A Kid Who Tells On Another Kid Is a Dead Kid: Nation of Ulysses
Posted by: zac | From: July 18, 2005
"There is only one Nation of Ulysses: the seriously unserious, reverently irreverent, amoral moralists whose iconoclastic assault on the received pieties of America place them in the front ranks of social critics. What went into the making of the legend? There was their erudition, their stock of language, their lore in urban sagas, their ransacking of every literature, their knowledge of archaeology and racial history- of kitchen midden and skull measurements. There was the precision with which they knew the homely and workday details of culture as well as the big abstraction, the ease with which they moved about in history from neolithic times to the report of the latest congressional committee."
Ulysses the idea versus Ulysses the band: is it more difficult to unite the two disparities than it is to separate them? Ulysses the idea is one of teen angst as class struggle; of impenetrable missives about the Ulyssean Jihad, the Party of God, Al-asifa (the Storm), Cupid Car Club, the Organization of the Oppressed, the Soundtrack to Revolution; of worldwide conspiracy in an ever evolving underground, involving members of the Children of the Revolution, the Facilitators of Metamorphosis, The K Internationals, the Fugazi Nation, The Jigsaw Underground, and countless other faceless organizations.
Ulysses the band was all of these things and none of them. An impossibly well-thought conceptual vision/marketing campaign for one of the greatest bands in America's post punk (read: no hyphen) cannon. To the uninitiated, N.O.U. could easily be misconstrued as gimmicky--their brilliant, elaborately self-mythologizing literature obscuring the true and shining brilliance of the Sound of Young America.
Over the course of two proper albums and a handful of other propaganda outlets, James Canty (Minister of Regional Planning, and brother of Fugazi's Brendan), Steve Gamboa (The Lamb of Ulysses), Tim Green (Minister of Public Works), Steve Kroner (The Lord High Executioner), and Ian Svenonius (The Min of In and The Spiv of Ulysses) mapped out a coheasive, post-modern soup of '60s/'70s Revolutionary culture (See: Weather Underground, Symbionese Liberation Army, etc.), universal teen culture references (Girl Group lyrics, teen revolt flicks like Over the Edge, etc), and an absurdist mythos that celebrated legal stimulants like sugar, caffeine, aspirin, and expedients, maintained that hickeys were signs of allegiance to the movement, and strove for something called "P. Power." It sounds like a thick pill to swallow, but in the end, the general excellence of their blistering, post-hardcore spectra sonic sound made the stew generally palatable. With it--between the Spring of 1988 and the Fall of 1992 at least--the Nation ruled the free world.
"While some would mistakenly approach and even embrace Ulysses as merely a musical or aural phenomena, and other others would restrict it to a political and economic realm, Ulysses emphasizes now that its scope is all-inclusive, 'a wild kingdom of sweeping broadsword concerns and the trivial aspects which comprise and illuminate them...' Its all-inclusiveness is self-evident in this proclamation by that most righteous barometer of and spokesgirl for youth's heartfelt angst and powerlessness, Winona Ryder, who pouts: "the Nation of Ulysses; I have steeped myself in their views and, for me, their method has reduced all others to beggary. For me, where the Ulysses dialect is not at work, there is no thought, no hope of truth."
Often imitated (see: (international) noise conspiracy), never duplicated: Ian Svenonius is unquestionably the most under-appreciated frontmen in all of rock music--and never was his urgency more felt than as the Spiv of the Ulyssian Jihad. Slobbering, screeching, and showering saliva through his yet-entirely discernible lisp, the Spiv seems hardly able to move his fat tongue fast enough to spit out all of the undeniable truths of the movement. P. Power was soon to give way to the death-at-all-costs philosophy of Cupid Car Club, the Gospel Yeh-Yeh theology of the Make-Up (both of which also featured Canty and Gamboa--Green went on to form The Fucking Champs), and the quiet revolutions of the Scene Creamers and Weird War; but even in those triumphs, Svenonius would never again sound so completely inspired on record as he does with the N.O.U.
"Despite fiery condemnation by both liberals and the right, and a virulent campaign waged by the media and by parents' groups, their aggressive campaign seems undaunted, and schoolyards now more than ever chime with the chant: "Ulysses, Ulysses, little flower, beloved by all the youth."
With the possible exception of Shudder To Think, N.O.U. are, in my humble and incredibly controversial opinion, the greatest band to ever grace the Dischord roster. As part of D.C. notoriously humorless hardcore scene, Nation's vision seemed to parody the very political militancy that their local contemporaries held at the root of their vein-bulging agendas--a seemingly effortless facade that plays out beautifully over the course of their two completely essential propers (13-Point Plan To Destroy America and "Plays Pretty For Baby"). The Nation lives on in the hearts and minds of the faithful--today maintaining their place as the greatest insular, five-man political movement of all time.
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