Here’s the bold and ridiculous statement of the day: The Irish invented punk rock.
OK, that’s a stretch, especially considering that the holy trinity of early punk—The Stooges, The Ramones and the Velvet Underground—sprung up from either the dirty streets of New York or the oil-caked factories of Michigan. There wasn’t even a redhead in the bunch. And even when punk came across the pond, it was those safety-pin-stitched Brits who cooped the whole thing and turned anarchy into a group activity. The Irish didn’t even really figure out punk until the Pogues came along, and that was well over a decade after Joey Ramone craved his first lobotomy.
But think about it for a second. Punk is the disenfranchised searching for a voice, rebels shouting a rallying cry. It’s attitude, piss and blatant lunacy disguised as courage. It’s poverty and pride. It’s letting go and getting lost in the moment. And when you look at it that way, those bastards that guzzle Guinness by the gallon—my great grandfather included—are the most punk rock of anyone. They’ve had their butts kicked throughout history, be it by the English or the potato famine. They’ve rarely been able to pull together a couple of pounds. The sky spits on them continuously. They still don’t even control all of their own island.
So when those guys get up and sing, chests puffed with pride, the Irish are punk. Just ask Dave King. The frontman for Flogging Molly, Dublin-born King grew up on those old songs. He saw the fire and the spite. And he wants other people to see it, too. That’s why his band has spent the last several years splicing the jigs and traditional jams of King’s homeland with the drunken mania of a six-day pub crawl. Sure, he’s not the first to put the two together—blame that on Shane MacGowan and his whiskey-stained teeth—but King may damn well might be one of the best. And for him, Irish punk isn’t some voice that sounds like a moose coughing. It’s the guys who keep it old school.
“When I was younger I went and saw the Dubliners sing,” King says. “There weren’t stacks of amps or anything up there, just a few acoustic instruments. And they weren’t shouting or anything. It was just four guys singing on a stage, but it was punk. It was the attitude. They didn’t give a fuck. And that’s what started it for me. They were up there having a good fucking time and not giving a fuck, and it made sense to me.”
“You have to remember,” he continues, “for Irish folks music is freedom. It will always help you through. And that makes all the difference.”
It did for King. When he left Ireland eight years ago after a batch of “marital problems,” he wound up in L.A. “I desperately needed somewhere sunny,” he jokes. Music was he only thing that kept food on the table and King out of jail. He started playing a regular gig at a small Irish pub called Molly Malone’s. People started trickling in. Over time a group of regulars began getting up on stage with him, sucked in by King’s songs and sheer stage presence. Six players later, Flogging Molly was scoring a rep around SoCal as one of those live shows that either leaves you passed out on the floor or naked on top the bar—sheer chaos compounded by heavy amounts of liquor. For King, there’s no other way to do it.
“It’s like a good football game,” he says. “You get the crowd into it and things can just go wild. It’s fun. We’re having just as good of a time as everyone else. It’s a celebration of life. Even when the songs are sad, it’s all about having fun.”
And that’s been the key to Flogging Molly’s slow-bubbling success. On stage, everything is pints and passion. It’s hard not to get sucked in. But what keeps the bar open long after Molly has packed up is King’s lyrics. The band’s debut disc, Swagger (SideOneDummy), is stuffed with as many hard-luck stiffs as it is angry drunks. Example: The a cappella number “Grace of God Go I.” When King’s going for it in front of you, it seems like some song spewed on the Dublin drunk bus. But with lines like “If I ever hurt another like thee again/ I would drown myself beneath your name,” it’s enough to make you as misty as an Irish winter. Same goes for “The Worst Day Since Yesterday,” a traditional jig as depressing as it is hilarious. Or “The Likes of You Again,” King’s distorted and gritty ode to his long-dead father. And while King knows that publicly baring your wounds can be a tricky thing, when slapped together with Flogging Molly’s punk ‘n’ Celtic bar brawl, it just works.
“I’ve always wanted my lyrics to say something about myself, what I’m going through,” King says. “You’ve got to have something to say or there’s no real point to it. And when you put that with the band, it just takes on this energy that’s amazing.”
For King, that’s all that matters. He could care less about Soundscan numbers or chart positions. He knows Flogging Molly’s chances of becoming MTV darlings are about as good as Bono getting canonized. All he really cares about is that feeling, that sensation that just takes over and makes you want to cry freedom.
“I could care less about all the business stuff,” he says. “My passion in life is playing and writing songs and having a fucking time doing it. That’s all I want to do, and I’m going to do it for as long as I can because you never know when it will all be over.”
Bouncing Souls with Flogging Molly, One Man Army and Madcap. Bricks, 579 W. 200 South, 328-0255, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 8 p.m.