I’ve always felt like somewhat of a poseur when it came to punk. I never fully embraced the lifestyle. At no time in my life have I sported a Mohawk (or Mohican, if you’re British, I suppose). Nor have I ever worn safety pins on an item of clothing, save the few times a pants button has freed itself from its moorings and been lost to eternity. Though often a depressing bore, I can’t really consider myself a nihilist or anarchist. Hell, I don’t even have a clever story involving going to the record store to pick up a Jackson 5 cassette and being pushed into picking up a punk record and thus have my life changed. Of course, punk has evolved over the years since its origins in the late ’70s, so none of those things are particularly necessary to being `punk’ anymore. Plus, it turns out that most punk purists thought a lot of those who adopted the lifestyle without the love of the music were the real poseurs. So, in those terms, I guess I’m `punk.’ I just know that I liked the Ramones from the very first time I heard them. And, though I found them abrasive and snotty, I got a huge kick out of the Sex Pistols. The Clash is among one of my favorite bands ever.
Since those early days of punk and the reverie that comes with them, I have been hard pressed to find anything to rival it. None of the new stuff really did it for me. I gave Green Day, Rancid and the Offspring more than a fighting chance, only to be disappointed time and again. I wasn’t sure what it was, but something was missing. I wasn’t kidding myself. Punk has always been sped up pop with more spitting, anger and snot. After all, the Ramones covered Chris Montez, the Rivieras and the Beach Boys on their first three landmark albums. But while Green Day brought back the snot, Rancid the look and Offspring the silly skater cred, they all lacked the same thing: abandon. Every punk album I heard in the ’90s was so polished that there seemed little in the way of real DIY aesthetics, anti-establishment-ism, or even spontaneity. Punk had become profit, had become `the process.’
So, I’ve avoided anything `new’ punk for quite some time, which is why the arrival of the Zero Boys reissues what such a treat for me. The Zero Boys are one of the lost treasures of the punk rock scene, lost because of their locating and timing, treasured because they were just so…damned…good. There’s a reason that most of the guitars on the ZB’s one proper album, Vicious Circle are so damn fast, they’re from Indianapolis, the racing capital of the world! In fact, the riffs on the first track of the garish bright yellow album sound like motors revving. But speed isn’t the only tool in the ZB’s bag o’ tricks, though it may be the most potent one. The Zero Boys switch up styles faster than one could switch from the solitary pogo to the mosh pit circle. From the Ramones’ style of silliness attached to serious topics (“Amphetamine Addiction”) to political outrage (“Civilizations Dying”) and then to incredibly catchy pop-punk (celebrated single, “Livin’ in the 80’s” or the Clash or Go-Go’s-like “Trying Harder”), the Zero Boys did it all.
It’s a shame that the Zero Boys never really made it. They seemed to disappear almost before they really got started. Landlocked in the Midwest, subsequently overshadowed by the scenes in both New York and Los Angeles, and either a bit too late or possibly even way before their time, the ZB’s never had a prayer. But, their legend only grew as time went on. As tapes circulated and reunion shows popped up every now and again, the myth grew larger than the meager output during the band’s original, short four-year career. The scarcity of their one other release, the cassette-only History Of, only added to the mystique. And, despite one previous re-release of Vicious Circle, the ZB’s have never fully gotten their due. Secretly Canadian has done it up right with two re-releases from the Zero Boys, the acclaimed original studio album, Vicious Circle, which still sounds as fresh and energetic as punk once did in the late ’70s and early ’80s, putting most bands in their wake to shame, and the lost cassette, History Of. The latter also contains the original, and also rare, Livin’ in the `80s EP, an unearthed gem of punk prowess.
I’ve never laced up Doc Marten’s boots, nor had a homemade piercing, but I know great punk when I hear it. The Zero Boys were the real deal, and nearly 30 years after their demise, are getting the recognition they so richly deserve. So, shotgun a Pabst, crush it against your head, and do a pogo for the Zero Boys’ fallen guitarist, Terry “Hollywood” Howe.