Live Review: Cock Sparrer at Chicago Double Door, 2nd December, 2016

Acclaimed novelist Ann Sterzinger reviews one of Cocksparrer's Chicago gigs for Revenge. Rock fans will definitely enjoy her masterpiece NVSQVAM (nowhere). Buy it here.

Cock Sparrer vs. The Millennials

It’s way too easy for people who live online and amongst Millennial culture to flip out over the dearth of testosterone in modern society. Well, here’s some perspective for you: guys who never get stuck doing manual labor never have been terribly masculine in the first place, whether they be middle-class gits in the 1970s or Patreon babies now. And “society” should not be judged by millennials, who will all be dead of obesity-related diseases and out of our hair by 2030 anyway. Go out and watch some grizzled and life-worn gen-Xers jumping around to our old-people punk rock music, and you will be assured that big manly dudes are alive and well. They don’t even have to read Return of Kings to puzzle out how to be well. If you live in the real world—neither academia nor the Intertube—then if you’re born a man, being a man comes pretty naturally. Who knew?

I was a tomboy when I was in my teens, not so much by choice but because the only job I could find with my lack of social skills was washing dishes. Yeah, to those of you who started your writing careers by putting a tin cup out on Patreon, it might sound weird, but back in the 80s and 90s, if you wanted to be a writer and you didn’t have a trust fund, you pretty much had to get some shit job while you tried desperately to get a lead on a publisher. (If I hadn’t been missing boobs as well as cash I might have made enough as a waitress to take some time off and follow my dreams; but coulda woulda shoulda.)

As I was from a small town in Wisconsin, even when I moved to Madison I was at a distinct disadvantage when it came to “networking,” which wasn’t even a thing yet, so for seven or eight years I got stuck in the apparently inescapable spiral of dishwashing and bussing jobs. When I wasn’t writing a zine on an Underwood typewriter I found in the trash, I spent my free time going to punk rock shows, as that was kinda the thing you did. But political correctness was already starting to creep into punk rock… and it was always purveyed by the kids in the super-nifty expensive punk rock uniforms whose parents were paying for them to go to the UW and who didn’t have a day job.

So as frustrating as you might imagine my situation was, although I was NOT a dude, I started getting into the sort of punk rock that frustrated worker bee guys get into. Although a lot of Oi! music is fucking terrible (as Edwin Oslan and I discuss here in our eugenics podcast), that’s the norm in any genre; the scenester clones suck, but seminal bands, like the Business (whose lead singer died a couple of days ago—!) and Cocksparrer are as mighty as their legions of wannabes would imply.

So at some point, a coworker in hell gave me a cassette copy of his Cocksparrer record, and I wore it out. Twenty years later, I still find it stirs my soul, cheers me up, and gives me plenty of motivation to piss on the pissers. If you know my writing, try to suppress a giggle as you imagine nineteen-year-old me screaming drunkenly along to lyrics like:
We’re sick and tired of your liberal views
What’s politically correct?
Come judgement day I’ll be tying a noose
And slipping it around your neck.
Can’t you hear me shout?
There’s a lot of people like me about
But for you there’s just no hope
Get a rope, get a rope!
Or how about “I’ve got your number”?:
You get your press with a pocketful of lies
I got your number
You can fool some people part of the time
I got your number
I ain’t going to toe some particular party line
Call me a crook, call me bent
But I need more than food and rent!
Or this choice bit of refusal to join armies or political quibbles that only benefit the upper classes (cough, stupid fucking election, cough):
We don’t wanna fight because you tell us to
So watch your back when you attack cause we might just turn on you.
Yeah, then throw in some melodic buzzsaw guitar, and that’s the stuff. Their deceptively simple, clever riffs and worker-bee-friendly lyrics captured the essence of what I felt as a young person trying to break into writing while I had to work a shit job. Keeping body and soul together on minimum wage became a distraction that blotted out my goals, and the things I did to make me feel better about it—beer and music—became life-consuming. I wasn’t about to start wearing girly suspenders (I couldn’t afford the oi girl OR the goth girl uniforms, so I remained a generic punk rocker) and deliberately dating sharps (not all skinheads are racist, in fact MOST of them aren’t, because standing up for the working class is NOT synonymous with racism, even if they’re white people; can we please consider that covered in a mere parenthetical? thanks), but I did listen to this stuff pretty constantly for a bit (well, when I wasn’t listening to filthy garage rock, but that’s another story).

