NoMeansNo: what does it mean to be an old punk?

John Wright of NoMeansNo - Old is the New Young - photo by Jan RillichJohn Wright of NoMeansNo - Old is the New Young - photo by Jan Rillich
John Wright of NoMeansNo - Old is the New Young - photo by Jan Rillich29-Jul-2012 17:47
Rob Wright - NoMeansNo at the Bumbershoot festival 2011 - photo by Robyn HansonRob Wright - NoMeansNo at the Bumbershoot festival 2011 - photo by Robyn Hanson
Rob Wright - NoMeansNo at the Bumbershoot festival 2011 - photo by Robyn Hanson04-Sep-2011 15:03, Canon Canon EOS 7D, 5.6, 85.0mm, 0.05 sec, ISO 1600
 
Rockers or zombies?Rockers or zombies?
Rockers or zombies?29-Jul-2012 20:19
 

Rumor has it the Rolling Stones will do a 50th anniversary tour. At this point they don’t look too different from the zombies in The Walking Dead (but they are more lively, so they’re actually more like the the zombies in 28 Days Later that can run you down before they eat your brains). Here’s a picture if you don’t believe me (it’s deliberately small – zoom only if you are mentally prepared). Other ageing rockers like Aerosmith are still at it too. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that their fans love them, and that they still want to play. But they are at the far end of a particular spectrum: this is not the rock n’ roll of youthful rebellion. It is a vast money making machine, harnessing their fans’ nostalgia for their youth and favorite old songs, played over and over and over again.

NoMeansNo - the people's choiceNoMeansNo - the people's choice
NoMeansNo - the people's choice29-Jul-2012 22:08
 
Rob Wright of NoMeanso - photo by Mathijs BakkerRob Wright of NoMeanso - photo by Mathijs Bakker
Rob Wright of NoMeanso - photo by Mathijs Bakker29-Jul-2012 17:45
 

At the other end of the spectrum is punk: anti-establishment by nature, and the best examples of it challenge a whole range of orthodoxies and dogmas in thoughtful and provocative ways. So what does it mean to be an old punk? After a while doesn’t the whole thing, you know, get old? Great punk bands aren’t really different from any other rock bands in terms of the options for their ultimate fate. There are only a few possibilities: 1. after a flash of brilliance they fly apart like unstable subatomic particles in a particle accelerator; or 2. they manage to hold on to that special chemistry and inspiration long enough for a few good albums, then linger on long after the magic has gone, churning out mediocrity for a few more years before finally fading away; or 3. a combination of the previous two: they break up, then re-form years later, perhaps make an uninspired album, and then go on tour, cashing in on fan nostalgia. It’s an incredibly rare band that carves out another possibilty: to be consistently great for decades, album after album, tour after tour. It’s especially hard for a punk band, given the nature of the music and its audience.

NoMeansNo is such a band. Seeing them at Bumbershoot [the linked post is not published yet] last summer was just as electrifying as the first time I saw them, at UC-Santa Cruz in 1990 (which was after they already had been playing together for 10 years). What was just as great as the old songs they played at Bumbershoot were the new ones I’d never heard before. Lyrically they are currently taking on ambitious material – nothing less than the meaning of life and the meaning of death. But not in the maudlin, dreary way you might be thinking when you see those words. They laugh in the face of nihilism, and ask the best kinds of questions: the kinds you have to struggle with and find your own answers to. This is a band I am growing older with – not in an empty nostalgic way, but in a way that keeps pushing my thoughts and feelings forward as life’s challenges change with age. And they are as good as ever at keeping my feet moving frantically under me too. This is a band that was amazingly tight 20 years ago, and keep refining their craft to get ever tighter. Rob has really come into his own as a singer, and his brother John brings the densest layering to drumming I’ve ever heard.

Enough of my words – here are their words and their sounds. These two songs are from their 2010 Tour EP 2 (that’s a buy-and-download link, and thanks to dfree for the lyrics).

Jubilation

Nothing left but rubble and dust
See the towers fall
Nothing but a twisted mess of iron and rust
Nothing left at all
All the heroes that were in demand

THEY’RE ALL DEAD

And all the members of my favorite band

THEY’RE ALL DEAD

Nothing left to hang on to in this wicked world, that’s liberation
No more words nothing left to say, still the voices sing in jubilation

Castles made of earth and stone
They kept falling down
The boy king perched on his golden throne
now buried under ground
Isotopes burning bright and red
Now cold as lead
And all the members of the German Reich

THEY’RE ALL DEAD

Nothing left to hang on to in this whole damn world, that’s liberation
No more goals, or stupid dreams, nothing in this world , that’s jubilation

(A round of solos for everyone!)

Nothing left to hang on to in this wicked world, that’s liberation
No more words nothing left to say, still the voices sing, in jubilation

Nothing left to hang on to in this whole damn world, that’s liberation
No more goals, or stupid dreams, nothing in this world , that’s jubilation

That’s jubilation (4xs)

All the Little Bourgeois Dreams

All is what it seems
It means just what it means
The sky is blue and the grass is green in all
The Little Bourgeois Dreams

Will I make the baseball team?
Will somebody love me?
Will the ground still be beneath my feet and the sky above me?
Will I pass my final exam and finally make the grade?
Will I be forever young or slowly start to fade?

All is what it seems
It means just what it means
The sky is blue and the grass is green in all
The Little Bourgeois Dreams

Daddy died and I don’t know why.
Mom sits at home alone and cries.
She will never be quite the same
She took all the blame.
My older brother moved away
Where he is I cannot say.
He always liked to be alone
He never writes, he never phones.

Will I pass my driving test and get my very first car?
Will I ever know who I am or who you are?
Will I work at the corner store and save a dollar everyday?
Will I ever really know the price I have to pay?

All is what it seems
It means just what it means
The sky is blue and the grass is green in all
The Little Bourgeois Dreams

(A musical dirge for the dreamers)

I drive around the whole day long just to make a living wage.
At night I sit and watch TV like a monkey in a cage.
When I was young the summer sun lasted for an age.
But now the days just fly away to where I cannot say.
Never ask a question.
That has no answer.
Never look beyond what is to what is no more.
Will they ever win the war and find a cure for cancer?
Will my pension carry me to that distant shore?

All is what it seems
It means just what it means
The sky is blue and the grass is green in all
The Little Bourgeois Dreams

One thought on “NoMeansNo: what does it mean to be an old punk?

  • As the Real McKenzies have pointed out, “a punk musician just ain’t as cute at 53.”

    (“I have forsaken money makin’
    Yeah, you still wish you were me.”)

    Which will now be stuck in my head all day. But I like your NoMeansNo chaps, too, so thanks for the links!

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