THE DEFIANT: A BAND SO GOOD YOU DON'T EVEN NEED TO HEAR THEM PLAY
by Rob Loggia
Tuesday, September 5, 2023
When you make your peace with authority, you become authority.
This was an observation made by Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors who likely would have preferred to be remembered as an American Poet. Active during the peak of the hippy "revolution" of the 60's, The Doors occupy a strange place in the history of the period. They might have played at Woodstock but, as organist Ray Manzarek put it, they "were stupid and turned it down." This was probably for the best, as their front-man had already been mocking the sincerity of the entire movement in song lyrics and in interviews. Had he shown up in a dark mood, or consumed too heady a mix of drugs, Woodstock may have gone down an entirely different road. Maybe it would have been for the better after all.
A cornerstone of the movement that culminated at Woodstock was the idea of being against The Establishment, often referred to as "The Man" in passing and in the music and literature of the era. This trope is so present in residue of the period that it is impossible to disclaim it now with a simple: that's not what they were saying... It was said, plenty. It was also shouted and sang and painted on walls with spray paint.
In light of subsequent history, Morrison's accusation might seem obvious to a modern person. His accusation was that most of them didn't mean it. He thought that the population of hippies was predominantly composed of phonies - his word not mine - but in this context people that would ultimately make peace with authority. People that wore the right clothes, knew all the buzzwords and the right people, but that wouldn't know a principle if it came to life and hit them across the face.
Yeah, walk across the floor with a
Flower in your hand
Trying to tell me no one understands
Trade in your hours for a handful of dimes
Gonna' make it, baby, in our prime
Released in 1968, probably written earlier, "5 to 1" openly mocks the hippies while accurately describing what actually did end up happening. A good number of the true believers died, and the rest of the movement scattered. These people convinced themselves that they were "growing up" and that this was a good thing. They took the government jobs, consoling themselves with they idea that they would be good, responsible officials. It was all OK. Peace on earth...yadda yadda.
What they meant by fighting against The Man, you see, was resisting only certain kinds of authority. Bad authority. You gotta understand, man... things were different, man. Now that they were becoming authority, things would be better. Hey, I got a job writing speeches for a congressman... now we can trust the government. It's all good! Nice paycheck, too. Benefits. And with a whimper, an entire generation of "die-hard" anti-establishment hippies had kids, settled down and bought station-wagons, and became the new establishment. It is a sad story... a disgrace, actually. But at least we got Jefferson Starship out of the deal, amirite?
How did Morrison know? As a poet, he was by necessity a habitual and keen observer of people; his poems are mostly about people, life and the relationships and perceptions of people. Furthermore, he was also a first rate cynic, and I believe one reason he saw through the phonies so early and easily is that he expected them to be there. He knew people, and hippies were people. He had been in too many rooms with hundreds of people present but only a handful that weren't full of shit. Scale that up, and you have a movement!
This reality touched Morrison even into his death. After he died, bandmates Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger wanted to commercialize the music, something drummer John Densmore knew Morrison was dead set against. The fact was so obvious that no one bothered to deny this inconvenient truth - they just chose to try and muscle past it. Densmore stood his ground, defiant, fighting off the venture for many years. He refused the paycheck and spent some of his own money to fight, a bold act of defiance against unfair and disloyal pressure from others. Because he had his principles, and he believed it was the right thing to do.
Fast forward. 1977. Punk music and punk culture is ripping across the world. Punks are a different breed than hippies, but the old anti-authority trope of the 60's is back in a big way. The punks were even more clear about it; no beating around this bush. No source of authority escaped attention from the full-throated angst of the wave of angry punks the 70’s gave birth to. Along with the music came a new aesthetic - torn clothes, wild makeup, mohawks and a wide range of unconventional fashion choices made punks unmistakable when one came upon them. They stuck out like sore thumbs. Surely these people must mean it.
