I briefly lived with a semi-iconic figure in the Philadelphia punk rock community when we were both at West Chester University in the mid-90’s. Sharing a dorm room with a soon to be former straight edge kid fully enamored with gutter punks, leftist politics, and Riot Grrl culture was not without its challenges. To this day, in fact, he is the only person whose name I knew that I ever took a swing at in earnest. Those were the best times of my life however, and he was a huge part of them. Our respective bands were playing constantly. Our new group of friends at WCU (and throughout the Philly scene that we were becoming more and more a part of) featured some of the most amazing people I have ever met. We shared far more good times than bad and I miss him.
Lately, through the omniscience of social networking, I learned that he recently moved to the left coast (San Francisco, specifically) and has been compiling a book based on the music of the times, particularly the vitality of the 90’s punk and hard core scene, and its effect on 90’s culture in general. I have to admit that I am mildly brokenhearted that he has never sought a contribution from me. I guess he may view me as a sign of what was soon to be wrong with underground music. I was, after all, rocking the debut Korn tape pretty hard. I was more about VOD than FOD. There were a few bands we could agree on, mostly the classics, but all in all I would bet he thinks I didn’t “get it.” Maybe he is right.
Then comes word of a 2012 reunion of the band that pretty much embodied the crucial (self) importance of that time: Refused.
Although patterning themselves after Nation Of Ulysses, what with the manifestos, radical politics and progressive noise punk sound, Refused were seen as the torchbearers for heavy underground music as a vehicle for a vast, if not somewhat vague, political agenda. Much of the appeal, of course, was that the majority of their notoriety was achieved posthumously. Refused “fucking died” and the kids bought it as a martyrdom of a band that was essentially too important, too vital, too crucial to even exist in the music world as it stood in the late 90’s. I didn’t give a shit about all of that. I thought they had a few cool songs.
At an impromptu bonfire at Mike and Jess’s (that was reduced to candles on stools because of local burn regulations…fucking drought), I got into a discussion with J.J. about Refused reuniting. I expressed that I thought it was kind of lame, and J.J. countered with some truths: If I had the opportunity to make money, have fun, and play Coachella and chill on an all-expense paid trip with my friends, I would, and that the things they spoke of (and namely, the insistence they would never play again) were 15 plus years ago and shouldn’t be held against them today.
I agreed, but my beef is not with the Refused of today. Their decision to capitalize on the fame they had forgone is theirs to make and I don’t find myself fit to knock anyone’s hustle. My beef is with the Refused of 15 years ago. The Refused of today is being honest. They did pave the way for the shape of punk to come and deserve whatever it is they want to make out of it today. 15 years ago though, they claimed to be something more than just a band, and the kids that bought it then really have every right to call them sell-outs. They set themselves up to be a movement, and in disbanding created a near mythical entity spoken of with the reverence usually reserved for human rights activists or alcoholic writers. Turns out, they really were just a band. A damn good band.