A few years back, I had coffee with an old friend who had just moved back to town. Next to her was a man whom I had never met. This guy, a blast from the "old days," was silent at first. He had shorn blond hair. He didn’t smile or even really acknowledge my presence until I started talking. Without much provocation, the intended "catch-up" conversation soon veered into an abject lesson on the virtues of what it meant to be "punk rock," and this wholly opinionated friend of a friend, harassed me for the duration of the entire coffee-fueled visit. Point by tiny point, he called me out on what I mistakenly had been trying to pass off as street cred.
I liked him immediately.
His name was Paul F. Sinn, and nowadays he is still giving people a hard time … hell, his whole band is. He is currently the bassist for Pub Life, and if you haven’t heard of them, you ain’t punk rock.
And if you don’t care that you "ain’t punk rock," read no further.
As I walk into a suburban basement practice space housing receding hairlines-cum-spiked jacketed rockers, Pub Life, I am drawn in by a deep gravelly voice.
Amid a basement fortification filled wall-to-wall with nudie Glenn Barr posters, Rat Fink paraphernalia and enough gore-themed crap to throw an impromptu Halloween party, a tall, tattooed stranger with a hoarse yawp and foot-long goatee breaks into the song "Outcast" from old-school Detroit punk deities, Heresy.
The lyrics are incomprehensible and angry, and as they practice the simple six-chord song over and over. They make a different mistake each time.
It’s sloppy and it’s great.
Introductions are made and I discover that the strange man is, in fact, the former lead singer of Heresy (a band I know strictly by reputation, as I was a prepubescent pup during their heyday). His name is Tim King and his presence here is a big deal.
King, who will be making a guest appearance at this week’s Pub Life show, is sitting in for a quick practice.
Even the terminally snarky Sinn is impressed.
You see, at a time when all-things quasi-punk rock have irrefutably become mainstays in pop culture, the members of Pub Life take exception. Most of them lived through an era when liberty spikes still terrified mothers and counterfeit weasels, the likes of today’s Good Charlottes or Avril Lavignes would have found themselves face first on a sidewalk, picking up the remnants of broken teeth — a thank you for their fronting.
For Sinn, the punk-rock ethos is a badge. And while his workaday life has become a little less violent and a lot more productive, he guards the term "punk" as if it were brethren. Known best as the former bass player of Detroit punk outfit o’ nasty repute, Son of Sam, his name often precedes him. He explains that what he hates most these days are folks he refers to as "shape shifters — people who fly false flags." While Sinn, 38, has taken his lumps for more than 20 years, only to see his way of life bastardized in Hot Topic clothing stores and high fashion mags, a very real version of what it means to be a punk still ticks on his watch. (In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that we have some mutual pals, it is unlikely that this interview would even have taken place.)
Pub Life sings songs about hate and frustration. They play their instruments decently at best.
For lead singer Jason Outcast, the memories are similar to Sinn’s. Outcast, who fronted the hardcore band Social Outcast in the ’80s and early ’90s, roars lyrics like "I hate the Beatles!," and means it. He too is a product of the hardcore scene, and is largely responsible for the assemblage of Pub Life.
Drummer Dave Grave (also of Repulsion), is a character all his own — he rushes out of practice, but someone chimes in: "Ask him how he got the nickname, ‘Grave.’"
"I was arrested for ‘disinterment of a body,’" Grave says wryly.
And as this married father of one hops into his four-door sedan and drives away, I cannot help but think how you just can’t make this shit up.
How gross, how evil … how completely punk rock.
Guitarists Jay Strangler and Anthony the Evil Genius are the babies of the band. Thirty and 27, respectively, the two raven-haired kings of the barre chord are proud to be in the company of men who they consider to be legends.
"Punk rock completely changed my life … for the better," says Strangler.
And while the band could not possibly discount the fact that the real days of punk are long gone, wiped away as quickly as privileged suburbanite kids caught on, they recognize that there are definite lessons that came from its fiery, albeit short-lived existence.
"It is about aggression and challenging the status quo," says Sinn. "It’s so simple and primal … and unless you know about it first-hand, there is no use trying to incorporate it into your life.
"People better take a look over their shoulders before they use the word ‘punk’ these days," says Sinn. And that, my friends, is a lesson best learned without experience.
See Pub Life with Tim King of Heresy and Lacey Strangler of Son of Sam and the Hillside Stranglers Friday, Aug. 15, at the Punk Rock Flier Art Show at the Detroit Art Space (101 E. Baltimore, Detroit). Call 313-664-0445 for information.Eve Doster is the listings editor of Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org