Flipper: Generic Flipper

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There's that stereotype of parents unable to appreciate the music of their children's generation. It's fairly standard sitcom fare, really. You know, the tendency TV parents have to declare some hip band's music to be "racket" while angrily demanding that the stereo volume be lowered to more reasonable decibel levels. Invariably, the tableau shifts from the thoroughly un-chic parents to the eyerolling teen, grudgingly turning the knob towards low volume while lamenting his or her tragic situation: living under the style-cramping rule of draconian and uncool parents.


Other than having overheard my father describe "today's rock music" as "a bunch of screaming and yelling" at the time Duran Duran and Tears for Fears dominated the airwaves, my parents never really complained about the music I would listen to. I distinctly remember discussing the Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist with my mother, explaining why I thought it was a good idea for me to listen to it despite the presence of the infamous Parents Music Resource Center sticker warning us that the music had explicit lyrics and hearing my mom respond to my impassioned explanation with "Well, if that's what you get out of it, okay." So, even the PMRC's cautionary branding of explicit records did little to spark teen-parent acrimony in my house. (Of course, "explicit" doesn't actually mean "dirty" or anything . . . just that the words are clearly stated and relatively unambiguous. You know, there aren't any metaphors. The irony, of course, is that "explicit lyrics" is itself coded language, an implicit way of informing people that taboo subjects like penises, suicide, the occult, and such were on an album. Then again, Tipper Gore couldn't even utter the word "masturbation" when talking about Prince's "Darling Nikki," but I digress . . . )

Anyway.

So, back to my childhood. As I was saying, my parents were remarkably accepting of my musical tastes growing up. I mean, they actually liked the Ramones and didn't seem to mind my owning records by bands with names like Dead Kennedys, the Sex Pistols, or the Circle Jerks. So, really, I never had that experience of having to defend my loud, aggressive music from the onslaught of my parents' critiques. Except once.

I remember I was sitting in my bedroom, playing my Generic Flipper cassette when my mother happened to walk past. I went to switch off the tape, anticipating some hallway-to-bedroom banter and, as it happened, cut off during "Sex Bomb" just as the saxophones were hitting their screechy crescendo. For whatever reason, my mother assumed I was trying to hide my music from her and I got -- for the one and only time -- the "if you're going to spend your money on garbage . . . " speech.

So, Flipper got to be the garbage band and Generic Flipper got to be the marker of the generation gap separating my parents from me.

This memory, in part, has earned Flipper a special place in my heart. The other part, of course, is that the album my mother thought was garbage is actually really, really good.

You see, Generic Flipper is one of those wonderful disks that emerged out of the early years of the punk scene, unencumbered by the rather restrictive stylistic conventions that would come to dominate the genre as the 1980s American punk scene coalesced around increasingly fast, gritty-sounding hardcore bands. No, alongside Reagan Youth, Minor Threat, or MDC, Flipper sounds downright weird. Their songs are slow. There's hand-clapping. The sludgy influence of Black Sabbath is more than mere seasoning on the band's sound.

Still, they're undeniably punk. It's not like the Sex Pistols were a speedy band and the X-Ray Spex made the saxophone an acceptable part of a punk band's sonic arsenal. The Minutemen and Black Flag brought jazz experimentation into the scene and . . . well, you get the picture. What I am saying is that Flipper is one of those early bands that don't sound like a punk band is supposed to sound while sounding punker than almost anything passing for punk nowadays.

Although bands like the Melvins often get more credit for setting the groundwork for grunge, Flipper, in many ways, can lay at least as strong a claim to being the first truly proto-grunge outfit. Drawing upon the same brand of frustrated nihilism one associates with such SoCal contemporaries as Fear and the Germs, Flipper broods where their peers seethe, slowing tempos and moaning rather than spitting their despairing lyrics.

Still, despite their slower, heavier (and largely bass-driven) sound, Flipper exudes considerably more hope than do many of their faster, angrier-sounding counterparts. In "(I Saw You) Shine," for instance, Will Shatter sings of a friend encountering the same walls into which Dostoevsky's famed Underground Man claims man keeps crashing in his self-destructive confrontation with the absurd. Like Melville's Ahab, however, the speaker refuses to relinquish the hope of bursting through the existential malaise his friend seems unable to penetrate. In the end, while no light creeps through the chinks in the wall, the fact his friend managed to "shine" in his futile attempts at escape inspires the speaker to claw his way through the melancholy and confusion rather than wallow in self-pity. "The wounded deer," as Emily Dickinson tells us, does indeed "leap highest," it would seem.

Of course, elsewhere on the album, the lyrics espouse a rather stoic approach to existence. For example, in "Shed No Tears," one of the record's most immediately catchy tracks, the chorus instructs us to "shed no tears" for the violence in the world, insisting that "No tears [be] wasted / No sorrow, no pity" be bestowed upon that which is natural, that which is, ultimately, "No pity, no loss." With Schopenhauerean flair, Will (ha., no pun intended) maintains that we mustn't grieve for the suicide for "He has made his choice, the pain of life is great."

On "Life," however, Will admits that though he "too [has] sung death's praise," he's "not going to sing that song anymore," opting instead for a Nietzschean Yes:
Yes, I've figured out what
Living is all about
It's life! Life!
Life is the only thing worth living for.
Yes, life! Life!
Not to be left out, Bruce Loose adds his own brand of nihilistic songsmithing to the mix, as well. On the album's stellar opening track, we hear him ask a series of rhetorical questions ranging from "Ever want to cry so much / You want to die?" and "Ever think you're smart and then find out you aren't?" to "Ever see a couple kissing and get sickened by it?" and "Ever wish the human race didn't exist / And then realize that you're one, too?" before admitting "I have" and concluding, somewhat stoically, "So what?"

The stoicism continues on "Way of the World," a song Epictetus might well have sung had the Phrygian lived in the suburbs of Los Angeles. "The way of the world," Bruce sings, is that there will always be "hearts no longer beating," "eyes that cannot see," "fingers that cannot touch," and "legs that have ceased to walk." We simply have to accept that many of our "dreams [will be] left empty and blank," and our "kisses undelivered."

So, yeah, the nihilism is pretty thick on Generic Flipper, but unlike many of their their opiate-drenched descendants, Flipper does not wallow in their despair. Recalling Samuel Beckett's famous quip "[w]hen you're up to your neck in shit, the only thing to do is sing," Flipper chooses life, even if it stinks.

Highlights:

Track 1. "Ever." Ever try to clap your way into a better mood? Flipper has . . .

Track 3. "Shed No Tears." This is as close to a sludge-punk sing-along as you will ever hear. Though the melody is a tough one -- think of a roller coaster taking a particularly heavy turn -- you cannot help but to feel a bit like toe-tapping when "Shed No Tears" comes on the stereo.

Track 8. "Living for the Depression." A pretty straight-up punk song with all of Flipper's trademark SoCal disaffection.

Sobriquet Grade: 91 (A-).

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This page contains a single entry by Sobriquet Magazine published on December 2, 2008 1:12 AM.

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