Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated recent release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s the Reality compilation of ’90s hardcore bands, specifically the insanely brutal Man is the Bastard track, "Tomb Ride." Watch a live video of MITB that would have blown Schnipper's mind if YouTube existed when he was 15. Read his thoughts on the band after the jump.
On Saturday I gave away my cassette deck, and when I moved it I found a shoebox of hardcore 7-inches and soul 45s that I had forgotten about for four years. Before my roommate Andrew could get out of the house, I made him listen to Palatka. I spent a lot of time listening to Palatka’s side of their split record with End of the Century Party. Both were very fast Florida hardcore bands, but Palatka always commanded the attention, their ridiculously short songs bleeding into each other. I couldn’t exactly remember how the record sounded before I put it on, but I thought it might scare Andrew, and, sure enough, after the fancy guitar pluck intro, it’s three dudes yelling over each other. He didn’t make it more than a minute before he walked out the door. I listened to the whole record, though, pulled out the lyric sheet I’d forgotten about and read through it. And I was, disconcertingly, a little embarrassed. The last song, “Yours, At Best” made me uncomfortable. Its lyrics, in their entirety: At worst, your people are a deceitful, sterile, fearful, hateful, unfeeling lot, with no consideration for others, scared of silence, loneliness and each other. They feel comfortable only in situations that disallow eye contact/ At best they’re not much better. The lyrics for the song are inked next to a drawing of a couple holding hands, the man with his arm around the woman. He’s wearing a tuxedo and she has an evening gown of some sort. It could be a portrait from a prom or a wedding, a typical occasion, expected and deserved happiness. But the couple has no lower half. This could have been a simple aesthetic decision, but they are melting away from the waist down, like they’ve been shark attacked. It’s not a solid cropping of their legs, kosher clean lines, but seemingly the artist’s representation of the couple’s gooey falsehood, like to get that kind of stereotypical enjoyment they must be apparitions. Looking at this, reading the lyrics, I remembered how much I listened to this record, how heavily I must have been influenced by it and, honestly, I got kind of uncomfortable. Though there is a distinction between “your” people and “you” people, I’m not entirely sure what it is. The “people,” as far as I can surmise from context clues about being a punk kid in your late teens/early 20s in suburban Florida, are jocks and cheerleaders. It’s like the serious side of the Judd Apatow coin. But it seems so harsh, and whatever crimes of mainstream normality were being perpetrated by members of the high school dark side, purposeful or not, to lump all together as a stereotype of empty worthlessness is, in hindsight, frightening.
About the same time I became obsessed with this record (I will say it does still sound pretty sick), I started going to a weird private school in Hartford. I have a twin sister and this was my first time being in school where people did not only know us together. Though she started there the next year, when we were sophomores, that single year was enough to give me a singular grounding. I met a lot of older kids, kids who knew other kids in bands, kids who had done a lot of drugs and now found themselves at the weirdo liberal school, kids who wore suits to school, kids who knew what anarcho-capitalism was. There was much more a celebration of difference, even if it seemed like all the students were the peppy detritus of the surrounding public schools. It wasn’t an us against them feel because there wasn’t much of an us with such a disparate student body, and no one felt like wasting any effort on identifying a them.
But I continued to go to shows, read zines and literature and generally have my absurdly easily influenced little boy brain molded by other people’s weird issues. I was a pretty positive kid, but undoubtedly some of that hate wore off on me. Bummer.
Anyway, a billion years later—and still surprisingly susceptible—I am slightly mortified at what I was feeding myself, though I didn’t know better. Probably neither did they. I wonder what they think now. And I wonder if there hadn’t been such a stark separation in time between listens if I might have eased myself away from being so dumbstruck. Another record I found by Noothgrush had a note about a former band member, “arrogance has no place in self hate-core.” What are you talking about? Do I spend too much time reading the weddings section of the newspaper to have such hate in my heart? Would I benefit from a little more lead? Honestly, I don’t think so. What’s the point? Right now I’ve got a lollipop in the shape of a heart in my mouth, that shit tastes good.
One of the other records I found was the Reality compilation. There were bands on it called Excruciating Terror and Despise You, California bands who were part of the mid-’90s hardcore movement given the aggressive genre name of “power violence.” This was initially doled out, I believe, as a joke, but the music was as densely aggressive as the moniker suggests. Except for Man is the Bastard, a cornerstone of the movement, whose “Tomb Ride”—a song I have discussed before in Slept On, about a year ago when the economy collapsed—makes up the bulk of the 7-inch’s b-side. “Tomb Ride” is a mostly instrumental song that always reminded me of a train coming, the unison of chugging guitar and flat and paced drums mimicking the race across steel tracks. There are only three lines in the song, a total of ten words: Riding the edge/ Taking the blows/ The pathway to wisdom. There is a Zen placidity to the song, both in its brief lyrical excursion and in its quick, forward pace. Man is the Bastard was always guitarless, their melodies played by a duo of harmonic basses and that gives them a mental heft a guitar’s riffing can undercut. Underneath “Tomb Ride”’s lyrics in the liner notes, Man is the Bastard has, in big bold font, “do or do not, there is no try.” The same time I was listening to Palatka, I remember reading and contemplating it. I had a difficult time accepting that as a reality, as I felt like so much of what is vital in life is attempts—and what Palatka’s candid coldness seemed to be rallying against was their contempt for failures, outwardly, other people’s, but truly maybe the inner secrets of their own. What happens if you don’t succeed? Is that effort nil? I have to believe it isn’t. That’s what confused me so deeply about that quote. Man is the Bastard seemed so righteous because of their effusive joy, even with a delivery system of deep low end and skull imagery. Shouldn’t they be accepting of the faults of others? Their mantra is predicated on universal acceptance. Though they had decided that man was indeed the bastard, this was an all inclusive take down, our species vilified as a whole for its endless crimes and painful evolutions, against mother nature, against animals, against each other. It wasn’t as simple as singling out “your people” as the vicious ones, with the holier over on the other side. Maybe that’s what they mean, that we can try to succeed in attaining a collective consciousness of peace and well being, but we are rallying against the endless and impenetrable evil of our inner souls, and of the outward movements of those warring and hateful. There’s no try because there’s nothing to succeed for if its impossible for us all not to sustain complete high being. But once you realize that, the real work of individual goodness can get started. A picky attitude of preconceived begrudging never helped anyone, and I wonder, a long time later, how much its nonchalance hurt.