On Wednesday, a friend posted on social media that he had an extra ticket to go see singer/songwriter/trans icon/punk rocker Laura Jane Grace in the next town over, and did anyone want to take him up on it? My first reaction was, “Oh wow! I would love to see her!” Followed by, “Damn, I have to work, like always.” (I work till 9:30pm – not conducive to having much of an evening social life.) The more I thought about it though, the more I was like, “Well wait! I have all kinds of time I could use. Why don’t I just be freaking spontaneous for once and do this thing?”
I’m so glad I did! The show was the following night, and it was beyond incredible, on many levels.
One of the levels: Today, serendipitously, marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Against Me!’s debut album, Reinventing Axl Rose. From reading Laura Jane Grace’s, memoir (Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout), this was not Against Me!’s first release, but I’m not sure how you would find the earlier stuff, mostly dubbed cassette tapes and a poorly recorded 12″ EP. There are two more well known early EPs: they contain some of the earlier versions of songs that found their way onto this first LP… So back to Reinventing Axl Rose: This album had a huge impact on me. The brother of the person I was seeing at the time (2003), handed me a CD copy he had burned, along with a handwritten note of the tracklisting. In general, his taste in music was super obscure, but not quite what I was into, so I was a little dubious. But damn, listen to this record! – It’s one of the most solid, versatile punk albums of all time. It has everything: anarcho-inspired lyrics, syncopated dance beats, both electric and acoustic guitars mixed with rough around the edges production, anthemic sing-alongs, growling and grimy vocals, and it even ends with a lullaby (“8 Full Hours of Sleep”). All eleven songs are so incredibly solid. And it was recorded over 2 days, for $800, which makes it all the more impressive. This album reminds me of being 21, mostly alone, trying to muster the energy to do anything. It reminds me of the guy who gave me the CD, and all the times he picked me up in his lilac colored Chevy Prizm to go grocery shopping together, and then maybe even also make dinner together and watch a movie, barely having much to say to each other, but just enjoying the music.
Laura Jane Grace came out as trans in 2012, and she continued on in Against Me! but also struck out on her own, playing acoustic shows. Since the pandemic, I’ve wandered into a handful of local shows, but this was the first big intentional show I’ve been to in the roughly 2 years. What a joyous return! There were so many queer and trans kids there, right up front and center, singing along to every lyric, even to the songs that are now 20 years old, possibly older than they were (I know from the X’s on their hands, when they threw their hands above their head, clapping along, or throwing a fist up into the air, that they were underage. My heart soared.) Older queer and trans people were there too, and punks, of course. She played 4 songs from that first album:
“Pints of Guinness Make You Strong”
“Those Anarcho Punks are Mysterious…”
“Reinventing Axl Rose”
“Baby, I’m an Anarchist!”
On stage, she was magical: riffing in between songs, flashing her intensely crazy grin, sharing anecdotes from her life. She covered “Androgynous,” by The Replacements, a song I don’t actually like (I might get some hate comments for this, but I think Paul Westerberg is way overrated), but I liked when she did it; from her, it’s coming straight from her heart.
She had three new songs, one which involved a quick costume adjustment: she asked someone up front to hold her guitar, went offstage for a second, and came back with a shapeless black Adidas hoodie. She declared it her “dysphoria hoodie,” saying she’s had it for so long; she used to use it to hide her body. Said you don’t have to be trans to have a dysphoria hoodie; having body issues isn’t exclusively a trans thing, of course, but most trans people can probably relate so hard. She put it on, with the hood up, took the guitar back, and launched into this story-within-a-song. I’m not generally a lyrics oriented person, but with her, I want to know it all!