Punk Rock, and Stiff Little Fingers, Introduced "The Troubles" to Kids in the States

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Duff McKagan is the former bassist for Guns N' Roses and the leader of Seattle band Loaded. His column runs every Thursday on Reverb.
When punk rock first reared its head, people were introduced to the genre through bands like the Ramones, the Dictators or even as a late-comer to the Stooges. The music was rough and impactful, but otherwise, the songs were about cars, girls, fun, and dope.

In the UK and Ireland, though, there were political and class struggles that were pretty pointed and scary. In America, we did not have the same level of problems, economy-wise, that they had. And in America, we had nothing close to Imperialism intruding in on us.

When The Sex Pistols and The Clash records stormed into our U.S. record stores, we became educated on seemingly very exotic problems and situations that were happening 'over there'. Remember, there was no cable TV 24 hour news networks, and especially no Internets. They definitely didn't teach us about the disgruntled working class in the UK or the Troubles in Ireland in school. Punk rock music became much more than just a heavy riff with a snotty vocal.

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But still, the impact was pretty damn far-removed. I guess you could say that there was sympathy, but other than that, there was no REAL understanding from us on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

There was a scrappy band from Ireland called Stiff Little Fingers whose songs told a rather bloody story about a people under siege. I had no idea at the time that the first two records--Inflammable Material and Nobody's Heroes -- were personal stories of an area run red with blood and goreƚ Belfast and Northern Ireland.

In 1980, I was 15 years-old, and, of course, lived at home still. My mom was very supportive of me playing music, and she even pretended to take an interest in the Damned, Jam, Germs, Ruts, and whatever other records that I would play in our living room. She worked hard every day, and so when she got home, I would turn the volume down to give my poor ol' mother a break.

But often, I would see her looking through the jackets of the records I brought home. Some of you may think that she would (naturally) be looking for crude or inappropriate content. But if you knew my mom, Marie, you would probably agree, that she was just looking for something that she could find common ground for us to talk about. She was a nice and smart Irish lass after all; with a huge curiosity for what was 'out there' in the world.

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One day, I came home from some band practice or another, and was surprised to hear Stiff Little Fingers music coming from my house. I knew it was not next older brother Matt playing my records, 'cause he was ONLY into Jazz back then. As I entered our living room, I saw my mom holding the Nobody's Heroes jacket cover with tears streaming down her cheeks.

What I wasn't aware of until then, was that my mom had been following what were called "The Troubles" there in N. Ireland. Her father was from there, and we had a lot of family living in and around those parts (most have moved south to Dublin though by the '80s... the Troubles did that).

Political and, especially, religious strife had gotten that country into such a civil war of sorts, that there was a fear-based gridlock, choking the people as a whole. Terrorism and sabotage and car-bombs were a daily occurrence for many, many years.

"Bloody Sunday," "Suspect Device" (the British term for a supposed bomb), "Gotta Getaway" were just a few of the songs that suddenly came to life for me, as my mother gently explained the intricacies of what these "poor boys" in SLF must have been facing daily.

But that was then, and this is 2011. The Troubles are thankfully a thing of the past. But also thankfully, the Stiff Little Fingers are still alive and kicking some butt.

This Sunday, at El Corazon, may I suggest you go see Stiff Little Fingers, a band who hasn't been here for more than 15 years, but will hopefull be back before another 15 years goes by. I for one, am completely excited. Marie McKagan would've went if she were here...that lovely lass cared for these "boys."

 
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