003) classic existentialist
novel Crime and Punishment. Existentialism is present in NOFX lyrics as well: for the
existentialist we are „condemned to be free‟ (Sartre 2003, 506) and, as for fellow
existentialists Pascal and Kierkegaard, we are never free not to choose. Bob here is faced
with an important dilemma and the whole song explores this dilemma and his reaction to it.
By the end of the song, in Joe Strummer‟s words, „the future is [still] unwritten‟. The doctor‟s
words hang in the air and, as the song draws to a close, Fat Mike repeats several times the
fundamental existentialist question posed by the band: „Will he ever walk the line?‟
In this song we are introduced to the somewhat ridiculous but totally realistic image of a
punk rocker being forced to curtail his extreme behaviour by what we presume is an ordinary
suburban doctor. NOFX here parodies the romantic outlaw tales of west London and
Edinburgh written by first wave of punk bands such as the Clash and the Exploited. Bob is
confronted by his worst fear, which is not the police, the imperialists, big business or the
National Front but is simply a health warning issued by a suburban doctor. Whilst John
Lydon‟s antithesis was the Queen and Joe Strummer of the Clash and „Wattie‟ Buchan of the
Exploited stared down US imperialists and British government departments, Bob‟s nemesis is
an ordinary suburban doctor. NOFX revels in the humour of the very real and practical
situation that it depicts. The song reminds us of our mortality and human weakness. It also
refuses to allow us to escape to a romantic world completely divorced from our every-day
experiences. We are forced to revel in society‟s contradictions rather than escape from them.
Sartre talks about people regularly fleeing from the anguish of life in this present world
through what he terms acts of „bad faith‟ (Sartre Being and Nothingness 2003, 70-94). In
David Caute‟s (2001) words, bad faith involves treating one self exclusively as either a
being-in-itself or a being-for-others rather than primarily as a being-for-self. In other
words, it involves treating oneself as some pre-given essence of something and denying the
15 The album title is a humorous reference to the band‟s ethnic mix of two Jews (Fat Mike and Melvin), one
Hispanic (El Hefe), and one white American (Sandin).
21
reality that for human beings existence must always precede essence. NOFX accepts that
many people respond to anguish and crisis through bad faith; in fact the band is probably of
the view that this is the most likely way that Bob will respond to his dilemma. His ritualistic
daily head shaving is clearly an act of bad faith since it avoids the issue and does not amount
to either an acceptance or a rejection of the doctor‟s words.
As the song progresses, we learn more about Bob. Details about his kicking in heads at
the punk rock show‟ outline to us Bob‟s dedication to the punk scene (his credibility) and
also his hardcore violent nature. Bob is portrayed as unsophisticated. The simplistic black-
and-white thinking of Bob is implicitly compared with the dialectical sophistication of
NOFX. It is this sophistication on the part of NOFX which presumably gives the band licence
to sing about Bob. Bob‟s penchant for violence at punk rock shows suggests his inability to
appreciate and understand the contradictions and nuances of punk rock culture: for Bob, all
issues are black-and-white and you are either for him or against him. This is an old theme in
the thirty-year history of punk: Joe Strummer of the Clash as early as the northern spring of
1977 was expressing his distaste for the reactionary herd of second-generation punk bands
and their audiences who frequented clubs such as London‟s Roxy and provincial venues such
as Portsmouth and Southampton (Gilbert 2004; Savage 2005, 301). It is these conservative
reactionary punks who were the specific target of Strummer‟s criticism in White Man in
Hammersmith Palais‟ (see earlier discussion in Section 2 and James in press). Their
emergence as a numerically important force for conservatism and yobbishness also motivated
John Lydon to „kill off‟ his Johnny Rotten persona (and so it is only in this sense that rock
can die (Dettmar 2006, 135)) to leave the Sex Pistols and form the multi-racial, experimental,
and urbane Public Image Limited (PiL) (Lydon et al. 1994). Such reactionary and
conservative punks soon took control of the UK punk movement with the rise in popularity of
the „Oi‟ bands and Sham 69 (see discussion in Section 2 and Waksman 2009, 198-9, 201). At
the same time, in the USA, the emergent hardcore punk sub-genre was also becomingly
increasingly associated with violent fan behaviour and clashes with police.16
How did the early punks view violence? Contrary to the conventional wisdom, John
Lydon denies that the Pistols was ever a destructive or nihilistic band, at least not in terms of
either promoting violence or (with the sole exception of Sid Vicious) willing their own self-
destruction (Lydon et al. 1994, 20, 30, 59, 77, 82-3, 151, 261, 356). Instead the Pistols was all
about confronting people with their own fears, contradictions, and hidden prejudices (as in
16 Hardcore punk is outside the scope of the present paper.
22
„Anarchy in the UK‟ and „God Save the Queen‟). In his personal life, Lydon eschewed
physical violence, not so much for ideological reasons, but because his small size and long-
term poor health, the legacy of a bout of spiral meningitis that kept him in hospital for a year
as an eight-year-old (Lydon et al. 1994, 16-18; Savage 2005, 115), would have made him too
easy a target. He in fact became such an unwilling target after the 1977 release of „God Save
the Queen‟ when he was brutally bashed in London pubs by self-proclaimed working-class
monarchists (regarding the pub bashings see Lydon et al. 1994, 191-3). Lydon‟s preferred
weapon, from childhood through to mature adulthood, was always words and, in particular,
the use of sarcasm. Readers of Lydon‟s 1994 autobiography will be treated to a book of witty,
sarcastic, but usually extremely perceptive, jabs at society and at individuals in Lydon‟s
characteristic clipped style of speech (the book uses stream-of-consciousness format). A
classic Lydonism compares his own pro-life worldview to that of Vicious, and the reification
and self-reification of the early punks by 1994 is clearly in evidence here: „That‟s the
difference between the Sid fanatic and the Johnny Lydon Appreciation Society. Life and
death! There‟s nothing glorious in dying. Anyone can do it‟ (Lydon et al. 1994, 261). Of
course many will claim that this is Lydon in 1994 posthumously reinventing and exonerating
himself. Lydon would in part agree, claiming that the Johnny Rotten persona, that he chose to
kill off in 1978, exuded all the wanton, mocking, hostile, and violent tendencies that had
come for many to characterize the Pistols in the 1970s.17 It is significant that during his legal
disputes with Lydon in the 1980s, Malcolm McLaren consistently continued to refer to Lydon
as Rotten, thus forever fixing him in time as the Rotten persona of the Pistols years that
McLaren perceived was easier to stigmatize and control; in effect McLaren was attempting to
deny Lydon the Sartrean right to self re-creation.
In contrast to Lydon, for Joe Strummer the only violence that was worth encouraging („let
fury have the hour/ anger can be power/ don‟t you know that you can use it?‟ go the lyrics for
1979s „Clampdown‟) was strategic violence designed to further a clear political cause, e.g.
Strummer and Simonon‟s participation (Antonia et al. 2006, 124; Emery 2007) in the riot that
followed the August 1976 Notting Hill Festival, immortalized in the lyrics to the 1977 Clash
song „White Riot‟, where black youth took the opportunity of the annual Afro-Caribbean
festival to extract some revenge on an English police force that they perceived as
17 For Lydon‟s 1994 comments on his Johnny Rotten persona, see Lydon et al. (1994, 154, 157). That was the
difference for Lydon between himself and Vicious: Sid inhabited his persona 24/7 and in fact became it, taking
the lifestyle of the New York glam rockers rather too literally. It was taking that persona literally that of course
killed Sid. As Lydon says, Sid „didn‟t understand Rotten was [only] my alter-ego‟ (Lydon et al. 1994, 157).
23
„institutionally racist‟ (regarding the riot after the August 1976 Notting Hill Festival see
Gilbert 2004, 99-103, 134-6; Savage 2005, 233-4, 2006, 94, 96).
