President Reagan can shove it! is the final knife into the governments back in the legendary song Superficial Love, written in 1980 by TSOL. That, of course, was an era when punk bands often wrote vitriolic, anti-government anthems and questioning authority was the norm, instead of the exception. Punk is more about fashion than function now, says Grisham, the central figure of this seminal band known as much for its political fervor as being at the forefront of the punk/goth movement.
Nowadays, with a President who is arguably more ripe for punk revolt, most punk bands are playing it safe, preferring to impress the buyers at Hot Topic and the programmers at Clear Channel and Viacom. The song See You Tomorrow from the bands fourth full-length album, Divided We Stand, proves they havent missed a step: Policies of death begin/your children suffer for your sins/ignorance and open hate/we reap the seed that we create. Throughout the album, Grisham expresses his rage, his doubts, his love and certainly his lust. Its quite evident he still finds the music rewarding, and the fans, who continue to come out in droves, clearly still find them relevant.
Its been a long and winding road for TSOLthe drugs, the fights, the prison time, the underage marriages, heavy drinking, the sobriety, the deaths theyve each lived more than a few lifetimes. And though much has changed in these mens lives, their central belief is the same. Our emotions have not wavered... I mean, what am I doing this for? It sure as fuck isnt the money, reminds Grisham.
There still is something he and the rest of TSOL are searching for, however. When asked what he hoped people get from this record, Jack replied, To feel united with something or someone No man is an island (John Donne), sometimes I feel like an island adrift and unconnected. Maybe someone will hear this and say they understand it or feel the same.
Divided We Stand does just that. It is a synchronized inferno of dark, melodic storytelling. A well timed verdict of all those around him, in his life, on his street and in society. Its clear Grisham is at his peak. He is focused and sharp, and has delivered his best overall release since 81s Dance With Me.
A reason for this might be that sobriety is now a central part of life for Mike, Ron and Jack. Grisham said goodbye to the party back in the late 80s after marrying a 14 year-old girl in Mexico during a common binge. Roche and Emory joined him some 10 years later after years of heroin abuse and lengthy prison sentences gave them two choices: sobriety or death (original drummer, Todd Barnes chose the latter in 1998). The band now frequently adopts friends who are nearing the point of no return by hiring them as crew members on the road, as well as holding impromptu meetings wherever necessary. Sobriety made me realize that I used to treat people like shit and that I am my brothers keeper, explains Grisham. Two years ago, while on The Warped Tour, the band even eBayd backstage passes for each show and allowed high bidders on stage to sing with the band. The money was all given to charity, but the whole plan wasnt looked upon fondly by Warped officials, and was quickly halted.
Dont think this new lifestyle has softened them any. Listen to these songs and youll see that while the music has evolved, what makes it TSOL completely remains. Again, is an instant classic, Ive bled the colors of your dreams/you brutally tore me/and I will never be in love again, with the haunting ferocity that reminds us TSOL should easily be bigger than Social Distortion or Bad Religion or any of their contemporaries, if only they were better businessmen.
From Fuck You Tough Guy, where Grisham stands up to the macho jocks that punk used to be a revolt against, but now sadly represents, to Electric, aptly titled as the song vibrates and races along with excitement, this group of punk rock elders (who influenced so many bands, including AFI, The Offspring and Pennywise) are still in a league of their own.
While many bands become passé after a few years, others stand the test of time and continue to write great songs and stay relevant. That is the epitome of TSOL, still crazy, still witty and still angry after all these years.