By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
But there is a burgeoning generation of young musicians who look back to the early punk heyday with not only fondness and nostalgia, but as something of a model; they embrace the culture of the punks as well as their music, absorbing messages and agendas and speed-riffing through records more than 15 years old. They're American bands who pay homage to the Clash and the Specials (Rancid), the Ramones and the Buzzcocks (Green Day), the Circle Jerks and Sham 69 (Offspring)--multi-million-selling superstars all, who took the underground into the mall, aiming their rage at the government and the suburbs with their odes to apathy and masturbation and loneliness. They whine, they pout, they shout, they shamelessly imitate and sing in English accents, and they have spawned the third (or is that the ninth?) generation of punks in every city in every state.
Slowly and seemingly out of nowhere, Dallas has a vibrant punk scene that has begun to rear its mohawked head. Coming out of garages, small clubs, and all-ages shows at places like the Orbit Room, the Galaxy Club, Bar of Soap, and the Major Theatre, theirs is an angry sound--a noise of discontent and raw, untapped energy, the likes of which hasn't been heard since the days of the Hot KlYb, the Metamorphosis Concert Hall, and the Twilite Room. Played mostly by young kids, it blares out as a reminder that rock can be vital, urgent and in-your-face even as it borders on laughable carbon-copy parody.
The roster of Dallas punk bands seems to grow every day: Bad Hair Day, Riot Squad, Mess, Dead Boy Choir, The Boozers, The Soup, Bowling For Soup, Lower Caste Struggle, X's For Eyes, The Voyeurs, Drag The Lake, Family Values, the Sillies, the Feebs, and Ethyl Merman rank among the most prominent of their lot. Their names appear on show flyers that read more like angry ransom letters, and they attract so many of the kids too young to get into the clubs; often, they're content to play in their suburban garages, purist throwbacks that they are.
The New Punks, like any product of history that has seen its ancestors' actions and learned from the implications, are conflicted about their roles: Some wear the traditional garb and hairstyles, while others sport bargain-bin T-shirts and jeans; some scream about politics, while others are defiantly apolitical; some abhor the pop-punk of Green Day and Offspring and MTV, while others acknowledge the importance of a new audience riding a trend. But they all share a love for the same sound, the same attitude, the same joyful nihilism that once made punk so vital.
"As much as I hate to say it, Green Day kicked down a lot of doors for other punk bands," says Donnie Dick, the 27-year-old singer for Dead Boy Choir. "It opened up the record industry's eyes in that there may be some profitability there. For once in my musical career I feel I've been taken seriously. Before this, no one would give us the time of the day."
The Choir, a self-proclaimed "old-school punk band" in the mold of the Ramones and the Pistols, has existed for more than a decade, originally forming under the name the Secrets. For a while in the early '90s, the band lived in Los Angeles and "did really well there," Dick says, but when they returned to Dallas in 1992, they were "practically ignored."
"We were in the midst of hair-band rock and roll," he says of that time. "We retired for a while playing in our garages and changed our name to Dead Boy Choir two years ago. Most of the songs we play are the same damn songs we used to play years ago. They were not marketable then, but they're marketable now, which is insane."
Unlike, say, Turner Van Blarcum--the thirtysomething mohawked frontman of Ethyl Merman and one-time speed-metal guitarist, whose political rants are so hysterically paranoid they're just hysterically (and intentionally) funny--Donnie Dick is the kind of punk who believes politics, be they social or personal, are at the core of punk.
He subscribes to the belief "you have to be pissed to play punk," that the music is empty unless there's an honest anger contained between the speed riffs, pointing to the Choir's song "Authority Figurehead" as the band's mission statement. Dick explains he wrote it after being thrown in the drunk tank on a DWI charge even though he was sober, blaming it on police officers who took one look at him and decided he was up to no good.
"The police screwed me," he spits. "They let me know that they're the police, and they can fuck with me anytime."
Riot Squad is another band that formed several years ago, disappeared, then resurfaced once punk began to catch on in late '93. But singer Joe Russell (who goes by the name "Joe Blow") insists its resurrection was also a reaction against the so-called "alternative rock" of bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, arena-rock and metal bands masquerading under the guise of punk.
"We got sick and tired of all that stupid alternative stuff like Nirvana and Pearl Jam," Russell says. "It seems that some of these guys used to be into punk, but they started smoking too much dope and mellowed out. We thought about it and decided to get back because we have stuff to say. We're not a political band, but we do show people what we don't like."