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Friday, January 05, 2024

Seven Inches







It's really easy once you get to a certain age (and old one) to look at the world around you through this reflection of your own time on earth, and start to convince yourself that everything used to be different, and also better. That whole thing of the old man yelling at a cloud, confused by how everything changed around him, leaving him trapped in this indecipherable world of modern gadgets and inconveniences.  And because time seems to move so fast now (it moved slower when I was younger...) it feels like the age people start doing this is basically like, once you are a teenager.  

 In music, or I'd imagine in most of show business or creative arts or whatever you want to call it, you're always very aware of this continuum your work and you life is part of, because the entire point of that life is making things and then trying to make them stick to your point in the continuety. If you think I'm gonna be rigorously spell-checking these posts, think again.  But still, everyone does this. You walk around town, lamenting how many of the things you grew up with have been replaced by newer things that newer people are going to grow up with, and then measure it in some dissatisfaction, some scale of change where the baseline is how you remember things how they used to be.  Because every is so aware of everything now, it seems like this can happen like daily. Micro genres come and go over night, we have these communal ways of communicating that can harness the attention of basically everyone on earth, and we can elevate things just as fast as we can forget them.

It always felt like a trap to me, to look at things in this way. Kids have phones now, no one has attention spans, all the venues are closed that I used to go to, whatever. We feel special about the way the world worked when we were young, because we were young, and life is better then. It IS a better place, back there, but not in some objective way that everyone is going to agree on - it's better for you, because you were better. It's fun to be young and discover how the world works, and start making something of yourself, and touching the stuff around you and learning this power to re-arrange it.  Things didn't really change - YOU changed, but it's hard to really notice, because we're all stuck inside of ourselves.

This comes up in punk a lot, and probably lots of other communities I don't understand, because punk has always been this historical document that people stretch thinner and thinner over time. There was this moment in the 70s when some bands became punk bands, and that happened for a few years, and then those bands broke up or became recuperated by the music industry, and for a lot of people, that was that. Every month some British magazine will put the Clash or the Sex Pistols on the cover for some retrospective like its' a tour through a museum. That's fine. For probably anyone who is reading this, punk is like, what we stretched from that original document. Punk turned into a community, a lifestyle, a way of doing business, a set of ethics, and then that further got mutated into all these sub genres that are still being formed, as a living thing. Just yesterday SPIN magazine published an article about the "second wave of egg punk". (I'm not kidding)

We did a whole record about this idea - called Glass Boys, that came out 10 years ago. What we were trying to say with that album was that whatever you want to become involved in - it's a continuum. It's a spectrum of time, and the best way to engage with a continuum is to be as aware of the future as you're aware of the past.  Fucked Up came up in like, the fourth wave of hardcore or something? Our band was conceived as a reaction to what had been happening to hardcore in the late 90s and early 2000s, as power-violence music was mutating into something called thrash-core.  Thrash-core to me seemed very focused on appearances and artifice, despite having this veneer of carelessness. You'd have guys showing up at shows at once looking heroically disheveled but also finely curated. It was a trend I think, but based on a very solid foundation of an amazing chunk of punk music, bands like Crossed-Out and Cop Out and all that.  Specifically to us, I just got tired of shelling out for these singles with like ten songs on them, which to me seemed like a corruption of the form. Which brings me to why I'm writing.

Me and Damian as we were forming the band, mostly collected 7" singles.  Our rooms (we lived together for I think a year around 2000 or 2001) were filled with shoe boxes filled with 7"'s. I stole a bunch of concrete cinder blocks to make a shelf that held either six or nine of these boxes, all filled with singles.  Once we'd bought all the punk records we could afford, we branched out into other things. I started collecting Northern Soul 45"s, which were very popular at the time, and slowly the boxes began filling with records with just dust sleeves instead of proper covers. But the 7" seemed like probably the best way of listening to music, song by song, one at a time.

You'd get home from whatever you were doing, pull a bunch of singles, and then sit there and listen to them. Soul songs are rarely longer than three minutes, just like punk songs. And all the best punk songs came on 7" singles. We became enamored with Killed By Death comps, mentally flexing our meager paycheques against how much they'd cost us. Dangerhouse Records, a late 70s label from LA, offered us the template for our entire career basically, with the two-song American punk single. (we're canadian). Nothing looked better in your box than like, a Dangerhouse record, or a single on Stiff, or Chiswick, or Tamla Motown for that matter, where the label was mostly the same on every release, and the grooves were filled up with just one thing at a time. 

