by: Heather McCoy
It maybe hard to believe, but during my time in high school I was pretty much like every teenager that has ever attended a high school. I was awkward. I didn’t belong with any well-entrenched social clique found at an American High School. After much experimenting, I realized that although I loved sports I was a tad too brainy for the jock crowd. Although I was a kind of a nerd, I didn’t find super inane conversations about Sci Fi, Anime, or Dungeons and Dragons interesting. I bounced around from click to click until I found the punk rock kids in my senior year.
As most well heeled suburban kids of the time, I liked my diet of Green Day and Nirvana, however, the type of punks I found at Westminster High were not your average Epitaph Pennywise loving kids; nor did they wear leather jackets. These new friends, shopped only at thrift stores, wore clothes with holes both created by them as well as the old age of garments, and came from really awful backgrounds. What they had going for them was they were extremely creative interesting people who despite no one at the school liking them they didn’t give a flying fuck. Our friendships started as mutual outcasts who connected through our love of B movies, music, and ripping on everyone in class who turned their nose at us. Our favorite target being a girl who was a really uptight Christian color guard member but, as most color guarders she wished to be a cheerleader. Hell, I wanted to be a cheerleader.
I was brought up on commercial records with high production values. When Robert put his headphones from his Walkman on my ears in the library with Crass’ “The Feeding of the 5000” already playing somewhere on the tape continuum, I hated it. I couldn’t figure out why my friends were convinced Crass was the greatest band ever. What I heard was this alien sound, a tinny lo-fi recording with lots of screaming, loud sometimes droning guitars with the bass and drums turned up higher in the mix then normal. I realized that day is that anyone could put out a record. A realization that Mike Watt and countless others made way before me.
Unlike Mike Watt my realization didn’t lead me to start a ground-breaking band – yet? – but it did show me a musical world beyond KROQ did exist. I didn’t like what music was played on the radio it was my responsibility to find it.
I was further exposed to Crass when the group of us would be going somewhere in Willie’s parents’ old Chevrolet Caprice Stationwagon*. Eventually, I got somewhat used to the low production value, but I still couldn’t hear the genius of the band. The other thing about Crass that made me uncomfortable was that their lyrics were very anti-religion. At the time I had the residue of loose Christian upbringing, enough of a background where I got nervous whenever I heard some utter the phase “goddamn” in public. So imagine what my 17 year old brain was thinking when I heard Asylum for the first time:
He turns his back upon me in his fear, he dare not face me.
Fearfucker. Share nothing you Christ, sterile, impotent, fucklove prophet of death.
You are the ultimate pornography, in you cuntfear, cockfear, manfear, womenfear,
Unfair, warfare, warfare, warfare, warfare, warfare, warfare, warfare, warfare.
Jesus died for his own sins, not mine.
Although I did not enjoy Crass’ music at the time, “The Feeding of the 5000,” both fueled and evaluated our discussions between classes and lunches. We would debate about the ideas around songs like “Punk is Dead,” “Fight War, Not Wars,” “Banned from the Roxy” and the ultimate Communist/Socialist trolling, “Owe Us a Living.”
It was another 7 years before I finally fully loved Crass. A friend turned it on during a break on a student film we where shooting. I had grown musically since I first heard Crass it finally clicked.
As a fully grown adult I still listen and love Crass. Sometimes I listen for the sheer joy of it, other times to challenge my own political thinking so I don’t become an old hard plastic shell of my former self (think Jessie Jackson), and sometimes I listen to reach out to those old friends who allude me.
*The Chevrolet Caprice Station wagon should be a subject of a John Oliver “How is that a thing” segment.