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Feedback with Lizi von Teig: Was Johnny Hobo This Generation’s Bob Dylan?

 

“And I used to dream my beliefs would lead me onto barricades with molotovs/but most days they lead me straight to a line at the post office, to send zines to someone behind bars”

— Pat the Bunny, “This City Is Killing Me,” 2016

In 2005, Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains, the pseudonym for Pat “the Bunny” Schneeweiss, released his breakthrough split LP Love Songs for the Apocalypse with Mantits. With only slightly more arrangement than Against Me!’s 2001 Acoustic EP (Schneeweiss has twice as many instruments on this as Laura Jane Grace had on her release, which is to say four, and two of them are used for accent), Love Songs is a bare bones approach to folk punk, like if Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys was asked to write a Phil Ochs tribute album while trying but failing to quit heroin. In addition to being a fresh take on the style of “angry dude with an acoustic guitar and little or nothing else,” it contained some powerful poetry about conflict both in society and within oneself.

Schneeweiss and Dylan were two sides of the same coin. Pat got into music because it was political. Dylan got into politics because it was musical. Either way, both epitomized the best of the poetry in the philosophical and political minds of their communities. Dylan embodied the peace movement and white Civil Rights supporters of the 1960s and early 1970s. Pat embodied the anarcho-Marxist community that thrived in crust punk and folk punk in the 2000s and 2010s.

“We aren’t revolutionaries/but we are the revolution,” Pat sings on “New Mexico Song,”

Pat’s formal education was shorter than even Dylan’s modest academic career, having not even finished high school. Still, his exposure to political texts began at an early age. We can obviously infer this from the “On Ballots And Barricades” lyric “Things will never be as simple as when I was 12 years old, reading Karl Marx in my bedroom alone,” but we get greater insight from this excerpt from Mark Bouchard’s interview with Schneeweiss, published in his paper “The Modern American Anarchist: More Method Than Madness.”

“A junior high teacher gave me a book called “Post-Scarcity Anarchism” by this guy Murray Bookchin …reading that was the beginning of me changing the way that I thought about politics and ultimately arriving at anarchism.”

Joan Baez said in her opening remarks to Bob Dylan’s performance at the Newport Folk Festival 1963 that people don’t turn to leaders to meet their needs, but that leaders emerge based on the needs that people have. From this we can see that it was not Pat the Bunny’s lack of poetry or genius that prevented him from being a success, but rather that his politics weren’t aligned with the needs of the Bush-era culture.

It is impossible to know what Pat would’ve been like in the folk revival. Both the influences of his political beliefs and his musical style are formed by events and movements during or after the 1980s and 90s. However, if somehow his music, particularly Live the Dream or the Ceschi split, had been created exactly as it is now and had been released in 1967, it would have been met with much more success than it met when it came out in our time.

 

Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.

 

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Feedback with Greg von Teig: Four Introductory Folk Punk Albums

 

There is an ideological commonality between Pete Seeger and The Sex Pistols that occurred to me instantly the first time I heard someone sell a band to me as “folk punk.” Folk music was, prior to the eruption of popular music in the 20th century, defined as music by the people, contrasted with classical music which was written for the aristocracy. Punk was born out of a resentment for a musical aristocracy that was forming. As Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd wrote music for the intelligentsia, Johnny Ramone and Joe Strummer began to formulate a sound that appealed to people who didn’t want to think. The political similarities were immediately evident to me. What is “All You Fascists Bound To Lose” but Woody Guthrie’s version of The Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks **** Off”? Wasn’t it Leadbelly who fought the law and the law won (three times, no less)? The marriage between the two genres is far from seamless. An entire punk song is about as long as a single verse of a folk song, and you’ll never see Joan Baez playing a Gibson. But these differences can be overcome and have been.

This list aims to capture the recent folk punk scene, with a very orthodox definition of folk punk. I’m not including things like Mallory’s To The Hollow Night which is an excellent album that isn’t quite folk but isn’t punk enough to fit this definition of “folk punk.” Nor does it include things like The Dreadnoughts’ “Polka’s Not Dead,” which is very good Celtic/Klezmer punk, but is too electric to qualify for this definition of “folk punk.” Lastly, it is not a history of folk punk. Tho it includes some landmarks of folk punk history, I’m not trying to give a comprehensive list of the greatest folk punk albums ever. So, in chronological order…

People Who Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People by AJJ

This was my introduction to folk punk and it changed my fifteen year old world. Coming out of a “music is dead” phase where I only listened to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, People Who Can Eat People… showed me that new things were still happening and genre fusion was the future. Never before had I heard such intense and frenetic strums on an acoustic guitar or a mandolin. The shear breadth of instruments called on for this album is breathtaking. Never before or since have I heard such ornate arrangements come out of an album that I don’t hesitate to call punk.

