“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” That’s the question Johnny Rotten, the lead singer of legendary Punk progenitors Sex Pistols posed to a crowd of punksters at a concert in January 1978.
Undoubtedly, Rotten meant his question to be wry and rhetorical, not a cryptic foreshadow of the band’s monumental breakup. Crashing with a lead-like thud, Sex Pistols soon disbanded as a result of general malfeasance as well as bassist Sid Vicious’ apparent murder of his equally tragic girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.
What Rotten most likely didn’t intend was for his off-putting remark to his ribald fans to become the verbal vermin that would fiercely eat away at Punk’s grimy foundation. It became the dreary zeitgeist of the Punk movement, a notion that was eclipsed by the Punk renaissances emerging in the three decades since its formative days.
With the rise of Punk purists like The Clash, Black Flag and, to a lesser extent, Rancid, the tenants of the genre were reborn.
Enter The Queers. Already formed and broken up once by 1982, the band began to grab headlines with the reemergence of perennial frontman Joe Queer in 1990. Queer would be the consistent nucleus of a band whose roster was a haphazard game of musical chairs; roughly 30 members since 1982 have been a Queer.
Twenty five years later, The Queers still show no signs of stopping. The band has an upcoming release slated for 2009, and they are currently on tour, having just finished a stint at South By Southwest in Texas, a music festival that makes Joe Queer long for his golden days.
Just the sheer number of people in attendance was enough to make a Queer queasy.
“I heard estimates of, like, 10,000 bands,” Queer says. “It seemed like it used to be about the music, and now it’s just about an excuse to get drunk, which is really obnoxious.”
The Queers' formative touring days were more halcyonic even in the controlled chaos of the early ‘90s Punk scene, though they started later than many bands associated with Punk.
The band never really toured until ’93, being a mostly New England flavor after their first EP, Grow Up. National attention would follow their second effort, Love Songs for the Retarded.
But even then, The Queers’ “success” was never the priority.
“You did it (because) you just love music. It wasn’t, like, a career move,” Queer says.
But he recalls when things began to change for the genre.
“All of a sudden with Nirvana hitting it big or Green Day … people knew they could start bands, and it was a career move,” he says. “Some of these people got famous and you could make money doing it.”
This was unfortunate because, Joe Queer, in essence, is a purist. He’s the farmer who would never use pesticide on his crops or the avid reader who will never buy a Kindle, always opting for the paperback.
Queer just doesn’t want to see Punk — with its three-tiered core of righteous anger, indignation and music appreciation — fall victim to the influence of fame and money. This is one of the reasons that in 2006 he opted to leave Lookout Records, perhaps the biggest producer of Punk classics in the last 15 years, for the smaller independent label, Asian Man Records.
“(Lookout) had just started ripping the bands off after (owner) Larry (Livermore) sold it. It slowly went down the tubes,” Queer says. “It was a long, slow, painful death. They just ran that label into the ground.”
The landscape of Punk began to change after the new millennium. Queer partially blames corporate-sponsored music festivals such as Van’s Warped Tour for Punk’s latter day sins, creating a platform for Pop bands like Good Charlotte to completely ruin Punk.
“The integrity left the scene,” Queer says. “Back in the early days, it was about maximum Rock & Roll.”
Fans also aren’t as savvy in their musical consumption either, according to Queer.
“Fans were much more knowledgeable about bands and what labels they were on and their political beliefs and stuff like that,” he says. “Now if you’re on the right label and you say ‘Oi, Oi!’ a lot and you shop at Hot Topic, you know, that’s all that matters,”
However, despite the changing of Punk’s fans, bands and atmosphere, Joe Queer’s original mantra keeps The Queers together: It’s all about the music.
“Music is something you have to do because something deep down inside you says you have to play. I could make more money doing other stuff with my life,” Queer says. “That’s why bands like Green Day, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Rancid … didn’t have a lot of say. We did it because there was something inside us.”
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