“This one goes out to my hometown”, “I hate this town” “I hate this fuckin’ town”, “I fuckin’ hate this town” “I don’t even wanna be in this town”, “I can’t stand this town much longer”, “We could leave this town and run forever”, “This fuckin’ town” “I’m so glad I got the fuck out of our hometown”, “You were the last good thing about this part of town.” These are all lines from various pop punk bands about where they grew up.
Note: This is available in video essay form here.
In essence, pop punk bands aren’t too fond of their hometowns. It’s almost a cliché at this point, as much as songs about “friends” and “falling”, but how did this particular trend become such a staple within the genre?
It’s been a well-worn theme in pop music since forever and bands like A Day To Remember and Fall Out Boy are far from the first to express their desire to be somewhere else. To runaway. To escape. To not be where one is presently. For examples look at The Mama and The Papas’ ‘California Dreamin”. The Animals’ ‘Gotta Get Out of This Place’, or Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America’.
The first artist to capture this feeling of Locational Disconnect is Bruce Springsteen on his 1975 album ‘Born to Run’. ‘Thunder Road’ is Bruce and Mary’s last chance in getting out of his shitty town: “It’s town full of losers/And I’m pulling out of here to win”. The title track also shares this sentiment, “Together we could break this trap/We’ll run till we drop, baby we’ll never go back”.
These songs embody his undying need for freedom, from all the bad decisions he’s made, the school he endured, his parents and their working-class existences. The answer to these hurdles simply being “The Road”. This theme appears often in Bon Jovi’s aspirational blue-collar anthems, but pop-punk also takes from this in a big way. Bowling For Soup even make the same comparison in ‘Punk Rock 101′ with its tongue-in-cheek references to Tommy and Gina.
Some of the key sub-genre protagonists follow the same path, wanting a fresh start for themselves and their best girl. Some songs like We The Kings’ ‘Check Yes Juliet’ echo the misguided early positivity of Shakespearean romantic tragedies; willfully ignoring the fact that things don’t end well for Romeo and his Juliet. This makes sense as these bands generally exist on a heightened set of emotions, that teenage feeling where everything is live or die. “Run baby run/don’t ever look back”, a rallying cry from a less poetic Springsteen.
As a culture, “The American Dream” and “Manifest Destiny” instils American pop-punks with the positive god-given belief that the grass is greener somewhere else. It is possible to achieve the life less ordinary. The vast size and sheer diversity of the continental United States, the American obsession with automobiles and Kerouac’s romantic notion of “The Road” make it feel like anywhere would be better than where they are right now. It may be a naively flawed logic, but at least it’s motivated.
Compare this to British pop-punk bands and their lack of similar escapism. Maybe it’s just that everywhere here is comparably shit and depressing, but getting in your car and moving away isn’t going to solve anything. See Buzzcocks’ ‘Boredom’ or Neck Deep’s ‘I Couldn’t Wait to Leave 6 Months Ago’: They may hate it, but they are resigned to endure this status quo, with no motivation for relocation.
I could go into the whole deep-rooted UK class system or the US’s firmly held belief that if one works hard enough they can achieve anything and how this is still a fairly modern concept for Britain. But that’s way more complex than I can handle, especially for a ‘pop-punkers hating their town’ essay.
Pop-punk is associated with sunshine and good times, so if Britain is all rainy, demotivating and boring you’d think that somewhere sunny and coastal would be awesome and no one would ever want to leave? Apparently not the case. It must suck to live in Florida.
Yellow Card’s ‘Ocean Avenue’ is one of the most obvious examples in this little sub-genre with its “we could leave this town and run forever” hook. Where are they from? Originally Jacksonville, Florida, before actually leaving and moving to Los Angeles.
Sure, that’s one band. It can’t be that bad. But Less Than Jake also hate their native place of Gainesville, Florida as illustrated in ‘Look What Happened’ (“Talkin’ about leaving this town”), and the whole of Hello Rockview seems linked by the theme of wanting out, from ‘Last One Out of Liberty City’, through ‘History of a Boring’ to ‘Al’s War’. (“But today, he’s never going back.”) New Found Glory, also wanting to get out, also from Florida. (“It was never my intention to stay there”) We The Kings, A Day To Remember: Guess where they are from?
As much as pop-punkers want out of their hometown due to boredom, and romantic notions of better, oftentimes they just want to not turn out like their parents with their safe suburban existences. Take a listen to ‘Suburban Home’ by Descendents and its sarcastic barbs. (“I want a house just like Mom and Dad”) or 90s pop-punks Screeching Weasel: “hey suburbia, we’re in love with you”.
Green Day’s ‘Welcome to Paradise’ tells the semi-autobiographical story of Billie Joe moving out of his parents’ house to live in a warehouse squat. This story is told in grander scale as the 9 minute long ‘Jesus of Suburbia’. As safe as Green Day seem nowadays, they did live in a derelict house out of necessity for several months pre-fame. That’s real punk rock.
Pop-punk at its heart is a less abrasive, sunnier take on Punk’s anti-establishment hostility. When you compare Boys Like Girls’ poppiest of punk “Throw it away, forget yesterday”, to the self-immolation of Big Black’s ‘Kerosene’ “Probably come to die in this town”, the former doesn’t feel as drastic. The contrast just makes the poppier songs feel almost like an avoidance technique, though admittedly a positive-thinking one. Or at worst, running away from home as an adolescent cry for help.
So in conclusion: why go they want to go? A sense of growing up, leaving with your best girl, compounded by the All-American-brand of big dreams and short-sighted thinking. In many ways these bands actually start as a motivated attempt to leave their hometown. Touring means travel, means living a more exciting life even if only fleetingly. Hating their hometown is the first step on their way to make positive change.
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