In the disorienting immediate aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election, a notion I saw expressed so often that it almost felt virally memetic was the idea that “At least with Trump as president, there’ll be great political punk rock again.”
I found this puzzling.
Of course it’s absolutely true that the Reagan era was a musical goldmine for politically-engaged punks, but the arguably worse George W Bush era was notably fallow in that regard—if American Idiot counts as “greatness,” then I guess I don’t need any greatness in my life—and with the debatable exception of the 2004 Punk Voter Rock Against Bush tour, a wishfully grandiose attempt by the pop-punks at Fat Wreck Chords to create a latter-day Rock Against Reagan type of event, no other punk-influenced protest music made all that much of an impression. Going back a minute or two further, not even the stunning and inspiring social movement that emerged from seemingly out of the blue in defiance of the World Trade Organization around the turn of the century seemed to inspire any rebel rock worth discussing—Punk Planet even did a contemporary feature on that notable lack, pity there’s no online archive of that publication.
But though I still expect that the hoped-for renaissance of Reagan-era style protest punk is unlikely to happen, one actual radical band from the Reagan era has reactivated in response to the Trump threat. And it’s one of the MOST radical—Situationist-inspired provocateur Frank Discussion has resurrected his notorious band The Feederz. An unabashed outrage artist, Discussion made his band infamous with confrontational live performances in which he far surpassed even Frank Tovey’s ability to turn himself into an attention-commanding art object, and with stunts like making a sandpaper record cover for their debut album Ever Feel Like Killing Your Boss? to ruin other records on one’s shelves, and emblazoning a record called Teachers in Space with a photo of the Challenger disaster.
But after more than 35 years, The Feederz remain best known for the scandalous song with which their existence was announced to the world. “Jesus,” sometimes known as “Jesus Entering from the Rear,” got a widespread hearing when it was featured on the epochally crucial hardcore compilation Let Them Eat Jellybeans. That song sought to tweak right wing Evangelical Christians with lyrics describing The Savior™—or his corpse—engaged in rough gay sex, going way over the top by calling him “Another stupid martyr with another rectal rash” and “Just another faggot in just another mask.” Though it’s indisputably a classic, due to major values dissonance the song hasn’t aged so gracefully, and there is zero doubt that if it were written today it would be excoriated for implicit homophobia, though that was the opposite of its intent—even for the sake of outrage, Discussion isn’t one to punch down.
After a long absence from punk rock, the Trump disaster prodded Discussion to begin writing new songs again, and he assembled a band to record two of them in January, with Meat Puppets bassist Cris Kirkwood producing. The Feederz as currently constituted are a trio of Discussion, founding member Clear Bob, and drummer D.H. Peligro, a onetime Feederz member who’s much better known for his tenure in Dead Kennedys. That single was released on April 15 by the Phoenix, AZ label Slope Records (though The Feederz made their mark as a San Francisco band, Discussion is a native of Phoenix and was a presence in the infancy of its punk scene). The single, WWHD: What Would Hitler Do?, sports an unsurprisingly unsubtle cover illustration of Donald Trump affecting a Hitlerian pose and wearing a swastika armband, and it’s fucking good—it’s the most hi-fidelity recording to which the band has ever been treated, and the songs, while they’re thematically of a piece with Discussion’s Reagan-era work, sound like the work of a contemporary band. The A side, “Stealing,” bears an ominous riff and lyrics that champion looting and assaulting police. The flip, “Sabotage,” opens with a chant of “TIME TO PUT THIS COUNTRY OUT OF OUR MISERY,” and includes call-to-arms written in Spanish. Here’s the translation:
What you see with your eyes, destroy with your hands
To be as combustible as a cop car
We don’t need leaders
I love you! Say it with a brick!
The always outspoken Mr. Discussion treated Dangerous Minds to an audacious and lively interview.
Dangerous Minds: There was a lot of chatter after the election about how political punk was supposedly going to be on a comeback in the Trump era, but I didn’t understand why. It’s not like there was so much political punk of significant impact to speak of during the W years, it seemed mostly pretty poppy and harmless, so it clearly takes more than JUST a reactionary shit-heel in the White House to cultivate that kind of scene. You and Jello Biafra were among the most outspoken figures in that scene during the Reagan era, and now Trump is in, and your band is back, so you might be uniquely qualified to answer this—what do you think it was about the Reagan years that contributed to that, other than the Reagan presidency itself?
