Sunday, October 30, 2011

Forgotten Rebels: In Love With the System (1980)

“It’s time that we be nice to each other. And if somebody’s acting out of line, he gets his ass kicked. Racism is stupid. People should listen to our music for what it is. I was making fun of rednecks in “Bomb the Boats”. More than anything, I was just making fun of that. But I guess it came across the wrong way."
Mickey DeSadest

The Forgotten Rebels (more HERE) first album, 1980's In Love With the System, showed off the offense-for-offense shtick that would define the rest of their career. In that way, I'm glad I heard the more starry-eyed, glam-pop-punk album "This Ain't Hollywood..." first and this album second. In Love With the System is an unsettling mixture of charging guitar, glorious hooks and the sort of crude, provocative irony that is now solely the  domain of Juggalos and right-wing radio hosts. Of course, back then most listeners, myself included,  took these gallow-humoured lyrics - most of which aren't really offensive at all - as satire. Not for a second, then or now, did I believe that an actual racist would write a line like, "they're commies, sub-human subversives, commies, they're human living curses." It's clearly the kind of dumb-yet-clever phrasing that marks an unreliable narrator. That said, some of the rough charm of this album's lyrical excesses may have been lost to time. Blame it one the inexactitude known as  'political correctness' or more likely just on the simple fact that our mores are ever-changing. Either way, this album remains a Canadian punk milestone, just one we now might have to explain before we laud.

A1        Bomb The Boats And Feed The Fish
A2        I Think Of Her
A3        In Love With The System
A4        The Punks Are Alright
A5        Rich And Bored
A6        Time To Run
A7        Fuck Me Dead
B1        No Beatles Reunion
B2        You're A Rebel Too
B3        I Left My Heart In Iran
B4        Elvis Is Dead
B5        Bones In The Hallway

MRML readers, do the lyric for songs like "Bomb the Boats" harm this album or not? Let us know in the COMMENTS section (which is where you'll find the In Love With the System link).

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  2. It was pretty obviously not a serious song and I don't feel it damaged the album at all. It was stupid and offensive to many but I don't think anyone took it seriously. It's offensiveness is a little too over the top and the tone too goofy to take seriously.

    That said as far as being an effective satirical redneck mocking song it failed in that regard. A good example of such a song that does work would be "Slave To My Dick" by the Subhumans or "Fly The Flag" by Stiff Little Fingers.

    One reason for this could be other songs they recorded later on when they were signed to Enigma/Restless (I'm thinking of songs like "Ethiopia" and "Bomb Russia"). Like I said before not anything to take seriously but if it was satire, as opposed to just trying to be obnoxious and offensive, it was poorly done.

    Still a great album.

  3. I think the comparison to Fear over on the "Tomorrow" post is quite apt. I would rate this album in the same vein as I would Fear's "The Record" or the Angry Samoans "Back From Samoa" or the Meatmen's "We're the Meatmen". Obnoxious and offensive but not serious at all. Still not buying the satirical angle though.

  4. I love this album, you're doing the lord's work by posting it.

  5. Excellent blog
    I listed it on my blogroll at
    I hope you'll do the same

  6. Very difficult to take seriously the belief that the "Boat People" were some kind of fifth columnist commies, as they were fleeing Laos and Viet Nam and a visible minority.

    The "I don't want no foreign pricks to take my job away from me. My tax dollars paid their ransom, would they do the same for me?" opening lines might have rung true for some, but protectionism and unionism was rife back then, too with the soon-be-signed Canada – United States Free Trade Agreement.

    To me, that is satire.

    Like Hard Skin or Manic Hispanic.

    So, (he asks furtively) are we gonna see some discussion of the Dayglo Abortions' output? (Now that is the band I would consider to be Canada's Meatmen, DaveGeek...)

  7. The Dayglos as the Canadian Meatmen? Yeah, that totally works. Both trade in over the top personae of depravity and love skewering any viewpoint that takes itself too seriously. I've never partied with the Meatmen so I don't know how accurate their claims of perversion are compared to the Dayglos who generally backed it up pretty well.

    As for the Rebels qualifying as satirists I just really don't think they succeed. I feel it was more a case of being over the top obnoxious and offensive for it's own sake. Did they mean what they said in "Bomb The Boats"? I think it's pretty clear they did not. Was the song really a clever skewering of racist attitudes? Not anymore than I think Fear were satirists which I don't think they were at all. I suppose you could try to argue that they were in character a la Hard Skin (who are awesome) or Colbert but that gets belied by songs that don't play into it like "Beatles Reunion" or "Surfin' On Heroin". Songs which do play into the whole 70s punk ethos of being offensive being an end unto itself.

    I just think that once the Rebels started to run into a backlash from an increasingly moralistic scene they had to spell out that they weren't serious and then went the extra step of claiming to be some manner of satirists a la figures like Biafra. Given what I feel in my gut though and from what I've heard from people who knew the Rebels (notably Chris Houston in interviews where he discusses why he left that I remember) I do believe the claims of being anti-racist satirists is disingenuous though as the act of being satirists would require more thought than they seemed to put into what they did.

    It's just being obnoxious for its own sake which can be a lot of fun so long as no-one starts to take it too seriously (as Lee from Fear apparently did).

  8. DaveGeek
    I do think it's satire. I mean the Rebels used this kind of 'asshole narrator' trick in songs like 'Rich and Bored' to make fun of people they didn't like. I mean its true they were scatter-shot in their approach, which i think gives credence to your point that it's not necessarily effective satire (given the context).

    P.S. Yeah Fear are a fair comparison, Lee Ving was definitely playing a character to some degree (though how much I won;t venture a guess right now).

    Bless you.

    Every word of that song is satire. What kind of twenty-something punk talks about his 'tax dollars'.

    P.S. Dayglos?
    I dunno. I never really cared for their brand of humour. Maybe it's because they came from a more metal side of things as opposed to the pop side of things (like the Rebels) but I did always think that 'Argh Fuck Kill" was a pretty funny song...

    DG pt II
    "the act of being satirists would require more thought than they seemed to put into what they did"
    I get what you're saying. I think the Rebels liked to make fun of people. I think in that song they're making fun of racist people. Because they didn't have much on an agenda beyond shocking people (and making them sing-along!) the overall effect of this satire is muted (and Desadest admits that in the quote.
    So I'll stick to calling it satire but admit that time, context et al limit its effectiveness as such.

  9. I had a comment here, that blogger apparently ate, that questioned the palatability of the 'satire' of the Pork Dukes vs. Charged GBH's "Womb With A View' or The (Strawbs) Monks' albums 'Bad Habits' vs. 'Suspended Animation'.

    Any thoughts?

  10. Hey Jeffen

    Excellent series of Forgotten Rebels posts.I bought the first 3 albums back in the day.The Tarawna band Battered Wives released their first album a year or so before the Forgotten Rebels debut album.I specifically remember buying the Battered Wives album at your old Seymour Street haunt A&B Sound.Does the future bring a couple of Battered Wives posts?

    And 'Elvis Is Dead' is a classic.Actually ... is Elvis really dead?To quote Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper 'Elvis Is Everywhere'!


  11. Bio
    "palatability" is a reasonable requirement of satire, though I suppose that is still a matter of taste. While, as all Winnipeggers must, I LOVE the Monks 1st album their 2nd one seems a bit racist at times. (and the Monks whole career was built on a form of satire!)

    I've mixed feelings on BW. That 1st album has some great songs on it, they're particular brand of shock seemed a bit rote.
    That said, maybe it's time for a post that covers "Ubangi Stomp"..


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