Paul Juser: Asking For It

Everyone has a band they are embarrassed to love. Last month, I told you about my long-standing love for Def Leppard. Def Leppard is not that band. I’ve got no problem driving down the City streets with Pyromania at full blast, singing along in my best Joe Elliot. The band I don’t want you to find out about is AFI.

I’m not talking about occasionally throwing on “Answer That And Stay Fashionable,” I’m talking entire days with their full discography on shuffle. Full discography. As I type these words, I’m listening to “Burials” for the third time today.

To be blunt, AFI is The Cure for a new generation. They are pretentious, whiny, and live the painful sad lives as globe-trotting celebrities. That’s not to say I don’t also love the Cure, but there is a time and a place for the Cure. In every one of those times, and every one of those places, Slayer would get the job done much more efficiently.

I would never become an AFI fan based on their newer music. The melodramatic sad-teenager thing does nothing for me, especially knowing it comes from a lyricist two years my elder. At the same time, as a long-standing fan, I love their newer moody music more than their original punk rock albums. When I got my hands on “Crash Love,” I listened to almost nothing else for a month. AFI may be terrible, but they do it so well.

I hated AFI the first time I heard them. I was in my early 20’s and funk as puck. My garb was almost exclusively black leather and I listened only to the Misfits in between long drives to see the Misfits. I was political enough to hate Hot Topic, but still hung out there all the time. Dr. Filth ran the register and encouraged all his friends to shoplift. I was so brazen as to literally put items in my pocket while talking to the manager. These weren’t even items I wanted, I usually threw them in the garbage on the way out of the mall.

A magazine came in with an AFI sampler CD in each issue. Dr. Filth had taken out all the CD’s and passed them when we stopped in to visit. It had three songs from the new “Black Sails on the Sunset.” I don’t remember which three. I listened once and threw it away.

No one loved music more than Dr. Filth, and he was already a fan of AFI. They were playing the following month at the East Coast Skate Terminal. There wasn’t much in Binghamton for the punk kids to do, so I was going to go to the show whether I liked the band or not.

EastCoastTerminalEast Coast Terminal, Johnson City, NY

The East Coast Terminal in Johnson City, NY, was the largest indoor skate park on this flank of the nation. Ramps and pipes were arranged throughout the work floor of an abandoned factory. It was collapsing in on its self. The upper floors were warped, some walls already collapsed, little plumbing worked, and paint peeled off the walls. We knew better than to eat it. The back half of the factory was closed off and abandoned by all but the homeless.

Every punk band in the area got their start in the basement of ECT. There has always been a close association between skaters and punks, and ECT did their community service providing space for all-ages shows. You couldn’t drink inside, but there were no streetlights in the dirt parking lot. We showed up drunk and then drank in our cars all night. Naturally, this led to problems.

The police station was on the other side of the block, but cops rarely disturbed us. No one lived in the neighborhood, so there was no complaints, and no one could hear the music outside the building. The cops, instead, let the chaos boil itself over. As more door money was stolen at each show, and more damage was done to the building, ECT was reluctant to continue. By the time AFI played, the venue had already closed permanently, reopening for this special show only. The skate park closed a few years later, and AFI was the last band to ever play there.

The show was $15! I was young, punk, angry, and there is no way in hell I had a spare fifteen dollars floating around that couldn’t be spent on beer instead. The opening bands were this local band and that local band that I’d seen twenty times already, so I didn’t go until late. I hung out in the parking lot chatting and checking out how people were being marked at the door.

Blue marker. One single check in blue marker, and nothing else. Fifteen dollar cover, and not even a bracelet. I walked down the street to CVS and bought a blue marker for a dollar. Not a bad show for a dollar. AFI changed my mind that night. Their rock was unstoppable. I bought “Black Sails on the Sunset” the next day.

