"WE DON'T WANT you/We want your machines/United Nations and NATO won't do/It's just the red, white, and blue/We got the Neutron Bomb," goes a popular punk anthem by Los Angeles punk band the Weirdos. Chances are that if you've been at a dance party with a DJ who has new wave/punk leanings, you've probably heard it wedged in between a Screamers song and something by latter-day aficionados like the Briefs or the Epoxies. With Bush's men scrambling to produce proof of Iraq's WMDs while staunchly ignoring the UN, the track couldn't sound more current, more right now. "We've Got the Neutron Bomb" is more than 25 years old, which is unfortunatebecause the song is still so appropriate.
"When we first started, it was post-Vietnam, post-Watergate," says the Weirdos' Cliff Roman when I ask him, via e-mail, how the current world climate an environment very similar to the one that informed the band's 1977 emergenceis coloring their reunion tour. "Gas lines, Cold War era, Reagan era: We had a lot of great material around us to comment on and use. Many of our songs were protest songs'Destroy All Music,' 'Message From the Underworld,' 'Happy People,' 'Fort U.S.A.,' 'Barbaric Americana,' 'What Will You Do?,' 'We Got the Neutron Bomb'we were, and still are, antiwar, antinuclear. Now things have come full cycle again. We're [in the] Bush era, War on Terror era, the Iraq Warmore of the same and in some ways even scarier. I guess some things never change."
Indeed. The new bands sound like the old bands, the rich are still getting richer while the poor get poorer, and actors still win California elections. Furthermore, a recent report on CNN.com highlighted Rhino Records' No Thanks: The '70s Punk Rebellion box set (see review, p. 36) and ended by pondering whether "another punk age may be just a paradigm away." Just as it was in '77 when Time magazine first put it on the coverand featured the Weirdos insidepunk is mainstream news.
"When we wrote 'We Got the Neutron Bomb,' many people were just apathetic about things, including the arms race and the proliferation of nuclear weapons," recalls Roman. "We were kind of scared. We weren't protesting the neutron bomb, specifically. We were protesting all of it, the whole weapons of mass destruction thing."
That there is, once again, so much to protest only strengthens the Weirdos' return, a West Coast tour heralding the release of their second archival issue, Weird World Volume Two (Frontier Records).
"Music is a powerful force," says Roman. "In many parts of the world, we'd be locked up or shot for writing some of these songs. Now that we're in the digital-Internet age, punk music has the potential to ignite things because of the power of the music and the lyrics, and because it can reach more people. Bringing change to the world wasn't our intention or motive, though. Making art was."
Aside from the obvious aforementioned underground hit, nowhere on the new release is art or protest more vital and contemporary than on the Warhead track, "Hey Big Oil." Warhead was the short-lived experimental side project of John and Dix Denney, the brothers who founded the Weirdos. Surviving copies of Warhead's one release, IfThen Else, are rare, and the track's inclusion in the collection is a real boon for fans.
"[Warhead] was a complete outsider creation using anything around the house for percussion and sounds," says Roman. "There are tape loops, detuned guitars, cheesy echo, and washing-machine sounds disguised as drums. We put 'Hey Big Oil' on Weird World Volume Two to add another sonic dimension and sound space."
Where the prototypical Weirdos track is a pounding, vaguely surf-influenced pop/punk song, "Hey Big Oil" is an ominous extrapolation of uncertainty and changeand it moves. Although the Weirdos' brand of clear-cut punk was directly influenced by the Ramones and later adapted by bands like Green Day, the bandperhaps one of the first to arise from an art classwere actually quite nuanced and purposeful, even in their now clichéd-looking skinny ties and leopard stripe pants.
Having not staged a proper tour since 1990, Roman says the current band, which includes co-founders John and Dix Denny and two pinch-hitters, Zander Schloss of the Circle Jerks and Sean Antillion of Gears, has a "more intuitive feel" now. Because it's been so long since they last played these songs live, he says the intensity and power have returned full-force. Roman cribs a phrase from the band's trademark song, to sum it up: "We got it!"
The Weirdos play Graceland at 5 p.m. Sat., Nov. 29. $10 adv/$12.