The single doesn't give you the space to do anything else. You can't really use the computer, because it's all the way across the room, and you're going to have to put the need back at the start, or flip the side in a few minutes. You can't check your phone because they didn't invent phones yet.  You can't talk to your friends because you don't really have any, and bsides, the friends you have are in their own rooms listening to their own singles on at a time.  This is how we curated our young lives, by filling them with singles.  The thumb on my left hand I think is permanently curved over, because thats the thumb I use to press stuff on my phone - it's curled and always at the ready.  It was the same thing with the tips of your two index fingers when I was growing up, because those were the fingers you'd use to swiftly shift through 14 boxes of 7"'s at the record store pretty much every day after school or work.  The supply of singles in every store was limitless - you could spend hours rifling through the boxes, only to discover more boxes under the tables, or the guy at the counter would say there was a secret room full of them in the back, or possibly the box was somehow re-filling itself while you fingered through it.  The amount of 7" singles on earth is infinite, and that is a fact. No one will ever have them all. Someone I think on earth could concievably get ALL the money, like get everyone's money (some would say that capitalism is designed to do just this) but that guy will never get every single, because I am going to be buried with my copy of the Nerves single (which somehow has a first press vinyl, but a second press cover).

So, things really do change. People listen to music on their phones now, they listen to it casually, in the back ground. Music just seems to happen. But Fucked Up will never change, because we were conceived as part of this continuum.  We looked ahead, at ourselves looking behind, to imagine what kind of legacy we'd want as a band, and then created that, started with our first record, which is a two song punk single.  Since then I think we've made 55 more of them, which to me seems like a small number.  A few months ago we designed this poster of all of them (well Daniel Murphy and Giles Hill designed it) and I wrote a little thing about why I love singles to put on the back, and here is what I wrote:

Every 45rpm  7” single will exist forever.  What does the end of time sound like? You’re holding it in your eager sweaty hands.

Long after we run out of ones and zeros, long after all the magnetic tape on earth has been scrunched together into a giant magnet to power the last Tokamak nuclear fusion reactor, long after every scrap of paper has been assembled to make a giant airplane bound for Venus, the last kid one earth will drop the needle on “Be My Baby” and hope his crush hears those pummelling first bass drum hits across the vast distances of empty space. The everlasting sound of the end of reality.

I own 45s from the 1950s who, once you wipe the sheen of history, of dust, from them, are as new as children, still. They pop and crackle like soda fountains, like roller coasters, like fireworks, like cartoon sticks of dynamite - and that's before the music even starts. If in the 1960s they had released a 45rpm record consisting just of it’s own sounds, it would have topped the charts. I know this because I own a misprint Sweet Inspirations 45 from the 1960s which just has ’Sound’ as the b-side instead of a tune. I’ve listened to that more than the a-side.

The first 45 rpm single was released in 1949, and that single is still alive somewhere, whole, waiting, storing its information for the right time, like a Jurassic mosquito resting in amber in a box in someone's mothers basement.  No one has ever dropped the box off at a Goodwill, or to sell at a record store, because that box transcends value. It will be around longer than any currency.

Fucked Up exists because of the 7”.  In 2001, all of our rooms were full of those slender cardboard boxes full of singles - the cardboard wearing from the constant shuffling of singles.  Waking up in the middle of the night to make sure you actually own the record that was playing in your dream. Holding it, then, to fall back to sleep. We loved Dangerhouse Records, which was a living museum for music, boasting a flawless discography of 45rpm singles that were music - music fully formed as the union of sound and artifice, creating as every 7” does, a new unit of reality: Time and space are truly unified in spacetime.

The Avengers, The Dils, The Weirdos, Bags - these names we called each other, these songs that shot up from the spinning plastic like torpedos, over and over.  The singles drew us in, we became part of them as we had to get up every three minutes to drop the needle back at the beginning, restarting time like Chronos sitting in his chair. Time had stopped but the records kept spinning.  

Soon it was Poison Idea, another exercise in the unification of Shape and Form, Turn and Drang, Sturm und Drang, who created music so fast it was barely believable that they were able to trap it onto the grooves of something you could pick up with your own hands.  There are 13 songs on their debut single, an entire galaxy fit into a miniature bottle.  It was a privilege just to be in the same room as something so deep.

Between the five of us, we owned every punk single that had ever been pressed.  I pivoted to soul music of 45 - Motown/Tamla, Okeh, Brunswick,  Mayfield - labels of such Imperial power that they had to build fortresses around their sound, upon which, across all-night parties, the sun never set.   Somewhere in time, people are still dancing.   It was clear that these were objects of immense power and we wrote all our first songs to fit onto them, throwing them like a discus into the community we came from.  We resisted writing albums for as long as we could last, knowing that there was just dissolution in additional inches.  What we already had was perfect.

I will never stop releasing singles.  Here's to around 50 of them looking back on a lifetime, and here's to 50 million more.


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3:02 PM  
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Really enjoying the blog being revived (it popped up in my RSS feed after many years away). Thanks for writing!

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