Be it from jaded age or being worn thin after all these years of shows, it is a rare moment for a band to feel substantial out of the gate. Most plant seeds when initially arriving on the block but it isn’t until talking about them two years later (Loteria immediately comes to mind), in an almost flash of blinding realization, the words come out in conversation with the same force as Eric Stoltz finally seeing Watts for the absolute babe she was as it registers a band has quietly become IT for you. Catching Secret Bad Boys live was different; the first song amounted right away to a whole lot of “shit, I could get into this,” standing out as one of the few bands this side of Bad Sports to translate petulance into an endearing magnetism. Time and again we have seen bands attempting to do the same yet leaving us with nothing more than the expected disappointment and disgust often brought on by dudes pretending their nonchalant arrogance somehow by default elevates them above the rest of us. Gore Vidal once said, “art is not a democracy,” this group validates his argument. I nearly forgot how it feels to witness a band getting it right.
Somewhere around their fourth song, so like two minutes into the set, a wave of nostalgia swallowed me from when I was in first or second grade, this would have been around ’91, I spent weeks trying to convince my parents to buy tickets for my uncle (who was maybe seventeen at the time) and I to see Metallica play at Deer Creek, a twenty-five thousand capacity amphitheater in Noblesville,IN. My dad had taken me to see Bon Jovi and Pat Benatar play the same venue just a few weeks earlier so the predictable screams of “you just don’t want me to go because you hate Metallica” were heard over and over again around the house. My whiny entitled asshole shtick eventually ended with two tickets sitting in that glorious Ticketmaster envelope, my uncle and I sternly being granted permission to go, counting that we would meet two stipulations; I had to take a blanket with me in case it got cold and my uncle had to promise he wouldn’t smoke pot in the car. We left the blanket on the backseat and my uncle ended up in an atypical blowout argument with my father after returning my grandmother’s car reeking of weed. The opener was Glenn Danzig who at that point was nonexistent to me, the man may be five foot three but for forty-five minutes he was a twenty foot tall unfathomable god. A man died slam dancing within a stone’s throw of where I was standing that night, I lost my voice screaming along to every word to a band who were my only glimpse into a world I would spend the rest of my life enthralled by, and all of my uncle’s friends made me feel I belonged as part of something great. That was the first time I felt the universe alive with an electric togetherness. So I’m thinking of all of this as my focus clears back to the here and now of Secret Bad Boys starting into the next song and for the first moment in years the feeling of collective cohesiveness blinded me yet again in the light of music helping us to feel we belong. I’m not talking of belonging to some subculture as if it were some club to aspire towards. No, here it is the subconscious undercurrent of an ethereal bond in the wake of the calamitous disenfranchisement we exist in for the bulk of our waking lives. It is not what this band is saying, it’s not even how they are saying it, there is something esoterically significant about them, their coming out of left field precisely when we seem to need it the most even gives a romantic gloss to the whole thing. Our collective undoubtedly has been less than whole since faux-psychedelia became the modus operandi with its dribble of talent washed below an absoluteness of mediocrity causing those with grit and a constitution based in substance to shrug their shoulders in defeat to ride off into the sunset of our lives. Secret Bad Boys are Alan Ladd all hunched over his horse, edging off into eternity as the mountains and the horizon gave him a heroes welcome into the great beyond.
