Monday, 16 May 2011

Direct Hit!

"We must write the story of our own life, and play the soundtrack to it too! Our culture will die, nay, it is already on its deathbed because we do not invest our own life in it! We do not include ourselves in the history! We do not take the responsibility to make it into something we can truly call our own! Stand up and make your heroes proud! I need a rallying cry! A flag to unite us in our desperate struggle to stay true and stay together! Give me a slogan!!" - Aaron Cometbus, Double Duce
"FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!" - Direct Hit! (passim)
Direct Hit! was a band that I was planning on getting around to writing about sooner or later, because I absolutely fucking adore them, but the initial impetus for this post comes from reading a piece about Direct Hit! on some obscure punk rock blog (not quite as obscure as this one) which claimed that Direct Hit! had a motto and that motto was 'Get pumped!'. Which it is not. At first I made a short comment pointing out the problem, which was responded to with an attempt to burn me which is never a good idea as I'm kind of a sad fuck who has spent a lot of time on internet forums exclusively populated by witty arseholes, so I then I comprehensively took apart their response, pointed out that it raised further questions about his commitment to writing well about punk rock and tried to offer some helpful suggestions, all comments were then deleted and replaced with a comment about how they'd had to delete comments while setting up a strawman distortion of my argument to justify themselves, which I then responded to again clarifying my position and pointing out the problems with obliviously ignoring constructive criticism, after which they then deleted all comments and left the post commentless. Checking back, the author also deleted a comment I made on a completely unrelated post about bands altering their musical style which contained no criticism of anything and was just an honest attempt to engage with the points raised in the piece which explicitly asked for responses, but apparently was so tainted by my unappreciation of the fact that they are always right and not to be questioned that it had to go. Ah, the internet. We're really changing the world on here. Of course, I was more eloquent than that dry account of the exchange implies, and also much more of a sarcastic dick. Needless to say, I take the fact that I had my argument deleted as evidence that it was a truth too searing to be seen, like the Ark of the Covenant melting Nazi faces off, not that I'm just an overly sensitive idiot who got inordinately worked up on the internet in an unduly aggressive manner.
I would like to set the record straight here, Direct Hit! have a motto. Or a slogan. Or a maxim. Or an apothegm. Or whatever you want to call it. And it is not 'Get pumped!'. It is 'FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!' To which anyone reading this is going, "You got that fucking angry about someone missing out two measly words when describing a band. What the fuck is wrong with you?" There are a lot of things wrong with me, it was probably a mistake to immediately assume that someone was demonstrating a moralistic urge to sanitise that which I do not believe should sanitised rather than just an example of accidental bad writing ill-defended (Hanlon's razor and all that). Perhaps one of the things wrong with me is that I put far too much store in loud stupid fast songs generally so caught up in their own force that they don't have the stamina to reach 180 seconds, but I'm sticking with that flaw, because that's the one that always feels alright and makes all the other things wrong with me not matter if even for a moment.
EDITED TO ADD: I showed this whole piece the guy who wrote the original blog post that had annoyed me and while he did make a mistake, it was a completely accidental one, and it turns out I really wasn't clear enough in my first complaint so the whole thing was a genuine misunderstanding. So we are both now totally cool, united by the power of Direct Hit! and punk rock. I understand that these sorts of edits should probably go right at the end of an article, but I don't want to fuck with the rhythm of the piece too much (which is just getting into gear at this point, honestly) and I think it has a pretty nice build to a really good climax that would suffer from a corrective epilogue. And I bet you can't guess what that finale is.