Next we learn that NOFX‟s Bob seeks anew identity‟ and so „he shaves his head‟. This
also is a humorous comment on reactionary punks. Bob is confronted with a difficult
dilemma in his personal life. Should he follow the doctor‟s instructions? In an act of classic
reactionary punk behaviour, he tries to take on a new identity by shaving his head. This is
best viewed as further evidence of his simplistic hardcore attitude. Clearly, shaving his head
per se will not in any way either help or hinder any progress that he might make in relation to
his health issue. As stated above, Sartre (2003) would classify this ritual as an act of bad
faith. We then learn that Bob has a new girlfriend and that they ride a scooter and head out of
town. This could be an indictment on the mentality of punks in that even someone like Bob
can find a new girlfriend essentially on demand from within the scene.18 In typical camp
NOFX fashion, we then hear that trucks pass by and you can hear the mother fuckers go
BEEEP‟. This is followed by an actual truck horn sound at 0:53 in the song which is
immediately taken up into the sound of Aaron Abeyta aka El Hefe playing a trumpet solo
without any guitar backing (see the official video for the song on Youtube.com).19 The
guitars do not resume again until 1:14, making the trumpet solo very much an extended one
given that the entire song lasts for only 2:18. The use of a gleeful trumpet solo in the middle
of a rapid-fire punk song is clearly a contradiction in itself and the music reinforces the
lyrical preoccupations. The guitars at this stage are careening out of control, proceeding faster
and faster, as if to mimic the pace of modern life and Bob‟s attempt to wrestle with and
escape his dilemma. This taking up of the truck horn sound into the sound of the lone trumpet
(and later into the guitars) suggests both that truck horns are an integral part of modern urban
society and that NOFX, unlike Bob, is capable of forging an existential and workable
synthesis of facticity and transcendence (Sartre 2003, 79). The truck horns in one sense seem
to be a typical attack on punk freedom. However, the horns are not ridiculed or
condemned by NOFX; they are just another hurdle that a typical suburban punk rocker has to
face and overcome. As the song proceeds, the crisp, clear drumming keeps perfect time and
adds some structure to the cascading seemingly out of control guitars. Fat Mike‟s voice as
always is buried low in the mix and sounds world-weary and experienced but not dejected. At
times, Fat Mike‟s voice seems to be defeated by the instruments but at other times he pierces
18 For a discussion as to why the concept of „scene‟ in alternative music such as heavy-metal and punk is
superior to the concept of „sub-culture‟, see Harris (2000) and Kahn-Harris (2007).
19 The video clip can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyUIJIdwEuA (accessed 15 April 2009).
24
through the guitars to offer some insightful social commentary. The burying of Fat Mike‟s
voice low in the mix is a feature of all NOFX albums and is almost certainly done
deliberately and probably for the reasons suggested here. Fat Mike mirrors the Christian
incarnation, he is one of us and not above us; his world is our world (Weil 2006; Zizek 2003,
2008).
Fat Mike sums up the situation completely in two lines near the end of the song: „Bob‟s
the kind of guy that knows just what to do/ When the doctor tells him to‟. However, even this
is ambiguous: will Bob rebel or will he change his lifestyle? At this stage of the song, we
have heard of Bob‟s violence, his head-shaving, his new girlfriend, and his escapade on the
scooter out in the countryside, and we do not have much confidence in his ability to follow
the doctor‟s instruction. We then hear the doctor‟s voice of sensible middle-class suburban
restraint: Quit your drinking now‟s the time‟. The doctor‟s voice is sung by Fat Mike in his
normal singing voice as opposed to, for example, the doctor in Dire Straits‟ 1982 song
„Industrial Disease‟ where the doctor‟s voice is spoken and camp. This might suggest that
NOFX views the doctor‟s voice as legitimate, as close at hand, and as an integral part of the
present world (echoes of Marx and Sartre: we cannot escape facticity). With the doctor‟s
sentence, the nine-to-five world of suburbia speaks. But Bob lives in another dimension
where punk rock has burst the bonds of time(Savage 2005, 513) to create an „everlasting
present‟ (Savage 2005, 296, 355). Herbert Marcuse (1966, 231), philosopher of choice for the
1960s counter-culture, also speaks of time as being a strong ally of the Freudian death
instinct; it is „the bond that binds Eros to the death instinct‟ (Marcuse 1966, 231).20 Rancid, in
its song „Radio Havana‟, on the Rancid 2000 album, describes Castro‟s Havana as a fugitive
of time [i.e. from time]‟. This makes sense, not only because of the „‟57 Chevys‟ in the
Cuban capital, but because the surplus repression of Anglo-American market capitalism, not
a part of Cuban life, is allied with the death instinct, which itself is allied with time. Since
Marcuse (1966) argues that it is time that binds Eros to the death instinct, Savage‟s (2005)
statement that punk rock „burst the bonds of time‟ suggests that punk rock has always
assisted Eros in its struggles to escape fusion with the death instinct and to function more
freely.
This leads up to the crucial existentialist question that Fat Mike poses but does not
answer: Will he ever walk the line?‟ At this stage, the guitars are at their fastest and most
frenetic and unsettling. Fat Mike‟s question is sung loudly and authoritatively. His speech is
20 For a presentation of the post-1920 Freudian theory of life and death instincts, see Freud (1960, 1962), Fromm
(1963), Hall (1954), Marcuse (1966), and Robinson (1969).
25
clearer, somewhat slowed down, and more controlled. He wants us to consider the question
which is then repeated many times as the song winds down: „Will he ever walk the line?‟
Then we realize that Fat Mike is addressing the „Bob‟ living inside each one of us. Will we
grow up? Will we accept restraints? It is clear that if Bob does not change his ways, then his
future will not be a promising one. What would we do in Bob‟s situation? There is a
Tolstoyean „moral lesson‟ in the song but the band does not descend into an unreflexive
moralism. The song finally spins on a dime and comes to a quick halt with the last word
being a loud spoken „Bob‟ as if the band members have given up on him and are shaking
their heads in collective bewilderment. This effect is reinforced in the official video clip for
the song (208,225 views on Youtube.com as at 15 April 2009 but note that these viewing
figures are highly unreliable and subject to wild fluctuations without notice) which ends with
Bob about to share a late-night drink offered to him by a drunk at a city bus-stop. We see
only a few seconds hesitation before Bob takes the can of drink into his hand, snaps open the
can top, and then grins for the camera. The last aural sound in the clip is the noisy
(exaggeratedly so) opening of the can top whilst the concluding visual image of the clip is
Bob‟s grinning face. Fellow SoCal punks Rancid covered a number of NOFX songs, and
vice-versa. In the video clip of Rancid‟s cover of „Bob‟,21 the sincerity of Rancid‟s delivery is
evident but the irony, humour, and revelling in contradictions is, for the most part, lost. An
electric guitar solo replaces El Hefe‟s trumpet thus removing another of the contradictions in
the NOFX version of the song. Arguably the song does not suit the band performing it.
The NOFX emphasis on health and moderation (so very „90s‟) could indicate the punk
scene‟s willingness to operate reflexively in line with the traditional Marxist values of
criticism and self-criticism. The history of the punk rock movement is littered with instances
of early drug-related deaths, the most famous of these unarguably being that of Sex Pistol Sid
Vicious in 1979 (as dramatically and sympathetically retold in the 1986 film Sid & Nancy,
directed by Alex Cox and starring Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious and Chloe Webb as Nancy
Spungeon). NOFX may be suggesting a way forward for the punk movement which is a
synthesis of historical nihilism and modern moderation. Clearly such a synthesis, if it is to be
forged, will be a precarious one. However, to attempt to forge it is the brave option and the
option of good faith.
21 This video clip can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzqW9Pmr7zo (accessed 15 April 2009).
The following extended 3:20 video clip based around Rancid‟s version of „Bob‟ is also interesting and
humorous: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFM_64DVzWY&feature=related (accessed 15 April 2009). The
dialogue scenes here add extra dimensions to the character of Bob that go beyond the song lyrics.
26
As mentioned earlier, the voice of suburban restraint is one that a punk rocker sooner or
later must acknowledge if she/he does not want to go the way of Sex Pistol Sid Vicious
(1957-1979) who murdered his girlfriend and died from a heroin overdose at age 22 (for a
discussion of the circumstances surrounding Vicious‟ death see Antonia et al. 2006; Lydon et
al. 1994; Savage 2005; Spicer 2006). By confessing its „punkness‟, and by making clear and
consistent efforts to align itself with punk in general, and with the SoCal scene in particular,
NOFX is acknowledging that the history of the punk movement (in both its good and its bad
aspects) is also its history. We are reminded of the quote from Marx on the opening page of
this paper: Men make their own history, but they do not make it under the circumstances
of their own choosing [paraphrased]‟. Therefore, dialectically speaking, any movement
forward by the punk scene must acknowledge the facticity of the past. The voice of suburban
restraint is also looked at dialectically in this song by NOFX rather than being either
condemned or lionized. Such dialectical thought is consistent with the British punk scene‟s
intellectual roots in cultural Marxism. The issue of living the punk life in Green Bay,
Wisconsin‟, this paper‟s title and a reference to lyrics to NOFX‟s 1994 song „Punk Guy‟, is
explored intelligently by many other songs in the NOFX canon.22 It is to one of these songs,
„The Brews‟ from 1994s Punk in Drublic, that we now turn.
