Friday, February 10, 2006

Black History Month

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In honor of Black History Month, I give you Bad Brains.

It's funny how kids at school are forced to learn about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Rodney King, and a myriad of other useless information, but never a mention of black contributions to what many considered the fringes of American society - which, when you think about it, is where true change most often begins.

Bad Brains fit that description. They existed in a movement largely political in nature, but at the same time, largely a movement centered on pushing the boundaries of a society stuck in the mire of acceptance, mediocrity, and stability based on unstable ideals.

Bad Brains were an influential band during the Punk Revolution of the late 70's and early 80's. They somehow managed - minus the aid of major media, big record companies, or MTV, to carve out a large following in a genre so closely tethered to neo-nazi types and whites that the thought of a black punk band never entered the minds of those following the movement from the outside.

In this, I think Bad Brains made a statement about Punk that is all too often lost in translation. Punk - and by association, Hardcore - which, when you get right down to it, Bad Brains were - was a movement of social change. Much like the pontifications of X and the peaceful pleadings of MLK, Bad Brains were instrumental in shifting the paradigm of acceptance, of political expression, and breaking the strangle hold of mainstream America on the minds of the youth caught up in the punk expression – regardless of skin color.

One must realize that the punk movement was not centered around the bigotry or bias of race extremists. It was – and is - centered around questioning what one was told was truth with no evidence supporting such a dictate. Of course, there was a neo-nazi - to be refereed to as "fucker" - mentality on some levels of the scene, but the same can be seen in the hip-hop society that permeates our high schools, malls, and television today. However, in large, members of the punk scene did not subscribe to the base hate and intolerance the "fuckers" were preaching. In fact, I believe it was the Dead Kennedy's who sang "Fuck the Nazi Punks".

But that is a post for another time. Right now, I would like to take a minute and recognize the unheralded accomplishment of Bad Brains. A black band in a largely white environment, coexisting with like minded white people, working to break the mold in which main stream society expected them fit.

8 comments:

BlackLabelAxe said...

Very good read. Music gets wrongfully ignored as a barrier-breaker in American history. My favorite example is Sepultura's "Roots" album, which was a protest of the Brasilian government's attempt to remove native tribes from the country and bleach thier rich culture. The sound of tribal drumming and chanting mixed with heavy rock guitars showcases a unity sound where old and new can co-exist beautifully. You don't even need to understand the Portoguese lyrics to know that.

Black history month is a big crock of unholy shit though. Black history should be celebrated as American history, or world history when appropriate. To single out achievements based on the race of its author is racist by definition, and has no place in America or any other free nation. There should be no white history month, or Asian history month, or Pacific Islander history month either. Just learn history and ignore race as if it were a factor in this world.

That said, it's always a good time to remember those brave individuals who didn't fear racial boundaries and made us get over our fear of them. I hadn't heard of Bad Brains before today (I'm much more into metal than punk), but it sounds like I need to check it out.

ZombieSilas said...

Bad Brains birthed "hardcore". There was punk before Bad Brains, but there was no hardcore. I am more into metal too, but it was bands like Bad Brains that gave a voice to the genre we take for granted today.

As for Black History Month, I agree with you. We should havae American History Month. MLK fought segregation. Black History Month espouses it. You can't fight segregation with segregation. You can't fight the Jim Crow mentality by creating a 21st century Jim Crow environment, and politicaly correct ideas - such as Black History Month - are doing just that.

We need to celebrate America, not attempt to "unmelt" the pot.

BlackLabelAxe said...

By hardcore, do you mean bands like AFI or Boy Hits Car, or are you referring to Hatebreed and Throwdown? I've heard all of them described as hardcore. It kinda seems that there's a punkier version hardcore, and a metal version of hardcore.

Lefty Metalhead said...

Awesome story. I agree with your insights. Black history month, while a great idea, isolates African-American history from the broader story of America's life.

Music is definitely relevant to history and political causes. It amplifies the people's voice.

The two types of hardcore are divided into the punk-influenced and the metal-influenced. The latter is known as metalcore, and includes bands such as hatebreed. The former isn't as heavy, but is pretty fast. Nevertheless, I usually get turned off from these genres because the karate kids start their shit at the shows (with the exception of hatebreed fans).

ZombieSilas said...

Hardcore punk - not as much gain on the guitars as metal- but ferociously fast and chaotic.

BlackLabelAxe said...

Thanks guys, that's what I wanted to know. I happen to like both the punk-hardcore and metal-hardcore.

Lefty, I love the "Karate Kid" phrase, and I know exactly what you're talking about. I saw Hatebreed open for Damageplan, and those little ninjas were pretty shocked to find out that us metal moshers like to actually collide with each other. In a metal mosh pit, especially here in the south, if you throw a punch at anybody, you're going to get taken down. The windmilling and slam-dancing gets interpreted as "I'm trying to fight", and ends up as a massacre with teenage puny ninja metalhead bodies all over the floor trying to figure out why somebody shoved them. It's a clash of subgenres, as dorky as that sounds. Damn, I can't believe I even typed that. Anyways, both bands kick ass.

Have you guys ever heard of Boy Hits Car? I have an old CD of theirs, and it rocks so freaking hard that I'll listen to it many times through without wanting to change it. Based on y'alls descriptions, it seems like they would be the punk-hardcore type.

BigNewsDay said...

Great contribution Zombiesilas, and welcome to the group. I love the Bad Brains, and most hardcore punk designed to make you think.

I'm in my mid-to-late thirties, so I remember when most of these bands (Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, etc...) were coming up. Most of us that enjoyed listening to thrash metal back in the eighties also enjoyed the hardcore punk scene. I guess it was the whole aggression thing. I really began listening to more punk stuff due to the fact that it was more intellectually stimulating.

The Dead Kennedys have always been one of my favorite bands; however, it did take me a while to get used to Jello Biafra's singing style.

Kevin said...

Bad Brains were awesome! I remember seeing them with DRI at The Farm in San Francisco years ago, on the I Against I tour.

I still think that I Against I is one of the best albums ever made.