See I like writing about punk rock, I like taking the thrill that it gives me and trying to examine it and recreate it apart from itself, but the problem is, I’m always elaborating on something that it sometimes seems you either feel instinctively or you don’t. I’m always trying to take apart something that is perfect in its own retrograde little way and then rebuild the essential tempest of the sweet combination of passion and intelligence expressed in rough music, strained voices and fuck-up pure lyrics using a few dry overused words and phrases scratched into a notebook or shimmering on a computer screen. I’m always trying to use 500 or 1000 or 10000 words to sum up a sentiment that is never expressed in a better way, in a truer fashion than the group vox choruses, than the simple riffs and pounding drumbeats, than four words screamed at the start of a punk rock song. A Direct Hit! punk rock song. Stupid as fuck and fun as dumb hell. I could witter on for ages about the juxtaposition of hate and love, the scrambling bedfellows of angry inspiration and scattershot expletives, the parallel emotional sparks of adolescent rebellion and brief teenage camaraderie, about how joy and a shining sliver of a greater meaning is demonstrated to the few ready to embrace it in songs about prison escapes, drunken escapades and being a werewolf, all I would ever really be saying would be:
There are a lot of punk rock slogans, mottos, maxims, aphorisms, axioms and apothegms. GABBA GABBA HEY! MORE CLIT IN THE PIT! REVENGE OF THE VILLAGE IDIOTS! TRUTH, ADVENTURE, LOVE AND RAGE! NEVER TRUST A HIPPY! KILL FROM THE HEART! PUNX IS HIPPIES! GET PISSED, DESTROY! PUNK IS DEAD, LONG LIVE PUNK! A.C.A.C! WE GOT THAT PMA! DIG THAT GROOVE BABY! SLIM JIM! PLEASE KILL ME! ONLY ANARCHISTS ARE PRETTY! FAGS HATE GOD! FUCK THE BORDER! 45 STORY HOUSE, 34 BRICKS! etc. and we shout all these phrases at each other as shibboleths and in-jokes, fall back on them when we're too wasted on cheap whiskey or by cheap jobs to construct an argument, to properly spend the time we need to fully elucidate our artistic and political positions, our angers and ideals and desires. We sew them into our clothes, into our fucking hearts. We also love these little lines so much because the complex parts of ourselves, the ideals and struggles and stands we're not sure we want to take, are in a constant state of flux, circling around inside ourselves, altering subtly, dulling or sharpening with our responses to day-to-day events. And often the only constant in these internal ruminations is a slogan sturdy like an island in the void, clear beeping signal in the noise. Something we can grasp on to and know that despite all the swirling confusion of our lives and our place in the universe, there is this one little thing that makes some sense. And in this case that little morsel of unerodable sanity is:
That Cometbus quote at the top of the page comes from Double Duce, the best punk rock novel ever written (I am planning a future post laying out the conventions of the punk rock novel as a distinct genre akin to the Latin American dictator novel). The quote comes from a section when the lead character gets pissed off with his friends just reciting old punk slogans and quotes and exhorts them to create their own. "Who knows what the hell 'Sten guns in Knightbridge' means?" he asks. We all want to make our own mark, take our own injokes forged in online discussions of Against Me! or The Thorns of Life, coined accidentally in drunken conversations in between the openers at shows in the backrooms of pubs, we want to take those quips and build them into the mythos of kids the world over shouting the words to Cock Sparrer songs in sweaty basements. I know I have a few lines that if I ever get my band properly together, are fit for singing along and sticking on t-shirts, pithy enough to go in a one-line message board signature or daub on a skateboard grip to distinguish the nose and tail, but until I get that sorted out, and even after that, it's fucking great to hear someone else come up with a new perfect slogan and to see it permeate the consciousness of punk rock. A chant for our age, our punk rock generation, to echo back alongside FIGHT WAR! NOT WARS! or PLAY FAST OR DIE! that will endure in patches and tattoos, a particular basic template for the music we love maybe more than we should. A particular stripped-down template along the lines of:
Warren Ellis wrote about writers "Deep down, there's a little James Joyce homunculus in our hearts, presumably chatting up a saucy-looking ventricle and asking it if it shags, and also spreading the beautifully toxic notion that his book Ulysses actually contains all of Dublin in it and, should it ever be destroyed, a new Dublin could be generated from it like a backup copy, if needs be. And so we peer around at everything, to see if we can image it on a hard drive of a book, ghosting the real world." I know I do that, I try and work out the little aspects of things so common they're usually left unseen and I try and structure them in my head so that they make a kind of pattern. When applied to punk rock, this deluded romantic idea that I can never really shake leads to me leaping at certain screwily dazzling lines which I feel manage to encapsulate something perfect and essential about the genre and culture I love and have invested myself so wholly in, where I feel like as if somehow if almost all evidence of the music and the movement surrounding it was destroyed you could extrapolate its whole, all its contradictions and shittiness and drama and fleeting perfection, from one great line, one statement of punk rock purpose, like the universe contained in a piece of fairy cake in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. You could find the whole of punk rock in World/Inferno's chant of "Because I can, 'cause no one can stop me, 'cos it makes up for things I lost. Because I'm addicted to bad ideas and all the beauty in this world". Or The Ramones intoning "Everyone’s a secret nerd. Everyone’s a closet lame." on Mama's Boy. Or Mojo Nixon exclaiming "Let me tell you, real rock and roll’s about cheap electrical guitars and nasty secret places that serve underage kids in bars!" Or the very title of The Grit's I Came Out the Womb an Angry Cunt. D4's "In this frustration we find our salvation" (a lot of fucking D4 songs actually). Black Flag's Rise Above. Bomb the Music Industry!'s band name. The Buzzcocks repeating "Pretty girls, pretty boys, have you ever heard your mummy scream noise annoys?" Rivethead's eleven second blast of Sleepless in St. Paul roaring "I’m a fuck-up who fucks up, gets too drunk, won’t shut up. I’m hopeless, I know this. I shoplift. I’m homeless. I love you, it’s stupid, sounds sappy, it’s true but it could pass, might be that cheap speed makes me think fast." I could provide endless examples of this, because I'm a huge fucking nerd and I invest a lot of time in seeking out these little wonderful fragments of a larger broken, but amazingly broken, whole. I would argue semi-seriously that you can pretty much sum up the essential nature of punk rock and my love for it in FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED! The combination of excitement and snottiness, youthful enthusiasm and sneering petulance, profane noise and profound bliss. Romantic cynicism. That's why I felt aggrieved to the extent that I was willing to forcefully argue my corner when someone cut the slogan in half thinking it still meant the same thing. I think pretty much every great punk band has some part of that four word shout in its genetic make-up, and the punk bands that I dislike or just can't get into are generally ones that I feel have neither enough FUCK YOU! or GET PUMPED! to their being. Let's look at some examples:
  • The Velvet Underground: FUCK YOU!
  • The Stooges: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • The New York Dolls: GET PUMPED!
  • The Dictators: FUCK YOU!
  • The Ramones: GET PUMPED!
  • The Sex Pistols: FUCK YOU!
  • The Clash: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • The Damned: FUCK YOU!
  • Stiff Little Fingers: FUCK YOU!
  • Cock Sparrer: GET PUMPED!
  • The Jam: GET PUMPED!
  • Sham 69: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • Crass: FUCK YOU!
  • Conflict: FUCK YOU!
  • Dead Kennedys: FUCK YOU!
  • The Germs: FUCK YOU!
  • Black Flag: FUCK YOU!
  • Minor Threat: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • The Toy Dolls: GET PUMPED!
  • The Anti-Nowhere League: FUCK YOU!
  • Discharge: FUCK YOU!
  • Disclose: FUCK YOU!
  • Death Side: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • Almost every KBD band: FUCK YOU!
  • Bérurier Noir: FUCK YOU!
  • Bad Brains: GET PUMPED!
  • The Misfits: FUCK YOU!
  • Angry Samoans: FUCK YOU!
  • The Dicks: FUCK YOU!
  • The Big Boys: GET PUMPED!
  • Culturcide: FUCK YOU!
  • Hüsker Du: FUCK YOU!
  • The Minutemen: FUCK YOU!
  • The Replacements: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • Dayglo Abortions: FUCK YOU!
  • The Dead Milkmen: FUCK YOU!
  • Gorilla Biscuits: GET PUMPED!
  • The Queers: FUCK YOU!
  • The Mr T Experience: GET PUMPED!
  • Screeching Weasel: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • Jawbreaker: FUCK YOU!
  • Bikini Kill: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • Rancid: GET PUMPED!
  • Good Clean Fun: GET PUMPED!
  • Off With Their Heads: FUCK YOU!
  • Bomb the Music Industry!: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • Hickey: FUCK YOU!
  • Bent Outta Shape: FUCK YOU!
  • The Copyrights: GET PUMPED!
  • The Vindictives: FUCK YOU!
  • The World/Inferno Friendship Society: GET PUMPED!
  • The Gateway District: GET PUMPED!
  • Dear Landlord: GET PUMPED!
  • The Bouncing Souls: GET PUMPED!
  • F.Y.P.: FUCK YOU!
  • Dillinger Four: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • Apocalypse Hoboken: FUCK YOU!
  • The Measure (SA): GET PUMPED!
  • Boris the Sprinkler: FUCK YOU!
  • The Dwarves: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • Used Kids: GET PUMPED!
  • Guitar Wolf: GET PUMPED!
  • Leftover Crack: FUCK YOU!
  • Operation Ivy: GET PUMPED!
  • Evan Greer: GET PUMPED!
  • Ghost Mice: GET PUMPED!
