A few years back, I was at a punk rock festival out in Ohio. One of the groups in the lineup was a band called ‘The Street Dogs.’ They were an outfit out of Boston made up of guys from other, possibly more well-known, bands like Dark Buster and the Dropkick Murphys. I had gotten into them after seeing them open for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones a couple of times and had become a huge fan.
Their song catalog is filled with stories and characters from the working poor, the downtrodden, and the people working hard for every cent. They sang about Unions, standing up for what’s right, and, as they said in one song, working-class heroes.
During the show, they played a song about their lives called ‘Not Without a Purpose’ with a bridge chorus of ‘Never give up, never give in, never walk away, always fighting.’ The crowd shouted the words back at them with fists raised in rage and solidarity. The moment encapsulated why I love punk rock and why I’d drive nine hours to see a bunch of bands in a rain-soaked field somewhere in Ohio.
About a week later, I was home, taking it easy and still sore from the experience (the only time I ever thought I might die at a concert happened a few hours after the Street Dogs when Rancid played, but that’s another story,) and happened to watch a favorite movie of mine, Inside llewyn Davis. The film is the story of a down-on-his-luck folk singer as he moves through life filled with rage and frustration.
I remember reflecting on how similar folk rock and punk rock are and that I love both for many of the same reasons. I half-remember a quote about punk rock just being modern folk rock, and I wish I could find it, but it has stuck with me. “Not Without a Purpose” comes from the same spirit as “Masters of War.” There may be a bit less screaming at a folk show, but the fists are still raised in anger. Rap and hip-hop are intertwined into this same tradition. The trouble is the tradition feels like it’s been waning lately.
Things don’t feel like they’re going very well in the world, and while there is plenty of sad music, I don’t hear so much of the rage and rebellion. This may be just in what I hear and am aware of, but it just feels a bit absent. There are certain exceptions, folks like Frank Turner and Mondo Cozmo or the Airborne Toxic Event are certainly fighting the good fight, but it just seems sparse.
I think this is part of why I had an incredibly strong reaction today when I first listened to the first single from Trapper Schoepp’s upcoming album, “The Cliffs of Dover.”
I was sitting at my desk in a mostly empty office, taking a break between calls. I got a notification that the song was available, popped over to Bandcamp, and purchased the track. I turned off notifications on all my various apps and programs, put on my headsets, closed my eyes, and hit play.
The song begins with a chugging percussion and strumming acoustic guitar. It feels like boots on the group. After 20 seconds, Trapper’s voice joins the march with “left turn, right turn, to too many ways to go.” The absolute first thing that jumps out is that his voice is angry. Not the kind of rage that you can hear in his cover of ‘Freight Train’ from his album ‘Primetime Illusion.’ No, this is the vocal timbre of someone tired of witnessing all the injustice and horror of our world and needing to fight back. It’s the rebellion kind of anger, the folk tradition anger. The kind that says, “SPEAK UP, SPEAK OUT.”
As someone who feels that kind of anger every single day, I will admit to you that I burst into tears, which is not something I can remember doing in a very, very long time.
The remarkable thing about music is that sometimes it hits us on a harmonic wavelength, and it runs through our entire body like electricity, and we know with every atom that we are hearing THE TRUTH. And boy howdy, is this song ever the truth.
The song is about soldiers with PTSD trying to live while bearing the weight of the horrors and injustices we have forced upon them.
It’s a phenomenal song, barreling along with a bit of a Springsteen vibe. There’s a whole orchestra of instruments that make up a full sonic landscape, including Tanner Schoepp’s always stylish bass, Trapper’s harmonica, Patrick Sansone’s variety of keys, Josh Jackson’s strings, Jon Radford’s drums, and some extra guitar from Quinn Scharber. There’s a lot there, but it’s a textbook example of ‘more than the sum of its parts.’ The thing that jumps out most is that angry sound that tethers it to the generations who have stood up and shouted into the hurricane.
The White Cliffs of Dover are cliffs in England along the English Channel that face continental Europe. They hold incredible symbolic value because they were the first thing soldiers returning home from the war on the mainland would see. Trapper cribs his chorus from the 1942 Wartime Vera Lynn song “(There’ll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover.”
The connection between the two songs across 81 years is both beautiful and sad. It asks the question, ‘Why haven’t we learned?’
I don’t know the answer, I’m not sure anyone really does, but I haven’t heard the question asked a lot lately, and it’s good to know people are still trying to find the answer.
The new song is available on most streaming services, although you can go here and buy it to support Trapper. The new album is out April 21st, and you can pre-order it here: Grandphony. April can’t come soon enough.