Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Sinking & Falling: Fall Back Down

Rancid: Fall Back Down

Back in 2003, my then 13 year old son was in a punk phase, which I kind of liked. He wanted to go see Rancid, the great ska-punk band that was playing at Roseland in midtown Manhattan. Not surprisingly, I agreed to take him. At the time, I was vaguely aware of Rancid, probably from hearing their 1995 song “Ruby Soho,” and maybe a couple of others. The band's early days came at a time when I wasn't listening to as much punk rock as I had when I was in college.  Although there are some who have criticized the band for being derivative, particularly of The Clash, I think that criticism was misplaced (although the Clash influence is unmistakable). There is very little in music, particularly rock music, that doesn’t build on the work of prior artists, and to me, at least, Rancid’s ability to write anthemic, catchy songs, mostly but not exclusively with a ska and punk base, while addressing social and political issues big and small make them special.

And, more to the point, they put on a great show. That night, we saw two opening acts, psychobilly band Tiger Army, which I enjoyed greatly (and who I enjoyed again the following summer at Warped Tour), and hardcore band Roger Miret and The Disasters, fronted by the former Agnostic Front singer, which I did not like. But Rancid put on a great show, and we were dancing (and my son was moshing) the whole time. The Internet doesn’t seem to have a setlist for that show, but considering that it was a single from the band’s then-current album, Indestructible, I’m pretty sure that that they played “Fall Back Down.”  I couldn't find any video from that show--in 2003, not everyone had video cameras in their pockets--but here's a video of them playing the song live, a few months earlier, which gives a sense of how good Rancid is live.

“Fall Back Down” is one of those anthemic songs that the band is so good at. Written in response to the divorce of singer/guitarist Tim Armstrong from The Distillers’ Brody Dalle, Armstrong and co-writer, singer/guitarist Lars Fredricksen, crafted a tribute to the power of friendship in the face of adversity. It peaked at number 13 on the US Modern Rock charts, and in addition to being somewhat more pop than punk, the video for the song contained appearances by a member of Good Charlotte and Kelly Osborne, which led to complaints that the band had “sold out.” The song was also used in a bunch of video games, and even as the theme to a reality show.

This theme was inspired by the effect that the racist-in-chief’s recent racist comments have had on the reputation of the United States, so this song, about friendship and support, doesn’t completely fit. And yet, if you cut out a few lines from the lyrics that directly reference the divorce, it actually kind of works pretty well, as both a reflection on the almost exactly one year since inauguration day (and its tiny crowd), and as a recognition of how we can, with our friends, make it through:

You see it's our style to keep it true 
I've had a bad year, a lot to go through 
I've been knocked out, beat down, black and blue
*                             *                                * 
If I fall back down, you're gonna help me back up again 
If I fall back down, you're gonna be my friend 

The Roseland Ballroom, where I saw that concert, has been knocked down, and a 62-story, 426-unit mixed-use tower is rising on the site.

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