Frank Discussion: General malaise, and anger. I’ve seen those articles too, about how Trump’s in and we’re going to have great punk rock and everything. First of all it’s laughable to think punk rock’s gonna change anything, somehow, magically. That’s not gonna happen, the idea that one leads to the other is kind of ridiculous. But the main underlying thing is anger. We were all pissed off, so what we did, said, and sang became affected. And during that time, there were just so many slaps in the face, and the whole Reagan thing was part of it, but even just in general, everywhere you turned, you were being fucked over, so you wanted to retaliate.
There was also a sense of meaninglessness, which is even more compounded with Trump—I think Trump made it pretty obvious that this country has zero credibility. The whole government, the last TINY SHRED that was maybe there was completely wiped out when Trump was elected. It DID reveal that voting is just a pressure valve, a release, it makes people feel good, that they supposedly did something, but that’s just a joke. This morning I was reading the thing from the Declaration of Independence, saying that when the government no longer has the consent of the governed, we should abolish the government. It’s right there, and the Declaration is not a bad document for the 1770s. It’s faulty, but in the context of its time it wasn’t bad. Jefferson thought there should be a revolution every 19 years!
DM: So, time to put this country out of our misery?
FD: [laughs] Exactly! The idea that things are going to get better is ridiculous. Can you name one time when rights that have been lost were ever regained?
DM: Not off the top of my head, that would take research.
FD: It’s only going one way, and the idea that it’s going to be OK, mmmmmm, NO! And you’re left with very few choices. One is just to accept it. Two, you can vote, which is a joke. Three, you could walk around in circles wearing a turtle costume chanting “HEY HEY! HO HO! FILL-IN-THE-BLANK HAS GOT TO GO!” which generally just gets you laughed at, and doesn’t work. What else is left but rising up? Insurrection? What else is going to do anything meaningful? I say that and people think I’m crazy, particularly in this country, but how did this country begin? By JUST such a crazy action.
DM: I don’t know that that happens soon, though. Popular support would be slow in coming, and a lot of the people who are calling for revolution aren’t exactly likely to rally the normals. I don’t even trust a lot of self-styled revolutionary types to be able to—like, look, and this is a group I like, but Food Not Bombs or something, they do great work and I’ll give to their food drives all day long, but are they gonna keep the power running to the hospitals and nursing homes? You know what I mean, and a “revolution” that hurts the vulnerable, I couldn’t be on board with. I have faith that people who mean well and who I generally agree with could accomplish the removal of a government, but there’s the need for the actual work of governing.
FD: I get it, but I think that’s one of the fears that gets propagated. If you look at the 1930s in Spain, in the anarchist sections of Spain during that revolution, the factories and everything were working better than before. The same people were working, but they were working for themselves, and everything actually worked better. So yeah, it would be ridiculous if you had the Food Not Bombs people trying to run the infrastructure, but the same people could run it who’ve always run it: the people who actually do the work, as opposed to it being run by the bosses who make the actual workers miserable.
DM: GOT’CHA, yeah. So to move from politics generally to The Feederz in particular—you recorded the new single in January, correct?
FD: Yes. What ended up happening was a confluence—right after the election, Thomas from Slope Records contacted me through Clear Bob about doing a record, and I was like, “Oh, yeah, it’s time to jump back into the fray.” Or LIMP back into the fray. [laughs]
DM: The new songs are thematically right in line with the band’s older work, was this stuff that was already kicking around in your head? Or were they written since the election?
FD: They were written since the election.
DM: So what have you been doing all these years?
FD: Living. [laughs] But yeah, I only started writing again after the election. We actually did four songs.
DM: Are the other two coming out?
FD: Yeah, actually we’re going into the studio again within the next month to do an album. The working title is Spit or Swallow. It’s about the choices between two alternatives we’re given, to make that as plain as possible. Going back and playing with these really early, close to original band members helped generate a lot of energy, so the album is going to be all new material, and hopefully we’ve gotten better instead of being one of these things where people just rehash what they’ve always done, which is definitely what we didn’t and don’t want. I would hope for that, but people will decide that on their own. There’s always going to be people, no matter what we do, who think the older stuff is best, but you have to keep moving.
DM: Is there cover art yet?
FD: At one point we thought of a photo of Budd Dwyer with a gun in his mouth, with “A word to political and business leaders:” on top, and underneath it “BLAM!” We have several ideas, there was one I found in a Christian tract, and it showed a boy with his face in Jesus’ lap, so with the title Spit or Swallow that might be it.
