A punk rock song won’t ever change the world/But I can tell you about a couple that changed me
The phrase is that one should kill their idols (or heroes), which can apply to both definitions of the word as God is just as dead as the author. Pat
the Bunny Schneeweis has been my favourite musician for a number of years now but I’ve never really had to think about why that is, until now. His lyrics strike so many chords with me and his chords are punk-fast enough to suit my hip trendy young person needs whilst being played on
all the wrong instruments means those lyrics come through loud and clear. He sings with a screeching passion about apathy, youthful self-destructiveness and the painful realisation that politics will never be fixed by him or his friends, but tempered with the realisation that it’s the
him and his friends that really matters, and the politics can go hang. There’s no guarantee he meant any of the things I’ve taken away from his lyrics in the way I have done so, but having read all the interviews I could find he seems like a smart guy (even if some of his interview choices are goofy), and hey: this isn’t a review of Pat the Bunny so much as it’s a review of my Pat the Bunny. Barthes’d be proud.
To start with, I’ll outline Pat the Bunny’s oeuvre to make following along a bit easier, then go through mostly chronologically in order to construct a narrative, ignoring bits that challenge it and cherrypicking bits that seem to support it. This isn’t academia; this is some berk on a blog.
His first project was Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains, a rough collective that would perform with just Schneeweis as often as with a band. From Johnny Hobo came: Anarchy Means I Hate You, a 2003 demo; Caught in the Act of Not Being Awesome, a 2005 live recording; Live at Bandit H.Q., a 2005 split with Captain Chaos (the solo moniker of Chris Clavin of Ghost Mice, who I’ll probably gush about at some point too); Love Songs for the Apocalypse, a 2005 split with Mantits (who I probably won’t, but who is still worth checking out if only to have his name show up in your music library); All Power to the Wingnuts and Easter Sunday Hangover, two 2005 EPs; and Chaos Infiltration Squad, a 2006 EP.
Johnny Hobo fell apart but Schneeweis returned with Wingnut Dishwashers Union, who produced: Towards a World Without Dishwashers, a 2007 demo; Never Trust a Man Who Plays Guitar, a 2008 live recording; and Burn the Earth, Leave it Behind, a 2009 studio album and potentially my favourite of all Pat the Bunny’s stuff. In 2009 Wingnut Dishwashers Union, too, folded, although this time because Schneeweis entered rehab for the heroin addiction.
In 2011, the now-clean Schneeweis returned with Ramshackle Glory, a new collective and the band currently up and running. He released a solo album called Die the Nightmare in early 2011 which consisted of solo acoustic covers of the songs featured on Live the Dream, the first Ramshackle Glory studio album, released in late 2011, and the other potential candidate for my favourite of all his stuff. 2012 saw Who Are Your Friends Gonna Be?, another studio album, and 2013 brought The Mark Inside and The Volatile Utopian Real Estate Market—two more Pat the Bunny solo albums—and Shelter, a split with Ghost Mice.
The narrative I’d somewhat constructed in my head as I listened to him mirrors the development of thought from around the 19th century up to the modern day. Whilst that sounds goofy, what I mean by it is the rough change from idealistic Romanticism and the “gonna change the world” utopian ideals it brought with it to nihilism and the death of utopia. However, as I have a tendency to bring up Camus wherever possible, I’ll add that some of the lyrics in Ramshackle Glory’s songs speak to a recognition of the value of a personal utopia rather than a grand societal one, and of creating one’s own meaning and living right in a sick system that’s not likely to change any time soon. This is all nicely encapsulated in a quote from Schneeweis’ description of The Volatile Utopian Real Estate Market:
Anarchism penetrated my thinking twelve years ago, and no other conception of life has threatened to supplant it since. Yet there is no apparent path from this world to another. I have no solution to this dilema. So these are songs about sticking it out anyway—probably not due to any rationality on my part, but also not just out of stubbornness.
This also relates to the development of anarchism, a more precise thread throughout Schneeweis’ work, from the days of the Spanish Civil War and Kronstadt Mutiny to post-left anarchism, derogatorily referred to as
lifestyle anarchism by some, today. This this end, I’ll keep bringing up the Curious George Brigade’s cracking Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs, largely because it covers all the bases relevant to this topic and is easily readable for free. Also it’s a bit good, so get on that; it’s only a hundred or so pages.