„The Brews‟ (1994)
Friday night we‟ll be drinking Manishevitz/ Going out to terrorize Goyem/ Stomping
shagitz, screwing shicksas/ As long as we‟re home by Saturday morning.
Chorus:
Cause hey, we‟re the Brews/ Sporting anti-swastika tattoos/ Oi Oi we‟re the boys/
Orthodox, Hasidic, O.G. Ois.
Orthopedic, Dr. Martins good for/ Waffle making, kicking through the shin/
Reputation, gained through intimidation/ Pacifism no longer tradition.
Modified Chorus:
Cause hey we‟re the Brews/ Sporting anti-swastika tattoos/ Oi Oi we‟re the Brews/
The Fairfax ghetto boys, skinhead Hebrews.
We got the might, psycho mashuganas/ We can‟t lose a fight/ As we are the chosen
ones/ Chutspah driven, we battle then we feast/ We celebrate, we'll separate our
milkplates from our meat.
22 To clarify what might be a point of confusion, NOFX is based in Los Angeles, California. The Green Bay,
Wisconsin reference is to the home of the fictional punk rock vocalist in NOFX‟s 1994 song „Punk Guy‟.
Green Bay, Wisconsin can also be used as a metaphor for reactionary 98% white America suburbia.
27
(Repeat Chorus)
We now consider the song „The Brews‟ on the Punk in Drublic album. It would be easy to
characterize this song as anti-Semitic on superficial reading. However, that is far from being
the case. According to Wikipedia (accessed 6 December 2007), Fat Mike is of Jewish
ancestry but does not believe in any higher power. NOFX rhythm guitarist Eric Scott Melvin
is also Jewish (Eric Melvin entry, Wikipedia, accessed 6 December 2007). NOFX aims in
these lyrics to highlight the (in its view precarious if not completely unsustainable)
contradiction between the claimed religious and ethnic Jewish identity of LA gang, the
Brews, and the gang‟s love of hedonism, violence, and retribution. Wikipedia states that
[t]he song lionizes Jews and contains numerous laudatory references to Jewish culture‟ (The
Brews entry, accessed 6 December 2007). However such a superficial reading fails to fully
examine both sides of the contradictions NOFX raises in the song. In addition to the
Wikipedia comment, „The Brews‟ has been lavishly praised by Jewsrock.org (accessed 6
December 2007) which states that, by writing the song, NOFX took the Jewish pride a step
further‟.
Punk rock‟s historic left-of-centre political position and Fat Mike and Eric Scott Melvin‟s
shared Jewish ethnicity are presumably the reasons why NOFX felt that it could address the
delicate subject matter of a Jewish gang. The song‟s subject matter is consistent with
NOFX‟s desire to explore fully the contradictions of contemporary suburban life, and not to
shy away from sensitive subject matter for reasons of political correctness. The fact is that
whilst NOFX is an icon within the punk community, the band is not well known outside the
scene. As such, NOFX is aware that the audience for „The Brews‟ will be nearly exclusively
composed of punk scene „insiders‟. By contrast, 1990s SoCal bands who broke out of the
narrow confines of the punk scene and attracted much radio airplay and mainstream support
(for example, Blink 182, Green Day, and the Offspring) would probably not have been
willing to pen lyrics as direct, provocative, and non-PC as the lyrics for „The Brews‟.
In order to understand the song more fully, the following Jewish terms need to be defined
(extracted from Plyrics.com): Manashevitz = Cheap wine Jews stereotypically drink;
Goyem = Non-Jewish people; Shagitz = Preppies; „Mashuganas‟ = Yiddish for „Crazy‟;
Chutspah = Untranslatable Yiddish term meaning a cross between balls and rudeness; „Dai
Dayenu‟ = Part of Jewish Hymn; Shicksa = Yiddish word for referring to a non-Jewish
female. The use of authentic Jewish slang gives the song sophistication, credibility, and
28
insider chic. The fact that the song lyrics are exclusively in the first-person plural to my
mind makes the lyrics less objectionable but also both more interesting and more difficult to
interpret. By eschewing the third-person, Fat Mike as lyricist is refusing to avoid some
accountability for the Jewish gang‟s antisocial behaviour; his identification with the gang in
both its positive and negative aspects is complete (although in real life it is doubtful whether
Fat Mike was ever a member of this or any other Jewish gang). Use of the first-person plural
also avoids any possible accusation of racism and hostility towards Jews. Fat Mike and Eric
Scott Melvin‟s professed Jewish ethnicity (two-fourths of the band) also makes an anti-
Semitic interpretation of the politically incorrect lyrics harder to sustain. It is important also
to note that the band performed three concerts in Israel in September 2007.
As mentioned above, the song is sung completely in the first-person plural with the
rowdy chorus being: „We‟re the Brews/ Sporting anti-swastika tattoos‟. On a live (Warped
tour) concert video of „The Brews‟, available on Youtube.com,23 lead guitarist El Hefe is
observed at 1:14 and 2:10 rushing to the positioned microphone on centre-left of stage during
the chorus and eagerly screaming the chorus into it (Fat Mike is positioned centre-middle of
stage, some distance from El Hefe, with Eric Scott Melvin at centre-right although all three
move around much during the performance). El Hefe also joins in the singing of the last verse
(„we got the might … from our meat‟) providing a gang vocals effect here too. At 2:06 of the
2:40 video, El Hefe exhorts the crowd: „Come on, you Canucks, one more time for rehearsal‟
before there is a repeating of the chorus to close out the performance of the song.
With the chorus lyric „We‟re the Brews/ Sporting anti-swastika tattoos‟ contradiction is
introduced immediately. Tattooing is forbidden under the Jewish Old Testament law.
Leviticus 19:28 states: You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo
any marks on you: I am the LORD‟ (New King James Version, from Biblegateway.com).
The anti-swastika tattoos thus clearly denote the ideological stance of the gang but the gang
does not seem aware of or be concerned about the contradiction that they create. In other
words, Jewish ethnicity/religious affiliation is a major part of the self-conscious group
identity of the Brews and is the source of male bonding. And yet the very act of tattooing is a
violation of the Jewish law that is an integral part of the same Jewish identity that the Brews
are so keen to defend.
The song describes the violence and mayhem that the gang enjoys but reminds us that
gang members must be home by Saturday morning‟ so as to be seen observing the Jewish
23 This live video can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xniqEA6ZPuU (accessed 16 April 2009).
29
Sabbath. Although the Jewish Sabbath starts on Friday sundown and lasts until Saturday
sundown (I thank one of the anonymous reviewers for this information) presumably daytime
Saturday is the time that the Jewish young men must be seen publicly with their families and
be seen to be officially following the faith. Drunk on Manashevitz (cheap Jewish wine), the
gang on Friday nights go out to terrorize „Goyem‟ (non-Jews). They „stomp Shagitz
(Preppies). These two enemies, Goyen and Shagitz, introduce another dialectic. One enemy is
old, the other new; one enemy reveals the Brews‟ Jewishness, the other reveals their
contemporary American hardcore attitude. The simultaneous attraction and hostility to non-
Jewish women that the Brews display („screwing shicksas) also suggests the alienation faced
by the members of this migrant community. It should also be noted that the song clearly fails
to adequately address and explore gender issues.
One of the more humorous and provocative lines in the song is where it is stated that the
gang „cannot lose a fight‟ because they have internalized the Jewish Orthodox self-image that
they „are the chosen ones‟. The gang clearly is trying to forge a complex identity in a strange
and alien society. The simplistic „chosen ones‟ ideology is sure to prove irresistibly attractive
to the members of the Brews. Clinging to this ideology, however, does reduce the possibility
that the gang can ever be fully accepted by, or feel comfortable within, mainstream American
society. If we are „the chosen ones‟, then who are you? Another contradiction possibly
present in the song is a controversial one: is the band implying that the Brews‟ ethnic
minority status is inconsistent with the gang‟s positive self-image and extroverted behaviour?
