So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.
—Lester Bangs, eulogizing Elvis in The Village Voice
This isn’t a review of Unwound’s set at Levitation Fest in Austin on October 26th. It’s been 20 years since their “heyday,” and even longer since we had an underground. Or that I cared. In the meantime, we’ve done little more than get by on a wilted wage, suffered a dumbing down of discourse, the rueful consolidation of media, and the ratcheting up of authoritarianism while sidelining another forever war. The music review means even less to punk rockers now than it did in the 90s, which wasn’t much.
What’s the difference? The last time Unwound was out on tour was 2002. Considering this country was rearing for war and bracing for a never-ending winter of bloodshed and graft justified by the events of 9/11, it shouldn’t matter much what happened, at the Far Out Lounge on a Thursday night in 2023—unless you were there. They took to the stage without ceremony. The lights went down and the band played. In 24 hours soldiers would march into Gaza.
Unwound was a post-hardcore band started in 1988 in Tumwater and Olympia, WA. Formed out of the ashes of Giant Henry by Justin Trosper on vocals and guitar, Vern Rumsey on bass, and Sara Lund on drums. They released fourteen albums, eight singles, two EPs, have appeared on four compilations, and doggedly toured until they broke up sometime after the 90s ended on September 11th, 2001.
Post Unwound’s breakup, in case you don’t recall the climate of the aughts and remainder of W.’s terms, we were under the foul shadow of The War on Terror and roiling in jingoism. The Citizens United decision and the ascendance of tech made it harder to exist in the underground. The corporate fix was in. Punk rock was canonized and just a fad. Life would be lived as a spectator; a sad update of the 90s, when if you didn’t do it you weren’t there. After the aughts, if you didn’t do it there you weren’t here.
The American Century ended and Unwound broke up, but got back together two decades later for a string of shows and to headline Austin’s long-running Levitation Fest. Jarred Warren of Karp/The Melvins filled in for Vern (who we sadly lost in 2021) and Scott Seckington was stage right on rhythm guitar #2.
It’s the end of the music review, though not this one just yet. It’s twenty years later and nothing’s changed. Except everything, and for the worse, ain’t it. The news is euphemistic, pedantic, and less than charged with repetition again. Street-level reporting is no better—myopic, full of unvetted opinion, and first-hand experience. This article should prove no exception. The hard news is compromised and the word on the street is odious with branding, but again, what’s the difference? Who cares?
Everything is a commercial, we advertise our memories…
—Unwound, ”Off This Century,” from Leaves Turn Inside You
It’s autumn in America. Unwound autumnālis. The sublime moments of lurching stasis this band holds, sonically tumultuous otherwise, are the peace that comes from giving up and giving in to anything-everything, and to at last embrace a pain that’s not going away. But literally, they’re just three dudes and a chick blowing out a dwindling night at world’s end, cascading and colliding, luminescent and lonely as ever.
They played no encore. They threw flowers out into the crowd—mums and roses and calla lilies, green spears of holly—and all to their quintessential and anthroposcenic feedback. Roses for Vern, who got took by the Whiteboy Summer of 2020, lilies for my father and Blair, and mums for anyone who couldn’t be there, including those who would be killed in the hour or so it took for Unwound to run their set down, as armed forces prepared to advance, and you. You weren’t there. I’ve no need to say goodbye to you.
Lester Bangs said it already. He said goodbye to all of us years ago when the King died and he presciently reported there would never be a unified theory of culture, or anything else, from now on. So allow me to sink the final nail, say goodbye to the music review—and even live music if we’re not careful.
Unwound will always be a testament to the indignant isolation of the aughts, crass and creeping corporatism, and just desserts for spectator culture. Put Leaves Turn Inside You on and let it spin, front to back. This music is what Hunter S. Thompson called fuel. It will help you cope, and chill you to a dissociative level, bet, and anyway—how does it feel? Keep it to yourself though, Reader, and I’ll follow suit. You’re not gonna get it from me, not from this writer or anyone bucking the system in the extant underground. I’m happy with that, or okay in my own shell-shocked way. I’m always glad to flee the crowd. I just never thought that this would be all we’d have.
The crowd was good at Levitation, sure. I won’t forget seeing one of my favorite bands and the evocative smell of the always-unwashed hair on the punker standing in front of me and just beneath my nose. There weren’t any words, but it wouldn’t be Unwound to try and voice them anyway. The band played. Under a waxing moon, shrouded in a fall mist, the rain beading on our necks as we were taken by history and lost in the bloody fray. The band played and you weren’t there.
Picking up a Calla lily from my feet, I left the lights of the park behind, walking from the crowd and into a warm rain. Driving through the storm and getting in, locking the door, and adding the lily to the half dozen I’d bought the day before, walking past your house crying and remembering you. I will forget you, Reader. All we’ve got is the show now. It’s autumn in America. Don’t settle for another review. See you at the show or not at all, and as we off another century… qui curat?