Hanson Brothers, The: It’s a Living: DVD/CD

Mar 24, 2009

(Note: This is a review of the DVD side of The Hanson Brother’s split CD/DVD. For a review of the CD side of this disc, consult the reviews section of Razorcake #48)

Even given the noble efforts of such prominent tipplers as Gang Green, Fear, and, of course, the Hanson Brothers themselves, when you think of a genre of music that’s known for its fondness for drink, does punk rock spring to mind? Maybe not as much as it should, in my estimation. And to some extent, that could be explained away by the fact that the sprawling and variegated family of punk includes a subgenre of vociferous, rectilinear teetotalers who call themselves “straight edgers” and they probably serve to water-down punk’s image as a cultural bastion for recreational drinkers.

As it is, many people probably think of the “classic country” genre when they think of gruff but lovable dipsomaniacs. Images of lovesick huckleberries hunched over at a dingy bar and crying in their beer are still likely to flicker up in the minds of people even too young to know who Hank Williams or Bob Wills were. Sure, there are probably innumerable blue collar punk bands in each city in North America—like the great Quincy Punx here in Minneapolis—who have cranked out rousing, beer-drinking anthems through the years; but how far reaching has been their influence in the pop culture at large? Like it or not, more people worldwide have heard country’s Tom T. Hall croon his hit “I Like Beer” than have heard all those beloved beer punk anthems put together.

But the problem runs much deeper than mere public relations muddlement; this strikes right at the very center of what many people—both in and out of punk—consider to be the proud, beating heart of the punk movement since day one: the cherished DIY ethic. A somewhat sullied reputation as stalwart souses is one thing, but what’s gloomier still is to think that these britches-wearing, weed-chewing hayshakers—following the exemplary leads of legends like Junior Samples and Grandpa Jones—are apparently more likely to brew their own happy juice than punks are. They even have at least two world famous songs written about homebrewing: “White Lightning” and “Mountain Dew.” To put it mud-simple, the Hee Haw people are more DIY when it comes to their alcoholic beverages than the punks—who, last time I checked, like to fancy themselves the torchbearers of all things “do-it-yourself.”

This woeful situation is both shameful and somewhat inexplicable. Now, the whole DIY thing is largely an illusion we like to swaddle ourselves in, to feel better about ourselves—what Kurt Vonnegut called “foma,” or comforting, harmless untruths. Without bogging down in ontological/philosophical muck, it’s reasonable to say here, for our purposes, that no one has ever done anything truly “all by themselves.” Not even the Unabomber. Even at our most DIY, we use materials and tools made by other people—oftentimes the big, hated corporations we’re attempting to rail against. So it’s certainly a matter of degrees. But even in the degree game—and even if you rule out the moonshining legends of Jr. Samples and Grandpa Jones as mere hagiographies—the punks are still lagging behind the bumpkins in the all-important category of Brewing It Yourself. Alcohol is, after all, what the great “sage of Baltimore” H.L. Mencken once called “the greatest of human inventions.” Do we really want to leave the caretaking of that “greatest invention” in the hands of the greed pigs of Big Business? The answer is: hell no.

But fear not, you are not necessarily doomed to a life of mirthlessly swilling the painfully bland, mass-produced spleen water provided to you—at some cost—by your pals at Anheuser Busch and Miller Brewing. The DVD side of this disc, reproduced from a long out-of-print VHS tape entitled All-Grain Brewing with Johnny Hanson, is here to pry open your Champagne-of-Beers-encrusted eyes. Enter the hero of our story, Mr. Johnny Hanson, lead vocalist of the puck rock band The Hanson Brothers and a fellow who likes beer even more than Tom T. Hall does. Johnny, with the help of his mad scientist-like assistant, takes you step-by-step through the brewing of his own “Johnny’s Rockin’ Ale” recipe and covers the entire homebrewing procedure—from buying your basic equipment like carboys and hydrometers, to performing exotic sounding techniques like “pitching yeast” and “sparging your mash.” But don’t let the nerdy brewer lingo scare you off; the whole thing is little more than mixing and boiling, boiling and mixing. But I would recommend picking up a good beginner’s homebrewing book—like Charlie Papazian’s The CompleteJoy of Homebrewing—because it will help flesh out a lot of the info that Johnny throws at you on this DVD; for instance, when he talks about the differences between dry yeast and liquid yeast.

So watch the DVD a few times, consult the book when necessary, and you’ll be sucking down your own suds in no time. Suds, I might add, that are customized to your specific tastes—AND your own preferences in alcohol content. I think you’ll agree that there’s nothing quite like getting a snootful of your own well-crafted homebrew.

If you’re like most the other “punk rock” people I know, you’ve probably spent most of your drinking years suckling the tired teats of the huge multinational beer conglomerates. And that means you’ve been little more than a beer-drinking sheep. Thanks to Johnny Hanson, you now have a chance to change all that. Like the little black sheep on the cover of Minor Threat’s Out of Step, you can break away from the flock and think—and drink—for yourself. (Obviously, I’m trying to push as many buttons here as possible—while at the same time looting an image from the Manson Family of straight edgers.)

I suppose that expecting beer punks to actually go through the bother of brewing their own beer is a bit like expecting straight edgers to milk their own cows. And, truth be told, it’s probably only a select few of the sozzled contingent of punks that will find the energy to shake off deeply ingrained liquor-store-trip routines and actually steer their lethargic alcoholic flesh into a home brewing supply store. But it’s well worth the effort.

Remember: Do It Yourself includes Brew It Yourself. Homebrewing is officially no longer strictly a hobby for bored Yuppie douchebags. Now get brewing. –Aphid Peewit (Wrong Records)