#13: The Guy strikes again: “When Punk Goes Acoustic, Country, Folk, Singer-songwriter?”

First of all let me assure the readers this has no relation to the Punk Goes… compilation series by Fearless Records, nor is it any attempt to give them new ideas.

The timeliness of my piece is a little past fresh, I know. But within the last five years there has been a rash of punk musicians (usually singers) breaking off to write, record, release, and tour on stripped down songs. These songs could be conveniently categorized as one of the words I used or perhaps more often as an amalgamation of them.

In the past I read some negative responses to these artists and this “trend”. However, I argue that this is not an issue of musicians identifying the new hip trend, but rather as an honest lifestyle change in response to aging, growing up, and the events compiled over the course of a life. This could also reflect the overall economic landscape much like Black Sabbath exploding in late-70s England.

Let me toss out a few names at this point. Of course, I started this with Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry at the forefront of my mind and as the genesis of my hypothesis. Naturally, I know they aren’t the creators of the style, but they are probably the flag-bearers of this explosion. Some other current purveyors are Dan Andriano of Alkaline Trio, Chris McCaughan of a personal favorite of mine, The Lawrence Arms, and “Spacey” Casey Prestwood, former guitar player for Hot Rod Circuit, later of Drag the River. In the late 90s, Mike Ness, of Social Distortion, released a couple country albums. The influence was in Social D’s music before, but he briefly ran with it.

Speaking of Drag the River, pretty much that whole band has roots in the punk scene. Chad Price came aboard from ALL, Jon Snodgrass was in Armchair Martian, which was perhaps more of a sideways move rather than a new direction. Prestwood, as previously mentioned played guitar in punk bands.

Dave Hause, of the Loved Ones and prior to that The Curse(Joel and I saw them open for Andrew WK in State College back in the day. After the Curse’s set, we went into the entry room with the pool tables at the venue during Flaw’s set. A decision neither of us has ever regretted for one second. I liked the Curse and of course WK brought the party and I believe Joel slapped hands with the man and contemplated  never washing his hand again, much like WK would continue doing with his white-t and jeans), has taken the detour down the dusty acousta-punk road. And on his album’s opener “Only Time Will Tell,” he raises the question that helped reinforce my thoughts on this being a lifestyle change, a reaction to life, the universe, and everything (the answer is not 42 with apologies to Douglas Adams). “Is it written all over my face? Should I even feel ashamed? / Or, is it that early thirties thing, where some guys just go insane?  / And then the doctors give us lithium, but we’re never quite the same.” Actually pretty much that whole song is about the loss of innocence, the piling up of the disappointments of life, all of the places the road turned where we didn’t want it to go.

And at the heart of all of these artists, I feel these lyrics (the general idea and feeling of loss and often hopelessness), along with their punk backgrounds, is the common factor that ties them together. These artists are all in their 30s at least and, definitely in Ness’s case, older.

I’m 31. Joel is a month and a half shy of the same [I have no idea what he’s talking about. I’m like 22]. I can certainly and confidently say that for me life’s events and the unexpected and unwanted detours it has sent me on have really hit hard and sapped me of a lot of my anger and fire. I feel I’ve earned myself a good scream, but honestly I just don’t want to. I don’t want to yell at anyone. I barely want to speak as loud as being coherently audible requires. I’m done fighting with people, arguing for the sake of arguing or the simple amusement it brought me, and trying to be right or (in the unlikely event that I am actually right) trying to prove it. I don’t have it in me. My sails are more limp than Bob Dole’s pre-Viagra penis(And that is how you stay relevant in pop-culture folks, timely references). I’m sorry if that image disturbs you as much as it does me, well almost as much anyway, I’m quite disturbed that somewhere in the vicinity of 12 years after he was a spokesman for them, on a Friday night, I am sitting at home thinking about Bob Dole’s penis. Hey, I guess that’s just where my life is at. But I suppose that sheds some light on how I can relate to the subject at hand, whatever it was before I digressed.

Oh yes, the trials and tribulations of the world bursting one’s backstreet bubble, if you will. I am a fan of Hot Water Music and Avail, but 94% of the time I will listen to Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry over their work with their respective bands. Hot Water is still going and I’m pretty sure Avail is done, but I am in no way saying those dudes can’t still rock it like they did when they were young punks, but I relate to their older, toned down material much more at this point in my life than I do to those earlier records. It probably also speaks to why yesterday I realized I have a real appreciation for William Elliott Whitmore’s music way more than I ever had. I’m finding the new Cory Branan going the same way, I’m listening to Mutt for the first time as I write this and my expectations have been surpassed. I think in the case of Whitmore and Branan, I discovered them too young, when I was still relating more to angry, bitter, pessimistic punk records rather than quieter, but often still bitter, pessimistic alt-punk records.

I’m sure Chuck still really kicks ass in Hot Water and I bet their live show is still as good as I heard it was, but he has this other creative outlet, and he’s awesome at that and he likes fishing and all that stuff that I for one never associated with being “punk”. But when you aren’t as young as you used to be it is nice to be around a quiet body of water with a couple close friends or all alone except maybe for a couple cold drinks and just relax and reflect and get away for awhile. It certainly beats hanging out at some noisy crowded public place full of annoying assclowns and their terrible life choices serving as reminders for the disappoints you’ve accumulated over the course of your lifetime.

Side note on Tim Barry leading to yet another tangent, Joel and I are good friends with Ryan, or Bill as we affectionately call him. Bill was the one responsible for dubbing me The Guy and he recently sent me a picture of his mom hanging out with Tim Barry after one of his shows. For the record, Bill wasn’t at the show, his mom and step-dad had driven to one of Tim’s shows somewhere which made two really cool accepting and receptive people all that much more so. And that brings to mind the fact that this style of music is a nice middle ground for aging punkers and their parents. My parents are into The Boss, or Bruce Springsteen, but I prefer to call him The Boss, so I could see them listening to The Gaslight Anthem with me, and then venturing into Chuck Ragan, Tim Barry and the like. Well, probably more my dad than my mom, because in high school I was always rocking some cd on our computer in the kitchen and my dad sometimes liked what I was listening to. I specifically remember him liking The Get Up Kids and later The New Amsterdams. But of course when I listened to Small Brown Bike, I cannot recall his reaction to the music, but he definitely stood there laughing and shaking his head about the band name, so strip away the band names and smooth down some of that rough punk edge and you’ve got some music to be enjoyed both generations.

I have taken my point a to point q to the twilight zone to left field to point b approach that I have perfected as much as one can perfect, say diarrhea, and I’ve lost my thread and steam. So, The End.

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