Chris Robinson - Bata Motel
Crass was the band that changed everything for me. The Sex Pistols were the first punk band I ever heard, a barely audible radio station in Berkeley played "Anarchy In The U.K." when I was sitting at the train station on a family vacation and I took note that this sounded like something I needed to own. The Clash were the first punk band that I really really loved, where I bought their T-shirt and wore it nearly every day. A friend in junior high supplied me with tapes pilfered from his neighbor across the street - Black Flag, the Misfits, Minor Threat. These bands were important to me, the first time hearing each one of them ("Nervous Breakdown", "Bullet", "Filler" in that order) are moments crystal clear in my memory. But if I'm going to level a compliment as heavy as "life changing" I don't think I can honestly say any of those bands fit the criteria. But the first time I heard Crass it was more than just the sound, it was more than the lyrics, it was more than the imagery. A lot of bands sounded great, or had interesting things to say, or looked really cool, but Crass managed to single handedly make me feel less alone in the world.
Back in the summer after 8th grade a lot of things were changing for me. I was a couple months shy of my thirteenth birthday, about to become a teenager, music was becoming a lot more important to me, I was drifting away from the straight laced A students that I shared honors classes with and hanging out more with the "bad" kids who smoked cigarettes after school and went to punk rock shows at hockey rinks. It was a very awkward, corny time in my life. (It was the time in my life when, to borrow a phrase, everybody in my suburb was a sellout.) And it was the first time I started to think that I wasn't quite normal. Kids in my class would talk about sports and pussy and cars and MTV and I couldn't fucking relate to any of them. People would talk to me about religion and tell me about Jesus, people I thought were my friends would try to get me to go to church with them and I thought they were completely insane. In class I would learn about government and economics and it all seemed stupid to me. I wanted really badly to fit in, I tried going to church with those friends and I wanted to believe because I didn't want to go to Hell, I told myself I wanted to be good at sports, I tried to pretend that I liked normal things... but still deep down inside I really just wished I could find someone who was weird like me. And then I got a Crass record. It was the first time I'd ever heard anyone saying anything bad about Jesus. And they did it repeatedly. And I thought, "finally."
Back then I picked out records based on the number of T-shirts and patches I'd seen. A lot of people seemed to have Crass shirts so I thought they must be pretty good. Little did I know The Feeding of the 5000
was going to have every thought that I had been trying to suppress in my head, screamed out in words squished together to fit over manic punk rock beats. It was music that sounded as angry and confused and naive and anti-social as I felt. And it was comforting. Someone else on the planet was thinking these same things, even if we were seperated by 20 years and an entire continent.
I can't say that I still listen to Crass that much anymore. That copy of Feeding
is sitting in my parents garage somewhere, but I still love them. Just for different reasons now. A lot of people overlook the fact that Crass had a sense of humor, or the fact that their music was actually really good (listen to how awesome some of those bass lines were. Jeff and I have talked for years now about starting a funk Crass tribute band where we only played the danciest Crass songs. We're thinking of calling it Crass Crass Revolution), or the fact that some of their ideas are still resonant. "Jesus sucks" may not sound as ground breaking as it did to me 10 years ago, but songs like "Bata Motel" are still pretty potent. In fact, even though Feeding of the 5000
will always have a special place in my memory, Penis Envy
is probably my favorite Crass album. Subtlety seems to stand the test of time better.
I have no idea when Chris Robinson first heard Crass, I don't know if they changed his life like they changed mine, but I bet he's got a story that's fairly similar. I always liked Chris, he's a local singer/songwriter who I first met when he was playing in a punk rock band. Now he's focusing on solo acoustic material with a knack for being brutally honest and emotionally wrought but incredibly catchy and well crafted. His original stuff is really good (so after you download this one for free, you should check out his Myspace page and buy his record) and I easily could have written about some of those songs. But when I heard his cover of Crass' "Bata Motel" I felt an instant connection. I guess no matter what age you are, or what stage of your life you're in, it's still nice to hear someone sing a song and feel a little less alone.
for Chris Robinson on Myspace.)