Are ethnic minorities that do not culturally merge with the mainstream society to be denied a
voice? This question is a much more contentious one than the issue of tattoos and if an
interpretation that sees this question as present in the song is viable then it raises the issue of
whether NOFX supports cultural assimilation of ethnic minority groups (achieved through
ridicule) into the dominant American culture. Fat Mike and Eric Scott Melvin are, of course,
assimilated non-religious Jews (whilst the Brews are presented as non- or partially-
assimilated).
The joyfully sung rowdy chorus Cause hey we‟re the Brews‟ is an attempt to highlight
the gang‟s rejoicing in its ethnic and religious identity as well as in its mayhem. The word
because suggests that the gang‟s maintained position is that its identity as „Brews‟ is more
than enough to compensate for both its violence and the inconsistencies inherent in its
ideology and practice. The theme of the mindlessness and simplistic thinking of youth that
we saw in „Bob‟ re-appears here in „The Brews‟. Youth are challenged by NOFX to examine
the presuppositions underlying their ideology and practice, to recognize the untenable nature
30
of the contradictions thus exposed, and then to work towards meaningful change. The
Brews is an anti-violence song but, more than that, it aims to highlight to us the
inconsistency of our own maintained positions and worldviews. In the same way that we
identify with Bob, we identify with the Brews. The use of first-person plural pronoun
throughout forces us to do this as Fat Mike‟s linguistic identification with the gang is
complete. They are „we‟, not „other‟. In the same way, the Clash speaks of „hate and war‟ but
in the 1977 song of the same name acknowledges that hate and war is „the only thing we are
today‟,24 as opposed to an „out there‟ label to be assigned only to other people. Likewise, for
NOFX, we are all guilty of the same hypocrisies, deceit, and self-righteousness as members
of the Brews. In what ways are we blind to the inconsistencies and failings of our own
maintained positions? NOFX is hoping that the Brews make us laugh: not in a racist way but
as part of a reflexive process of self-reflection where we recognize that, when contradictions
are exposed, there is nowhere left to hide. The joyfully rowdy gang vocals in the chorus,
especially when the line sporting anti-swastika tattoos‟ is sung, suggests an open rejoicing
by NOFX in this contradiction within the strict confines of the song.
The song clearly maintains the same complex nuanced dialectic that we saw in „Bob‟.
The Brews‟ actions are not portrayed as absolutely completely bad. The Brews have their
positive aspects. The reference to being driven by Chutspah, which is an untranslatable
Yiddish term meaning a cross between balls and rudeness, suggests that it is very difficult to
classify the Brews as either good or bad; their motivations, let alone their actions, are mixed
and confused. This term was also used in a response by one of the post-punk fans surveyed
by Martin (2004) suggesting a Jewish influence in punk culture that can probably be traced
back as far as Malcolm McLaren, Bernie Rhodes, the Clash‟s Mick Jones, Blondie‟s Chris
Stein, and mid-1970s New York City band the Dictators. When does courage become
rudeness? Use of this Yiddish term keeps the door open to multiple interpretations about
motives and attitudes. The rowdy joyous drunken singing of the chorus allows us to revel in
and appropriate the power of the Brews in the same way that Robert Walser (1993a, 1993b)
argues that the Judas Priest song „Electric Eye‟ allows the audience to share in the power of
the surveillance camera whilst simultaneously condemning such surveillance from the
societal perspective. As another example from the heavy-metal genre, the band-member
narrator voice in the Saxon song Strong Arm of the Law‟ (1980) is negative in the verses
24 This line is inexplicably omitted from the lyrics to the song at Plyrics.com. However it can be heard clearly at
0:44 out of 1:47 of a live video of the Clash performing the song in 1976 available at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B58FHKF27qg (accessed 28 April 2009).
31
towards the police who stop the band‟s car after a gig to search for drugs („You should‟ve
seen the stupid smirk drop from his face/ it was a negative exercise/ the way that we dress
and the things that we do/ they thought it was an easy bust). However, in the chorus („Stop,
get out/ we are the Strong Arm of the Law‟), the listener is instead invited to revel in the
power of the police. In the verses lyrically „we‟ is the band members and their entourage; in
the chorus „we‟ reverts to the police. Therefore, in the song taken as a whole, police power is
viewed dialectically as having, consistent with the approach taken by Judas Priest in „Electric
Eye‟, a positive and a negative aspect. In „The Brews‟, too, both the tone and lyrics of the
chorus are more favourable towards the Brews than are the tone and lyrics of the verses.
Possibly the Brews are being presented somewhat favourably by NOFX because they are
clearly human, all too human‟ and their fighting spirit is admirable. Fat Mike would flatly
reject the view that the Brews should meekly allow themselves to be bullied by fascist gangs.
However, he also wants them to go beyond simply being another gang in the suburban jungle
self-righteously trumpeting their own credentials and ruthlessly defending their own turf.
Punk was never about that.
The last line in the second chorus amplifies the contradiction by describing the Brews in
one line as Fairfax ghetto boys, skinhead Hebrews‟ which surely indicates the complex mix
of identities that the gang has appropriated for itself. Fairfax is a Los Angeles suburb which is
home to a large Jewish community. The place name Fairfax in „The Brews‟ ties the song to
the local and to the concrete as Joe Strummer did in his lyrical masterpiece White Man in
Hammersmith Palais‟ and the Clash did again a year later on the Paul Simonon composed
The Guns of Brixton‟ (Emery 2007; Gilbert 2004). For a punk rocker, walking in the cultural
Marxist tradition, context is always important because it allows a site to be analyzed in its
complete and contradictory totality and allows more complex meanings and prospects for
resistance to be constructed and articulated. Clashes between police and working-class and
immigrant youth in the Brixton housing estate in 1979 (the subject matter of „The Guns of
Brixton‟) revealed clearly to the broader society underlying social tensions that probably
existed outside Brixton but in a more muted form (or would later break out elsewhere if the
dialectic of social change was allowed to run its course). The song presented the perfect
message for the first year of Thatcherism, painting a similar picture to Tory rhetoric but in the
Clash‟s case blaming neither the immigrants nor the social underclass. In the first chapter of
Volume One of Capital, Marx (1976, originally published in 1867) studied the commodity
form, rather than some larger totality such as the factory or the society (Tinker 1999). The
reason for this is that Marx understood that all of the contradictions of capitalism (for
32
example, between use-values and exchange-values and between the increasing wealth created
by the capitalist mode of production and the increasing impoverishment of the proletariat) are
already present in the concrete form of the commodity. NOFX also, and possibly for the same
reason, chose to study The Brews of Fairfax in depth and in detail rather than produce an
abstract dry totalizing discourse on American society and marginalization. The Clash sung
about Brixton, not just about England (although admittedly at times the Clash did that as
well). By studying The Brews of Fairfax we have access to a window in which we can
observe many of the trends and contradictions which are either lying dormant or are in active
operation within the wider American society. To those that might argue that Jewish gangs
are not a mainstream topic of interest in the broader society, I respond by stating that issues
of religious belief, hypocrisy, marginalization, voice, violence, power, immigrant
communities, representation, and group self-identity (all topics explored within the 2 minutes
40 seconds of „The Brews‟) most certainly are.
„Happy Guy‟ (1994)
He‟s just a man getting through life the best he can/ He‟s not a scientist, he programs a
computer/ Before that he sold cars to pay a student loan now he receives pity/ From his
family - his friends say how could he/ Turn his back on reason worshiping/ A God
finding truth through fear and mind control/ He‟s just a man trying to explain how/ He
found the word of God could make his life seem less insane/ So he shares what he's
read, what he understands/ It makes sense to him, it makes perfect sense.
He‟s never seen the world so clearly/ Turned his back on free will - has he lost his
mind?/ He‟d rather kneel down than take charge of his life/ And he knows what people
think, but it doesn‟t sway him/ He can read the writings on the wall// 'Cause he knows
how people treat, how they treat each other/ A sacrifice to benefit the all/ Don‟t try to
judge him, his theological ideas/ His hopes may be false but his happiness is real/
Don‟t try to judge him, he‟s just a man.
