Satire can be a blood sport, and the Vandals don't flinch from drawing some in "Aging Orange," a new song lambasting Agent Orange, their fellow alums from the early '80s Orange County punk rock boom.
Mockery is the method and humiliation the aim, as the Vandals weigh in against Mike Palm, the Agent Orange leader who has kept the band going since 1978, making it the longest continuously running O.C.-rooted punk-alternative band.
The Vandals' song ridicules Palm for his contention that the Offspring--who have acknowledged Agent Orange as an important influence--duplicated the Middle Eastern-style guitar solo from Palm's 1980 song "Bloodstains" in a guitar riff from their 1994 hit "Come Out and Play."
Robbie Fields, the punk entrepreneur who holds publishing rights to "Bloodstains," submitted a written claim about two years ago asking the Offspring's then-label, Epitaph Records, to pay him a penny per album sold as a fee for using Agent Orange's music. The claim has gone nowhere.
"We've told [Fields] a hundred times he's not getting paid," says Randall Wixen, the Offspring's music publisher. "He's not getting a cent." Wixen said a musicologist hired by Epitaph determined that, while the two guitar parts are based in the same Middle Eastern scale, they are not identical. Wixen said that the Offspring are not legally obliged to pay anything and that Palm and Fields will have to sue if they want to pursue their claim. No suit has been filed.
The Vandals' song, with lyrics by bassist Joe Escalante, mocks Palm for claiming ownership of a style of music rooted in the ancient Middle East.
Back in ancient Egypt many pharaohs went to jail
For misappropriation of my Phrygian scale.
I said "Listen, Tutankhamen, you're driving me insane.
It's obvious those bellies are all dancing to 'Bloodstains.'
I figured out you owe me." And please try not to laugh,
But every time I hear it, I get one more golden calf.
The Vandals record for Nitro Records, owned and operated by the Offspring's singer-songwriter, Dexter Holland. Palm and Fields both contend that given this connection, the Vandals have sacrificed some of their own dignity by attacking Agent Orange.
"The song is nothing but Joe's desperate attempt to brown-nose the Offspring," Palm said.
"Being on [Holland's] label, it does kind of reek of [expletive]-licking," Fields said. "If I was Joe, I wouldn't have done it."
Escalante notes that the Vandals have a long satiric tradition of ridiculing anything they perceive as foolish or wrong, especially within the punk scene.
"When there's something that absurd, you can bet the Vandals will write a song about it, no matter who's involved," Escalante said.
Escalante, an entertainment lawyer, said he also was drawn to the subject because Fields' and Palm's attempt to get money from the Offspring represents "the kind of crap I hate" in the legal system and the music business.
Palm noted that the Vandals' song incorrectly implies that he has sued the Offspring over "Bloodstains." But, irked by the Vandals' mockery, he said he isn't about to recant his claim that he deserves credit for the "Come Out and Play" guitar riff.
"People say, '[the Offspring] are a big band, maybe you should be nice to them.' Maybe they should pay for what they steal. I don't need any favors from them. I don't need to back down from standing up for what I believe is right, just because they're the flavor of the month."