Back in 1991, I wrote an article for my fanzine, Feast of Hate and Fear, titled "On Sale Now: Your Life," where I pointed out the upcoming market grab for anything underground. While foreshadowing things like the soon-to-come alternative music explosion, as well as the millennial popularity of Hot Topic stores, I also pointed out the growing cultural degeneration within all music scenes.
Punk and hardcore were not immune; and soon anger, revolt, and revolution turned into sarcasm, apathy, and parody. The Dead Kennedys' final LP, Bedtime for Democracy (1986), played to many like sped-up cartoon music, fronted by a caricature of a political radical.
By the late-'90s, if it could make a dollar, it didn't matter how stupid it could be. Sometimes, the dumber the better, such as the case of Jud Jud, an a cappella straight edge hardcore act with a 7" EP on Victory Records...
...or the metalcore outfit Hatebeak, whose lead vocalist is an African grey parrot (CD/LP on Reptilian Records).
There were times when the idea wasn't foolish at all, but—while novel—it made many think it may have just been a creative way to make some cash.
In 2006, a member of L7 thought to gather up a few punk and alternative musicians to clean up songs by the Ramones and produce the kid-friendly Brats on the Beat album. Members of The Dwarves, T.S.O.L., Pennywise, Queens of the Stone Age, and The Donnas sing atop over-produced Ramones classics. In case your child isn't convinced this is fun music, they added a gang of children screaming and wailing—as if having a great time—throughout every song.
Maybe thinking the demographic for that LP was too old to be cashing in on, Jordan Lansburg followed it up the next year with Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of the Ramones. Yep, punk for the cliques under 3.
I completely understand when a parent wants to relate to their child, but I think talking to them when they're old enough to understand would be the best route to take. Still, if you want to give them one more thing to rebel against, dress them in clothes that say more about you than them.
It's not just old folks in the underground perpetrating these frauds. Every circle of entertainment has those who syphon off of it for a buck. Some ideas are quite witty, well done, and sometimes hilarious (Gansta Rap Coloring Book and Heavy Metal Fun Time Activity Book); but others are just plain silly (Snoop Dogg Mad Libs and the Little Stone Cold wrestler doll).
Now, I have to ask: after paying for them, what are you really left with? In the '90s and early-2000s, many collected what they thought were limited edition toys of their favorite underground comic characters, musicians, and even serial killers. Before his death, filmmaker Andy Copp once complained to me that he was "left with a house full of cheap plastic that nobody wanted," after years of collecting.
The frivolity continues, and though not currently on a label, stuff like The Grindmother will probably see an official release sometime soon.
I'll admit, there's still a bit of fun in all of this, and there's no real harm in a good laugh. The reality is that art is an ever-evolving creative spectacle, and much of it is as amazing as it ever was. There is quite a lot of talent, skill, and innovative vision still out there to discover. If one looks closely, you'll find only a handful of hacks who are trying to feed off of the hard work that everyone else puts into your scene. So, be wise, and use your money to make magic happen.