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At Least We'll Always Have The Music: Epic Punk Break Ups and Fan Reactions.

Updated on July 25, 2013
The Clash guitarist, Mick Jones.
The Clash guitarist, Mick Jones.

Musicians can become typecast the same way that actors can.

Why do music fans take a band’s break up personally? Why are solo careers and side projects sometimes met with disdain?

Side projects are often seen as side notes to a respected musician’s career. They are an addendum to an artist’s biography. I assume that musicians can become typecast the same way that actors can. If they do something extremely well over a long period of time, people stop distinguishing between bands and their members. Bands aren't seen as the sum of their parts. They are seen as one unit of cohesive song making capability. Any project that is viewed as threatening to the existence of a band, anything that might derail or prolong new music by a band, is seen as counter-productive. Likewise, any musical project that is formed after a primary band breaks up is subject to criticisms and comparisons to an artist’s old band. But that’s how it works. Instead of gathering a fresh fan base, fan base carryover is more convenient and, in most cases, unavoidable. If a new project follows a break up, sometimes time helps alleviate criticisms and comparisons to a musician’s former band. A break up which results in the majority of former band members joining or forming new bands takes attention off each member individually. When people's focus is divided, it’s easier to accept the new music objectively.

Fans seem to hold grudges when a break up is perpetrated by a single member rather than as a band collectively. This also applies in reverse, if a sole original member continues to perform under an acclaimed band’s name without any other original members he is subject to criticism. The modern Misfits debate mirrors this. Why, with only one original member, is the band still called "The Misfits"? The music is okay, but they should really change the name.

People make career changes frequently. It’s mind numbing to do one thing for one’s entire life. Even if you really enjoy what you do, a slight change or deviation from routines is refreshing. Musicians feel the same way. They take inspiration from numerous resources, and inspiration can yield different results. Bands are like brands. Once they've been established for a long period of time adding new elements becomes harder to do, unless the band has a reputation for constantly reinventing itself. A band like NOFX has been using the same punk rock format for thirty years, albeit they’ve progressed musically. Their songs display a higher degree of complexity on more recent albums such as 2009’s “Coaster” than they did on 1988’s “Liberal Animation”. Yet they seem to enjoy what they do. They rock every new album with the same enthusiastic do it yourself punk ethos as they have since their formation. Even though bassist and lead vocalist Fat Mike is a member of the punk rock super group Me First and The Gimme Gimmes, he isn’t considered part of a side project in the traditional sense of the term because the band does not compose original music. Another band that has followed the same aggressively political skate punk formula for a long time is Pennywise. They may not be able to change even if they wanted to. But, in 2009 vocalist Jim Lindberg left the band. His new band “The Black Pacific” whose debut album in 2010 featured some amazingly refreshing skull crushing fist pumping punk rock, but whenever Jim Lindberg’s name came up in punk discussion forums he was inextricably linked to Pennywise. The Black Pacific was even reminiscent audibly to his long career with his former band, but instead of making The Black Pacific the focal point of Jim Lindberg’s career at the moment; people were more interested in discussing his departure from Pennywise. Likewise, Pennywise pushed forward with a new vocalist named Zoli and released a new album in 2008. Because he was stepping in for Jim Lindberg, Zoli was critiqued not on his merits as a singer, rather as a replacement for Lindberg. In 2012 Lindberg rejoined Pennywise. The balance that was offset by his departure has been re-calibrated. Lindberg has stated that The Black Pacific has not ceased operations simply because he rejoined Pennywise. Coincidentally, Marc Orrel from Dropkick Murphys plays guitar for The Black Pacific, but to Murphys fans he will always be Marc from Dropkick Murphys.

Operation Ivy, the legendary Berkeley ska core band, ushered in the third wave of punk rock. Associated acts included Green Day, Screeching Weasel, NOFX, and Filth. Operation Ivy is one of those special cases in which a band receives peak levels of attention years after the band broke up. A break up can’t have a heart breaking effect if most people discover a band’s music after they have already broken up. Because a large majority of newer Operation Ivy fans discovered them by checking into Rancid’s timeline. Rancid and Operation Ivy are both influential punk rock bands. The fact that these two bands have members in common enhances their popularity. Members whose tenure is split between the two bands (Tim Armstrong and Matt Freeman) get to enjoy recognition as members of two primary bands. However, a discourse on Rancid does not usually involve mention of Operation Ivy. Rancid is its own entity. Side projects directly associated with them are The Transplants and Lars Frederiksen and The Bastards. Lars and The Bastards differs from The Transplants because it does not contain members from other prominent bands which makes it more of a solo project for Lars, and not a side project. The Transplants contains members from two prominent bands, Blink 182 and Rancid. It’s common knowledge that Blink 182 fans are hesitant to listen to anything involving Blink 182 members with the exception of Blink 182 itself. Blink 182 band members should be wary of side or solo projects themselves. Boxcar Racer is often seen as the original catalyst for the bands five year hiatus. Strangely Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker’s post Blink 182 band +44 wasn’t met with the same controversy as Tom Delonge’s band Angels and Airwaves because Tom formed his band first. However, discussions of a Blink 182 reunion played into conversations involving both bands either collectively or individually. In conclusion of the Rancid side project discussion, it is fair to assume neither side project threatens the primary band because the core members of Rancid are very tight. Operation Ivy’s singer Jesse Michaels has forged his own path following his band’s dissolution. Common Rider and, more recently, Classics of Love deviate from Operation Ivy’s raw edge.

Then there’s Joe Strummer. The Clash may ver well have been the only band that ever mattered. The Clash took the politically charged anti- establishment mantra of their peers and made it universally accessible by combining catchy harmonies with poetic, yet snarly, lyrics. The Clash was the seminal punk band of their era, and quite possibly of all time. They had a class and style never before seen. They had attitude. When they ended their run, there was a void that opened up that hasn’t been filled to this day. The Clash never reformed, but Joe Strummer was putting out some of the best songs of his career with his new band The Mescaleros. One night he was joined on stage with his former band mate Mick Jones. At the time, it was the closest thing anyone had seen to a Clash reunion, and the fans were just thrilled. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones jammed out a couple of Clash songs together for the first time in more than fifteen years. Maybe had John Lennon and Paul McCartney done the same thing, Beatles fans would have let go of the grudge they’d held ever since The Beatles broke up. A lot of people never forgave John, or Paul, or Yoko, or whoever made the best scapegoat. Fans have a tendency to take the actions of their favorite bands personally. Maybe that’s the key element. Maybe that’s why solo careers and side projects run the risk of attracting criticisms that have nothing to do with an objective listen to the music. When a band is abandoned the fans may feel abandoned too, and that hurts a little.


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