DM: That seems to relate to “Jesus Entering from the Rear,” this idea of conflating Christianity’s figurehead with homosexuality.
FD: It is, but it’s like fish in a barrel because of Christian homophobia. If you can slam them with the 2000 year old corpse they worship being gay, they react. I love saying stuff like “Didn’t you know that Jesus rode an ass into Jerusalem? It’s in the Bible!” It’s guaranteed to get a rise. Back in the day in San Francisco, and even in Phoenix, in the early days, the only people that were really resisting at all besides punks were gay, and they knew exactly what we were doing with “Jesus Entering from the Rear,” and thought it was hilarious. If you look at the lyrics it should be pretty apparent who I’m trying to offend, and it sure ain’t the gays.
DM: Circling back to something you said at the beginning of the conversation, it’s naive to think punk rock by itself is going to change anything, so what do you mean to accomplish by bringing back The Feederz?
FD: Well, OK, the thing is that essentially, I want to say things that are on people’s minds, but maybe they’re afraid to say it, or they don’t have the words, or they’re too pissed off. And in that sense, punk rock CAN do something. You get the ideas and concepts out there, and then hopefully someone runs with them. If nobody runs with them, no, the music itself isn’t going to do anything. I never considered myself a musician, for instance. I’ve had problems with a lot of musicians because so many have seemed so full of themselves, but I taught myself how to play in order to do this because it beats standing in front of factories handing out leaflets. Though that depends on the leaflet, but most of the time people who do that seem to feel compelled to write as tediously as possible and then wonder why they don’t get any interest from people. I joke about the RCP—they aren’t so revolutionary, they aren’t communists, and they sure as hell ain’t my idea of a party!
DM: UGH, yeah, THEM. I’m calling from Cleveland, and going back to the early ‘80s until just last year they’ve had a bookstore here and they were always a presence at protests, under fake names like Refuse and Resist or whatever, and some of those people were the goddamn WORST.
FD: Yeah! I remember one time in San Francisco, I was having coffee and there was a really boring RCP guy at another table trying to pick up this woman who seemed like she wished she could be anywhere but there, and he was saying how he was “passing on the information” to people so they could go out and have this “revolution”—ooookaaaaay—so you guys, for whatever reason, would give the order but the people would go out and do all the work and take all the risk so you could control things? How’s that different? That’s a problem I have with the left, it’s always an “under new management” sign, new bosses to jam the usual down our throats. I prefer the sign that says “Everything must go.”
DM: Well, this idea of packaging the concepts in the hopes that someone says “AH-HAH!” and runs with it reminds me of something from that Re-Search Pranks book, which I remember you were in, but I don’t remember if you were the one who said it. The gist of it was that any idea could find acceptance if it was properly presented in the form of a joke.
FD: OK! I didn’t say that, but yeah, going back to handing out leaflets, I don’t know who made this rule, that everything is supposed to be written in the most boring, academic manner possible, but nobody wants tedium. If you’re trying to make a revolution with tedium, what’s after the revolution? More tedium?
DM: I remember reading—and this seems like maybe it’d be a book you might know, I don’t know—but it’s called The Forecast is Hot!, it was a compilation of writings issued by the Chicago Surrealists, but their writings weren’t really about art or poetry so much, it was more like a lot of denunciations of other tiny far left groups over minor differences in doctrine.
FD: Oh, you’re talking about Franklin Rosemont—that was actually one of the things that made me take a sharp turn. In San Francisco I met Philip Lamantia, and I considered myself kind of a country, home-grown Surrealist early on, until I actually met them. We sat and talked for a few hours, he was talking about “true” poets versus “false” poets, and he said how some of the Surrealists wanted to throw garbage on the steps of the church, but were concerned about agent provocateurs. But I’m sorry, throwing garbage on the steps of a church, you’re going to get a ticket. That was just ridiculous. When I read The Surrealist Manifesto, I saw the implications of it, but I came to conclusions that did not happen to be the conclusions the Surrealists came to. When I realized that, I was disgusted. Vale, from what back then was Search and Destroy but then became Re-Search, gave me some books on the Situationists. And all of a sudden, I was like “OK, these guys get it!” and from there, it was no looking back. It’s interesting, if there was one thing I really related to, at one point they were asked “Well, why didn’t you guys just call yourselves Surrealists?” And they answered “In order not to be bored.”
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
The Art of Punk: Great new short documentary on Winston Smith and Dead Kennedys
‘Product of America’: Members of the Germs and Meat Puppets resurrect a Phoenix punk band from 1978