Monday, August 8, 2011

Dialogue with Three Chords Playlist: Avail

The D3C Playlist: What we're listening to this week. 

I'm revisiting Avail right now, a 90's band that fit neatly into the Punk Rock/Positive Hardcore sound pioneered by bands like 7 Seconds and Gorilla Biscuits. No dogma, just honest, heartfelt lyrics for us kids who missed the first (and second wave) of Hardcore but still felt earnest, dammit.

Their first two albums, Satiate and Dixie, didn't leave my stereo for two solid years. Their songs absolutely raged and swung: aggressive post punk guitars (the bass line that begins Bob's Crew is an obvious nod to Public Image Limited) mixed with a heavy crunch, the clear but slightly hoarse vocals, and goddamn, the build-ups and breakdowns just demanded you move. Try and sit still during Connection.

I was lucky enough to see Avail tour to support Dixie, and what made it even more amazing was that they were on a bill with two of my other favorite 90's Punk Bands: Rancid and The Queers. It was during NYC's CMJ fest, so I remember standing on a ridiculously long line outside of The Wetlands (a long defunct venue) while journalists, insiders, and people way hipper than I'll ever be filed in before us. (Much to the grumbling of the skinheads and guys in Poison Idea shirts ahead of us.)

The Queers opened and were great, and, in fact, are probably one of the only bands to pull off the "we sound just like the Ramones" shtick with anything approaching style and good humor, but when Avail hit the (too damn small) stage, it was the first time I felt like I was in an audience that functioned as a unit, that sang and danced as one. A feeling that has only been replicated for me two or three times since then.

Satiate was a blast of catchy Punk Rock, but Dixie was more aggressive, musically complex, and dealt, lyrically, with issues that not many Hardcore bands touched on, notably, body image:

As an alienated Punk , already uncomfortable  in his own skin, that song resonated with me, so much so, that I bought one of their t-shirts. A bold move for a fat kid, since the only shirts they had were white.

Of course, I never wore it, too damn self conscious, so instead, I cut off the front image, and pinned it onto the back of my jacket, after carefully lettering these lyrics from Model onto it:

                      Big is a scar; you'd better get thin; the tanner you are, the more you fit in 
               Bullshit! You've got a disease. You follow the trends like the rest of the sheep! 

Defiant enough, I felt. 

Energized by that experience, I returned to my teenage dream of fronting a band. I wrote a bunch of lyrics that, looking back, weren't completely embarrassing, booked some studio time, and screamed my lungs out for a couple of years in the mid-90's. Nothing came of it, but it was an action at a time when every single thing in my life demanded I "sit down and shut the fuck up." 

Punk and Hardcore taught me to be contrary, as Crass so brilliantly put it, "Punk was once an answer to years of crap, a way of saying 'No!', when we'd always said 'Yes.'", but it also taught me to think bigger and broader and that there was a network of kids out there feeling the same way, and at the time, they all wanted to create something too, to find direction. There were scenes, of course, and dogma crept in, but the central maxim at the root of it all was: "Yeah, you can be a part of something, but isn't it better to start something?" 

- Stephen 

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