You can fall into any bullshit hole in this country and find some band pretending to be introvertedly disaffected, cynically self-righteous, bands of existential faux-Buddhists who believe creativity died the same night as Jay Reatard. Those dudes who swagger around their kitchen jobs believing the universe holds some personal vendetta against them, dudes who lack any ambition in life other than to find some slew of scapegoated causes to climb their cross to be martyred upon. From time to time though a band will surface who embody every idealized tangent those gnashing teeth of nothingness aspire towards, a band rad enough to almost make up for the number of carbon clones ruining shows for us since the very moment we matured enough to discern between the two opposing camps of art vs. ego. Turns out Secret Bad Boys are the disgusted spit in the face of eternities lukewarm heaping of bands. Even if I believed in modern day saviors, which I do not, I certainly wouldn’t be putting my faith in a bunch of denim dudes still writing bitter songs as the last remnants of youth seeps from their every pore in the typical Tuesday morning sweats of a whiskey hangover. I do though stand in appreciation that a group of highly talented people manage to overshadow and assiduously bolster the minimalistic songs they failingly attempt to vilify. Secret Bad Boys give me the unshakeable suspicion of this being some mystical Lester Bangs reincarnation. I’m not talking here merely of his concepts and jaded brilliant insight into pop-culture, there is something bigger to it than that as in an embodiment of the man himself in a way of furthering on what he was never fully able to bring to surface with The Delinquents; this being Austin, the place where Bangs felt drawn to bring the final tangent of his rock n roll metamorphosis into fruition, doesn’t help much at doing anything short of selling me all the more on this absurd hunch, a hunch I, even while typing this, can’t fully shake from attaching to the experience of buying into this band.
Fronted by Jon Chamberlain (Casting Couch Zine, Giveaway Records) and featuring local slackers Justin Smith (The Reputations), Ben Gibbs, Dan Shaw, and Seth Gibbs (The Reputations); Secret Bad Boys are what happens when you give creative dudes a long enough moment in conversation to say “fuck, let’s make a shitty rock n roll band,” and actually selling each other on the concept enough to develop the idea into existence. The fact the band turned out as sick on record as they are scene affronting live seems to be as surprising to the members themselves as it has been for us consuming it.
All hollow qualifiers aside, their ten song record Pioneers of Bullshit (recorded at Sweetheart Studios) snarls with craft unnecessary of anything other than the take-it-or-leave-it mantra Secret Bad Boys rally behind. “Pretty Ambitious” is an anthemic embodiment of the entire contrived narcissistic cant-catch-a-break entitled generation we collectively are assumed as part of; basically it is Confederacy of Dunces rewritten as a minute and forty-nine second punk song. The waxing on of the scene clones we manage to consciously judge yet belong valiantly along with gets thrown directly under the bus on “Personality.” The fact they even cover a Buck Biloxi and the Fucks song (and cover it with with ideal justice at that) is rad in itself but to choose “Police of Shit” instead of going with something more predictable such as “Streets of Rage” or “Shut the Fuck Up,” shows a band willing to unsubscribe from the disgusting atypical non-political presence of other cowardice bands to say exactly what those of us who somehow managed (hallelujah!) to forgo—the poisonous patriotically biased belief in idealized heroes middle-America has become emaciated by. I happened to have been around while these guys were writing out the lyrics to what I believe developed into “You Repulse Me,” if you had told me then I would someday be sitting up at four in the morning trying to find the appropriate way to say how much I dig their record I’d have assumed you were having a bubble. Somehow, despite the odds, this band embodies all that we love and hate about misfit outlaws turned existential underdogs (queue the Kevin Bacon montage all angst and aggression while Bonnie Tyler’s perfection lights an empty warehouse on the edge of town into a glorious eighties putsch),“they said they’d never win, we knew they had to.”
In these waning years of rock ‘n’ roll evangelists are running out of miracles worthy enough to go on selling the idea that all we hold honorable and true is not dead. There is a genuine necessity and need for Secret Bad Boys at this death-rattle moment in time, even if it isn’t so much to help music continue on (“don’t save her she don’t wanna be saved”) but instead pacifying those of us out who want desperately to believe that all is not lost, that we have not all gone quietly into that dark night, that the ambiguity of rock ‘n’ roll through its anagogic soul can still bring us out of the superficial aloneness we desperately need to be shaken from. So here’s to feeling alive with discontentment, to allowing a logical release of our inner tension through art rather than letting it destroy us like so many less fortunate others, here’s to Secret Bad Boys for giving us something gloriously shitty to believe in.