I don’t wanna drown in American Society (photo: Ed Colver)
Like a lot of of kids, I first heard this line sung by EDDIE & THE SUBTITLES at the beginning of the 80’s on Rodney Bingenheimer’s Sunday night KROQ show. And truth be told, it left me feeling pretty damn, well, scared. Was society really a death trap? Was adult life really this grim? I was only 11, but apparently it was. The minimalist 1/2 tempo HC riff, 1-note OC beeline solo, monotone vocal holler, and crunching gtr finale made this something that could’ve only emerged from a neighborhood dominated by cookie-cutter, post-war track homes and ugly dingbat apartment units. But the trench-warfare refusal stance of the lyrics and overarching fatalistic tone is something that I still haven’t shaken.
Thinking back I can’t remember this one ever not floating around in the chlorinated pool of my unconscious. I’m sure that it left a deep, bloody cleft in the heads of alot of other people too, maybe you included. And though I found an exit of sorts from this particular American Nightmare (me, I bailed for pastures overseas) this song is more about those who’ve stayed, and hence had to witness the ever-darkening economic/political landscape Stateside firsthand, day in & day out. In retrospect, this is one important fucking song for a certain strata of Americans, wherever the hell we ended up. It’s never redundant to cover this; today I give you five different versions.
1. EDDIE & THE SUBTITLES – “American Society” (from Fuck You, Eddie!, Frontier Records, 2008) Anybody else think the original LP from which this was taken (Skeletons In the Closet) is a little schizo? Parts of it sound like Kim Fowley doing badbreath rockabilly, others like a lounge singer belting out coked-up skinnytie powerpop, still others like some Syrian-American dude singing for THE CHEIFS. Thankfully, this new comp. CD boils off all the fat and focuses squarely on those recordings driven by bassist/singer Mike Patton and drummer Matt Simon. As such this could be viewed as the last real stand by Fullerton’s MIDDLE CLASS (with whom both Mike and Matt rocked) before that band sidestepped into bogue ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN territory. Even the home demo tracks included here are cool, showcasing the kind of suburban slow-punk exploration that vehement anti-hippie types could get up to on pot and hallucinogenics (if only my shitty teen psychedelic/punk band had sounded this powerful!). If you’re anything like me you’ll fucking love this CD.
2. L7 – “American Society” (from The Big One – City of L.A. Power, Flipside Records, 1990) Don’t even try to dis these gals. One of em (Suzi Gardner) moaned on BLACK FLAG’s big hit “Slip It In”; another (Jennifer Finch) blabbed on PAINTED WILLIE’s “My Fellow Americans” from their first 12″ EP – they’re fucking OG suburban HC, ok? Rather than bandwagoners trying to get with the Seattle thing, L7 was pre-Grunge Revolution, and so should be located within the constellation of post-REDD KROSS underground LA freakrock – think SYLVIA JUNCOSA BAND, Honey Davis-era ELECTRIC PEACE, THE NYMPHS, etc. etc. The distortion/volume/rage displayed on their first couple LPs is mighty impressive; if you ask me, this is a totally rad cover by 4 totally hot & powerful women.
3. MANIC HISPANIC – “Mexican Society” (from The Menudo Incident, BYO Records, 1995) Kinda – ok, ok: really – stupid for sure, but hey the dumb end of LB/OC is where these clowns (Steve Soto from THE ADOLESCENTS and AGENT ORANGE, Mike “Gabby” Gaborno from CADILLAC TRAMPS, etc.) most definitely wallowed in. I usually chuckle and grimace in pretty equal amounts during this one, but that’s just because I’m sorta bobo too. PS Recon takes no responsibility for the views/taste of the artists expressed herein.
4. LEAVING TRAINS – “American Society” (from Emotional Legs, Steel Cage Records, 2001) Taken from what may turn out to be the very last studio TRAINS rec – Falling James, prove me wrong! Late TRAINS were as inspired & contrary as mid-period TRAINS on SST, who were as challenging & heartfelt as any of the early, Paisley Underground-era TRAINS stuff. Which means I’d recommend the uninitiated dive in anywhere they damn well feel like. Those of you who thought James was only interested in things glitteringly Hollywood, do take note of this cover: clearly, he can recognize genius of the suburban type too. Oh and Maddog Karla (Ex-CONTROLLERS) plays totally bitchen drums on this one, racheting it up a notch in the rockin’ department. These guys/gals will always be favorites of mine.
5. LILLIAN FURNEAUX – “American Society” (ripped from a podcast put together by John Stabb[!], 2006) This lady’s solo cello versions of all your favorite Fullerton punk anthems first hit me as kinda gimmicky . . . but repeated listens get me thinking that she has spent some quality alone in a pitch black bedrooms blasting early HC punk loud as fuck, while hating life at a deeply felt level (clearly, the only reasonable way to get to know such music). I’m now imagining what certain SACCHARINE TRUST/MINUTEMEN songs might sound like done in a similar, chamber-pop fashion. Lillian, at some point do consider focusing your attention on bands from the South Bay, will you? Hear more of her stuff on her Myspace here.