Sunday, June 27, 2010
Occasionally we all get asked the question "what is your favourite band?" For me the answer is without a doubt the punk/hardcore band Propagandhi. For somebody who is in no sense a music junkie (I prefer to books to cds) Propagandhi are the one exception; I am unashamedly obsessed. Why has this band had such an impact on me?
I was first introduced to the band in the late 90s, by a few friends who were immersed in the then massive skater punk scene. Propagandhi were one of the litany of famous punk bands enjoying the promotion that was part of being on that hugely successful punk label: Fat Records. Although I enthusiastically embraced the punk scene and loved many of the bands (NOFX, Lagwagon etc) Propagandhi was and is the only band that has left a lasting impression.
Initially, in must said, my reaction was not so positive. As a teenager, committed to evangelical Christianity, and a political ignoramus, the prop's fiery brand of humanistic left wing radicalism was quite confronting. Chris Hannah's unforgettably pissed off voice, decrying the injustices of global capitalism, animal exploitation, patriarchy, and (god forbid!) the dark side of religion, were as shocking as they were intriguing. Propagandhi gave me my first introduction to left wing ideas, and, although I paid attention, I was deeply sceptical. My initial response - influenced by Christian thinking - was to applaud their concern for a world in which "everyone has everything they need," but denounce their method: far too angry and (I presumed) bitter, and lacking in a true appreciation of the transformative power of Christ’s lové.
As it turns out, my own political evolution followed a similar path to the band members. I was introduced by a friend to the amazing radical left website ZNET and began immersing myself in the ideas of the radical American left. Here I discovered thinkers such as Noam Chomsky - who despite a few reservations remains an intellectual hero of mine - as well others including; Susan George, Michael Albert, Vandava Shiva, Stephan Shalom and many others. It was clear, from propagandhi's lyrics that these thinkers had a similar influence on them, as me.
As my political education advanced, the meaning of some of propagandhi lyrics became clearer. I can remember listening to a history lecture at university, on the overthrow of Salvador Allende's social democratic (not communist!) government, by a U.S backed military coup. On hearing the lecturer refer to Nixon's demand to "make the (Chilean) economy scream," I immediately thought back to the final line of a propagandhi track, "A people's history" in which Chris makes a subtle reference to this important example of U.S imperialism:
"And if democracy breaks loose, they'll just make the economy scream, until we vote "responsibly"
Of all the band members I feel a particular connection with Chris Hannah (lead singer). I share Chris’s immense anger at the injustice and suffering imposed on human and non-humans creatures. Although I am unable to live by the anarchist ethic, I admire Chris's stubborn refusal to "subjugate or serve." I also share Chris generally cynacism (though I try to temper it) towards so much of contempory culture. I particularly resonate with his bitting critique of academia neatly summed up in the song "fedallah's hearse." To the "vaunted laureates," Chris has this message:
"I vote you most likely to clutter your language with so much deadwood that no amount of pruning will reveal your intensive, protracted campaign of saying nothing at all"
That just sums up my frustration at so much "academic" drivel, which passes for sophisticated thought, particularly in this post-modern era!
Perhaps most importantly, Chris has revealed himself - unusually for someone on the radical left - as a sports lover. Although, being from Canada, his obsession is with Ice Hockey, whereas mine is with Aussie rules footy (AFL). Despite our mutual dislike at the corporatisation of sport which is a powerful example of the markets relentless encroachment into all aspects of our lives. Still, we both uneasily embrace the sheer skill, talent and excitement of modern professional sport. In the song, "Dear Coaches Corner," Chris describes his passion:
"Seems like there ain’t a sheet of ice north of Fargo I ain’t played. From Penhold to the Gatineau, every fond memory of childhood that I know is somehow connected to the culture of this game. I can’t just let it go"
Neither can I let go of AFL!
Clearly Propagandhi's politics and values have had an impact, but so has their music. Like all good bands their style and sound has continued to evolve with each release - in their case, radically so. The first two albums, How to Clean Everything & Less Talk More Rock, are classic's of the skater punk genre, very similar in style to the famous NOFX . With their third release "Today's Empire's, Tomorrow's Ashes." their style changed to include a more hardcore metallic sound, although still remaining true to recognisable punk beat and ethos. Their last two releases, have further developed this fusion of metallic/hardcore/punk sounds, creating a unique synthesis, that makes them, surely, one of the most important exponents of loud & fast music in the world today. '
Their music is unique in others ways. They do not follow the usual pop formula of verse/chorus/bridge/chorus. Instead Chris has developed a method of crafting his complex guitar rhythms around a paragraph of pre-prepared political and social commentary. At the same time their songs, although aggressive and at times dark, are, after a few listens, extremely melodic and insanely catchy. Like no other band their lyrics remain etched in the mind. I sometimes doubt whether music has any positive impact on progressive social change, but propagandhi have certainly made a good attempt, at least for those who can swallow the hard and fast music they deliver (which I know a lot of people cannot - which is fine).
With the inclusion of additional guitarist on their latest release, "Supporting Caste," there sound has become more even more full and refined. Listens seem to agree, with the users of the leading punk rock website voting this release the best of 2010.
Propagandhi: I have all your albums, I have now seen you live twice, I am a bit too obsessed with watching you-tube clips of you live...but you have impacted me forever!
Ill finish with some of my favourite lyrics from the song "Last will and testament," about the sheer inertia of so many of us who call ourselves left:
Here in the few remaining moments we have left, just what do you propose we say in our defence? That much was decided before any one of us were born? That we were nothing more than objective observers to the madness and throw up your hands in sadness? “We’re powerless to change anything anyways.” So just lay back upon your death bed and gaze idiotically back up the chain of command from which we receive our directives. I guess it’s just common sense to preach what ought to be but ensure it never is in the present tense.