People Who Can Eat People… has a great strength in its variety. Although always elaborate in it’s instrumentation, AJJ mixes it up from frenetic strums on “Rejoice” or “Randy’s House,” which guitarist Sean Bonnette 10 years later says is too damn fast, to the slower numbers like “A Song Dedicated To Stormy The Rabbit” and “Personal Space Invader,” which are slow enough to let the listener take a breath but not so slow as to lose the momentum the album relies on. It’s certainly the folkiest of the albums on this list, and is the best for people coming from a Pete Seeger background. I think this album really influenced Old Crow Medicine Show, too, but that’s just by comparing the music, not based on anything I’ve read.

Essential Tracks: “Rejoice,” “Brave as a Noun/Survival Song,” “Personal Space Invader”

Available here.

Live the Dream by Ramshackle Glory

Pat “The Bunny” Schneeweiss is probably the most significant figure in modern folk punk. Although he is now retired from punk and music, his work as Johnny Hobo, Wingnut Dishwasher’s Union, this band, and his solo work are some of the most celebrated music in the genre. Live The Dream is the album Pat made as he was getting sober, as he makes clear in “First Song Part 2” when he sings “took the needle out of my arm about a year ago today.” The upbeat power anthems “Vampires are Poseurs” and “More About Alcoholism” are balanced by the sometimes painful and intimate ballads like “We Are All Compost in Training” and “Never Coming Home.”

The lyrics and the music are equally amazing on this album. The words are proof that punk can be poetry when it wants to. Pat’s exploration of addiction as it manifests in suicidal tendencies (“so I’m ready to die/but I’m not willing to watch you watch me die here in our bed” in “Never Coming Home”), the damage done to those around the addict (“I’ve done you so much wrong I can’t believe/you would still talk to me/and I spread so much bullsh*t I can’t believe that anyone around me can breathe” in “First Song Part 2”) and the quest for meaning (“won’t you tell me we want something more than just more beer and if that ain’t true/won’t you lie to me tonight” in “From Here To Utopia”) coupled with ornate folk arrangements utilizing everything from the banjo and violin to a full horn section create an emotional punch so powerful some people with similar histories can’t handle it. Live The Dream is not only a classic but became an essential sensation that made it a landmark in folk punk history, so significant it even has a parody cover album, Live The Meme by Sadgirl Collective.

Essential Tracks: “From Here Till Utopia,” “Vampires Are Poseurs,” “Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size of Your Fist”

Available on Bandcamp.

Rouge Taxidermy by Days N Daze

Days n Daze is hardly new, but they feel it. They began releasing albums in 2008 but the low production value made them difficult for many to listen to. I, who regularly put on field recordings from the Lomax archives, didn’t have this problem, but their popularity took off when they got in a proper studio and their genius became more readily accessible. Whitney Flynn has one of the finest voices in folk punk, able to croon sweetly on tracks like “Blue Jay” and screech a metal scream on tracks like “Rockabilly Impending Deathfuture,” well complimented by Jesse Sendejas’ hoarse and gravely vocals. Primarily utilizing guitar and mandolin with washboard, trumpet, and gutbucket as secondary instruments, Days n Daze is kind of like if a poor bluegrass band from the 30s started doing crack.

Days N Daze is almost a caricature of folk punk. “Bugs in the kitchen and mold in the sink/chugging down the whisky you’ll never stop to think/what’ll we do tomorrow” perfectly summarizes the impoverished but hedonistic lives so many folk punkers lead. I’d be amiss to represent today’s folk punk without an album with songs about train hopping and shooting dope, but it’s accompanied with an energy and artistic integrity unmatched in the crust punk subgenre of folk punk.

Essential Tracks: “Misanthropic Drunken Loner,” “Day Gaunts,” “Goodbye Lulu”

Available on Bandcamp.

Regicide by We The Heathens

We The Heathens is the newest folk punk band I really love. A string trio (violin, guitar, and mandolin), they’re a different kind of folk punk, they can get real quiet in their arrangement and real sweet in their melodies, with songs like Radio and Laundry Day able to leave you feeling calmer than when you put it on. But if you’re questioning their punk credentials, just turn to “Failure To All Justice To None” or “Earth Infanticide” to hear their gruff gravely voices really screech.

Regicide was their sophomore album and I was really split on whether to use it or their third album The Blood Behind The Dam, but I went with this because it’s proven the test of time more. They like to sample spoken word, this album opens with JR Oppenheimer (I think) speaking about the dangers of the atomic bomb, another way that We The Heathens stands out from other folk punk. Overall, Regicide is just a great exploration of where folk punk could be going and hopefully will go soon.

Essential Tracks: “Earth Infanticide,” “When It’s Gone,” “33 Shots”

Available through Bandcamp https://wetheheathens.bandcamp.com/album/regicide

 

Greg von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. His expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.