Whoo, that was long-winded. Just so you know, I’m too fucking busy this weekend to revise.

AAAAAAAnyway, fast-forward 20 years to 2016, and to my surprise, Cocksparrer, who formed the band three years before I was even born in January 1975, are coming to Chicago. The tickets are pricey, but a couple of decades and a lot of clawing and struggling later, I can swing it.

Although nearly everyone in the venue was my age and looked it (except for the rocknroll clothes, which haven’t changed), the atmosphere felt like the clock had been turned back to 1996. There wasn’t a touch of PC ruining the friendly but rough vibe, no feminists scowling at people; most of the girls had come with a guy and were proud of it. And no pussy-looking hipster dudes wearing girls’ jeans either. Even the skinny guys were dressed like GUYS. But the most striking thing about the crowd was how unapologetically GIGANTIC all these South-Side Irish dudes were. Holy crap.

I usually feel pretty tall on the street. But at 5’8 and 5’11’, I and my dude were the smallest people in the place; there were some super short skinhead’s-girlfriend type chicks milling about, but they were also built like brick shithouses and seemed to find great entertainment in trying to break my kneecaps with their boobs. Some dude plowed into me while dancing and my dude pushed him off, but neither of us took any offense, since I was probably so short to him that he didn’t even notice me down there. I see your “no harm meant” and raise you an “I’m not made of glass,” giant horse-man.

And that was at the BACK of the crowd. Although not an inch of the venue was safe from flying body parts, the real throwback was the pit. When the headliners came on, the area in front of the stage turned into a churning sea of fists and shoulders and guys throwing themselves at each other (no homo, seriously, it’s all about bonding) and headbutts, some friendly, some not. I remember trying to dash into that kind of scrum back in the 90s, and I always ran out pretty quick, unless I was drunk; that kind of shit is for big dudes, and they aren’t going to be bullied into playing gentle because there are girls around.

At this show, even the brick-shithouse girls didn’t go near that. Definitely a male-only space, and god bless ‘em. I wasn’t about to butt in, because (a.) I don’t want to be maimed, and (b.) I believe in meritocracy, and sometimes, having biceps as big as my entire person is a merit. I don’t think these dudes are going to whine their way into MY space when the merit in question is being able to flawlessly translate French into English, so I’m not whining my way into theirs. I could imagine some red-haired feminists trying to screech everyone else’s fun into submission, but then I imagined them being kicked into the alley by the extremely drunk blonde chick who was tending bar. That amusement alone would have been worth the price of admission.

But the highlight was the band. The band itself is three years older than I am (!); twenty-some years ago when I first got into them, they already seemed so old—and they were from so far away—that I assumed I would never get to see them; they’d be dead before I moved to Chicago, much less England. Twenty years on, being the eternal pessimist I am, when I found out they were playing Chicago TWICE this December I then assumed that they would be doddering now that I was getting to see them, or worse, that they would feel compelled to play shitty songs off all their newer albums just because they’re new.

Cocks out for Sparrambe! 
Photo: Dod Morrison Photography
Nope! Their new albums actually turn out to be quite good in spots—I was inspired to listen after the show—but these guys know and respect what people are shelling out to come see them for: to be able to sing along to songs they’ve loved for, in quite a few cases, decades. Everyone was singing all the lyrics from memory, and several times the band stopped singing and playing entirely and waved us on as we sang like we were an extremely beer-drunk boys’ choir. This is the weird past-future hybrid of culture we had in the 1990s: not exactly local, but nowhere near as distant as computer shit: a pub sing-along that could travel across oceans. We could somehow acquire cassette tapes from English bands, but you had to find out about them from friends you met in bars and jobs. I guess it must be nice to never have to leave your apartment, much less struggle, but there’s not much I’d trade for enjoying an actual event in actual space that profoundly. I’d never met these guys, but in a way they did a better job of raising me than my parents did.

I think most people in the venue felt that way, or roughly so. A few people were holding up their stupid phones and recording the show, but no one was checking out and ignoring the band in favor of their pocket computer the way I’ve seen the kids do at every millennial-heavy show I’ve been to in recent years. Hooray real world! And oh, how I dread the day when I’ve forgotten how that feels.

Ann Sterzinger
Revenge of Riff Raff
4th December, 2012
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  1. pic of janet on stage is mine, from Glasgow please credit Dod Morrison Photography