In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
My We’re No. 1 piece this week on Blink-182’s album, Take Off Your Pants And Jacket—the first punk album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200—sparked the always-tiresome debate about punk: who is, who isn’t, what does punk mean? Many people responded to us on Twitter with variations of “You should put punk in quotation marks” in regards to Blink-182, because as everyone knows, punk died in 1977. Or 1979. Or 1984. Or 1989. After all, there hasn’t been a legitimate punk band since Minor Threat, or the Dead Kennedys, or another band beloved by some loudmouth who stopped paying attention two decades ago.
Minor Threat changed my life, but arguing about the parameters of punk rock has always been a fool’s errand. It tends to indulge the most self-righteous, alienating elements of a scene created by misfits. Any time these debates flare up, my mind instinctively cues Jawbreaker’s definitive three-chord kiss-off to the tongue-clucking punk police, “Boxcar.”
Having come up in the notoriously self-serious Bay Area punk scene, the band knew those types well. It was a world where no one was never punk enough, and should a band commit the mortal sin of careerism—as Jawbreaker did by signing to a major label—it was shunned. (Frontman Blake Schwarzenbach didn’t help his case by bashing major labels right up until he signed to one.) Living with gossip and suspicion gets tiresome, and “Boxcar” was Schwarzenbach’s acerbic opting out of the whole enterprise. “You’re not punk, and I’m telling everyone,” he sings at the opening of the song. “Save your breath, I never was one.”
The most stinging part of the song comes in the bridge and chorus, when Schwarzenbach sings, “I’m coloring outside your guidelines / I was passing out when you were passing out your rules.” (That second part is what always gets into my head when I see people lecturing others about punk.) Most memorable, though, is the chorus: “One, two, three, four / Who’s punk? What’s the score?”
It’s the only logical response to “punker than thou” platitudes. And “Boxcar” is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than indulging them.