Album: Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Artist: Against Me!
Details: 10 songs; 29 minutes
Of course, Against Me! would not be a group that I would naturally like. They have an exclamation point in their name, for god’s sake. Wham! Panic! At the Disco. The Go! Team. So showy and in your face. My comfort zone is a person’s first name and last name. No punctuation. Were you to look at the 10,000 plus items in my ITunes library, it would bear out my infatuation with singer songwriters.
But here we were this week listening to a band that embodies that exclamation point from the moment it opens with a blazing drum line. The first word sung is Hey! And then for the next half hour, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is in your face. The way that Laura Jane Grace expresses her blues is by giving you her version of the bad stuff that is going on – in no uncertain terms. There is shouting, screaming, language, anger. And the thing is, if this was just something that I heard as I was flipping through radio stations, I would immediately punch to the next station. I don’t like to listen to that stuff. It isn’t pretty. In my mind, it sounds like it is produced for teenage boys or dudes with t-shirts with cut off sleeves. But that, my friends, is my music snobbery talking. This is why this journey of listening closely to albums that I would never in a hundred years choose, is good.
Dan writes on GoneMild that this is an album that he likes a lot, but he understands that it is not everyone’s cup of tea. He discusses the discomfort of the space that the album creates, and how that could turn many potential listeners away. I think that we both end the week (Dan sooner than me), knowing that ignoring this album is a mistake.
What Laura Jane is screaming are acts in an opera of a life. As profound as an Aida, the writing here is not schoolboy bombast. This is really great writing and, just as is true for the best blues albums, this narrative speaks to an individual’s troubles.
The real life story of Against Me!‘s lead singer, Laura Jane becoming Laura Jane is a compelling narrative in itself. After almost 30 years of being a male in the punk rock world, he transitioned. While the album isn’t directly her story, it no doubt holds many of her own experiences.
The songs on Transgender Dysphoria Blues reflect life of a transgender prostitute. There are parts of that opening track that are so poignant, even though they are being screamed:
Your tells are so obvious
Shoulders too broad for a girl
Keeps you reminded
Helps you to remember where
You come from
You want them to notice
The ragged ends of your summer dress
You want them to see you
Like they see any other girl
Drinking with The Jocks is raw, troubling, misogynistic rage set to music. There is no question as to what Laura Jane sees as problematic in our culture.
The album ends with the anthematic Black Me Out:
I don’t ever want to talk that way again,
I don’t want to know people like that anymore.
As if there was an obligation,
As if I owed you something.
Because of this week’s listen and some research, I know now that Against Me! has always had messages beyond the pure noise that colored my impression. They always have been a band that wrote and performed songs with a purpose. I ended this week not necessarily a convert to this style of music, but when I get a chance to see Against Me! this summer, I will be there.
Next up: Vari-Colored Songs: Tribute to Langston Hughes by Leyla McCalla