I’m sitting in my backyard, blasting the Damned’s “Music For Pleasure” at full iPhone-speakers volume (you’re welcome, neighbors), considering their legacy in punk music and music in general. The songs are all a lot of loud fun, with even more grit than their already-pretty-gritty debut album. It all sounds exactly like an English punk band is supposed to. This auditory re-examiniation was spurred by the band’s recent tour popping up on my Twitter feed, as well as my viewing of the Amplified series on punk music history.
In that series, Captain Sensible pops up and says something to the effect of:
“The formation of the bands was quite liquid, you know? One minute Tony James would be in the Damned and the next minute, you know, Chrissie Hyde would… we’d all be feeling each other [out] and seeing how it went….”Captain Sensible – Amplified’s ‘The History of Punk’
This liquidity was not limited to the UK, as several bands in the US scene swapped players (and still do; CJ Ramone’s touring group is mostly made up of the Adolecents, and CJ himself has joined the Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s lineup). It all makes sense, especially for a “fringe” genre like punk where it’s hard to find like-minded folks, and even harder to find ones willing/able to tour. Hardest to find the ones who are good.
So what’s this got to do with breaking up? I’ve just listed a couple “success stories,” examples of bands who have lasted well into senior status.
Well, that’s the point. That and the liquidity.
Take yourself back to the dawn of any band — doesn’t have to be punk, or rock, or anything. Just think of when they started.
They’re probably in their 20’s at best. Most of them are artistic, which puts them in an “outsider” position for the world in general. They’re all excited and want to perform, so they say yes to just about every opportunity presented.
Then one day — in formation A.16 of the thing called a “band” — something works. This current/latest lineup was present at the time of recording something that worked.
In response, they stick together, or try to. And this it’s this point — the stick together — which is completely counter-intuitive to the way the band was nurtured.
That pre-hit version might have yielded so-so, non-hit results, but the liquidity shows that the groups largely had wandering eyes (and ears). They likely enjoyed swapping around players. Add to this the fact that they’re in their 20’s — all of them — and thanks to the hit, they are now ostensibly married to four or five other people they met in their 20’s.
It’s a little like if you were in high school, messing around with your friends, and then one day someone said, “OK, this group around you? That’s the version of your friend group that you will have forever.”
I was looking at that iconic cover for the first (also iconic) Damned record, the one with the cake thrown around their faces. They look like they get along — and they probably did back then. But does that mean that they’re going to get along forever? They’re all so young, and at that point had only known each other a year maybe. That was 1977! Almost 50 years ago, and any changes to that lineup would be met with cries of heresy.
Maybe getting assigned and locked to the same friends you knew in high school sounds great. For some, it might be. Yet… for bands, those people are not only your friends for life — they’re your only friends. If anyone makes friends with Joe Strummer or Tommy Ramone and thinks maybe they could start a band, the collective fan culture says, “Illegitimate.”
At the very least, we demand that they call themselves a new group (which I suppose they are).
Bands who stay together a long time normally do so because of that success — they basically need the money. Look at the Rolling Stones, who have swapped a couple members, but had 4 of the same guys (and the 2 central ones) for 40+ years, despite in fighting and squabbling (especially from the 2 central ones). Why did they stay together?
We want to believe it’s because they like playing together, but that’s not true. We will accept that they believe they do their best work together, and that might be true. But the realest reason is because they earn the most as that collection.
Think about that: Keith Richards and Mick Jagger couldn’t stand each other in the 1980’s, yet they soldiered on for the next 30 years. It took filling stadiums to keep them together!
Imagine if you’re the Damned, where you are absolutely NOT filling stadiums. Or the Ramones (harder emphasis on “NOT”). Sure, they’ve got their fans and the demand is there, but the more they look at this collection of high-school friends they’ve had an arrange-marriage with, the more they must simply want an escape.
That’s why they break up: someone finally says, “I’M SICK OF YOU BECAUSE WE MET IN FREAKIN’ SCHOOL! I WANT SOME NEW FRIENDS.”
For whatever reason, this felt like an epiphany to me. I’d never thought much about it, probably because I’ve never been in a band. I’ve been married for over two decades, but that’s been to just one person, not three or four (five with keys; seven with back-up singers).
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