Bands That Changed A life – Against Me
The title of this is slightly misleading. Some bands provided direction in my life at a very young age. Some pointed me down certain roads and offered me the chance to travel with them. Some had great music. Some I was ready to die for.
Well not really but figuratively so. The first time I heard Against Me was their debut album on No Idea Records, Reinventing Axl Rose. This was 2002 and I’d already spent a life sentence listening to punk rock. I’d formed my ideas, I’d chosen the independent road road of veganism, no alcohol and diy but when the first note of that first song, ‘pints of guinness make you strong’ cam on, I was completely blown away.
The songs were stories of the day – with the politics of starving and it’s lines “It’s time for real world politics, economics, history, math and english. there are some of us who have, and some go without” My daughter had just turned three and we used to sing along wildly to those ‘Anarcho Punks are Mysterious’.
Hope had just published ‘Document: A story of Hope’ and I needed to get over to some shops in the Uk with it so I co-incided my trip to Bunker records, brighton, with an Against Me gig. It was a small packed to capacity venue that had no need for stage or barrier and the whole couple of hundred of us sang at the very very top of our voices “We rock, because it’s us against them, we found out own reasons to sing, and it’s so much less confusing when lines are drawn like that, when people are either consumers or revolutionaries, enemies or friends” I was ready for the fight. I was ready to be led a new way.
I was as excited as I had been when seeing the Pleasure Cell all those years before, or Fugazi in McGonagles.
This was THAT good.
And then I went home and spread the word. Soon after they came to Ireland. City Arts Centre was the venue as they sang of the revolution. We booked a babysitter for the night and sang strong. Against Me were the band where we all sang along, together as friends. That feeling of energy is hard to capture in words but it is an exhiliration that happens infrequently with music. It is our drug, I suppose.
More and more people wanted to listen to Against Me and the band felt that No Idea records wasn’t able to cope with the demand and they brought out the next two albums on Fat Wreck – As the Eternal Cowboy and Searching For a Former Clarity. With the second Fat Wreck release there were signs that things were changing.
In Unprotected Sex with Multiple Partners Tom (as she was then) sang of “how long is this really going to last” as it became a band that needed to write songs to pay their bills. You could feel the pressure coming on and it finally popped when Sire Records signed the band. The backlash hit hard and heavy. I was disappointed they went off my road but it was totally their choice and I respect any band for that. I find it ironic when people in full-time jobs or those who have made lifestyle choices rally against a band because they have chosen a route not agreeable to them. Especially those who believe in freedom of choice.
I’m torn as to whether it’s a pity or not that their debut major record label release is their worst. On the next album, White Crosses Tom (still Tom) explained “I was a teenage anarchist, looking for a revolution” and we sang along “Do you remember when you were young and you wanted to set the world on fire” but he then goes on to say “the scene got too rigid, it was a mob mentality, they set their rifle sights on me” which is such a shame. What a horrible way for someone who wrote so many great songs to feel. But tom was searching out for her real identity and finally emerged after leaving Sire Records as Laura Jane Grace. She had been dealing with gender dysphoria since childhood and in 2012 finally came out as transgender. Their next album (most recent studio one too) was entitled Transgender Dysphoria Blues and is a concept album about a trans prostitute.
Against me still play sporadic gigs and Laura Jane has a solo tour coming up. I still remember that gig in Brighton and when I need to give an explanation of what music can achieve I hark back to 200 people in a packed room of strangers ready to embrace as if we had seen the greatest sporting achievement of our lives.