This song, Happy Guy‟ from 1994s Punk in Drublic is, as with „Bob‟, an in-depth
Tolstoyean or Dostoyevskyean character study of a single young male individual.25 It is also
25 Although the vast majority of NOFX‟s fictional characters are male, and this might concern some people,
other songs in the NOFX canon do introduce complex female characters, the most famous of these being Fat
Mike‟s childhood friend and now porn star, Lori Meyers, in the 1994 song of the same name (where Lori
proclaims, in justification of her new-found profession: „I ain‟t no Cinderella, I ain‟t waiting for no prince‟). In
this song, from Punk in Drublic, Lori justifies her newfound profession by comparing it with the working
conditions and wages on offer at the factory, an avowedly Marxist critique relying on the young Marx‟s theory
of alienation. Kim Shattuck (sp?) of the Muffs‟ (according to Eric Scott Melvin, Frequently Asked Questions,
NOFX Official Website at http://www.nofxofficialwebsite.com/qa/qa_read.php3?page=7, accessed 17
December 2008) sings Lori‟s part on the original studio version of the song. Sarah Sandin puts on an
33
a complex, nuanced, and dialectical analysis of Christian evangelical religion. As we saw
earlier, Marx (1976) used the opening chapter of Volume 1 of Capital to examine the
commodity form in extreme detail because the commodity form contains within itself all of
the contradictions of capitalism. In „This is England‟ (1985), the Clash expresses its
exasperation, and simultaneously its identification, with fallen England and its contradictions
with the chorus of: This is England/ this knife of Sheffield steel/ this is England/ this is how
we feel‟. In this song, „Happy Guy‟, the young man is presented by NOFX as a living
contradiction. How can a young university graduate depart from what Fat Mike labels as
Reason in order to embrace the Christian God by faith? The unnamed Happy Guy‟ in the
song has made a recent conversion to evangelical Christianity and all of a sudden his world
makes perfect sense to him‟. In addition, his newfound faith has multiplied his happiness a
dozen times. As with the other songs we have studied, NOFX addresses the issue of
American Christian religion dialectically and critically. The song seems to resemble in places
something that a Christian punk band might have written. In other places, however, the song
is critical of religion. However, at no stage does the song degenerate into a religion-bashing
exercise. Above all, the song is compassionate and sympathetic to the presumed reasons why
the young man became a Christian. Fat Mike presumes that the young man was disenchanted
by the way people treat each other and the tone of Fat Mike‟s voice in the song makes it
clear that he regards the young man‟s thinking as completely understandable (if not logical).
Throughout the song Fat Mike‟s voice tone indicates sympathy for the Happy Guy.
NOFX nearly turns into a Christian band at one point in the song as Fat Mike seems to
accept the claim of Christianity that the sacrifice of Christ was to „benefit the all‟. This
statement is ambiguous enough to be consistent with any or all of the three main theological
theories as to the purpose of the atonement: Christ as Victor Theory, Satisfaction Theory
(also referred to as penal substitution) and Moral Influence Theory (for introductions to these
three theories see Walls 2004). It is not even inconsistent with the view adopted by the more
socially and politically conservative American evangelicals (Satisfaction Theory) that the
righteous Christ was a sin offering upon which God placed His wrath rather than upon sinful
human beings. This is the theory of the atonement that philosophers regard as being the
primary view adopted by Mel Gibson, director of The Passion of the Christ, and much of that
film‟s American audience. As Walls (2004, 33) explains:
empowering and impressive performance singing Lori‟s lines on the 2007 live album They’ve Actually Gotten
Worse Live!
34
When Christ is being crucified, Gibson‟s hand holds the nail that is driven into Christ‟s
hand. Thereby, Gibson depicts the conviction that we all of us are responsible for
putting Christ to death. It is our sins that he bore, it is in our stead that he died, and
because of that we can be forgiven and escape the penalty that we deserve.
Like St. Augustine and the French twentieth-century left-wing philosopher Simone Weil, did
Fat Mike find God in the end? Christianity, Fat Mike seems to imply, by pointing the way to
Love Incarnate, compensates people for the imperfect and unloving nature of human relations
in this world. As Weil (2006) remarks, it is through affliction that we experience God as
Christ also Himself suffered affliction and separation from His Father. For Slovenian
philosopher, Slavoj Zizek (2003, 2008), who courageously attempts a reconciliation of
materialist subversive Marxism with materialist subversive Christianity, the unique aspect of
the Christian understanding of God is that God is self-alienated or alienated within Himself
(hence Christ on the cross: „Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?‟ or My God, my God, why have
you forsaken me?‟, St. Matthew 27:46) For Zizek, we cannot hope to relate to God in His
bliss (Zizek 2003, 91), but as alienated people we can relate to and identify with the self-
alienation of God.
In his analysis of The Passion of the Christ, Dallas Willard (2004, 171) explains the not
completely obvious link between unkindness in the world and Christ‟s sacrificial death:
Only by Jesus Christ publicly suffering and dying in circumstances of the worst kind
imposed by a range of different kinds of people, especially Romans and Jews and
then living on beyond all that in the power and goodness of God, could he open the
possibility of a good and righteous life to everyone in the world.
Despite the contrary opinion often being voiced, Karl Marx, like Fat Mike, held a
sophisticated and dialectical understanding of religion where he acknowledged and
understood both its positive and negative aspects.
On the one hand, in The German Ideology (Marx and Engels 1994b) and the Preface to
“A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”‟ (Marx 1994c), religion is relegated to
the superstructure, whereas historical change is driven by changes in the economic base and
is a function of the ruling class‟ need to safeguard itself. A mechanical materialist would
regard the Protestant Reformation as being the result of changes in the economic base
35
whereas for the German sociologist Max Weber it was the Protestant work ethic that was the
spirit of an emerging capitalism. Most Marxists would accept that there is a two-way
interaction between the economic base and the religious part of the superstructure, consistent
with Althusser‟s (2008, 9) view that the superstructure has „relative autonomy‟, there is
„reciprocal action‟ between base and superstructure, and the economic base only has
determination in the last instance‟.
However, there is another less-cited side to Marx‟s thinking on religion. In the
Introduction to Toward a Critique of Hegel‟s Philosophy of Right”‟, the young Marx
(1994a) refers to religion as the the heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless
conditions‟. It is a sign of real suffering and a response to real suffering. In Marx‟s words:
Religious suffering is the expression of real suffering and at the same time the protest
against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a
heartless world, as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people
(Karl Marx, Introduction, Toward a Critique of Hegel‟s Philosophy of Right”‟, 1844)
(Marx 1994a, 28, emphasis original)).
Opium here is being presented as a primitive form of anaesthetic (see also Tolstoy‟s The
Death of Ivan Ilyich), not as a recreational drug and who can blame people for wanting
anaesthetic to cope with life‟s pain? Fat Mike also sees religion as having positive and
negative aspects. He agrees with Marx that religion‟s value lies not in its truth value
according to a Correspondence or a Coherence Theory of Truth (Irwin 2004, 129-31) but in
terms of a Pragmatic Theory of Truth (Irwin 2004, 131-2), i.e. as a source of comfort and
solace in a harsh world.
First we discuss the objections to Christianity that Fat Mike makes in the song. Firstly,
the Happy Guy „turn[s] his back on reason worshiping/ A God finding truth through fear and
mind control. This reification of Reason seems somewhat surprising. Does Fat Mike accept
the socially and politically conservative Kantian ideals of the Enlightenment? It is probably
better to view these two lines as Fat Mike citing the Happy Guy‟s family. If we regard these
two lines as being Fat Mike citing the Happy Guy‟s family, we do not need to see Fat Mike
as being a modernist champion of Reason. This makes sense as he then goes on to dismiss
these objections to the Happy Guy‟s faith. Fat Mike defends the Happy Guy with the
following remarks: „He‟s just a man trying to explain how/ he found the word of God could
make his life seem less insane. The Happy Guy is using the „hey, it works‟ Pragmatic
36
Theory of Truth (Irwin 2004, 131-2). Irwin (2004, 131), in the context of his philosophical
analysis of The Passion of the Christ, succinctly summarizes this theory‟s implications:
More specifically we might argue that “Jesus is God incarnate” is true because it works,
making life better, easier, and more meaningful‟.
