Before hearing ... And Out Come the Wolves, my memories are punctuated by experiences meant to be instructive and experiences that would prove formative. There were those Bible verses (hundreds, thousands maybe) I memorized in third grade. There was Weezer's "Buddy Holly" video in eighth grade, which assailed my eyes and ears with clean hooks, easy fun and shaped my basic fashion cues to the present day. Hearing Rancid, though -- late the same year I heard Weezer -- was like flipping a switch in my estranged pubescent brain. An important switch. One that turned the power on in the part of me that worried not about how the world affected me, but how I might affect it.
It wasn't immediate. Tim Armstrong's voice was horrid. Unintelligible most of the time. The lyrics I understood went by quick (that's the thing with punk) and had an urban significance that proved hard for a hickish, sheltered country kid to get his head around. The music slid easily between genres -- hardcore to punk to ska with elements of reggae, scratching, spoken word -- and was confusingly pan-cultural for it. (I could have just listened to the Clash and understood it immediately. I wouldn't hear the Clash, though, until college. Such is life.)
Rancid was brazen, though, and unafraid of itself -- things I wasn't. It preached principled defiance and life on one's own terms. It preached that, if you're pissed off and cause enough havoc, you're bound to meet girls.
... And Out Come the Wolves was angry and directed. It sought revolution, but it also told stories of squalor and betrayal and perseverance and, occasionally, victory. It didn't merely seek change; it sought to make the revolution a lifestyle. It placed revolt in time and space. On certain streets at specific hours. It filled the scenes with like minds, overflowing with kids in Mohawks and bondage pants. Angry and abused by a world that didn't understand them. It set songs about principled rebellious youth ("Roots Radicals") next to songs about girls ("Ruby Soho") -- using sex to hint at the possibility of love ("She's Automatic"), bypassing any embarrassing sentimentality -- next to songs about riots ("Time Bomb") next to tracks about racial unity ("Avenues and Alleyways").
Rancid made me believe I could change the world in one fell blow -- like a battering ram -- and get a girlfriend in the bargain. What else was there?
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & R & lt;/span & ock and pop mythologizes the self. Rock stars become gods. Fans want to be the gods they worship. Rancid was scene mythology. They were balladeers of something bigger than themselves.
I didn't have to want to be in the band. It was enough to be part of their crew, part of the change I wished to see in the world. This is how movements begin.
Corollaries: The Dead and Phish and Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson have their musical likenesses, but even more, they share social similarities -- and those are what have connected an old guard of jam bands with the new.
Think back to the iconic pictures of Woodstock. Which spring to mind first -- the photos of Hendrix in the white fringy blouse-thing, or the ones with the stoners playing in the mud? As much as revolution is about principle, it's about community. "Come in," everyone seems to say, "we'll give you shelter from the storm." Such movements, even those that have rock 'n' roll at their center, are populist by nature.
Rancid was gutter populism. Gritty. Specific. Frightening. And, to a 14-year-old weaned on pop platitudes, breathtaking for its worldliness and engagedness with the squalor and tragedy of the human condition.
The revolutionary sentiment led me deeper into punk and to socially conscious MTV-hop (The Fugees, basically, and Lauren Hill) and it got all muddy from there. Rancid itself became less focused on localized change. It wrote songs about genocide and corrupt politicians. In Life Won't Wait, it tried to make a neo-reggae-inflected-punk-pop record like the Clash's Combat Rock. Next, to appease its core fans, it made an album of nothing but hardcore. I went to college, discovered indie rock and lost interest in a floundering, aging band who had become preoccupied with branding. So it goes.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & R & lt;/span & eturning to ...And Out Come the Wolves -- on my iPod, stalking the outskirts of downtown on my way home on a damp, empty night last week -- all those old feelings struck me, hard. There is safety in numbers, and also power. And camaraderie. And purpose. The world is changeable, but you'll get bloody. You'll get bloody, but you'll be among friends. Brothers, even. It was emboldening as hell.
That feeling lasted for about two spins. Two full spins, the way I listened to all my favorite albums back then, beginning to end to beginning again. After that, the person I'd become started to crash against the person I was.
Because I'm more connected to my community now than I was in eighth grade, revolution has become less about a principled minority battering into the walls of oppression. It's the kind of thing that works best when the minority becomes the majority by osmosis and mimetic transfer. Ideas are stronger than fists. It's insidious and unsexy and too slow to be romantic -- nothing approaching a "battering ram bearing down on you" -- but it works. Alienation is still a part of me, too, but it's more welcome, part of a continum that helps set one's personhood apart from everyone else's. Without alienation, there wouldn't be diversity, or difference, and there's nothing more rewarding that sifting through differences with someone, looking for similarities, then building relationships from there.
If not for alienation, we'd never be shocked to find our own feelings reflected in some complete stranger. Or in a single, life-changing, 49-minute record.
Rancid with Less Than Jake and the Insurgence at the Knitting Factory Saturday, Sept. 13, at 7 pm. $20. Visit ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT