Yann with the Apocalypse Hoboken Microstars CD that was played on repeat.

Nostalgic for Nothing by Yann Bourdeau

May 25, 2023

I have the impression that many punks are nostalgic for the good old times of punk. It was never that great. I can’t talk for the seventies and early eighties. I started to be interested in punk in 1987 at fifteen. I have good and bad memories of the late eighties, nineties, and the early two thousands. After these decades, I started to not go to shows due to my weight. I found it very hard to stand up for a long time. I saw Idles in 2018 and my legs were hurting from standing up the whole show. Since June 2021, I’ve lost some weight and I want to restart going to shows. For now, I’m a little bit afraid of catching COVID-19 at shows.

I think many older punks are nostalgic of their youth and some younger generations are interested in the past before they were born. Listening to old bands should not be forbidden—I listen to a lot of old stuff—but supporting and listening to newer bands is important. The punk movement is an ongoing thing.

One person who seems to be nostalgic for the past is Crass co-founder Steve Ignorant, but he does it the right way. He plays a lot of Crass music with different musicians than the original band beside him. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad he did The Last Supper tour in 2010-2011. It allowed me to experience the closest thing to the Crass of old. I never thought I’d be able to see Steve Ignorant live, or any band member of Crass for that matter. The only thing I’m regretful of is not taking a picture of him with me. When I was a teenager, Crass were an important part of my life, so hearing the songs live at a show was an important moment in my life. To his credit, after Crass broke up, Steve’s been in many bands—Schwarzenegger, Stratford Mercenaries, and Current 93. He also played a little bit with Conflict in the eighties. (He’s on the Conflict/Crass record Turning Rebellion into Money.)  He currently has a band, Slice Of Life, that plays new songs.

I have fond memories of when I played in a band. I haven’t touched a guitar for the last twenty years, and I’m not interested in playing it again. I try to not relive my past. I fondly remember the past, but that’s it. My life has always been full. Part of me is always looking forward.

When you get older, it seems, many want to relive their past. Remembering how it was years ago and that amazing feeling that the world was yours to conquer. As I grew older, this feeling disappeared. From time to time, I evoke the old time with my friends to remember our crazy stories. However, it stops there. I don’t want to relive those years. I’ve evolved and I’m not the same person I was then.

There are old bands who tour without new songs. I can understand this can be of interest to the newer generation of punks. Like Crass for me, they never experienced the old band live back in the day. This is the closest experience to the original shows of the past. However, I prefer old bands still creating new music, like 999. They don’t often put new music but it’s worth listening to when they do. I never saw them live and I would appreciate seeing them if they come to Montréal. They must be near their seventies by looking at their last record’s sleeve. If I reach their age, I hope I will look like them.

What I’m against are old bands charging a premium price to relive the past. I can understand they may not have much money in their old age. Punk has never been a scheme to become rich. Exceptions do occur but they are not the norm. I think charging over thirty dollars for a show is exaggerated and a money grab by the band. I know they must make money to live, but cheap shows are a punk thing. Everyone involved—band and audience—should be treated fairly.

Also, there are bands that sound like the band of the past. The Chats are an example of this. I played their records to a friend. My friend is not too much into punk, but he listens to some punk bands. He thought it was a band from the eighties and was surprised when I told him they were new. The members of the band were not even born in the eighties.

It’s okay to play old school punk, but I’m more interested in bands like Idles who do not seem to be stuck in the past. Don’t get me wrong; I love The Chats and do often listen to them. It may sound fresh for the newer generation of punk, but for an old punk it’s déjà vu. Anyways, the diversity of punk is what makes it what it is! Is there a true punk sound? I think there are diversities of genres in punk and it’s hard to pinpoint a genre to be “true punk.” Is punk not what you want it to be?
 
I saw the reformed Dead Kennedys in 2005 without Jello. I found the show not that great, but it was the only chance to see them live. I was too young to see them in their first incarnation with Jello. I don’t regret seeing them, but it was not the same thing as the real Dead Kennedys. I can understand Jello saying it was the greatest karaoke band.
           
One of the greatest comebacks for a band was the French band Bérurier Noir in 2004. I saw them in their heyday in 1988 and 1989 at all-ages show. They were a great band live. Great show for a beatbox, guitar, singer, and horns. They had dancers and a circus approach to their shows. They played in Québec City in 2004. I rented a car and drove from Montréal to see them. The drive takes two and a half hours. I went with a friend. It was a great show. There were around 15,000 people at the show in the Plaines d’Abraham. Folks came from all around the province. It was an outside show at a festival. They had not lost their political beliefs and made the festival organizer black-out all the ads in the field. They had a strong anti-globalization message. However, their 2006 record was uneven, and they disbanded after.

On the drive back home after the show, I listened to the same Apocalypse Hoboken Microstars CD on repeat. My friend fell asleep in the passenger seat and the bag containing all the CDs was at his feet. I wasn’t able to pick other CDs up while driving.

Another band I did like, that still tours and puts out new music is the Buzzcocks. I saw them in 2006 (Toronto), 2010 (Montréal), and 2016 (Montréal). They still make great records and put on great shows. However, I have mixed feeling with Steve Diggle continuing the band with the passing of Pete Shelley. I have the new record without Pete Shelley, and I don’t listen to it much. I prefer to listen to their older records except for The Way, which was not one of their greatest.

I think punk nostalgia can be a good thing when nostalgia generates enough interest to allow old punk bands to perform to both old and new audiences. Younger punks can watch old bands they’d heard before but never saw live. I was in heaven (even if I’m not religious at all) when I saw Steve Ignorant’s Last Supper in 2011. It’s hard to fully describe how I felt. Even if it wasn’t the original Crass that played in the late seventies and early eighties, it was as close as it could be at the time.

Personally, I prefer older bands that can put out new records. If I were still in a band, I’d find it boring to play the same songs over and over. I always hope that old bands still have the fire inside them to write new songs. For newer bands that play the old style of punk, I think it’s a way to acknowledge their predecessors. For younger punk, it sounds fresh because they haven’t listened to this style for over thirty years. I have a weakness for newer bands that sound different. After nearly forty-seven years of punk, being original is not easy.

A little bit of trivia: the title of this column comes from the name of a 1995 JChurch compilation of songs by the late Lance Hahn. (He was the main songwriter, singer, and guitarist of JChurch.)

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