Max and the Marginalized: Tuesday, July 15, at Modified Arts
By Clay McNear
Max Bernstein, Jon Ryggy, and Dave Watrous -- the musicians who comprise the political-punk band Max and the Marginalized -- will be shocked by what I'm about to do.
What's that, you ask? Lump them in with Vanilla Ice and Hannah Montana. And Insane Clown Posse and the Brady Kids. And MC Hammer and the whole motley crew of '80s hair-metal bands.
Why, you ask? Hey, if you write and record a song a week, post it for download as part of your aesthetic oeuvre, and utilize that process as a way to get attention, it's a gimmick, dudes, and there's a razor-thin line separating you from a Max Factor dirtbag like Marilyn Manson.
One of Max and the Marginalized's weekly songs "Weeknights at Six"
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Some pretty fucking great rock 'n' roll moments have come out of gimmickry. Gene Simmons' serpentine tongue. Angus Young's schoolboy knickers. Devo's lamp-shade chapeaus. The New York Dolls flopping around on stage like a bunch of department-store dummies. Iggy Pop flinging himself into a field of shattered glass. Screamin' Jay Hawkins rising from his coffin like a screeching banshee. Spinal Tap's volume-to-11 amps.
Nothing remotely so memorable has come out of the Max and the Marginalized camp thus far, but then, the L.A. band's only been with us for 30-something songs -- and weeks. Their best quality is a bludgeoning topicality that, on the inverse, is often used more as a club than a carrot. Their least-appealing trait is a shrillness that they, the converted, blast out to the pagan unwashed. Here's an example from their personal MySpace manifesto:
"In a time when there is more of a need for people to sing about political and social change than ever, bands singing about their little eight-foot-wide social circles multiply like rats. We write and record a song once a week about something happening at the moment, post if for people to hear and share and move on to the next song and topic. There are political bands that will write a song about the war and coyly cross their fingers and hope that it goes on long enough for their song to still be relevant enough to make the charts at their album's street date. That is fucking nonsense. Songs about now should be heard now."
Reactions to the above: 1) Conversion never works that way, guys. 2) That last line -- "Songs about now should be heard now" -- is perfect. Next time, you should leave it at that.
Alas, it won't happen, 'cause Max and crew are not the types to let the tea leaves fall where they may. Their polemical volume is stuck at 11, and subtlety is not in their repertoire. Every aspect of their agenda -- which is bashing everyone else's agenda -- is spelled out in stark relief, so that even the deaf can hear. The usual cast of real-life American anti-heroes and villains roams through both Max Bernstein's screed-like lyrics and blogs (Maxmarginal Wordpress), but Max doesn't offer any particularly new suggestions or viable solutions. He's just flinging invective from left to right for a change.
Now, I'm a big fan of Sturm und Drang for Sturm und Drang's sake, but I'm also semi-deaf from a lifetime of listening to it, so I actually appreciate it when someone screams in my ear. However, there's another part of me that's become bored by, inured to, and occasionally antagonistic toward the deafening bluster and roar of rock 'n' roll musicians who've lost sight of the fact that rock is an entertainment medium, not a bully pulpit.
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Max and his cohorts don't seem like blustering dolts. They're a good band, but their gimmick -- however honorable the intent -- is a slippery slope. If you're a musician, the only currency you have is your tunes, and if people start to tune 'em out, what have you wrought?
If you want to take the radicalized Sixties as an appropriate example -- Vietnam, Iraq, etc. -- the result was the rise of the Me Decade, which hosted many of those charmed rock moments mentioned above, but also provided a fertile birthing ground for the Bay City Rollers, the Partridge Family, the Captain and Tennille, Little Jimmy Osmond, Menudo, disco, hair metal, Color Me Badd, New Kids on the Block, the new New Kids on the Block, Milli Vanilli, Phish, the Spice Girls, Ace of Base, Right Said Fred, Aqua, Slipknot, Scottish pirate-metal band Alestorm, and every God-awful teeny- and tweenybopper who's ever appeared on the Disney Channel or American Idol.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's only rock 'n' roll, not the end of the world.
Max and the Marginalized are scheduled to perform on Tuesday, July 15, at Modified Arts, 407 East Roosevelt Street. Dakota Jeane opens the all-ages show. The doors open at 7 p.m. The cover is $8. Call 602-462-5516 or see Ticketweb, Modified Arts, or Max and the Marginalized.