As Zizek (2003, 98, 2008, 92, 111-12, 126, 132-3, 136) makes clear, the Christianity of
St. Paul liberates because it allows the believing Christian to escape from the trapping
confines of the law-transgression dialectic of Romans 7:5. It is agape love that allows the
Christian to transcend this dialectic: „I died to the law‟ (St. Paul, Romans 7:6). Hence, „there
is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus‟ (St. Paul, Romans 8:1,
New International Version).
Above all, Fat Mike continually recognizes and affirms the Happy Guy‟s flawed
humanity. He‟s just a man. The humanitarian and fraternal aspects of punk culture are clearly
in view here. Although Fat Mike may not share the Happy Guy‟s theology, he refuses to
condemn him and tries his best to be understanding and sympathetic. It is too bad that in real
life Fat Mike did not conform to these ideals in his later years. The Christian hardcore band
Underoath was recently forced off the punk Warped tour by Fat Mike who objected to the
public group prayer meetings being held during the tour. In this song, however, Fat Mike
sympathizes with the plight of young people in a complex, confusing, rapidly changing, and
frequently hostile world. In Fat Mike‟s thinking, the reason he gives for the Happy Guy‟s
conversion seems to him understandable: He found the word of God could make his life
seem less insane. Punk has always had an important aesthetic aspect and personal experience
has always been central to punk, making it something of an existentialist movement (see e.g.
the lyrics to the Clash‟s London Calling‟ from the 1979 album of the same name and the
lyrics to „Stay Free‟ on 1978s Give ‘Em Enough Rope). Therefore, Fat Mike‟s sympathy and
understanding here for the Christian Happy Guy do not really strike those familiar with the
punk movement as being odd. The Clash recorded a gospel song The Sound of the Sinners‟,
the Sex Pistols had the band‟s previously mentioned punk prayer „No One is Innocent‟, and
Irish-American punk band the Dropkick Murphys performed a cover of the traditional Irish
hymn „God Willing‟ on 2007s The Meanest of Times („God willing I‟ll see you on the other
side‟). Opening song „Famous for Nothing‟, on the same Murphys album, has a clear
religious theme: although the song narrator did not heed the Lord‟s call, the Roman Catholic
religion and its representatives remain respected. Likewise, in the Dropkick Murphys‟ song
„Never Forget‟, which demonstrates the most humanitarian strain within the punk ethos
(mixed with the romanticism and sentimentality that is often a feature of humanitarian punk
37
dating as far back as the Clash‟s Mick Jones on „Stay Free‟), the narrator comments that: To
my father‟s stern direction/ And the lessons that he taught/ My grandmother‟s affection/ And
the faith I always fought. Jon Young (2007) puts forward his view that the band writes
surprisingly thoughtful songs that explore lives shaped by drunken violence and
Catholicism‟. In the song „Otherside‟, on Rancid‟s 2003 Indestructible album, the band, in
memory of Lars Frederiksen‟s departed brother Robert (Lynn 2003), expresses a commitment
to religious tolerance and understanding, although it does so from a self-confessed atheist
position: „I was an atheist/ You wore the crucifix/ We put our differences to the side. Clearly
it would be wrong and simplistic, even ignoring the whole Christian punk scene, to
characterize the punk ethos as anti-religious. Zizek (2003, 2008) says the same of dialectical
materialism. Overall, I conclude that Fat Mike and the Happy Guy both give much credence
to the Pragmatic Theory of Truth.
We now consider Fat Mike‟s next objection to the Happy Guy‟s religion, and this is
clearly his own words: Turned his back on free will - has he lost his mind?/ He‟d rather
kneel down than take charge of his life. While he tries to come across as dogmatic and
convinced of his opinion here, the alert listener may be inclined to believe that Fat Mike is
willing to give the Happy Guy the benefit of the doubt. Surely only the most narrow-minded
and controlling of Christians would argue that a new convert should not take hold of his
life‟. In effect, Fat Mike is challenging the Happy Guy to go beyond the clichéd Nietzschean
view of sheep-like Christian conduct and also exhorting him to prove the negative people
wrong. The principal contradiction in the song is not between faith and reason (an out-dated
modernist dialectic that our baby-boomer parents might have used) but between faith and free
will or between (presumed) passivity and activity. The latter might be termed an existentialist
dialectic.
Like Karl Marx, Fat Mike offers a sophisticated and dialectical analysis of religion where
he accepts and acknowledges both its positive and its negative aspects. All of religion‟s
contradictions can be observed in the person of the Happy Guy. Fat Mike fully agrees with
both the Happy Guy and Karl Marx that religion is the heart of a heartless world, the soul of
soulless conditions‟. And it is against such conditions that punk has always railed.
Conclusions
This study has explored dialectical contradiction in the mid-period songs of Californian punk
band NOFX led by punk scene icon Fat Mike. I find that NOFX is a band willing to fully
38
highlight and explore the contradictions associated with living the existentialist punk lifestyle
within the ordinary and tedious constraints of suburban America and its various middle-class
voices of orthodoxy, moderation, and Enlightenment-styled Reason. Clearly NOFX views it
as being difficult to live the punk life in Green Bay, Wisconsin. In fact, it might be much
harder to do so than in punk‟s original breeding ground, the bed-sits, art schools, dingy corner
pubs, and council tower blocks of Lydon, Beverly, Strummer, Jones, Simonon, Headon,
McLaren, Westwood, Rhodes, Letts, and Lee‟s west London (to name all the usual suspects).
West London, for all its failings, was cosmopolitan and multi-cultural; it had a vibe which the
punks could appropriate and bend to suit their own immediate purposes and desires (see, for
example, the discussion on the culture of 1970s Notting Hill in Savage 2005, 111-12). By
contrast, Green Bay is neither cosmopolitan nor multi-cultural.
The members of NOFX clearly have a loyalty and commitment to the scene, similar to
that that Kahn-Harris (2007) claims extreme-metal fans have towards theirs. Negotiating
suburban life‟s hurdles and constraints, whilst staying true to the traditions and ethos of punk,
is a difficult achievement but NOFX urges us not to give up. However, equally, NOFX also
urges us not to become a reactionary copy-and-paste parody of the far-away punks of 1970s
London. Only by acknowledging the past, whilst not being bound to it, can punk continually
reinvent itself and remain relevant to a new generation. As Sartre (2003) writes, the task of
each new generation is to produce its own workable synthesis of facticity and transcendence.
Each new generation must decide for itself whether to honour Lenin‟s statue or to tear it
down (Sartre 2003, 563). We can learn much from the example of NOFX.
Acknowledgements
This paper has benefited from the helpful insights of Keith Kahn-Harris, Laurie James,
Bradford Martin, conference participants at IASPM-ANZ Conference 2008 (Brisbane,
Australia, 28-30 November), two anonymous reviewers for this paper, and the MA editor Paul
Watt. I would especially like to thank „Tim‟ of Canberra (he was always known only as Tim),
my 18-year-old housemate in Wagga Wagga, Australia in the first half of 2005 and an expert
on SoCal punk, for our many insightful chats on the music and bands associated with this
movement. I thank him especially for his observation that Bad Religion traded on the
popularity of the SoCal scene to establish itself among a younger generation of fans.
References
39
Althusser, Louis (2008),‟Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an
Investigation)‟, in Louis Althusser (ed.), On Ideology. London and New York: Verso, 1-
60.
Androutsopoulos, Jannis K. (2000), „Non-standard Spellings in Media Texts: The Case of
German Fanzines. Journal of Sociolinguistics 4/4: 514-33.
Antonia, Nina with Jay Babcock, Johnny Black, Paul Brannigan, Keith Cameron, Peter
Doggett, Ian Dickson, Tom Doyle, Ben Edmonds et al. (2006), Punk: The Whole Story.
London: MOJO The Music Magazine.
Blumberg, Paul (1989), The Predatory Society: Deception in the American Marketplace.
New York: Oxford University Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1979), Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London:
Routledge.
Bourdieu, Pierre (1993), The Field of Cultural Production. Oxford: Polity Press.
Caute, David (2001), „Introduction, in David Caute (ed.), What is Literature? London:
Routledge Classics, vii-xxi.
Dettmar, Kevin J.H. (2006), Is Rock Dead? London and New York: Routledge Taylor &
Francis.
