FOREWORD: Got to hang out with ‘80s post-punk marvels, the Descendents, in late 1996. Singer Milo Aukerman had a severely sore throat and was coughing up blood so I couldn’t get quotes from him prior to a resounding Coney Island High show. But his long-time band mates filled me in on Everything Sucks and past endeavors at a Manhattan hotel. Soon after, the Descendents called it a day. But not before leaving a trail of noisy hardcore behind. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Before Nirvana erupted in ’91, America’s hardcore scene had been on the decline after peaking around ’83. Iconoclastic bands such as Husker Du, the Replacements, Black Flag, and Minor Threat dwindled, then disappeared, while lame faux-metal hair bands such as Ratt, Winger, and Poison assaulted conservative Reagan youths.
Even teenage sensation Milo Aukerman and the Descendents seemed to fade into oblivion with his hardcore brethren after ‘82s furiously juvenile Milo Goes To College and its quintessential punk follow-up I Don’t Want To Grow Up. Fellow Descendents Bill Stevenson (drums), Karl Alvarez (bass), and Stephen Egerton (guitar) then joined ex-Dag Nasty vocalist Dave Smalley (replaced by Scott Reynolds) in the still functioning All. But they haven’t achieved the critical underground notoriety the Descendents once amassed.
After receiving his Ph.D in biochemistry, Milo became anxious, yearning for the hyper-kinetic release only his purging quasi-political combo could offer. And on the newfangled Everything Sucks, the re-formed Descendents maintain the crisp clarity and less guttural approach favored by All. Milo’s venomous lyrics are now easier to comprehend; forsaking any puerile tendencies previously encountered. The frantic rush of “This Place” blasts through with a mighty fury while roaring complaint “Everything Sucks Today” and tongue-in-cheek “Sick-O-Me” unleash inner rage. Anarchic Sex Pistols knockoff, “Suburban Home,” mockingly retaliates ‘I wanna be stereotyped/ I wanna be classified.’
Plagued by throat problems stemming from the previous night’s show, Milo shakes hands with me, then dismisses himself before heading off to the hospital for treatment.
Band mate Stevenson explains, “Our vehicle broke down in Kansas after the first show. We’re a bit rundown. The mechanics of touring sucks. The hour-and-a-half onstage is great, but I’ve been riding in the back of a U-Haul with no heat.”
While Stevenson denies that any pre-calculated sociopolitical implications or global concerns affect the Descendents muse, they clearly indict Clinton for criminal drug activity in “Caught.” Reactionary square pegs edging close to suicidal fascination, this crusty quartet disassociates itself from MTV fashion, trendy airheads, phony hardcore mediocrity’s, and hypocritical authoritative figureheads.
“We started young, barely able to play our instruments, and weren’t interested in finding a musical direction. The record industry is in direct conflict with making pure, innocent music. We kept hands on with our approach and didn’t get caught up with the tedium of being classified,” Stevenson retrospectively observed.
“Recording blows. It’s sterile. We now make simple, straight-ahead music in our studio, but it’s a tedious process. We’re so anal retentive it becomes a big detail fest,” he says. “With Milo Goes To College, we were fully rehearsed and prepared, but I Don’t Want To Grow Up was more off-the-cuff with more loose ends. At that juncture, we were just getting back to playing after Milo’s college hiatus. But with our new album it was full speed ahead since it’s just an augmented incarnation of All. We only had to get Milo up to par.”
After former original guitarist Frank Navetta and his replacement, Ray Cooper, left the Descendents, agile Utah-bred axeman Karl Alvarez came aboard. Listening to a stock splattering of hippie rock (Hendrix, Santana, Zappa, and the Beatles) and avant-Jazz (Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman, and Miles Davis) while growing up, Alvarez then became infatuated with the awesome punkenergy of the Germs, Black Flag, and the Descendents.
“The Descendents and Black Flag dealt with real situations which I could specifically identify with: “I’m A Loser” and “Jealous Again.” Ultimately, it became imperative to play songs about personal experiences. In Salt Lake City, the capital of Mormon-dom, there’s sufficient precedence to wear a blue mohawk. And through lack of acceptance in school my punk interest manifested itself. I just wanted to play out, kick ass, and help punk get hyped,” Alvarez infers.
“But the reasons to get involved have changed. I enjoyed the family approach of hammering out songs and taking them to the streets each night. Back in the ‘80s, record labels worried about punk’s accessibility. Now, the scene is bigger and it has caught a wave of interest. But many bands play the same stuff. It has become a qualification to suck in order to get famous,” he adds.
When asked why Milo decided to leave science and reinvigorate his musical career, Alvarez admits, “He had a hankering for science, moved to Wisconsin, and finished his doctorate. But he needed the release only a band could bring. In science, it’s one on one with the elements. You can’t interact and that becomes frustrating.”
The following night, the Descendents hit the Coney Island High stage. Milo, after coughing up blood the day before, takes a few songs to get adjusted. Balancing old songs with new, they please the sweat-drenched audience with nary a moment’s rest. And while some skeptical fans may’ve doubted the Descendents integrity and purpose, clearly this wasn’t a lame comeback attempt a la the Sex Pistols and Kiss. And the reason is because Milo and company still write vibrant, simple songs etched in the spirit of disgruntled youth.