photo & text by nacrowe
in recent years there has been a deluge of memoirs and published histories of the PUNK ROCK movement and all of its sub-genres and related SCENES. what makes SMASH!: GREEN DAY, THE OFFSPRING, NOFX AND THE '90s PUNK EXPLOSION (DA CAPO, 2018) by VETERAN BRITISH music journalist IAN WINWOOD (NME, ROLLING STONE, REVOLVER, Q, THE GUARDIAN, MOJO) so FASCINATING is that fact that it effectively elaborates on the expanded trajectory of the WEST COAST expansion of PUNK ROCK and HARDCORE into the 1990s. from THE DAMNED and THE SEX PISTOLS LEGENDARY late 1970s performances to the advent of the early LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK SCENE in the late 70s/early 80s with THE GERMS, X, THE SCREAMERS, FEAR, THE WEIRDOS and THE BAGS to the HARDCORE BANDS from nearby counties infiltrating the SCENE throughout the 80s like BLACK FLAG, WASTED YOUTH, CIRCLE JERKS, SOCIAL DISTORTION, THE ADOLESCENTS, T.S.O.L. and DESCENDENTS to the 90s BANDS at focus throughout SMASH! and beyond. it is that very tension within that lineage of generations of PUNK BANDS that makes this book such a UNIQUE and COMPELLING read.
when AMERICAN HARDCORE was initiated in the 1980s, various BANDS started their own RECORD LABELS (DISCHORD, SST, ALTERNATIVE TENTACLES) out of necessity and begot a COTTAGE INDUSTRY of viable ALTERNATIVE options for artists. they also provided a lean BUSINESS MODEL and strong DIY ethic for the next generation of INDEPENDENT artists. such is the case with the BAY AREA's LOOKOUT! RECORDS which famously released early GREEN DAY offerings and the catalogue of OPERATION IVY. within the PUNK ROCK COMMUNITY, this effective FETISHIZING of what it means to be truly AUTHENTIC and INDEPENDENT had a huge effect on PUNK and PUNK-influenced BANDS of the 1990s.
case in point, arguably at the center of SMASH!'s narrative is the melodic SAN FERNANDO MELODIC PUNK ROCK BAND BAD RELIGION and the INDEPENDENT RECORD LABEL its guitarist BRETT GUREWITZ founded, EPITAPH RECORDS. unlike LOOKOUT!, EPITAPH found itself in 1994 with an UNEXPECTED diamond album [i.e. 10 million copies sold] in THE OFFSPRING's SMASH (EPITAPH, 1994) that effectively forced the LABEL to expand rapidly while defying continued efforts from most of the MAJORS to buyout their operation and/or poach their artists. in essence, the commercial success of this INDEPENDENT PRIVATE LABEL put them in the same stratosphere as publicly traded MULTI-NATIONAL CORPORATE ENTITIES with larger checkbooks and a deeper well of resources. all PUNK and HARDCORE LABELS were never at that level and it was a situation GUREWITZ never anticipated. in the wake of such there was a new equilibrium and expectations game internally amongst the BANDS, their MANAGERS and the LABEL that took years to level off and resolve itself. in essence, the BANDS that stayed INDEPENDENT (NOFX, RANCID, PENNYWISE) by and large were critically rewarded long-term and with the exception of GREEN DAY (who didnt come off unscathed in terms of their reputation). even GUREWITZ own BAND BAD RELIGION signed during this period with ATLANTIC RECORDS for several releases and eventually successfully came back to EPITAPH at the beginning of the new millennium with new ENERGY and a return-to-form recorded offering.
whereas EPITAPH RECORDS exemplified this dynamic from the BUSINESS and LABEL perspective, undoubtedly GREEN DAY are the poster boys for the pitfalls of working with the MAJORS during this pre-digital era (because currently nobody cares about this puritanical litmus test since no one is selling records at this scale anymore). they famously were effectively abandoned and ex-communicated by their SCENE and the ARTISTIC COMMUNITY from which they developed, the 924 GILMAN STREET venue in BERKELEY. all for signing to WARNER BROS. they were in a bind. touring nonstop throughout the states and EUROPE, LOOKOUT! couldnt keep up with demand. their fans couldnt locate product. GREEN DAY didnt believe that PUNK ROCK was about being ELITIST with hard-to-locate OBSCURE records in limited supply. the widespread DISTRIBUTION of a MAJOR would change all that. and it did. but it came at a high cost to their personal sense of IDENTITY, especially in the wake of DOOKIE (REPRISE, 1994) and its MASSIVE diamond-level commercial success. success only counterintuitively exacerbated that sense of ALIENATION and DISLOCATION from their small BAY AREA SCENE and even their FANBASE. eventually newcomers would replace that shedding of ORIGINAL SUPPORTS tenfold but that was the bargain back during this heady period.
SMASH! really elucidates on an that INTERESTING convergence of PUNK ROCK ethics and all the GUILT, CONTRADICTION and seemingly socially enforced LACK OF AMBITION at the heart of it. when NIRVANA exploded, close behind it was the dismantling and/or renewed RECALCITRANCE of all that undercurrent of TRADITIONAL mores at the heart of the genre that separated it from other music sub-genres. it is still in retrospect a topic that is absolutely FASCINATING to consider almost three decades hence. i dont know if it has an analogue to today, which is more ECLECTIC, GENRE-LESS and far less TRIBAL musically than it was back then. politically today is a whole 'nother story entirely.
definitely a INTRIGUING book well worth checking out. even if its BRITISH perspective on the CULTURAL PHENOMENA that was 90s PUNK ROCK does get a little weird at times.