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Goldfinger Explores True Meaning of Punk

Pop music: The L.A. ska-punk band is testing its mettle playing with the likes of the Buzzcocks and the Sex Pistols.

August 16, 1996|SANDY MASUO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When punk rock first erupted some 20 years ago, it was all about smashing the system--from the Sex Pistols' raging anarchism to the Ramones' deadpan deconstruction of the rock aesthetic.

The foundations of Western culture, however, proved sturdier than any of them anticipated.

And now, two decades after Johnny Rotten declared that there was no future, punk rock is thriving in package tours, the Sex Pistols are in the throes of a reunion--and Los Angeles ska-punk outfit Goldfinger is in the thick of it all.

The quartet spent much of the summer playing the West Coast leg of the Warped Tour plus a handful of dates opening for the Buzzcocks, and it will spend most of this month on the road with No Doubt and the Sex Pistols. Yet 29-year-old frontman John Feldmann says the politics of punk, old and new, don't interest him. He was more concerned about his band being able to hold its own playing alongside such formidable live acts as NOFX and Pennywise on the Warped Tour and dealing with nerves when the time finally came to meet one of his all-time idols, Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley.

"The Buzzcocks are like one of my biggest songwriting influences when I was growing up--just as a pop band," he says, biding time in the parking lot of a Corona strip mall a few hours before he and his bandmates--guitarist Charlie Paulson, bassist Simon Williams and drummer Darrin Pfeiffer--play in front of a packed crowd of suburban teens in the converted movie theater across the way.

"How can you compare the Buzzcocks to Minor Threat to Social Distortion which [represented] three different parts of the world?" he continues, mulling over the meaning of punk. "It's like, the problems they sang about were so indigenous to their part of the world. I mean, like the Sex Pistols' 'Anarchy in the U.K.' How am I going to relate to that as a 14-year-old kid growing up in Santa Cruz? There's no way, lyrically, I can relate to that."

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Musically, however, they all made a big impression on him, as did the ebullient sounds of ska, especially that of the English Beat. Goldfinger's self-titled debut percolates with gritty energy, infectious rhythms and irresistibly hummable melodies. The band's radio hit, "Here in Your Bedroom," is an upbeat cross between the Clash's "Lost in the Supermarket" and the English Beat's "Twist and Crawl." The follow-up single, "Mable," is a rollicking tale of romance gone awry delivered with comic vehemence. There are also doses of biting feedback here and there, and some outbursts of hardcore-style bashing, but the light-hearted vibe dominates. The most anxiety-ridden interludes are more heart-achy than earth-shaking, and that's just fine with Feldmann.

"With the success of Green Day and Offspring, punk has become more of a pop medium," he says. Punk, he emphasizes, has always rebelled against grand-scale rock as much as the political status quo, and Pearl Jam today, he observes, is every bit as grandiose as Yes was in 1976. As for social criticism, he's content to leave it to more qualified observers.

"I love Rage Against the Machine," he says. "[Rage frontman Zack de la Rocha] went down and lived in central Mexico for a while, and he found out first-hand what was really going on instead of reading some article in GQ or something. It's cool for people like that to make people aware of issues. For me, I don't know anything about politics and I'm not interested. You know? I'm interested in more personal problems."

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