For years I was told to respect Bukowski as a bard of the common man, the ignoble poet of helpless scumbags just trying to shine a light on the self-destruction of the lower class. But all his work ever revealed to me was ham-fisted Hunter S. Thompson celebrating depravity without skewering the ivory sewers that spew society’s shit downhill, a literary license for sub-human bros to plead nihilism while reaping systemic rewards.
Just because Bukowski is rightfully removed from any serious critical conversation doesn’t mean there aren’t gutter poets clamoring to ill-equipped masses with style, and we recently lost one of the underground’s slimiest stalwarts of noisy rock ‘n’ roll. Minneapolis’s STNNNG were regional legends at best, the kind of band that put headliners on red alert and saturated the local consciousness by sheer volume of instruments and local shows played. They cast a thought-provoking racket that spat at the status quo and burned bright if not far for five albums and change. The final testament of STNNNG was delivered with blisters and boils, the cheeky Veterans of Pleasure, earlier this year and they called it a day a few months later, going out as they lived—the second of a three-band bill with besuited vocalist Chris on the floor with the audience as the rest of the band made their gnarly riffs and shifts sound effortless and effervescent.
Bukowski was an asshole and a conman, and while the gents of STNNNG may or may not be assholes they were forthright from the start. Chris crafted songs for foolish drunks, muddy wizards, and prescient swine as he cracked the patriarchy’s thin shell of masculinity and swam through the proteins to find something of substance within. They were birthed from the same seasonal glaciers as The Jesus Lizard but aimed high and low, eschewing any possibly trite rhyme or obvious reason in song structure or lyrical composition but still strained their sound through the filter of rock. For all of these reasons they were great, deserving of eulogies across the nation, but outside of their time as well, prophets of chaotic swagger in an age of fractured pop and sublimated extremes.
While not from their final show or even their final album, the band’s Twitter account recently posted a performance of “New National Anthem” that encapsulates the cure they sought to deliver: a light shone on the gout-riddled veterans of pleasure above and a tribute to the mad oracles living in a Lovecraftian nightmare of our own making below. Chris delivers a bile-soaked sermon to start:
Fuck the GOP
Fuck the corporations
Fuck the banks
Fuck the fascists,
Fuck the skullcrackers
Fuck the hand that holds the truncheon
And fuck the cowards who hate
from their cowardly fucking hearts
Seethe on, America
and then like an apoplectic James Brown he calls down a hail of sneers and disgust for their homeland from the rest of the boys behind him, standing up for the indefensible. Chris’s disgust is palpable as he cuts multi-faceted diamond verse from the craggy coal of anger, leading a band not content to simply stew in discontent but to coil and release their latent political rage, building fantastic structures and then letting the nature of feedback and distortion spin out in fractals from there.
We didn’t deserve STNNNG—that acerbic truth-laden darkness, a knotty rock ‘n’ roll that chafes against the limits of the genre, beating a dark guitar wash out of working class street poet insanity. A band of rockers too smart to fail to the top, excavating painful truth where hucksters like Bukowski simply exploited those caught up in the endorphin-chase of common life, proving it’s better to bawl out as as political cynic than live blind and numb.