Classic Cuts #3

“The Feeding of the 5000”

by Crass

My older cousin listened to Punk Rock before anyone I ever knew. As far back as memory goes, he grew mohawks, wore rusty bike chains around his wrists and neck, torn up T-shirts, combat boots, safety pins, all manner of sinister attire. He looked scary. I idolized him. He wasn’t really a punk though; he just listened to the music. There’s nothing wrong with that.

My first encounter with real Punk came at the age of 14. I was taking a Greyhound bus from Portland, Oregon to Hartford, Connecticut, a long, continually dirty and uncomfortable experience I wouldn’t wish on the worst of you.

We had stopped somewhere, maybe Montana? Another layover. There were two punks already waiting there when I arrived. He and she, a couple in love, were crossing the country as poor people do. They were eating an enormous bucket of French fries in the bus stop dining area and sharing a snapped in half set of pre-ear bud era headphones between them, connected to a cassette driven, old-school, Sony Walkman.

He wore a tri-hawk, blue in the center and green on either side. Her head was shaven down within a quarter inch to the scalp all over, save for the long fire-red bangs that looked almost glued on in their barren strangeness. Their clothes were hand re-made, self tailored, works of Art. Torn to tatters, and re-assembled with thick stitches and zippers, a quilt-like web of soiled patches and cheap twine. There were words written all over them, band names and slogans sewn in, like counter-cultural bill boarding. They looked cooler than I could possibly describe to you now, or probably ever, if given unlimited web-space to blather on unrestrained.

I sat in a booth across the way, and shamelessly stared at them. Being most annoyingly impossible to ignore, they acknowledged my curiosity within no time.

“Hey little man, you want some of these fries, we have a shitload.”

I accepted immediately. We spent the rest of the layover together. They talked, I listened, about anarchy, the government, the Man and his bullshit, the People’s struggle, uppers and lowers, the richies and the dirt farmers, and all the great music that was going to help change everything.

I was sold. Punk became my own holy focus, a thing to be, a high-minded identity to be assumed and assimilated into, something I took the next fifteen years or so to study before walking away.

What is Punk? Crass is Punk. If ever some musically sophisticated, terribly hip, extra-terrestrial comes down in the night and asks this question of me, there is my answer.

What we’re concerned with today is their first effort, “The Feeding of the 5000”, an album that destroys the very genre it epitomizes. It’s not even fair to call it Punk; it’s what Punk wishes it could be. Punk on it’s most glorious, unbelievable day.

It’s a true protest album, a pacifist’s call to arms, lyrically admonishing not only the guilty world, but even more so the guilty Punk scene. There is noise and silence. 15 seconds of real silence in the middle of a song, introduced to allow the audience the opportunity to consider the reality of nuclear war. What? Amazing.

The instrumentation is other-worldly. The guitars are like fuzzy razor blades cutting into  your ears. Bass lines like nobody plays, weird, abstract rubber band sounding twangery. The drums are as much responsible for the sound of protest as the lyrics, full of military rolls and beats to attention. Penny Rimbaud sounds like a battlefield drummer, one of those crazy guys during the Revolutionary War who would stand up during the fight and rip out some nasty muster-the-troops, “Over the hill boys!” type drum soloing. It’s no wonder the band started out as a two-piece, drums and vocals, before extending the lineup to the one we find on this album. It’s all they would have needed to get the point across.

The lyrics are dripping with venom, anger poems, spat out at in every direction. Steve Ignorant, one of multiple wordsmiths and voice on the album, is pissed off, and he’s blaming You!

“I’m the dirt that everyone walks on.

I am the orphan nobody wants.

I am the stair carpet everyone walks on.

I am the leper nobody wants to touch………. much.”

They attacked their own kind.

“Yes that’s right, punk is dead,

It’s just another cheap product for the consumer’s head.

Bubblegum rock on plastic transistors,

Schoolboy sedition backed by big time promoters.

CBS promote the Clash,

But it ain’t for revolution, it’s just for cash.

Punk became a fashion just like hippy used to be

And it ain’t got a thing to do with you or me.”

And that was in 1978.

Crass is not kind to religion, or any groups that dabble in oppression. If you are godly-minded and easily offended this record is probably not going to be your thing. Workers refused to press it in the factory, disagreeing with both the method and message of the album. One song in particular, “Asylum”, had to be removed, before even a drop a vinyl would be poured. Crass replaced it with a two-minute track of silence called, “The sound of Free Speech”. Brilliant. You can’t buy that kind of a reputation.

They were organized, and wore all black, like a strike force. They built their own D.I.Y. community and maintained it. The albums had, “Pay No More Than…” instructions, stamped onto the covers. They were active and mischievous, splicing together tapes of then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and former President Ronald Reagan, making it appear as though the two were in collusion about secret nuclear warring. The “phone call” was released to the press, and at first was thought by the Secretary of State to be KGB propaganda. They spray painted stencil art waaaaaay before Banksy ever thought of it. They covered the town with their own slogans, ideas, and symbols, like the absolutely genius turn of phrase, “Fight War, Not Wars” and the theological dagger, “Jesus died for his own sins, not mine”.

The point is, if any band seemed more suited to pull off a real revolution I never got to hear them. There were moments when I was younger that I thought it could actually happen, thanks to precious few albums like this.

They lived the life, and you can hear it in the recording. There are people who just listen to the music, which is fine too.

A couple of links.

They’ve got a bomb

Punk is dead

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