A lot of Pat the Bunny’s lyrics are about heroin, which obviously isn’t particularly relevant to me, but everyone’s had a bit too much sauce at least once and I imagine (although could well be wrong) that the misery afterwards is like a massively watered-down version of dopesickness. For those unable to extrapolate, there’s also plenty of lyrics about drinking, because Schneeweis is nothing if not a crowd-pleaser. More pertinent to my grand narrative and also, I’m willing to assume, speaking to a much broader kind of experience is that sense of disgust at the prevelance of an unjust system, particularly when it’s one that you are helping to perpetuate solely by your inaction against it. From the small scale example of a teacher abusing their authority to the larger and more systematic one of police brutality, or even the very notion of capital, I don’t think it’s overstepping the mark to say that everyone has a realisation like this quite early on, although some are more apt at accepting it as the unchangeable status quo and moving on than others:1
But I swear to god, I’m gonna die/Full of naive optimism; a teenager’s heartbreaking conviction that/Things can be different. Oh yeah, things are gonna be real different/When we’re finished around here.
Sometimes that youthful rebellion manifests itself without any particular target:
Well, you know that I hate a lot of things/But I also hate a lot of other things! Oh, yeah!
But sometimes it hones in on a particular grievance:
I can’t believe that bastard won this morning/It’s the kind of night for vodka and forties!
We might not have forties in England, and I may not be a vodka man, but I can certainly empathise with that first sentiment. So, having identified these issues with society, what is the man to do? The same thing as everyone: surely something, whilst unsure of the something. Perhaps he’ll start small:2
And so you’re asking me,who does the dishes after the revolution?/Well, I do my own dishes now, I’ll do my own dishes then/And it’s always the ones who don’t who ask that fucking question.
Along the way, he might make some unexpected allies:
And lately I’ve been thinking about how I love Jesus/Because Jesus was a dirty homeless hippie peace activist.
And eventually, even the loftiest goals will be fulfilled:
We’re building a new world, all of my friends and me/It’s not an exact science yet, but we have the technology.
Thank God it’s that easy, right?
Of course it’s not, and as I said before, Schneeweis is clearly a smart guy. He’s acutely aware of the deficiencies of his own scene be they the insincerity of his assumed allies:3
He’s at the show/Talking feminism to get into your pants, oh yeah/Well he’ll quote Emma Goldman/But he’ll never get up to dance4
He talks revolution for an hour without using any verbs
Or the sense of it all being a David and Goliath fight, but thanks a lot Nietzsche; God’s dead and we don’t stand a chance:
There’s no ballot we can cast to set us free/But there’s no brick we can throw that will end poverty/You can’t blow up SB1070
Anarchism is undoubtedly a flawed world. It’s history, whilst rich, is littered with the corpses of a thousand revolutionaries, from Spain to Ukraine; all the good intentions in the world won’t stop a hail of fascist (or communist, respectively) bullets. Whilst nowadays killings are rarer (alas, not rare enough), anarchism (along with any sort of opposition to the powers that be, the
dinosaur left5 or no) is still heavily suppressed, in the US by a terrifyingly militarised police force, the UK by things like the Public Order Act 1986, Russia by just about everything under the sun, etc. That’s perhaps to be expected when going up against the system that owns the guns (settle down America, they own bigger guns than you), but does it mean there’s no hope for change? No chance for freedom, so buckle down and go get a job at a law firm? I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that, nor is anyone. Worth a shot though, surely?
This marks a handy place to look at the philosophical side of Pat the Bunny’s lyrics. Anarchism as a political outlook is ideally indistinguishable from anarchism as a philosophical approach to life; freedom in both arenas should be intertwined, think Emma Goldman’s dancing quote. To the Patmobile!
God gave me instructions on how to live my life/But I couldn’t read his handwriting so I burnt them last night […] God isn’t dead/But I’ll get that bastard someday!
And if our only gift is this dark black void, to me that’s okay/Because our nihilism is the terrorist wing of youthful apathy
Hah! You thought all those Nietzsche references were me trying to sound high-brow? To quote the title of The Wire’s behind-the-scenes video, it’s all connected.
