The Songs That Radicalized Me
A Think Piece by Sam “Germ” Rees
When I was 17, I had a pretty dead-set life. I got up, went to collage, came home, went to my job, scrubbed dishes for six hours, walked home, showered, went to sleep, rinse, and repeat. Coming from a family of slightly left-leaning centrists, I had basically no knowledge or interest in politics. I considered myself a “nihilist”–in the reality of the situation I was just an edgy kid who fucking hated his job and didn’t know at the time that it was the cause of all the stress.
It wasn’t until around February of 2016 that things started to get interesting in my life.
I joined a small group of friends to form a band. We were awful and just wanted to be Black Flag, but we had our fun. On the way to practice one night, my now longtime friend Dave played a track on his car radio. It was jangly, buzzy, raw. It had a good range of instrumentation, the vocalist was full of emotion, and most important of all, it was Fucking Angry about something. Like really, really angry.
Now at this point you need to understand, my experience with punk was limited to Black Flag, The Stooges, and a couple of Sex Pistols records my mum gave me, so I had no clue about basically any modern punk bands. Dave told me this was a release off of an album he had found by a band called Ramshackle Glory, and that’s where the love affair started. For anyone interested in hearing the track, it was “More About Alcoholism” off of their second album Live the Dream. This Folk Punk crew of ragtag misfits had me entranced from the get go. The vocals weren’t like any I’d ever heard before; they were sharp, jumpy almost, as if the singer didn’t give a single shit about what he did to himself, as long as it sounded good. The mixture of punk chord stylings with banjo and accordion playing was the kind of artistry I needed in my life at that moment in time. I began looking deeper into this band’s discography. Who were these people? Where did they come from? Who’s writing these ingenious songs that I literally can’t get out of my head, even to this day?
It all came to a head when I started learning about their lead singer, Patrick Schneeweis, AKA, Pat The Bunny (no, not the kids book). Pat was an acoustic punk musician who at the time resided in Tucson, AZ. At the time he had nine albums under his belt, all with bands he started, and this is forgetting side projects. I looked into this massive discography, ranging from early work, to different bands, to solo work. I’ll be honest with you here, dear reader, I still haven’t finished Pat’s discography–there’s literally too much to sift through.
Anyway, I digress. Things started to change for me when I would hear things like name drops of other bands in one of the songs, and I’d eventually get around to checking them out (I’ll come back to this point.) There would also be name drops of different political writers. See, at the time Pat considered himself a through and through Anarchist. Things have changed since then but the music from that time still exists to inspire younger kids like myself. To me anarchism was always a dirty word. The term anarchy is associated with chaos, violence, disaster, so naturally is was skeptical. But he wrote different songs to show different sides of the modern day anarchist, almost saying “Yes, we do take part in protests, some of which are violent, and riots too. But our reasons are just, and we also build community gardens to help feed the homeless and impoverished people,” showing the duality of people that a large amount of society deems violent.
Because of this I started reading more, I went to my college library, took out books on anarchy, on different political theories. Prof. Ruth Kinna’s book A Beginner’s Guide to Anarchism was a massive help to me, and if you are in fact interested in getting into political theory I highly recommend this book to you. References from songs naming people like Karl Marx, John Zerzan, and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon gave me a helpful insight into who I should read, and reading these authors led to me reading more books by different authors. Going back to the point I made earlier, I remember there being references to the band Mischief Brew, of which Pat was a close friend. Listening to their music gave me even more inspiration to read, as they referenced authors such as Henry David Thoreau, which opened up yet another door of politics.
I think one of my most shameful punk confessions is that it took a reference from one band’s song to finally get me to listen to Minor Threat. I know, I know, they’re basically the fathers of hardcore punk and Ian Mackaye is basically a living legend, but I just never listened to them. And Minor Threat taught me at a time that there was more to life than the indulgences I was quickly falling into (sex, drugs, and sausage rolls). When I heard “Out of Step” I kind of realized at the time I was destroying my body and I needed to sort myself out, partially for my own health, partially because I was being a dumbass. Obviously listening to Minor Threat lead to Fugazi, Fugazi to Rites Of Spring, Rites Of Spring to almost any Emo band ever. These songs started to craft me into the person I am. I read because of them, took on board what they had to say. They taught me to listen more and to care more about others. Hell I went far enough to even start giving the money from my busking gig to the homeless and to even starting a fundraiser for local homeless youths.
These are the kind of songs that are important. They teach you to be a better person without even knowing it. They made me who I am.
My name is Sam, some people call me Germ. I’m an anarchist, I’m a writer, I care about my fellow man, and it’s all because of a man named Pat.