Tuesday, April 19, 2005 at 9:33 AM

Strawman / 'No Generation'

Strawman were something of an important band to me in the early nineties. To this day, I still consider them one of the most thought-provoking political punk bands I've ever heard of. This was a band who dedicated one of their albums to the Russian anarchists who resisted the Bolsheviks immediately following the revolution of 1917. Now, I had some preconceived ideas about politics at that point, but I was still very young, so nothing was very well-formed. And anarchist resistance to Soviet communism was not something I would have learned about in junior high school history texts. I didn't run out and become an anarchist, but Strawman definitely set me down the path of understanding that in history and politics, there's no such thing as black or white and that the simple narrative rarely applies.

This song is a scathing attack on the punk scene circa '95, and appeared (appropriately) on the Allied compilation Invasion of the Indie Snatchers. Remember, this was the time of Green Day's arrival on MTV and the subsequent signings of Bay Area stalwarts Jawbreaker and Samiam. In fact, Jawbreaker's Adam Pfahler had served as Strawman's drummer for what was probably their most popular album, Shoot Me Up. Here's what the band wrote in the liner notes for this song:

'Punk Rock' in the U.S. has become a bunch of cartoons in costumes that feel the Ramones are a progressive musical force and care more about who is a 'sell-out' than the now dirt poor worker next door - a bourgeois clique with insipid middle-of-the-road politics dancing with joy in the belly of the beast.

While I don't agree 100% -- one wonders what Tommy Strange must think of 'the scene' as it exists now -- there was definitely some truth to that. And there was even more truth in the lyrics:

All the punks have got haircuts from '81 sitcoms
And all the workers they sold their songs to
Are blind, young and so happy to be used.

No generation with fortitude
Nobody with guts or vision enough
All the punks got lawyers
All the brats got lawyers

My artist friends just turned into whores
And all the morals they painted our struggles on
Have just become one more advertising song

I always considered Jawbreaker's "Chemistry" to be a response to Strawman's charge, with Blake Schwarzenbach singing:

My stupid hair is so '82 to you
At least I don't fit in

Who knows, though. The rest of the song was all about high school, so it's quite possible he really was just singing about chemistry class. But I still think the whole thing was a metaphor -- the punk underground as high school. You don't need to give it too much thought to get the significance.

After the breakup of Strawman, Tommy Strange and Diane Glaub went on to form Songs for Emma, whose music can be found at eMusic. Strange also now runs the anarchist book store 6th Street Books in San Francisco. I can't find too much info about the shop, but I'm sure it's worth checking out.

No Generation
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Blogger Tobias said...

Oh man....Greensleep was on that Allied comp too, weren't they?

In related news, I feel old.  


Anonymous Chandan said...

Thanks for posting this! I played bass in Strawman for a while, including this song. I too feel old.


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