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We’re getting music history all wrong, according to this song

In Hear ThisA.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.

Lance Hahn was one of the unheralded geniuses of punk. When the J Church frontman died after a long illness in 2007, he left behind a massive body of work that reflected his Robert Pollard-like prolificacy. No one could match his dexterity for blending hooks and intellect; not that anyone else would think to write a 15-minute song about the 1968 French socialist rebellion (“Society Is A Carnivorous Flower”), but no one else could make the line “The trade unions are coming!” such a sing-along. 

“Society Is A Carnivorous Flower” appears on the 2004 album of the same name, which opens with “Overconfident,” another typically heady Hahn takedown. This time he has music journalists (and any other chroniclers of music history) in his sights, getting to the point right away: “History is all a mystery / fiction’s all we ever have / you worship Nico / you spit on Yoko / here’s another thing that you don’t know.”

What is it that we, the people connecting the threads of music history, aren’t getting? “We are nothing more than all the things that came before / we’re just playing it by ear / there is no music history / so let’s enjoy the mystery / theory is hobby here.”

I frequently get that “We are nothing more” line stuck in my head when I think about art in general, because it can apply to just about everything. But “Overconfident” deftly indicts the constant commentary that has arisen in the Internet age:  “Your expertise is false alarm,” Hahn sings, and it’s a rebuke that should sting every critic—professional or otherwise. 

It’s heady stuff, but married to the kind of propulsive, hooky pop-punk that was Hahn’s forte. Not a week goes by without my mourning the loss of—and admiring—his skill.