Gott ist tot is such a marvellous phrase and Fred should be thanked for giving it unto us, the unworthy untermensch. As a quick aside, the meaning of the phrase is not literally that God existed and has been murdered, but that God as a concept we (read: humanity) needed to explain away the unknown and grant us the meaning in which to live our lives is no longer necessary; in the terminology of Stirner, God is just another spook. Unlike Kierkegaard, who decided that the only way to respond to the Absurd is to make an equally absurd leap of faith into religion or be left with options of either suicide or the
demoniac madness of accepting the unacceptable (the thread Camus later ran with; more on him in a bit), Nietzsche said there was no meaning, all morality is subjective and you just gotta live with that. That must’ve been exhausting. It’s also worth noting that the words come, within the fiction of the book, from a madman, so who knows what Nietzsche really meant, but we can Barthes that into meaninglessness too so let’s do that. Whilst God may be dead in the sense of our need for him, as the lyric from Church Hymn for the Condemned points out, God himself isn’t as dead yet as he perhaps should be. God continues to cling on to the ledge over the abyss, and no amount of stamping on his fingers seems to be finishing the job.
God gave us the instructions by which to live our lives (you’ve probably encountered at least ten of them), but with his omniscience must have seen his death coming; his hands were probably shaking quite a bit as he scrawled them down, and the result came out unreadable. No worries, just burn them up and wing it:
Here’s to our lives being meaningless/And how beautiful it is because freedom doesn’t have a purpose
Freedom may not have a purpose, but it gives one to Schneeweis and millions of others throughout the pages of history. Given a purpose in a purposeless life—hey, who’s that over there?
There’s the dashing French rascal: Albert Camus, forefather of Absurdism.6 Now to give that the absurdly rushed and oversimplified summary that nihilism just got. The Absurd is the cognitive dissonance that occurs between a person’s natural drive to find out the meaning behind existence and a person’s inability to to do, or the lack thereof. As I said earlier, there are three outcomes to this: suicide; a leap of faith; or acceptance. Camus chose acceptance as a form of rebellion. In The Myth of Sisyphus, another fantastic book, after detailing Sisyphus of ancient Greek mythology’s poor lot (for his crimes he was condemned to forever push a boulder up a mountain, whereupon it would immediately roll back down again into towers, elephants and a castle) and its metaphorical relation to our own lot, sums it up thusly:
One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
In other words, Sisyphus has to bring himself around to enjoy his pointless task, because to do otherwise is to be crushed by it (and it’d also be drastically easier to see the brighter side of that compared to someone like Prometheus). Does this actually relate to Pat the Bunny, or have I gone off on one to spaff my book learning all over everything? First, don’t be bringing that toxic attitude to my blog. Second, yes it does. After embracing the Absurd, one is free to create meaning. There’s no guarantee that there is any objective meaning, but there might be. Either way, you’ll never know, so make your own. It’s just as valid as anyone else’s. In this regard Absurdism is something like existential agnosticism. As Pat the Bunny goes on to say:
But I take the beauty of chaos over anyone else’s perfection
Well I’m starting to believe these highways don’t lead anywhere/But I’m starting to believe that I don’t really care
That first lyric in particular is a good example of what I’m trying to say: his chaos is preferable to another’s perfection because both are arbitrary, yet his chaos his.7 Chaos is an integral part to anarchism, even if some try to hide it in an attempt to make anarchism more palatable to the widest audience,8 but Schneeweis embraces it; even if he’s headed for that dark black void mentioned before, he’s not succumbing to it just yet. Futile or not, he’s still going to fight, even if it’s whilst acutely aware of the potential pointlessness of doing so:
I tell you my friend William came to me with a message of hope
It wentfuck you and everything that you think you know
If you don’t step outside the things that you believe they’re gonna kill you
He saidno-one’s gonna stop you from dying young and miserable and right[…]
But if you want something better, you gotta put that shit aside
Now I’m not saying that we can’t change the world
‘cause everybody does at least a little bit of that
But I won’t shit myself, the way I’m living is a temper tantrum
And I need something, need something else
Need something else to stay alive
And even if he doesn’t see the complete overthrow of society coming any time soon, he can take refuge in the smaller things:
So I don’t want to kill a cop/What I want is neighborhoods where they don’t have to get called/When the shit goes down/‘cause our friends, they are enough, and our neighbors have enough/Finally we’re enough
At the end of the day, perhaps the capital-R Revolution isn’t worth dying for, but his friends? That’s a different matter entirely:
I’ll join you in that grave you’re digging/If there’s room enough for two
That’s all the gushing for now, I feel. Maybe I’ve made a hash of it and completely missed the points of Schneeweis, Nietzsche, Camus or any combination of the three, or maybe I’ve written a gush that will only be of interest to people who have already drunk the Schneeweis Kool-Aid, but I’ve been wanting to write this one for a while and I also felt like I was neglecting my baby by not writing anything for such long stretches of time. Before I finish up, I’ll leave you with a list of some good starting points for some of the things brought up in this article:
Obviously, I’ll start with Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs as it’s one of the clearest, most reasonable explanations of this strand of modern anarchism I’ve read. You can buy a physical copy from here for $10, and there’s also a free ebook available from the same site (the only ebook I’ve found that isn’t a scanned
As far as Pat the Bunny songs, I have a number of favourites.
