Read Hard’s Classic Pop Punk Picks #21: Descendents- I Don’t Wanna Grow Up

Posted: April 10, 2015 in Read Hard's Classic Pop Punk Picks

I wrote a hell of a lot about my love for the Descendents in one of my long articles about my experiences at the Groezrock festival in Belgium. I was 14 when I first heard their “Nothing With You” and it changed my life and when I saw their new album Cool To Be You in a record store, I had to buy it! It became my favorite album that summer along with Milencollin’s Pennybridge Pioneers. I checked out some of their other songs, but they took years to get me as excited as CTBY. Around my 15th birthday I got Everything Suck; I didn’t like it as much as its follower, but I thought it was pretty cool too. In retrospect, I still don’t get the appeal that album has. Their most famous album is, however, Milo Goes to College, which you are probably aware of it you’re a Keep Track of the Time reader! It’s also their first album. The album was a classic hardcore album, with surf guitars and lyrics about coffee and girls and parents and not being a loser, or a punk. It had classics like “Hope” (covered by Blink-182) and “Suburban Home” (covered by Taking Back Sunday) and of course “Jean is Dead”. The album featured Milo Aukerman on vocals, Bill Stevenson on drums (and they are both still in the band), Frank Navetta on guitar and Tony Lombardo on Bass. Now, Stephen Egerton plays guitar and Karl Alvarez on Bass. They have had many others on those duties in between. Their other two albums are to me the sole definition of hit or miss. Enjoy and All both have some of the finest pop punk songs ever written like “Get the Time”, “Cheer” and “Clean Sheets”, but also have some unnecessary and even annoying songs. I have chosen the one I consider the best and most consistent one: I Don’t Wanna Grow Up, that to me has all the ingredients that make the Descendents in one album.

So, the most common themes of the band, like mentioned, are females, parents, nerdiness and coffee. On Cool To Be You, parenthood is seen from both angles, becoming a parent yourself (“Anchor Grill”) and the loss of a parent (“One More Day”). Coffee is still a big part of the band’s lyrical expression, even in 2004. The Descendents ethos is manifested in their song from All called the “All-o-gistics”, which is a parody of the ten commandments of the old testament. Sexuality is also a common theme in the Descendents discography. On I Don’t Wanna Grow Up, sexuality is mostly described as something either extremely perverted or something extremely terrifying. The lyrics are written separately by all the members, but altogether, there are tendencies of showing two extremes of not taking sexuality seriously or being afraid of it or averting it. These lyrics all coming from a male-centric point of view, easily turns into extreme girlphobia or misogyny. We see these kinds of lyrics in newer pop punk, that’s inspired by the Descendents like Blink and the Connie Dungs. This way of thinking could come from how sexuality is displayed in popular cultures, whether in jokes or in pornography, that makes individuals scared to look at it in a serious manner. Maybe this refusing to grow up is connected with the aversion to sexuality. We have to go back to our friend Holden Caulfield here, so referenced and inspirational in the pop-punk genre, and so important to modern young adult fiction. Holden, the main character of The Catcher in the Rye, had similar tendencies, which was also the view that one from a psychoanalytical point of view could see as the cause of his neurotic symptoms and anti-social behavior. Holden wanted to be the catcher in the rye that saved children from falling off the cliff, one could interpret falling off the cliff as adulthood (I don’t wanna grow up/”Thou shall not commit adulthood”) or sexuality (“It’s a filthy world and I can’t go back”). Maybe the Descendents wrote Holden Caulfield after all.

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up was released on SST records in 1985 and re-released on New Alliance in 1987. The album cover is yellow with the iconic Milo drawing from Milo Goes to College as a baby, symbolizing not wanting to grow up, obviously. I, like Fat Mike from NOFX, have a t-shirt with this cover on it! Sometimes when I eat chocolate, gravy, or anything brown and spill it on the baby’s diaper, I giggle a little to myself, it’s one of my dumb pleasures! The album line up is almost the same as Milo goes to college, except Ray Cooper plays guitar instead of Navetta.
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1. “Descendents”: The album came out about three years after Milo Goes to College and this eponymous track marks their comeback. It’s hard and fast! The song seems to be about wanting new members, because someone has quit, I’m guessing Navetta. And sounds like an ad in a weekly classified. Saying things like “degenerates need not apply” and “attitude is a must”. This does kind of seem anti-punk. They up the punx again by saying they never did a popular thing and don’t know how to sing and how they’d never sell out even a phone booth.

