Monday, September 22, 2014

We're Not In It To Lose (Fuck You!)

This just in – a rad Big Boys tribute compilation now exists and can be obtained here and here.  I recently saw a photo of none other than Glen Danzig’s fist in the air singing along at a Big Boys show.  To me, that says it all.  How this band affected the most disaffected can’t be matched.  Without them would people be keeping Austin weird?  What would the “Fun Fun Fun” fest be called?  Hell, what would this blog be called, since I stole the title from a familiar mantra of theirs?  Somewhere I read that they were a huge (and somewhat obvious) influence on the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Like those guys or not, that really exemplifies their impact.  Yet somehow, they seem to maintain this kinda’ cult status.  Is it because you can’t pin down their sound easily? Or is it because they are not out beating the reunion circuit to death? With Biscuit’s death in 2005, that is not likely to ever happen. Still, if you are not more than a casual fan, you should be.  Trust me on this one.  Take a look at the 20 bands covering them on the aforementioned comp, Influence.  They know what I’m talking about. 

It’s hard to get cooler than the Big Boys.  Somehow they did it all.  With no irony or hipster shtick, they blended punk, hardcore, funk, soul, post-hardcore and art.  Somehow full of equal parts rage and joy.  They had tons of records and they’re all great.  Every one of them.  When prepping this post, I couldn’t help but notice that so many of my favorite songs were missing from Influence. Though nearly every track is great, where were the covers of “No,” “Fight Back,” or “Brick Wall”?  Where was “Baby Let’s Play God”?  It’s more than just a product of there being far too many good tunes to choose from.  I think the reason is that everybody has their own experience with the Big Boys.  Different songs hit them in different ways at different times in their lives.  Well, that’s my experience, at least.  They came and went well before my time.  So what I have to talk about are the intersections of their incredible songs and shit in my life. 

The first time I truly listened to Big Boys is significant primarily as a reference point.  I was riding in a van with Fast Times in 2001 as they drove around the country playing shows.  It was one of those “you haven’t heard the Big Boys?!” moments.  For me, it was one of those “I can’t believe what I’m hearing!” moments.  “Cool, they kinda sound like Dead Kennedys.  Wait, they kinda sound like Dead Milkmen. Wait, what do they sound like?”  This experience was later reinforced by repeated listens to The Fat Elvis while going to/from shows with Eric Yu in Boston.  Eric Yu also gave me my first proper introduction to Husker Du, so I guess I owe him a fruit basket as well.

Driving aimlessly in Boulder, Colorado in ’05.  Recently returned from a few years abroad.  I was married, unemployed, and living in a city I had no connection to.  The mountains were beautiful and right there.  Take one turn too many and you’d be rolling upwards.  It lent itself to great moments of exploration.  Fat Elvis in the CD player, “Which Way To Go” grabbed me.  How had I not been aware of the song until now?  It’s perfect.  The raspy, desperate vocals; the jangly guitar; the faster and faster drums over an ear-worming chorus.  The song title is too literal to be a symbol.  Enhancing everything I felt, it was the exact right thing at a not-so right time and place.

As it happens, I would be divorcing and then divorced within the next 18 months.  As I crashed in a friend’s basement right next to the goddamn laundry machines, you would think a somber or desperate Big Boys song would be fitting as my mantra.  You would think that.  But no, it was “Fun Fun Fun.”  It went on every mix I made.  I’m not sure it had anything to do with my divorce, truth be told.  It may have been a decoy for some legit pain.  Probably was.  Regardless, my external face was Fun Fun Fun.  So much so that in 2008, I had it tattooed on my skin along with a certain armadillo.  Yeah, move over bald eagle, the new beacon of freedom is a grinning, anarchist skateboarding armadillo.

What goes down, must come up.  Meaning – I got hitched, tied the knot, took the plunge, once again.  Foreva’ Wife (a vast improvement on Not-So-Foreva’ Wife) and I took some kinda’ honeymoon to that holiest of holies for music fests.  Austin, Tex-ass!  Chaos in Tejas 2011.  Punk rock summer camp for adults.  Where the aging and aged can see loud music being performed nonstop (often good bands!), eat copious amount of tex-mex (surprisingly vegan-friendly!), go swimming, raid the record stores, mosh and hang out (all while sweating continuously!).  I was psyched to be newly-married to an awesome human being at a fest with tons of cool bands in Big Boys country.  I expected at any moment a band at Mohawk would interrupt their set and invite me on stage.  There would be much congratulations at our recent nuptials.  The crowd would simultaneously and with full-throated enthusiasm scream “huzzah!”  The drummer would click off a four-count and the band would dive into a raucous rendition of “We’re Not in it to Lose.”  The mic would be in my hand as I belted out those words now with a new and personal meaning.  Marriage – “we’re not in it to lose. Fuck you!”

But it was more than anthems that touch your heart and make you ball your fist.  There is this whole other dimension to the Big Boys.  Their artwork and design was so eccentric and bizarre.  Child-like, creepy, and beautiful.  A two-headed baby.  The hand-made covers of Frat Cars.  The skateboard anarchy. That goddamn armadillo grinning up at me from my ankle.  In 2009, I got an only-played-once mint copy of Lullabies Help the Brain Grow from Celebrated Summer in Towson, MD.  According to Tony, the original owner gave it a sole rotation to dub it onto cassette and then sealed it in a trash bag for 20+.  It might as well have been cryogenically stored.  Everything about it looked brand spankin’. I put that smiling black and purple sun in glass and hung it on my wall like it was a Monet.

In 2010, I was feeling at a crossroads again.  This time I was on the way out of an unappreciative job I had given my blood and sweat to.  Damn lucky to be reflecting on my next move from Helsinki with friends, I sought inner peace and solitude the only way I know how…buying records.  Big Boys seemed to make so many appearances in my life at key moments that I shouldn’t have been surprised when I pulled out a mint, still shrink-wrapped copy of the Big Boys / Dicks split “Live at Raul’s.”  I had been looking for that one for quite some time after scouring eBay repeatedly with the unfortunate keyword search “big boys dicks.”  Yeah, I’m probably on a list somewhere.  Hopefully when the cops take me away, they’ll be impressed by my record collection.   

Earlier this year I had a troublesome mole removed from the inside of my left ankle.  This thing sat like an asshole on the “F” in the first “Fun” of my tattoo.  When the flanking margins were sliced out, I was left with “Fun” almost completely erased and replaced with a puffy, pink scar.  The “F” and the “U” vanished; the “N” left lonely and mangled.  So my tattoo now reads “Fun Fun.”  Now we all know when we get older, we tend to have less fun, but damn! 

When Ty Stranglehold was collecting photos of Big Boys tattoos for the Influence comp, I was elated to find an old one of my Fun-having ankle armadillo in its unmolested state.  Originally preserved on my leg by tattooist extraordinaire Mike Schweigert, it is now further immortalized in the accompanying booklet for the album. I couldn’t think of a better place for that grinning armadillo to live than with photos of other Big Boys tributes.

There’s something about Big Boys tunes that make them appropriate or at least adaptable for all occasions. Biscuit’s voice sums up all the rage and pain and joy I’ve felt in my life; a perfect aural expression.  I’m always drawn to their flyer art, their bright record designs, their slogans. After listening and re-listening to Influence and reading the liner notes, obviously I’m not alone in this. Hell, look at any reflection from any of their re-issues or discographies, love and inspiration is consistent throughout.  I get the sense these days that their posthumous popularity is on an upswing.  I hope the result is a further appreciation for all that they were and all that their songs are. They did for me what any good rock-n-roll should do for wayward souls.   They provided the soundtrack.

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