Davey Havok’s interviews border on unbearable. He gives vague, cryptic answers about a morally bankrupt society that would be better if the whole world went Straight Edge/Vegan. Most people probably understand the concept of vegan these days, it’s basically vegetarian without milk or eggs. Straight Edge was a movement that started in punk rock and hardcore music that rejected the use of drugs and alcohol. Credited to Ian Mackaye and Minor Threat for it’s creation, Straight Edge had grown into a monster by ‘99.

In our late teens, my group of friends were all sXe. The popular expression is giant black X’s on the backs of your hands. We bought 40’s of IBC root beer, and proudly displayed our X when the check out clerk tried to card us. We explained our lifestyle choice in depth whether the clerk asked or not. We didn’t fight anyone, and most of us hung out at the rave house with the kids dropping acid and breathing Hippie Crack. There weren’t many underground kids in Binghamton, so we had to stick together. Even very few of our hardcore kids were face-kickers. Those that did were ostracized out of the scene within a few shows. Everyone in Binghamton ends up a raging drunk by 25.

Hardcore music took sXe to its awful extreme. Take a bunch of young angry tough guys and give them an enemy. Most agreed that Straight Edge included sex as well, leaving these meatheads overflowing with desire to fuck another dude’s face with their fists. Syracuse, NY, was the epicenter of this bomb with the emergence of Earth Crisis. I saw them a few times, but never listened to them, so I can’t tell you exactly how much this band advocated violence toward drug users and meat eaters. The bands that followed in their footsteps latched on to this aspect of the message and ran with it. Rumors flew that a sXe gang called the ‘Syracuse Sluggers’ trolled shows beating up anyone who so much as smoked a cigarette. I never encountered any of these malcontents, but supposedly most Syracuse venues would not admit anyone wearing a ‘Sluggers’ jersey.

I support anyone making these kind of life decisions to improve themselves. Unfortunately, most life decisions are only used for masking insecurities. The typical path was to adopt a vegan and/or straight edge lifestyle, beat everyone else on the head with it, either metaphorically like a club, or with a club, and then give up and go full-on into meat and drugs a few months or years later.

It’s easy to say the whole world should go vegetarian or vegan, as Havok does. I’ll admit, I’m painfully jealous of how much more of the world Davey has seen, but from my little corner of the globe that seems painfully short sighted. I encourage you to call me batshit crazy, but David Attenbourough taught me to believe plants are incredibly intelligent, capable of thought and feeling no less than an organism comprised of soft-shelled animal cells. For me, at least, this erases the moral argument entirely. It’s one big reorganization of carbon, we have to eat something. Only our most distant relatives, the plants, can survive on salt, water, and sunlight alone.

Hypothetically, let’s ponder for a moment what the world would be like if every human on the planet stopped eating meat. There are currently 19 billion chickens on the planet, 1.4 billion cows, and 1 billion each of sheep and pigs distributed around the globe. Their populations are currently controlled through human consumption, but that ceases in our hypothetical scenario. Continuing to house and feed these animals would be expensive and pointless, so only two options exist: kill them or set them free. Let’s ignore the killing option, and release these animals to the wild. Something else will step up to the plate and start eating them, but those predators can only eat so much.

We now have upwards of 25 billion animals, including goats, camels, fowl, and rabbits competing with us for food. With the exception of fish and lizards, our diets are mostly that of herbivores. Are we letting go all the animals that served us, or just those we eat? Captive turkeys have been engineered to be so big they can’t breed without human aid, but the horses and the cows are going to keep getting it on, and they’re bigger than us. If a handful of deer can wreck a garden overnight, a herd of cattle are going to lay waste to a wheat field. Some scientists already feel that cow farts are a major source of greenhouse gasses. Great job, vegans; you just created the next great ecological disaster.

“Black Sails” was a marked change in AFI’s music. It is certainly still a punk album, but the production is kicked up a step from earlier releases. Havok begins to flex his lyrical muscles on this album, both with his pen and his throat. Everything I simultaneously love and hate about AFI began here.

