The strange confluence of pandemic isolation and political divisiveness has people in general (and Americans in particular) in a strange place. As expected, the impact of these times is felt acutely in music. It seems like its effects are ubiquitous with everyone from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra who edited at home performances into incredibly creative presentations when they could not even play in the same hall together to relatively small-time ska punk band Bite Me Bambi doing fan-requested covers (including really nailing “My Boy Lollipop”). Some of the creative ways that artists continued to make music during lockdown will surely stay with us, but other artists reacted to the times in their songwriting rather than their performance and I suspect that will end up more of a mixed bag. Surely, some will mine more eternal and universal truths from the peculiar experience of the last twelve months. Others may sufficiently capture the last year or more in a way that will transport us back as we continue to hash through the lessons we did and didn’t learn and that’s not bad either. I have to think though that a significant portion of the musical reaction to things like COVID and the divisiveness that led to an assault on the Capitol earlier this year will probably seem trite and shallow down the road. We’re probably too much in the weeds right now to sort all of that out, but it will be interesting to find out what holds up a year or five or ten years from now.
Naked Raygun’s new track from their forthcoming LP on WaxTrax! Records seems to me to be one that will hold up. Maybe it’s because there is some personal tragedy in its making with loss of long-time bassist Pierre Kezdy to cancer in 2020. Maybe it’s because singer Jeff Pezzati has a good bit of experience working through adversity as he continues to play music despite his Parkinson’s diagnosis. “Living in the Good Times” reminds me a bit of Hüsker Dü’s “Real World,” a song which ran against the grain of its own time with an intensity that couldn’t be dismissed even by the butts of its criticism. Likewise, Naked Raygun’s latest calls for an active opposition to what drags us down. “I’m done with all this talk about retribution. What we really need is a revolution, some evolution,” isn’t a message of passivity in the face of our troubles, but a call to arms, just not arms against each other. It is a tempered optimism though. It wants to “wake up to a brand new day,” but “we’ll see.”
Time will tell if this song holds up if and when the “good times” return, but it has two things going for it: it uses the current state of things to come to broader conclusions that will be true even if we beat the pandemic and heal our political divide and, well, it’s just a great catchy, but quirky punk song like Naked Raygun has made so many times before.