2. “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”: The title track is taking us back to the sound they had on Milo Goes to College. The song has a very childish cling to it: this is really emphasized with the “nanananana”s that makes it sound like a nursery rhyme. That is, of course, appropriate to the title and subject matter. The song attacks the people in suits who follow life’s path and become successful. These people are called “recycled trash” and it’s “déjà vu”. What I maybe like the most about the song is the bass line.

3. “Pervert”: The third track “Pervert” has one of their catchiest choruses to date. The song comes from a narrator whose only desire for women is to sleep with them and sounds like he’s read one of those douche-y Roosh V. books. He claims to not want to take advantage of the girl in question, but when he touches her he can’t help himself and “then there’s only word on my mind and that’s “fuck”. The most disturbing and creepy line of the song is “I’m not gonna let you get away”. Like in Sloppy seconds’ “If I Had a Woman” (and basically all their other songs) we have to consider that the lyrics aren’t necessarily written about themselves, but could actually criticize the attitudes displayed in the song.

4. “Rockstar”: A short little track! The intro sounds like it’s straight out of Hüsker dü’s New Day Rising album, and then turns into a fast hardcore song yelling “Rockstar”, “Poser” and “Loser”. The song ends with “Let’s see if we can exploit rock n’ roll to its fullest potential”. Short song, short description.

5. “No FB”: Well, isn’t this song cute? “FB” stands for “Fat Beaver” This angry little ditty contains lines like “You mean nothing, can’t you see?” and “Swear I’m gonna leave her, I can’t stand her fat beaver” and of course “You may be the only chance I’ve got, but I think I’d rather be shot”. This sounds straight out of Catcher! (with more swearing and grosser). I hate to be all politically correct about songs, and I hate when people are, but even I can’t help but feeling this song is repulsive. I think I can recall reading a later interview where Milo addresses the song, but I can’t find it, instead I found an interview from 1986 where he said:

“In Lincoln Nebraska a girl came up to me and she said she was real happy to meet me and everything but she said she almost had to cry when she listened to our album because of those two songs: “No Fat Beaver” and “Pervert”. And I spent a half an hour explaining to her that when you write a song it’s like a flash of something. I wrote “No Fat Beaver”, it was like “stay away from me”, which is what I felt about this one girl. I may have only felt that way for two minutes then two minutes later I might have felt “well she’s not too bad looking” or whatever. In those two minutes I wrote that song. She was bummed because I was making this big sexist statement and that I was influencing the way women would think for eternity. Which is ludicrous. Like I was putting the whole feminist movement back 100 years or something”.

Instead of being a jerk and avoid listening to this great band because of that, I feel like songs like this one, really make the more vulnerable and sweet songs even better and creates a great contrast. Like the next one for instance.

6. “Can’t Go Back”: Lyrically, “Can’t Go Back”, is a big leap from the earlier songs on the album. It has the voice of the frightened, childlike protagonist. Musically, it is also different from anything the band had ever put out, going in a more pop direction, accompanying the fragile lyrics. This is basically “Pervert”’ and “No FB”’s exact opposite. The protagonist feels exploited (“I’ve been misused and I can’t go back”) and the world is not the innocent place it once was (“It’s a filthy world”). I don’t know if it’s meant to be, but I interpret the lyrics very sexually and the protagonist is feeling exploited sexually. And I feel like this is where the Holden Caulfield part of the Descendents reaches its climax, so to speak. The song takes the band from being primal and even obnoxious into showing their vulnerability. And Milo sings “Now I know my weakness is my strength”.

7. “GCF”: The title stands for “Good Clean Fun” and is the band’s anti-drug song. Milo thinks it’s time to “take the drugs out of “sex and drugs and rock n’ roll”’. The song isn’t preachy and says that people can’t do whatever fuck they want as long as they let others out of it; “Don’t corrupt my life”. I don’t think the Descendents are ‘Straight edge’, but the song definitely associated with the straight edge ideal. Straight edge, hardcore band Good Clean Fun from Washington D.C. took their name from the song. Work hard, play hard! Work hard, Read hard!

