There were a few reasons that I dug out the 1989 album ‘Start Today’ from Gorilla Biscuits today. Mainly, I’ve been reading this book dubbed ‘The Anti-Matter Anthology.’ It’s an interview compilation, written by Norm from Texas is the Reason, featuring bands such as Samiam, Farside, Fugazi, Quicksand, Porcell from Shelter/Youth of Today, Into Another, Judge, Sick of it All, Jawbox, Shudder to Think, Rage Against the Machine, Outspoken, Mouthpiece, Endpoint, Sunny Day Real Estate, Rancid and Resurrection among others. Lots of really great (and conversely, really bad in retrospect) musicians from my past. Today, after reading the Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against The Machine interview in the book, I found myself craving the Inside Out EP, which was de la Rocha’s band before RATM. So I went into iTunes and bought “No Spiritual Surrender” by Inside Out, and noticed that by buying Inside Out music, iTunes therefore recommended Gorilla Biscuits to me. I couldn’t remember the last time I had listened to ‘Start Today’ but it wasn’t the first time I had caught myself coming face to face with Gorilla Biscuits this week. Sunday night, I listened to a Walter Schreifels podcast. He was the main song writer for Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, Rival Schools, Moondog and even Civ. During the podcast, he acoustically played a few songs from ‘Start Today,’ and it struck a chord. So maybe it wasn’t a few, but I had two reasons to search out ‘Start Today’ from Gorilla Biscuits. Written and performed by a group of straight edge teenagers from the Long Island/NYC area and released in 1989, it was the New York hardcore scene’s first (and probably best) attempt at merging positive hardcore with melody and a message. When I was 15, I swore by ‘Start Today,’ but like most music that I liked as a teen-ager, I really didn’t think it would stand the test of time. Fugazi can do that. Psychedelic Furs can do that. Not much New York hardcore can. But at this point, I thought I should at least give it a listen since all signs were pointing in that direction.
So I put it on, got a few songs in and realized something unusually dated as I sang along to the lyrics from ‘Degradation,’ which read:
“Don’t fool yourself cause you don’t fool me/it’s not just blacks you hate/it’s everything you see/rich, poor, young and old/whoever’s in your way/what a boring life/hating every day.”
If you need me to point out the obvious, it’s the word “Blacks” that caught me off guard. As a rule, the term is, I won’t say racist, but outdated. It’s not an inherently bad term for the time it was written, but it’s not inherently good either. (At the time the music and lyrics were written, the term “blacks” as a cultural and racial group was acceptable in print and television journalism.) Nowadays, it’s largely not. “African Americans” is the acceptable term, and that’s good. As a culture, we’ve somewhat evolved to be more aware of cultural sensitivities, and I’m glad for that. (Though some will argue that the switch from ‘blacks’ to ‘African Americans’ is more of a nod to political correctness than cultural sensitivities.) But anyways, it got me thinking about the recent Gorilla Biscuits reunions from last year, of which I did not see. Were the lyrics adjusted to reflect more recent cultural and racial sensitivities, or did they just run it like it was good ‘ole 1989? And if there were any African Americans in the audience, were they upset by the term “Blacks” being used by five middle-aged white guys in New Balance sneakers?
I’m not knocking the band at all. I respect the fact that five suburban straight edge teen-agers took a stand against racist skinheads in their music, but as ‘Start Today’ is a now classic hardcore album, the evolution of cultural and racial awareness through etymology should at least be addressed in updated liner notes by the band so as to not perpetuate a dated term for African Americans by suburban whites… No, really, OK, I know that’s a preposterous proposition to make. But it does address a growing problem with aging art that reflects the society of the time it was created but is still currently sold as commodity. Do we step back and say, “Oh, it was 1989 so the artist didn’t know any better,” or do we simply hope that younger audiences experiencing said aging art for the first time realize that a lot has changed in just under twenty years?
Oh, and this isn’t just relegated to one New York hardcore album from the late ’80s either. Has anyone watched the movie ‘The Toy’ recently? A kid buys Richard Pryor from a toy store, telling his butler, “I want the black man.” And then they become friends. Acceptable in the ’80s, but nowadays, wow…