From Johnny Hobo:
No Trespassing Waltz, New Mexico Song, Harmony Parking Lot and Church Hymn for the Condemned.
From Wingnut Dishwashers Union: Never Trust a Man Who Plays Guitar, Fuck Shit Up (Whanana), Fuck Every Cop (Who Ever Did His Job) and My Idea of Fun.
From Ramshackle Glory: More About Alcoholism, From Here to Utopia (Song for the Desperate), Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist, First Song, Part 2 and Eulogy for an Adolescence Shattered Against Elliot Street Pavement.
As for solo Pat: Song for the Stray Cat on the Fence, Time Worth Living (The Tension) and For the Sake of the Ashes (The Darkness).
Also, on a slightly different note, I really like Wingnut Dishwashers Union’s cover of Miranda Lambart’s Gunpowder and Lead.
Two other worthwhile books are Emma Goldman’s Anarchism and Other Essays, which has a lot of great essays including the classic Anarchism: What It Really Stands For and Francisco Ferrer and The Modern School, about a Spanish anarchist teacher and his ideas, and Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, which I won’t summarise again but will suggest that you preface it by reading, or at least being familiar with the gist of, the story of Don Juan, Dostoevsky’s Demons and The Brothers Karamazov and some Kafka, or else roughly two thirds of the book won’t mean a lot to you.
And they may have the weight of history on their shoulders when making such a decision, but one could argue that that history provides a wealth of examples the mistakes of which to learn from and avoid—Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs opens with the line
[i]nstead of placing them in the dustbin of history as interesting failures or worshipping them, we can learn from their methods and mistakes, and later puts it more succinctly: it’s time to
[forget] the Spanish Civil War and love anarchy.↩︎
At the risk of sounding a bit perhaps blunter) about it, I’d say he’s not too far off the mark. Then again, I’m probably classifiable as one of those anarchist dilettantes so what do I know? ↩︎
Seriously, read Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs. ↩︎
When I say the
forefather of Absurdism, it’s worth pointing out that, as with any philosophical idea, Absurdism is a label for a wide variety of ideas proposed by an equally wide variety of people, as well as notions that even an illiterate person could still come to on their own. Camus just happens to put the ideas together in easily-quotable words. Whilst I tend to spell ideologies, such as anarchism, in lowercase (
The moment anarchy becomes capital-A Anarchism, with all the requisite platforms and narrow historical baggage, it is transformed from the activity of people into yet another stale ideology for sale on the marketplace—Curious George Brigade, Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs), Absurdism: the philosophical idea requires it to differentiate it from absurdism: the lolsorandom teenage girl brand of anti-humour. ↩︎
I realise that that being a Johnny Hobo song throws a bit of a spanner in the works of my narrative, but I gave up on that device about a paragraph in. ↩︎
We should not polish the image of anarchism by erasing chaos. Instead, we should remember that chaos is not only burning ruins but also butterfly wings.—Anarchy in the Age of Dinosaurs ↩︎