Against Me, Against The Public

June 22, 2010

Generation after generation the parameters of "selling out" are redefined. More commonly it's an artist that breaks through from underground and has mainstream success and is eventually criticized by their core fan base. More often then not the criticism is unwarranted and is due to a new larger fan base that claims to be the "original" fans. I have experienced this numerous times and have let it go for the most part. Whether it was Green Day rising from the ashes of Warning or Anti-Flag signing to RCA, I have learned that selling out defines a fan base and keeps a band from getting whatever message they have across.

[caption id="attachment_1078" align="aligncenter" width="312" caption="Who Are You Again?"]Who Are You Again?[/caption]

One of the finest examples of bands or artists changing their sound and receiving a resounding backlash was none other than Bob Dylan. In 1965, the usually lonesome guitarist went fully electric with the record Bring It All Back Home. Dylan received and immense amount of backlash. Fans felt that he was abandoning the true spirit of folk music. Seeing Dylan before his "electric transformation" was intimate, mesmerizing, sometimes uncomfortable. I could see why fans would be put off by Dylan getting a full backing band. In terms of live performance, the sound could get muddled; leaving someone, like Dylan, who's lyrics are as much brilliant as they are cryptic, lost in a sea of sound. Still, for a record, a full band could bring a new depth to the sonic quality. The song writing would be less focused on lyrics and a little more arrangement, but as time has proven for Dylan, that wasn't the case. Reactions were varied to Dylan. One of the most memorable moments in rock history, is Dylan's performance of "Like a Rolling Stone" at Royal Albert Hall. As Dylan shuffled out from backstage, he was met with a cry of "Judas!" from a disgruntled fan. This was a perfect display of the backlash on a biblical level. This particular man felt betrayed by the electric guitar, the the full backing band distancing him from the performance at hand.

It created an electric, sonic barrier that didn't exist with just a guitar and a harmonica. There is a loss of simplicity with a full electric band; a simplicity that allowed for smarter lyrics and almost a one on one interaction with the artist. While Dylan's switch to electric guitar was met with backlash, he didn't lose what he was about. Many say that he lost his original message of protest, but he was over that by the late 60's. To put it bluntly, he was successful. I see a very similar parallel between Dylan and Against Me!

Bob Dylan - Judas Like a Rolling Stone (Live at the Royal Albert

Kern ( I Want to Be Dylan ) Little | MySpace Video

Like a Rolling Stone (Live at Royal Albert Hall)

I was a late comer to Against Me! I wasn't sure to make of them the first time I saw them. I was 18 years old and they were the opener for Alkaline Trio. The minute they started playing, there was a huge rush to the front of the stage. There was a raucous, yet defined rage that drew me closer and closer to them. That and the drummer's massive beard. As I stood there being shoved from side to side, I saw the way the words of songs like "Sink, Florida, Sink" drew the crowd to sing along to what I thought was a death wish for Florida after the 2000 Presidential election. There was an almost militaristic command that Tom Gabel had. He was complete control of these kids; he had them on their edge of their seats and they were at his command. He told kids what to be angry about, he understood the struggle of a teenager in a politically, economically unstable world. Yet he was still aware of the fun had by friends, going to shows in basements, not worrying about money for shows, and enjoying beers in paper bags with your closest friends. These are things that I still hold near and dear to my heart.

Sink, Florida, Sink

After that show, I decided to research them more and more and picked up the Acoustic EP. I was impressed that a band had started out as an acoustic band because they didn't have the equipment to be a full, live, electric band. I identified with the want to be in a band where everyone knew what they were doing, everyone had equipment and there were reliable members. Yet here was a band making due with what they had at their disposal. There was not distortion, just straight forward guitar and lyrics. Particularly a song like "Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious." There is an honesty in lyrics and musical composition that isn't overdone. Another song that hit me "What We Worked For" displays the honesty of being a band, being a songwriter, an artist. The singer/speaker, not necessarily Tom Gabel, has a yearning, self-deprecating urge to break through as an artist, not caring who he takes down along his way. He keeps pushing forward. I was overcome with the simplicity of the song, the single guitar and drums, and eventual tambourine. There is no lead or rhythm guitar, not distinction, no segregation. Equal opportunity song and band. Much like early Bob Dylan. There were no layers of instruments distancing themselves from their fans.

What We Worked For

With the success of As The Eternal Cowboy, Against Me! moved on to a bigger more ambitious record, Searching for a Former Clarity. To this day I still think that record is their crowning achievement. They moved from pure folk-punk to a more eclectic rock band, while retaining that folk edge. Clarity dealt with major cities, blind Secretaries of State, STD's, a pretentious generation and struggling young writers trying to find their place in the world. Every time I listen to Clarity I find myself as impressed as the first time I heard it.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Against Me! signed to Sire records. There is nothing wrong with signing to a major label and sampling the sweet flavor of possible commercial success. The only problem is turning into a diva as you do it. Tom Gabel became more and more pretentious, almost as jaded as the transplanted youth that populate and meander in Williamsburg nearly every day. Except Tom Gabel had a clear cut goal, make it, no matter what the cost. With this came what was is their worst record to date, second worst to date. An almost fully electric, major label debut New Wave was born. It made its way into Spin and eventual naming of the best album of 2007. While I enjoyed a few cuts from the A-side, like "New Wave" "Up the Cuts" and the damned near perfect pop song, channeling Neko Case and the New Pornographers "Borne on the FM Waves of the Heart" I found something was missing, there were just straight forward rock songs. The songs were simple, both sonically and lyrically. I missed the over-writing of Tom Gabel, it was something I found endearing. Their success grew and I felt more and more detached from the band.

My interest in Against Me! had peaked about 2 years ago after I saw them with Ted Leo and Future of the Left. I observed from the balcony an almost unrecognizable band. A band that shoved kids off the stage, forgetting where they were from. I didn't follow them again until maybe a week ago when I saw that they had a new single entitle "I Was a Teenage Anarchist." I immediately thought back to no more than 8 years ago, Tom Gabel wrote and released "Baby, I'm an Anarchist." It is rather heartbreaking to realize that Gabel has taken advantage of his past and forgotten about it. What is left for him to sing about? Cars, retirement, how their politico-based lyrics and fervent support of taking action were for nothing? Songs like "Baby, I'm an Anarchist" allow the youth to have an identity; it romanticizes the idea of being a revolutionary, gives it a sense of purpose, beauty, and majesty. Gabel is just milking the image he created and with a record like the recent White Crosses, which I had to suffer through, he ends of writing brainless pop-rock, where he might as well being doing collaborations with Nickelback and Daughtry. Tom Gabel has left everything he "Worked For" behind. He has become blinded by the money, the fame, and the title that Jay Leno had given them "one of the best punk rock bands ever." I implore you Tom, come back down to earth and remember why people loved you. With records like White Crosses, you make me, a 22 year old, feel old and outdated. You cheapened the the idea of anarchy and protest, claiming to be a phase the youth are supposed to go through. What about countries like Greece where the fake chase and violence in your music video actually take place? Also, Franz Nicolay, stop hanging out with Tom Gabel and go back to the modern Beat poet, he really needs your "Woahs."

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="377" caption="Fighting the Good Fight?"]Fighting the Good Fight?[/caption]

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