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (2003), Crime and Punishment. London: Penguin Classics.
Emery, Douglas B. (2007), „Popular Music of the Clash‟. Political Anthropology V/VI. ed.
Myron J. Aronoff, Available online:
http://www.geocities.com/SouthBeach/Marina/5119/clash/cbioco.htm (accessed 24
October 2007).
Freud, Sigmund (1960), Beyond the Pleasure Principle. New York and London: W. W.
Norton & Company.
------- (1962), The Ego and the Id. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company.
Fromm, Erich (1963), Beyond the Chains of Illusion: My Encounter with Marx and Freud.
New York: Pocket Books.
Gilbert, Pat (2004), Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash. London: Aurum Press.
Hall, Calvin S. (1954), A Primer of Freudian Psychology. London, New York and Toronto:
The World Publishing Company.
Harris, Keith (2000), „“Roots”?: The Relationship between the Global and the Local within
the Extreme Metal Scene. Popular Music 19/1: 13-30.
Heylin, Clinton (2007), Babylon’s Burning: From Punk to Grunge. London: Penguin Books.
Hornby, Nick (2002), Songbook. San Francisco: McSweeney‟s.
Irwin, William (2004), „Pilate‟s Question: What is Truth?‟ in J. J. E. Gracia (ed.), Mel
Gibson’s Passion and Philosophy: The Cross, the Questions, the Controversy. Peru:
Carus Publishing Company, 127-36.
James, Kieran (In Press), „“This is England”: Punk Rock‟s Realist/ Idealist Dialectic and its
Implications for Critical Accounting Education. Accounting Forum [published online].
40
Kahn-Harris, Keith (2007), Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge. London and New
York: Berg.
Lydon, John, Keith Zimmerman and Kent Zimmerman (1994), Rotten: No Irish, no Blacks,
no Dogs. London: Plexus Publishing.
Lynn, Jennifer (2003), Lars Bio [Biography of Lars Fredericksen of Rancid and Lars
Fredericksen and the Bastards]‟, Available online at
http://rancidrocks.piczo.com/larsbio?cr=1&linkvar=000044 (accessed 20 April 2009).
McCauley, Martin (1996), „Foreword‟, in Martin McCauley (ed.), Mikhail Gorbachev
Memoirs. London, Moorebank and Auckland: Doubleday/ Transworld, vii-xvii.
Mao Zedong [Mao Tse-tung] (2007), „On Contradiction‟, in Slavoj Zizek (ed.), Mao on
Practice and Contradiction. London and New York: Verso, 67-102.
Marcuse, Herbert (1964), One-dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced
Industrial Society. Boston: Beacon Press.
----- (1966). Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud. Boston: Beacon
Press.
Martin, Bradford (2004), And you voted for that Guy”: 1980s Post-punk and
Oppositional Politics. Journal of Popular Music Studies 16/2: 142-74.
Marx, Karl H. (1976), Capital: A Critique of Political Economy Volume 1. London: Penguin
Classics.
Marx, Karl H. (1994a), Introduction, “Toward a Critique of Hegel‟s Philosophy of Right”‟,
in Lawrence H. Simon (ed.), Selected Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing
Company, 27-39.
Marx, Karl H. (1994b), „The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (selections)‟, in
Lawrence H. Simon (ed.), Selected Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company,
187-208.
Marx, Karl H. (1994c), Preface, “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”‟, in
Lawrence H. Simon (ed.), Selected Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company,
209-213.
Marx, Karl H. and Friedrich Engels (1994a), „The Communist Manifesto‟, in Lawrence H.
Simon (ed.), Selected Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 102-156.
Marx, Karl H. and Freidrich Engels (1994b), „The German Ideology, Part 1 (selections)‟, in
Lawrence H. Simon (ed.), Selected Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company,
157-186.
Meikle, S. (1979), „Dialectical Contradiction and Necessity‟, in J. Mepham and D.-H. Ruben
(eds.), Issues in Marxist Philosophy: Volume 1 Dialectics and Method. Brighton: The
Harvester Press, 5-36.
Mepham, J. (1979), From the Grundrisse to Capital: The Making of Marx‟s Method‟, in J.
Mepham and D.-H. Ruben (eds.), Issues in Marxist Philosophy: Volume 1 Dialectics and
Method. Brighton: The Harvester Press, 145-173.
Mikkelson, Jan (2009), Grindcore Politics: Revolutions per Minute‟. Terrorizer 180
(February): 46, 51.
Moynihan, Michael and Didrik Søderlind (2003), Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the
Satanic Metal Underground. Venice: Feral House.
41
Negus, Keith (1999), Music Genres and Corporate Cultures. London and New York:
Routledge.
Pillsbury, Glenn (2006). Damage Incorporated: Metallica and the Production of Musical
Identity. Abingdon and New York: Taylor & Francis Group.
Robinson, Paul A. (1969), The Freudian Left: Wilhelm Reich, Geza Roheim, Herbert
Marcuse. New York: Harper & Row.
Ruben, D.-H. (1979), „Marxism and Dialectics‟, in J. Mepham and D.-H. Ruben (eds.), Issues
in Marxist Philosophy: Volume 1 Dialectics and Method. Brighton: The Harvester Press,
37-86.
Salewicz, Chris (2006). Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer. New York: Faber
and Faber.
Sartre, Jean-Paul (2003), Being and Nothingness. London: Routledge Classics.
Savage, Jon (2005), England’s Dreaming: Sex Pistols and Punk Rock. London: Faber and
Faber.
----- (2006), „The Whole Truth: May 1988 Interview with Joe Strummer for the Sex Pistols
Biography England’s Dreaming (Reprinted in full)‟, in The Clash The Inside Story Q
and MOJO Special Edition, 88-97.
Spicer, Al (2006), The Rough Guide to Punk: The Filth, the Fury, the Fashion. London:
Rough Guides.
Thornton, Sarah (1995), Club Cultures: Music, Media and Sub-cultural Capital. Cambridge:
Polity Press.
Tinker, Tony (1999), „Mickey Marxism Rides Again!‟ Critical Perspectives on Accounting.
10/5: 643-70.
Tolstoy, Leo (1983a), „The Kreutzer Sonata‟, in David McDuff (ed.), The Kreutzer Sonata
and Other Stories. London: Penguin Classics, 25-118.
----- (1983b), „The Devil‟, in David McDuff (ed.), The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories.
London: Penguin Classics, 119-74.
----- (2008), „The Death of Ivan Ilyich‟, in Anthony Briggs (ed.), The Death of Ivan Ilyich
and Other Stories. London: Penguin Classics, 155-217.
Waksman, Steve (2009), This ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy
Metal and Punk. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Walls, Jerry L. (2004), „Christ‟s Atonement: Washing away Human Sin‟, in J. J. E. Gracia
(ed.), Mel Gibson’s Passion and Philosophy: The Cross, the Questions, the Controversy.
Peru: Carus Publishing Company, 25-39.
Walser, Robert (1993a), „Professing Censorship: Academic Attacks on Heavy Metal‟.
Journal of Popular Music Studies 5: 68-78.
----- (1993b), Running with the Devil: Power, Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal Music.
Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.
Weil, Simone (2006), „The Love of God and Affliction‟, in Eric O. Springsted (ed.), Simone
Weil. New York: Orbis Books, 41-71.
42
Willard, Dallas (2004), „The Craftiness of Christ: Wisdom of the Hidden God‟, in J. J. E.
Gracia (ed.), Mel Gibson’s Passion and Philosophy: The Cross, the Questions, the
Controversy. Peru: Carus Publishing Company, 167-178.
Young, Jon (2007), „Dropkick Murphys: The Meanest of Times [album review]‟. Spin
October: 96-7.
Zizek, Slavoj (2003), The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity. Boston:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
----- (2008), The Fragile Absolute or why the Christian Legacy is worth fighting for. London
and New York: Verso.
... However, it is a beginning, an entrance the sociological research cannot avoid to look at, if the aim is to perceive the multidimensional complexity of its object. Unfortunately, as far as we know, the sociological research on punk is not paying much attention to all the possibilities of the content analysis of bands' names and lyrics (for a qualitative approach of some emblematic lyrics, see James, 2009James, , 2010. Hence, it is not practicable to undertake a systemic comparison between the main themes and sentiments conveyed by the songs generated in the Portuguese punk scene, and the ones generated in other scenes. ...
