A little clarification about yesterday's post and maybe a little back peddaling: Our intent was not to crucify the Popes (ba-dum-cha!) for crimes against humanity or for somehow ruining music. Seriously. Before yesterday's post we actually went back and listened to Got Fired, and realized what a clever, touching and really genius piece of wax that was. Those songs stay with you, and can you really say the same for bands like, say, Face to Face or NOFX (insert hundreds of other bands here at your pleasure)? Do you know how many times we sang those songs with old friends and new, on car rides down every suburban highway, over two or three summers and falls and springs? How many girls we longed to smooch to that record on the Ferris Wheel, how many people we tried to convert to Pope-dom by repeated playings of "Writing A Letter", how many King Cobra 40s we plotted to drink, how many parties we plotted to crash, how many excuses we conjured up because we were going to get home late again and maybe the Moms in their bathrobes would let us use the Popes as an excuse again? More new bands SHOULD be ripping them off, because punk seems to have lost so goddamn much of it's heart over the years in the hunt for the almighty $ buck-o-la. Which is a testament to the Popes' legacy, whether said legacy should ultimately be kept in a tight bottle on a tall shelf, or tossed about Johnny Appleseed-style for the youngin's. It's such a fragile idea these days. Can it bear fruit in 2006? Do people release their own 45s anymore? Does punk have a heart? Or are we too old to hear the beating?
Our description of that final show we saw them play at the Empty Bottle was a little harsh perhaps, or maybe our writing haste yesterday made for some misleading conclusions for writer and readers alike. We weren't really snickering and being snarky AT the band, apart from the mild heckling (an old Popes show tradition, for those who care to remember). Honestly, we all thought they deserved better than they got, and that night was kind of a reckoning for us probably as much as for them. Or maybe it was just another show? It really isn't a crime against humanity to bland yourself a tad or make a shuffle towards the mediocre to sell records, which we think they did eventually do over the years. Plenty of bands have, and our dislike of that tactic didn't really have to do with scene politics or spheres or anything like that other than the songs just weren't as good as they had been, or at least the energy didn't seem as potent (ummm, Liz Phair?). And the band didn't really get very much, in the end, for their trouble. But, considering what the marketplace of music has built up to mean as "quality" and "success" over the years (and yes, Victory Records, we are looking your way as we type this), the final Popes recordings seem very convincing and earnest, at the very least, and there is something to be said for that.
In the most cold subjective terms, the Popes were a failure. And that is sometimes the greatest rock story of all; that the true believers are the only ones there left to notice your fall, and assure you that you haven't, in fact, failed or fallen at all. The real believers are the ones to whom the band gave voice, a voice that truly spoke to and for them. We should know, because we were real believers once upon a time. We lost that, but so what? Who can deny the true that privilege? It is the final redeeming power of music. Ask the Boss what he's been up to for the last 35 years. What we WERE snickering at that night, probably, is that we had lost some of that privilege for ourselves, and that it probably had more to do with us, in the end, than it had to do with the Smoking Popes. And we weren't grown up yet enough to admit it. Instead, we spent the next few years projecting on the Locust and VSS rip-off bands. Ha ha!
So a few adjustments in our attitude are in order. We hereby bid the Smoking Popes much success, even if Victory continues to give us the hives. Next time we see Josh C. or Eli or Matt on the train, maybe we'll try and say hello, and ask them about the old days, even though they won't remember us from the front row of so many Saturday nights. We'll try and remind them about that time at Scraps when they went into "Breakin", and the band was throwing off serious sparks and one of the half-pipes nearly collapsed from all the excited kids jumping up and down, everywhere, a tremendous sound of crashing and sweetest violence and how the world, our world, was impossibly big that night, perhaps never bigger or more beautiful or more true in our heart of hearts, and how we are now a few weeks from 32 years old, and life has taken us to some places dark and dismal since, but how that night always, always shines a light.