By John No
All the back and forth about the new Iceage record just makes me think about our universal, lifelong-yet-infantile obsession with violence, whether we like it or not. Scott Creney and Everett True are absolutely right in identifying the potentially dangerous nature of Iceage’s eyelash-batting at violent, neo-nazi themes, despite a veritable landslide of music criticism aimed at giving them a pass in the name of edginess and/or the implicit violence of youth. Iceage can dredge up the fascism-fascinated corpse of Ian Curtis and cut off all the Hannah Arendt-style insights about the banality of evil, but this shouldn’t exempt either Iceage or Curtis from criticism. At this point, any semi-aware observer should realize that if one insists on retreads of wrongheaded ideas for their own sake we will be inclined to take them at face value. After all, The Mentors are still around, playing the same violent “rape rock” they were in 1976. But the joke is old, and was never funny to begin with; if The Mentors are so damn dedicated to promoting rape that it stretches out over three decades and a million lineup changes then it would stand to reason that they are actually pretty into the idea of rape.
This goes for anyone of any age with a knowledge of the past and present contexts for such powerfully toxic ideas, as Iceage clearly do. When Iceage are given a pass by the tastemakers for playing with the same low light/high heat iconography that Sid Vicious played with when he wrapped a swastika around the collapsed veins of his skinny arms, it is a bit like giving China a pass for deciding to run their entire economy on coal even though they are fully aware of what a bad idea that proved to be for empires in the past. They have every right to do what they want, but there’s really no good reason for anyone else to validate it, implicitly or explicitly.
But the broad validation Iceage has received brings me back to the point, which is that we all are attracted, more or less, to violence. Everett True’s accounts of show-going in the 70s and 80s make me realize how lucky I was growing up around punk in Oakland+Berkeley, California in the 90s and 00s, when the chances of being beaten senseless or stabbed at any show worth attending were much lower than they were in earlier years. In the 70s and 80s, the Brits had teddy boys and a million skinheads, and we here on the west coast had thick-necked jocks/surfers and tweaked-out biker dudes. All of them are right-leaning reactionaries in my eyes, a veritable army of potential date rapists if they could convince anyone to go out on a date in the first place. Judging by YouTube videos and first-hand accounts, they all went to see Black Flag, who I (like everyone else) love. Yet I doubt I would have gone to see Flag in the 80s, had I been around, because I’m not really into sustaining chronic kneecap injuries inflicted by people who are genuinely out to injure other people in order to feel better about themselves. By the time I was going to shows, that kind of top-down violence was the province of Gulf War vets who packed the pit for Metallica, as well as the stupider tough-guy hardcore shows that I studiously avoided. There were much better options available in the bay area punk community.
This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy music with an element of surliness, oblivion, and serious danger to it – a different kind of violence. I loved going to Jesus Lizard shows as much as any other teenaged alt-punk guy in the 90s, but David Yow always had such a glorious element of beautiful fagginess to what he did. He didn’t really want anyone to be injured, and the truth is it always seemed like he’d end up injured more than anyone else. I confirmed this long-held suspicion when my old band, in which I did an admittedly Yow-esque frontman schtick, toured with his new band, Qui. There was plenty of violence (largely self-focused), but the whole shebang was ridiculous – small crowds, nudity, random makeouts with dudes in the front, hallucinatory levels of drunkenness, and an unannounced game of one-upmanship between the two flailing front persons (he and I) over who could commit the most wretched act of self-depredation. He won the latter contest (of course) in front of 15 people at a bar in Lubbock, Texas, after sticking his penis into a light socket; later that night I found out he didn’t actually know if it was plugged in or not.
Times and contexts change, however, and the pheromones of weird, transcendent violence inevitably tend to get distilled into ever more pungent and pedestrian scents, attracting the kind of people you’d never want to go on a date with. The irony in my embrace of a decidedly queer type of violence came full circle when the same aforementioned band of mine opened up for a Jesus Lizard reunion in Chicago, in front of a very different crowd than those I remembered from seeing JL during the 90s in the Bay Area. 1500 thick-necked, angry wanna-be Steve Albinis (just add 100 pounds and subtract the scathing wit) were literally out to kick my head in – they do not allow anyone other than Yow to get away with such flamboyant shenanigans, and looking out over the audience revealed a sea of eyes all flashing the word “faggot” towards me at once. Hell, they didn’t even let Yow off unscathed, he got three broken ribs after being purposefully dropped mid-crowd surf. I felt like we were a couple of squirrels who kept chewing through power lines, getting a thrill from the shock but unable to escape from the ensuing fire.
Maybe Iceage feels the same, that they are just chewing through power lines. And maybe, just maybe, the basic nature of embracing violence does equalize these ideological differences to some extent, and either way it all produces a smouldering heap in the end. But the kind of fire Iceage are playing with burned the entire world a few decades back, and has already been re-lit and burning way too hot on its own. It really doesn’t need any more fuel.
This blog kills fascists.
THE ALTERNATIVE REVIEW | Iceage – You’re Nothing (Matador)
Iceage | smart and naive can be a dangerous combination too - Louis Pattison answers Iceage’s critics
Iceage | an open letter to Louis Pattison
the interview | Iceage want you to know that they’re not fascists