Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 22: The Teen Idles, "Teen Idles"

Artist: The Teen Idles
Song: "Teen Idles"
Album: Minor Disturbance EP
Year: 1980

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Though it almost goes without saying, the length of a bands' career is rarely directly proportional to the amount of impact that they have in and out of the world of music.  While one can argue that there are some groups who have been able to constantly reinvent themselves and push music forward due to being together so long, there are countless other groups that can boast just as much importance, yet a career that is counted in months as opposed to years.  This idea is especially true within the various off-shoots of the punk rock sound that occurred throughout the final years of the 1970's, as the approach was being mixed with a number of other influences.  Yet there is one band without whom an entire movement may have never come to be, but they are somewhat overlooked due to the massive shadow of the later work of some of the members of that band.  Though they were only "formally" together as a group for slightly over a year, in terms of musical approach and lifestyle stance, there are few groups that are as pivotal to the development of music as The Teen Idles.  Delivering some of the most fierce and powerful music ever captured on tape, the band released their sole studio EP almost at the exact time as they ended the existence of the band.  Though each of the eight songs on Minor Disturbance are absolute hardcore perfection, there are few recordings that can hit with the same power and urgency as one can experience in The Teen Idles' 1980 song, "Teen Idles."

If one were to argue that the key ethos to the punk sound is the concentration on being as direct as possible, wasting no notes or time, than "Teen Idles" is as ideal a punk song as one can find anywhere.  Clocking in at under a minute, it is within the high-speed, in-your-face wall of sound that crashes into the listener where one can find the almost shouted frustration that defines the band.  However, there is no question that their sound, though similar in length, is far more fierce and pointed than a majority of the punk bands before them, as well as their peers.  This sound is led by the guitar assault of Geordie Grindle, and in terms of both speed and tone, it is in this moment that the blueprint was created for the entire hardcore movement.  The way that his playing tightly intertwines with the bass from one Ian MacKaye creates an intimidating grind that refuses to be ignored.  Rounded out by drummer Jeff Nelson, it is the way that the band is able to so quickly create a massive level of tension, pushing this level higher and higher as the song progresses.  It is easy to imagine how this song would have set a crowd into a frenzy, and even more than thirty years after its release, there remain few, if any albums that can compare to the power found on "Teen Idles."  The fact that the band were able to capture the energy of their live performances within the studio environment sets this record further apart from those of their peers, as one cannot help but quickly get caught up in the spirit of the song.

Along with the driving, intense musical arrangement, the vocals provided by Nathan Strejcek stand as some of the finest in the entire history of the punk and hardcore genres.  Though a majority of singers from this style were still "shouting for the sake of shouting," it is quickly clear that there is a message and a purpose to the ferocious vocal performance that Strejeck delivers all across "Teen Idles."  Yet at the same time, there is an "everyman" simplicity to his approach, and it is this single element that further defines the band and the "scene" which they were unintentionally creating around themselves.  The fact that Strejeck's vocals never get near the realm of pretentious or him being "better" than the audience was in many ways a return to the real meaning of punk rock.  Furthermore, it is the way that his vocal approach combined with the lyrics which enabled tracks like "Teen Idles" to become outright anthems for the disaffected youth of the day.  It is within the words of "Teen Idles" where one can find some of the most simple, yet powerful words ever committed to tape, as Strejcek delivers a scathing rant on the way that society has prevented "the youth" from thinking for themselves or doing anything that was not part of societal norms.  Whether he is taking on the dulling effects of television or one of the bands many cries against age-restrictive music venues, "Teen Idles" hits on every frustration the band members encountered in their everyday lives.

In fact, it is the latter of these ideas that would become one of the building blocks for the band that was formed in the wake of The Teen Idles, Minor Threat.  When Strejeck shouts, "...went to the Bavou they said "no," you're not eighteen you can't see the show...," this was one of a long list of rants against the age restrictions found at an overwhelming majority of music venues at the time.  It would be after the Teen Idles visited California that one of the most important moments in music history occurred.  Though the band was scheduled to play at the legendary Mabuhay Gardens, they were almost not allowed due to the fact that they were not of legal drinking age.  The band managed to reach an agreement with the club owners, and they were allowed to play after the management placed massive "X's" on each of their hands in black marker, so the bartenders would know not to serve them.  Upon their return to Washington, DC, The Teen Idles found other clubs that were willing to make similar deals and allow youth into their venues, and the symbol would go on to be the marking of the "straight edge" movement.  However, when one looks at the actual history of the symbol, it is far more accurate to say that it represents youth in general, and the "lifestyle choices" that many "straight edge" people choose have very little to do with the symbol itself.  It would also be Minor Disturbance that would become the first release on Dischord Records, and to this day, the label remains the beacon for everything that is right and honest in creating great music.  While there is not a single moment on the EP that is anything less than stunning, there may be no more important a song in the history of hardcore than The Teen Idles magnificent 1980 track, "Teen Idles."

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