The brand of irreverence I’ve come to identify with the upstate New York band now known as Self Defense Family is not something typically found in the genre of music in which they exist. In many ways, they could be up their own asses about self righteousness, instilling rules on their listeners, and all of the other bullshit that comes with listening to emotionally tinged modern day hardcore music.
Instead, they laugh at themselves, they position themselves as politically incorrect and they generally don’t give two fucks about anything that anybody says about them. They could’ve sorely been used in 1995, when backdoor rules and conjecture on the pages of zines with circulation rates of 50 mattered, but it’s more a wonder that they exude their brand of no fucks given in a time when everyone has the voice to give a fuck.
In my mind, they’re one of the very few tribes of people in modern day Internet culture that exist outside of the realm of falling in line. And they do it with humor, prolific song output and some of the catchiest, most emotionally tormented songs I’ve heard in more than a decade.
The band, formerly known as End of a Year, first caught my attention some years ago with a song about that one unsolved skyjacking in the Pacific Northwest in the ’70s.
Th hijacker escaped, presumably, via parachute from a commercial airliner, with a lot of money strapped to his body. He most likely perished on the way to the ground, but authorities never located a body. His name was D.B. Cooper, at least that’s what people came to know him as.
Reportedly, during the flight, Cooper gave instructions to a flight attendant. He told her, “I want you to sit next to me.” End of a Year took that line, added an inferred context, and gave the skyjacker a fictional identity which grounded him in humanity and desperation. Maybe it didn’t happen, I wasn’t on the plane to figure it out, but it resonated with me to a degree that forced me to reexamine the whole crazy story and resulting conspiracy theories.
In the span of five minutes, the band had given a nameless legendary criminal a face behind the sunglasses that adorned every wanted poster his crime had created. I thought of Charles Starkweather’s relationship to J Church; Magic Johnson’s relationship to Fugazi; any number of the humanizing effects that profound song lyrics about newsworthy characters have had on me throughout the years, and how the impact of news had removed their humanity from the full story.
That was 2008. In the time since, I’ve probably missed more than a handful of songs from the band’s various outputs, but I’ve tried to maintain some sense of keeping up-ness with their vigorous release schedule. (Once a month, I go and buy whatever new singles, EPs, side projects I can find.)
And now they’re back again, this time with an aging porn star as the backdrop to their thematic releases. Her name is Jeanna Fine, and her dialogue occupies over a half hour of their latest release, a full length album entitled “Try Me.”
I am not the person to praise the ups and degrade the downs of a band’s songs. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like and I know that if I didn’t like something that I wouldn’t waste my time writing about it. (I leave that to the poor souls getting paid $50 per review at pitchfork and living with 9 roommates in a shitty part of Brooklyn — hopefully, they continue to ignore Self Defense Family.)
Having said all that, I love the new record and I hope this band and its various incarnations doesn’t go away for some time to come. They are very much needed in the here and the now.