A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring. I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up. I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever. Enjoy!
Today we have “What the Fuck?” by Crass, off their 1981 album “Penis Envy”.
A town that is no more,
“My god”, you say, “what have I done?”
But you won’t heed what’s gone before,
“What pity?”, you say, “There is none.”
And so you drive the world to war,
But this war will not be lost or won,
The desolation that you’ve seen but never saw
Is the lesson that you teach, but never learn.
Where does one begin with Crass? I started, appropriately enough, with their first album, “The Feeding of the 5000”. I picked it up towards the end of my college years, finding a used copy, I believe at 3D CD in York. When I got into punk in the early/mid 90’s, the scenes that I involved myself in were awash in mid-90’s emo, DC hardcore, East Bay pop-punk, etc, but I didn’t really have many contemporaries that were overly into Crass at the time. I got the CD and listened to it a few times and mostly set it aside at that time.
Then I moved to Pittsburgh after graduating college. The Pittsburgh scene was a bit more interested in Crass, largely due to the influence of Aus-Rotten who adopted a certain amount of the peace punk aesthetic. The Crass logo was more prominently featured on those who populated the punk scene here. I think it would be by being in a band with Jim Robinson that I would really get to appreciate Crass. Jim was borderline Crass obsessive and talked frequently about the band’s music, ideologies, history, etc over the years of our friendship and our being in a band together. I still only owned “The Feeding of the 5000” but I listened to it much more and really began to appreciate what Crass did with their unique sound, their politics and their performances.
A couple years back I picked up the “The Story of Crass” book by George Berger, a wonderful look at how the band came together, their history as a band and their lives post Crass. It’s a great examination of what anarchism meant to the band, how they chose to live out that ideology and Crass’ impact on anarchism, punk rock and British politics. The book also gives a good re-telling of the rise of Thatcher, the Falklands War and other bits of British political life that I wasn’t very familiar with. Definitely a good read.
Having read the book, I delved a bit deeper into the Crass discography. I picked up “Penis Envy” from the Carnegie Library (isn’t it great that you can get “Penis Envy” out of the library?). “Penis Envy” is their third-album and all vocals are done by Eve Libertine and Joy De Vivre (Steve Ignorant doesn’t appear on the record). There is a more feminist emphasis in the lyrics on the album. Overall my impression of this record is that it is more developed and thought-out in many ways but lacks the catchy sloganeering. In some ways this benefits the record but of course when you think of Crass you are more likely to think of “Do They Owe Us A Living?” or “Banned From The Roxy” just because they are easier to sing along with.
“What The Fuck” starts out with a sound college of fuzzed-out murmuring voices with some sung chanting off in the distance (is that a Catholic prayer?) for the first minute and a half or so. While the lyrics are pretty classic anti-war Crass lyrics, the song is a fairly slow tempo, minimalist arrangement that goes through several movements with the background singing and sung/spoke vocals overtop holding it together. At 6:44 long, it is certainly the longest Crass track that I am familiar with; a big difference from the blazing 1:25 blast that is “Do They Owe Us A Living?”.
Even as someone who enjoys Crass, I realize they are not for everyone. Having said that they are certainly an important part of punk history and would highly recommend seeking out their music for at least a couple spins. Also, as mentioned above, the book “The Story of Crass” is must read reading for those interested in the roots of punk rock.
Well? Do They?