Article
Full-text available
In Western societies, punk represented a benchmark for rupture towards the existing social structure while providing a soundtrack for it. So, it is in this context that we will approach the Portuguese punk considering its importance in a society engaged in relatively recent processes of democratization and modernization. Thus, we propose here to take a look at the punk from its protagonists’ discourses and the text that they form. We will consider the words used by the bands in two ways: when they name themselves and their lyrics. In each case, we will deal with the self-representation issues in the light of the polarity between identity and difference: who we are, how we position ourselves, how we distinguish ourselves, what we have to say about ourselves, our time and our world; what are our values and what we have to say regarding the dominant social values; which causes move us, how we want to act, how we want the world to be. As in any other discursive self-representation, the content is not independent of the forms of expression. Therefore, the identification and dialogue questions (who is speaking, who is he or she speaking to) and the language questions (how does the speaker express, with which codes, in which forms) are also examined. Our analysis suggests that the punk discourse on identity tends to be structured by three main axes: a) cosmopolitanism, b) the radical assumption of an irreducible difference regarding social order and c) an ambivalent attitude towards politics and the political action.
... However, Lydon is bleak when it comes to the futures of the working-class: they don't have any. This was a time of rapidly increasing unemployment (1.6 million or 6% by the summer of 1977; Savage, 2005, p. 480) as Callaghan's Labour Government breathed its last gasp and was forced into accepting humiliating public service cuts under the direction of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (James, 2010;Savage, 2005, p. 480 These lyrics are not a clear call for revolution. They instead are a call for the working-class to reflexively examine the institutions of UK society and to dare to challenge and critique the previously unchallengeable. ...
Article
Full-text available
This paper considers, in a series of reflections, how existentialist philosophy might be used to inform the teaching and management of the traditionally conceptualized and conventionally elective "soft" university courses of Accounting Theory, Business Ethics, Critical Management Studies, and Sustainability. We draw upon key existentialist philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Søren Kierkegaard, and G. K. Chesterton as well as music by the influential and sociologically significant UK "first wave of punk rock" bands The Sex Pistols and the Clash. The purpose is to explore the locations from which the teaching of accounting and management might offer critical evaluation on the interactions of the individual (e.g. student and teacher) and society (example employment as "an accountant" or "a manager" in business, the profession and academia).
... Yet, due to their status as a punk band, the Dropkick Murphys render this attendant religious metaphysic eminently graspable by de-mythologising it. In particular, the band explores what 1970s punk journalist Caroline Coon described as ‗personal politics' sharing this with other ‗postmodern' contemporary punk bands NOFX (see James 2010) and the Offspring as well as their predecessors such as the Sex Pistols. Through our ethnomusicological reading of The Meanest of Times (2007) they remind us that it is equally important to understand the experience of migrant security, Diasporic or otherwise, as oscillating between what Giddens (1991) termed ‗ontological security' and ‗existential anxiety' alongside geo-political readings of the same phenomenon. ...
Article
Full-text available
This paper discusses the contemporary Irish-American punk band, the Dropkick Murphys, and in particular the band's most recent studio album 2007s The Meanest of Times. We find that the band's resurgent Irish nationalism is both uniquely a product of the Irish Diaspora, and, although the band might be unwilling to admit it, American culture and its self-confident jingoistic patriotism. The band's attitude to Roman Catholicism is, in Sartre's (2003) words, a unique synthesis of facticity and transcendence in that they acknowledge its reality as a shadow overhanging both their pasts and their presents. However, the band seems to go beyond simply acknowledging its spectre by adopting, expressing, and/or reflecting some degree of religious faith themselves without going so far as to be clearly a ‗Catholic band' like, for example, the Priests. The shadow of a religious culture, and some degree of actual religious belief set the backdrop for and indeed inspire the band's world-weary tales of urban alienation, family breakdown, and brotherly affection; complex, metaphysical accounts of a culture imbedded in Diaspora. Yet, due to their status as a punk band, the Dropkick Murphys render this attendant religious metaphysic eminently graspable by de-mythologising it. In particular, the band explores what 1970s punk journalist Caroline Coon described as ‗personal politics' sharing this with other ‗postmodern' contemporary punk bands NOFX (see James 2010) and the Offspring as well as their predecessors such as the Sex Pistols. Through our ethnomusicological reading of The Meanest of Times (2007) they remind us that it is equally important to understand the experience of migrant security, Diasporic or otherwise, as oscillating between what Giddens (1991) termed ‗ontological security' and ‗existential anxiety' alongside geo-political readings of the same phenomenon.
Article
Hog Hoggidy Hog were a band from Cape Town, who integrated punk, ska, metal, rock, jazz and ghoema into music they aimed to be ‘visceral’, and to ‘transcend genre’ – a music they named ‘Pork Rock’. During the band’s career, which spanned two decades, they performed across South Africa and internationally, and released four full-length studio albums and three EP’s. The band’s tenure as a leading force in South African underground music ended with the death of their singer George Bacon in 2015. Their penultimate studio album, Oink!, released in 2004, saw Hog Hoggidy Hog exploring themes such as drug addiction, their move from underground to mainstream, self-loathing and South African post-apartheid racial tension. Musically Oink! features greater integration of musical styles and genres as well as a slicker production than in previous albums, factors which culminate in the band’s cover of Johnny Clegg’s ‘Great Heart’. This paper takes the arguments made by Samantha Vice in her 2010 article, ‘How Do I Live in This Strange Place?’, as a theoretical framework to investigate Hog Hoggidy Hog’s expression of racial discomfort. Through discussions of punk’s political history, lyrical content and the musical hybridity of Oink!, I argue that this album represents the positioning of white South Africans as that of simultaneous belonging and not belonging.
Article
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that Zarathustra ‘the godless’, whose students ‘remain faithful to the earth, and […] not believe those who speak […] of otherwordly hopes’, was a proponent of a life fulfilled with meaning and creativity, in spite of all the abominable suffering and unavoidable hardships it entails. Ultimately, he wanted to ‘see as beautiful what is necessary in things’ and ‘to be only a Yes-sayer’. This article looks at how the lyrics of one of the most respected and well-known punk rock bands worldwide, Bad Religion, encapsulate the above-mentioned ideas of the German philosopher. Lyrics from several songs of the band’s discography, ranging from 1982 to 2013, are briefly discussed. The themes explored in these songs, examined in parallel with Nietzsche’s ideas, revolve around suffering, nihilism, the afterlife, amor fati , and, finally, affirming life by creating a personal sense of purpose. Whilst Bad Religion’s work is not moralistic (most thoroughly echoed in the line ‘no Bad Religion song can make your life complete’ from the song ‘No Direction’), the lyrics analysed nevertheless demonstrate that the band actively assumes a stance towards life, one which is characterized by creating a sense of purpose through personal expression, emblematized both in the punk attitude per se, as well as in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche.
Article
At their 2018 headlining appearance at the annual Punk Rock Bowling and Music Festival in downtown Las Vegas, NV, California skate punk stalwarts NOFX generated widespread controversy after band members quipped about the mass shooting that occurred eight months prior during the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in neighbouring Paradise, NV. After days of censorious media coverage, which prompted Stone Brewing to summarily terminate the band’s sponsorship contract in a widely circulated news release, the band issued a statement in which members collectively expressed remorse and apologized for the offending comments. Four decades of punk history notwithstanding, NOFX’s decision to apologize and offer mea culpas is something of a unicum. Punks, after all, are not typically in the business of extending olive branches or tendering requests for forgiveness. Accordingly, punk apologia is an understudied and undertheorized area of research. Utilizing Benoit’s Theory of Image Repair, this article adds to the limited stock of available research by critically evaluating the apologetic discourse following NOFX’s comments in Las Vegas through a systematic examination of the band’s letter of apology as well as audiences’ responses to that statement.
Chapter
Althusser extends Marx's notion of reproduction of the means of production beyond the production system to the Ideological State Apparatues and the Repressive State Apparatuses. The Ideologocial State Apparatuses, especially education, ensure that we are reproduced as subjects of the ruling ideology. "Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence...Ideology has a material existence...always exists in an apparatus, and its practice, or practices" (Althusser developing the notion of ideology)