As before, a small core of them likely did. And, also as before, someone within this core, at the very heart of the movement, noticed that many of them were – you guessed it – actually full of shit. This time the seer was Johnny Rotten, and the way he put it was that the punk vibe was mere "fashion" for the bulk of punks. They didn't really mean it. They may have been angry in general, yes. But, ultimately, they too would take the payoff and grow up, leaving it all behind and making their peace with authority. Many assumed Rotten was just being edgy saying something like that. After all, he said so many things! But, alas, he was dead-on-balls accurate.
An act, unlike the genuine article, can be discarded at any time or traded in once something better comes along. In the case of the punks, it took even less time and arguably less of a payday for the movement and the people to fold than it did for the hippies.
The art and fashion of course stayed with us, even as the "revolution" turned to dust. New punk bands are formed every year, and the ethos, while perhaps more in tune with our times, is the same as it ever was. Punk means and equals defiance. You cannot remove one from the other. You certainly cannot reconcile the notion of making peace with authority to the truthful expression of punk art. It wouldn't be convincing at all, because the punk ethos has always been anti-authority, regardless of whether the subject of a particular song or the focus of a band is political, emotional or sociological.
Unless you are cynical enough to see these people for what they are right away, sussing them out will be difficult. They are actively playing the role convincingly enough for most people to buy it, and all the other fakers will rush to support them. Your first hint that someone may not be what they seem would likely come from the collision of their claimed beliefs with real life events. In the case of people acting like punks, life might present a choice where the person can either jump towards authority or recoil from it. I think it is fair and reasonable to expect that a genuine article punk rocker would recoil from authority. When they don't, it becomes a pretty big tell that they don't really mean what they say, and are not what they claim to be. Once you see it, it's impossible to unsee.
So here is my review of The Defiant, a relatively new band formed by bona fide punks. Written without having listened to a single note of their music. These punks were disrespectful enough to authority so that when authority commanded them to put a foreign substance into their body, they refused. When threatened, or is it nudged, that their entire livelihood would be at stake and that they'd never work in 'dis business again, they still said no. Fuck you. They didn't want it, and they weren't going to be bullied. They were censured, canceled, kicked out of their bands in some cases, and left standing metaphorically and in some cases actually alone to pick up the pieces. Pariahs in the land of the fair and the strong and the wise; scorned by honest men like Dr. Fauci who only wanted to save these filthy, degenerate schmucks from themselves.
I may not have heard The Defiant’s music, but I’ve heard enough. I was a baby during the punk era. But I've always been a punk at heart, as in both a fan of punk music and an advocate for the anti-authority ethos that permeates punk. Never really looked like one; that's a different story but also telling. We'll just say that I'm not too interested in listening to known poseurs, even if the music is "good" by some aesthetic standard. There's enough "good" shit that's also sincere, and I'd much prefer to fill my airwaves with the real deal.
There is more than just my preferences at stake in this instance. If The Defiant put out an album and people actually buy it, that will help foster a future where they don't lose for taking their principled stand. So that money is already well spent. If they rock it out, that's just gravy. You’ll get a a fancy drink coaster out of it at the very least. Do they even do CDs anymore?
The grim reality of living today is that the ideas and supports for individuality, self-sovereignty and personal freedom are under attack from all sectors. The intrusion of authority into our lives stands at unprecedented levels, with several steep curves towards greater intrusion looming in the distance and awaiting ripeness. Jim Morrison would probably vomit if he saw the world now.
The end game is clear for anyone that cares to see it: a world population of obedient, dependent drones that will comply with every directive "the experts" and "good government" dream up. If we don't support push-back where we find it now, that push-back will fade into quiet compliance. After surviving the hippy "revolution" and the punk "revolution," authority will finally triumph for good and all. Maybe we won’t win in the end, but we don’t have to make it easy for the bastards.
For these reasons, I urge every member of my diminishing readership to check these guys out. Like and share their stuff in all the media channels - help them succeed however you can. Do the same for the countless others that have put it on the line when it was not easy or popular to do so. Not all heroes wear mohawks, and there have been artists in every genre, to satisfy all tastes and styles, that were personally affected by the covid witch hunts. If you believe as I do - that this is not the way - the thing to do is to support these artists while shunning those that collaborated with and supported the menacing grip of authority.