8. “My World”: I think “My World” is one of the most underrated Descendents songs! It’s about isolation and not fitting in. It’s an angry and catchy punk rock song! And Milo yells “Stop knocking on my world” to a raging guitar and fast drums. The song describes several scenarios a protagonist goes through. He’s not interested in sharing his world with the rest of the world, because his world is his mind. First he goes to a “No nuke” rally and the “Don Quixotes” made him feel silly. Next, he goes to the punk rock show, but he doesn’t know anyone there. Then he goes to his university, where everyone is dressed up pretty, and he also goes to a party, but he won’t let anyone into his world and his mind. In the next world he’s in bed with his girlfriend and tries to show her a song, but she laughs at it and says the chords are all wrong; then they go to look at the moon and he freaks out and runs away, she won’t be let into his world either. In the third verse he is at home, first he’s on the toilet and plays his guitar and no one else is around to hear him. Then he goes out to run and get back to look at his personal files and goes to his desk to study. When he studies it’s only him and no love and he claims “that’s the way it’s gonna to be!” And studying is something Milo seemed to be into, he went to college for fuck’s sake! He holds a doctorate in biology from UC, San Diego.
9. “Theme”: The end of side A is an instrumental and is called “Theme”. It’s a cool little thing and on the CD version it seems like a turning point on the album, indicating that there’s something different ahead, or maybe it just feels that way because that’s what actually will happen. The hidden track on Everything sucks is “Theme” part two and it’s called “Grand Theme”.

10. “Silly Girl”: If “Theme” wasn’t, “Silly girl” is definitely the turning point of the album, and the first song of side B on the vinyl. It’s another tune in the “definite pop punk tune” category. It sounds like such a poppy and positive tune, but there’s something sad lurking in it! The song creates an image of a happy summer Sunday and the silly girl is dressed up in a pink dress, she’s going to grandma’s house (not sure if it’s his or hers), but the protagonist is too scared to come. This fear in him is making his life miserable and he has to go away because they made him. I’m guessing “they” are the silly girl’s family, but I guess it could refer to someone else, maybe the fears themselves. Milo sings, “When you’re just a silly boy like me, you’re always so scared”. “Silly boy” is used as the silly girl’s semantic companion, but also gives the protagonist a childlike feature. Here we again see the vulnerable side of the Descendents that is afraid and anxious, who appeared in “Can’t Go Back”. He still hopes to be back some day and that she’ll still be there when he does.

11. “In Love This Way”: Along with “My World”, “In Love This Way” is also one of the most underrated Descendents songs and one of my favorites. The song is about being in love with a friend, and deals with it in a lot better way than some of their other songs on the subject like “Myage”, “Hope” and “I’m the One”. Again, the protagonist is hindered by fear; “I’ve got to get to know you, but I’m so afraid”, still he sings “I’ve known you so long/I’ve known you all along”. He wonders if he’s more than just a friend, if what he sees is just in his head or if she feels the same. Musically, the song goes even further to the pop side than “Silly Girl” did, and the punk rock heard in the title track and “No FB” is far-gone. It has a Beatle-esque sound to it and it has a pretty awesome bass line.

12. “Christmas Vacation”: This sure doesn’t sound like the cheeriest of holidays! The song is about a girl who is depressed and messed up and it’s seen from a protagonist’s point of view, most likely her boyfriend, and he claims she took a vacation from him during Christmas vacation and that she travelled into oblivion. In the end, he realizes “She needs beer, she doesn’t need me”. This is also the point where he becomes cynical and claims he stopped caring long before she started to cry. The song has a more new-wave vibe to it than the earlier songs on the album, and also has more vocal harmonies in the choruses. +44 did a cover of it in 2006.

13. “Good Good Things”: Continues the 80’s new wave sound of “Christmas Vacation” and sounds even more sensitive than and emotional than “In Love This Way”. The song is by far the most romantic on the album. This is the more romantic side they would later show on songs like “Get the Time” and “We”, as well as ALL, a side project members of the Descendents started, songs like “Million Bucks”, “Think the World” and “Until I Say So”, maybe even more emotional, singing comparisons like “Cooling my mind and warming my heart”. This is also a point where the protagonist, assuming the album is all the same protagonist, is no longer afraid.

14. “Ace”:
While the album has slowly progressed from hardcore-ish punk to pop-punk to new wave, “Ace” has transformed it into something else, even if I think it’s a really early Descendents song, they have re-worked it on the album. Lyrically, it continues in the more emotional vein, but also goes somewhat deeper, there’s even an allusion to Jesus and his crucifixion. The song is trying to encourage people to do something with their lives and has the message that you can’t succeed unless you really try, “Stop crying and start trying”. The song could either be seen as condescending or really inspirational, it almost has a religious dogma: “It’s not gonna matter when you’re dead and gone, you’ll be rewarded for the good that you’ve done”. It ends with “there’s no time for standing still, there’s another void that you can fulfill”. If you go back and listen to the album twice, it’s a hell of a mindfuck to know that this is the same band that plays “Descendents” and “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”, but it is, and that’s why I love this album.

I guess, that’s ALL…..No ALL! The next pick will be After School Special’s self-titled album.

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