The day after the ECT show, AFI was embarking as an opener on Glenn Danzig’s Samhain reunion tour. The resurrected Misfits were gaining popularity as a wrestling act, and Danzig was jealous. He brought back his mid-career band to open up for his god-awful “Danzig 666” incarnation of his current act. A few weeks before, I’d attempted to see them in Philly when Dimmu Borgir was the opener, but my car broke down on the way. The Danzig/Misfits influence on AFI was clear in the live show, not only with the multitude of Misfits covers they played (including “Last Caress” as a final encore), but with the Danzig poses Havok struck as he sang. His outfit was all black vinyl (he’s vegan, remember), and he sported black eyeliner and a devilock hairstyle. Danzig is also sXe, except for the alcohol that he drinks. Glenn Danzig has a long history of not understanding what things are.

After the tour, Havok effectively became Danzig’s replacement on a new Samhain album. The band was Son of Sam. The project was created by then-Danzig guitarist Todd Youth, who filled in for Samhain. He recruited Samhain alum Steve Zing and London May, and then Havok for lyrics and vocals on “Songs From The Earth.” Danzig provided additional guitars and keyboards. It sounds like a Samhain album absent the boring songs. This incarnation of the band never toured, and Havok was unable to return for the second album due to commitments with AFI.

The Samhain tour clearly had a profound affect on AFI as a band. “All Hallows EP,” and “The Art of Drowning” are deeper and darker, and considerably slowed down from earlier records. Drowning brought the band for the first time in the public eye, achieving a #1 spot on the Billboard charts.

What would years later become known as the Emo scene rushed to Hot Topic for AFI T-shirts, accessories, and wrist-cutting razors emblazoned with the band’s logo. 2006’s “Sing The Sorrow” contained very little of the punk sound the band originated with. Most tracks close with Havock sobbing sloppily into the microphone. In my opinion, this is their masterpiece. Here is where they first explore themselves musically without overdoing the ‘poor-me’ pretension that marred later releases. Too much sadness killed the followup, “DECEMBERUNDERGROUND.”

“Hey Miss Murder, can I make beauty stay if I take my life.” That is the chorus of December’s first single, “Miss Murder.” An actual adult committed that line to paper. Did he expect to be taken seriously ever again? The lyrics for the rest of the album are just as painful. As lyrical quality spiraled into the Abyss, overall music could find no limit. DUG is easily their catchiest since Davey snipped the Devilock. I hated it, but I couldn’t stop listening. I found myself constantly wishing someone would catch me singing one of these songs under my breath and punch me in the face for it. I would do the same if I caught anyone singing these songs. Then I would do a duet. “Crash Love” came next, and I don’t think it left my stereo for a month. It could easily have been a year.

Other than “Black Sails,” “Burials” was the album that took the longest to hook me. I hated it the first time I listened to it, but it was already on my iPod by then. The Dude was a very lazy man, and I never removed those songs. Shuffle brought them through again and again until I was worn down. Consider this my public take-back of all the negative comments I made about it on social media. I am horrified with the realization there is no album past Black Sails I can’t sing along to.

Since their first shift in style on “Black Sails,” AFI has managed to release no two albums that sound alike. This kind of creativity may be a result of an unbelievably consistent lineup. Havok and drummer Adam Carson have remained constant since the band’s 1991 high school formation, with Jade Puget and Hunter Bergan on guitar and bass since the post-college reformation in 1997/98. By all appearances, after nearly 20 years together, they remain friends as well as co-workers.

I’ve never gotten to see AFI again since that night I snuck into the last ECT show. When they came back around, tickets were selling out within minutes of going on sale. I am 99% certain I nearly tripped over Havok at an art gallery shortly after I moved to New York City, but he gave me the evil eye, and I did not stop to ask his identity. The moral of the story is that I hope you never, ever, ever… EVER find out that I’m a huge fan of AFI. If you somehow hear about it, please don’t tell anyone else. It will wreck my image.

*****

Paul Juser lives in Brooklyn. You can read his fiction at www.printisbetter.com

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