  • Against Me!: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • Johnny Hobo and the Freight-Trains: FUCK YOU!
  • Propagandhi: FUCK YOU!
  • Soophie Nun Squad: GET PUMPED!
  • Paintbox: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
  • Integrity: FUCK YOU!
  • Inmates: FUCK YOU!
  • Agnostic Front: FUCK YOU!
  • Fleshies: FUCK YOU!
  • Fancy Pants and the Cellphones: GET PUMPED!
  • Future Virgins: GET PUMPED!
  • Direct Hit!: FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED!
I could go on. Needless to say, these labels are not an exact science. Black Flag have a bunch of GET PUMPED! songs despite being a complete FUCK YOU! band most of the time. Bikini Kill are a FUCK YOU! band if you're an unthinking misogynist prick, a GET PUMPED! band if you're a rad progressive punk rocker smashing the patriarchy. The Dwarves started off as a pure FUCK YOU! band, but have incorporated a whole range of GET PUMPED! influences while retaining the essential FUCK YOU!itude. I could go on, and in fact I am sort of tempted to qualify every single one of my judgements above (maybe I should draw a graph!), but I will not, because I am not quite that crazy.
I realise now that I've spent the entire article thus-far talking about the first three seconds of Direct Hit!'s oeuvre. All the epigrammatic reckless mottos in the world don't mean shit if they aren't backed up with music that makes you want to yell and dance around your room in weird contortions like you're wrestling with an angry ghost. Direct Hit!'s songs are fucking amazing. Pop-punk classics, every one.

There's not a single one I'd skip. I bought the triple cassette anthology of their first 5 EPs which gave you a chance to vote for which ten songs I wanted to hear rerecorded for their first proper album, and it was an unreasonably stressful hour or two spent narrowing it down.
I love Arson Hero, a burn shit down punk song as sung by Sesame Street's Count von Count. I love Werewolf Shame, a song about simply being a werewolf, but of course anything dealing with lycanthropy is inevitably going to deal with the central metaphor of struggling to contain an inner beast, just as the zombie theme of They Came for Me works both as a fun lock-and-load singalong about the living dead, and also about attacking the overwhelming power of mainstream society in the way that Dawn of the Dead does. There's a Reaganomicsesque fuck you to self-pity on Mom and Dad. In Orbit is basically a sappy "I want to spend the rest of my life with you" nation-of-two style love song, with that emotion both subverted and intensified by placing this desire in the context of it happening on an isolated space station (where presumably they'd watch bad b-movies over and over again and make snarky comments about them). Mutant Drunk has the stumbling intoxicated rhythm and fury of a screaming bender. My favourite song is Snickers Or Reese's (Pick Up The Pieces), which reminds me thematically of a song I wrote when I was 15 called They Still Want Me Dead about having ex-girlfriends want to kill you, long before I'd even ever worked up the nerve to talk to a girl. Snickers or Reese's has an amazing moment (a bit like AM!'s We Laugh at Danger and Break All the Rules) where it feels like the noise and enthusiasm of the song is so intense that it flames itself the fuck out, a momentary pause, a restless 'fuck' delivered somewhere between frustration and exhaustion and straight back into the chorus, like the second when you're accidentally thrown tumbling out of the pit and need a brief second to check yourself for broken bones or lost shoes before hurling yourself back into the dancing morass.
Whatever level you take the songs on, the collection of monsters, drunkenness, silly decisions, and wry reminiscing about monstrously silly drunken decisions, they all work first and foremost as an amazing uplifting poppy noisy FUCK YOU! GET PUMPED! punk-fucking-pumping-rock anthem. The only bands I've even come close to listening to as much in the past year as Direct Hit! are Hickey (Hickey are the best band ever) and Paintbox and all their demented intensity. I love this band, I love the defiantly juvenile purity of purpose, I love that every song seems to be constructed solely out of fantastic choruses bolted on to one another, as if there's no reason that the great moment in a song where the verse revs up into the singalong section shouldn't be every single moment of the song, I love the homemade merch and the sheer enthusiasm they seem to radiate. And when I am approaching something like an acceptable level of solvency, I am going to put my money where my mouth is, and have those four words that represent the most succinct possible summation of my entire philosophy with regards to punk rock, art and life seared indelibly into my skin for the rest of my stupid, inevitably snotty and hopefully exciting life. Chances are it will be a monstrously silly drunken decision, but shit, this is what we are. Punk rock, man. In all its tender fuckheaded glory. One more time from the top:

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