03 October 2007

My Life with SSD

For a dude from New York to grow up listening to SSD was sorta weird. I must've found one of their records back before I knew what any of this shit was. I saw the cover, it looked cool and I bought it. Not unlike Sick Of It All's "Blood Sweat and No Tears". Same concept.

"SS Decontrol (aka Society System Decontrol) led the charge of Boston HC bands that blew up close on the heels of the DC scene. Their take on hardcore and the new straight edge ideology was extremely aggressive, and would change the way punk was played forever. Comprised of guitarist Al Barile, vocalist David Spring("Springa"), bassist Jamie Sciarappa, and drummer Chris Foley, they were one of the first Boston hardcore bands and the core of the infamous "Boston Crew." From what I understand, Al wrote most of the music and lyrics, but the heart of SSD is the insane vocal work of Springa, whose unique growl and heavy Massachusettes
accent make for a totally distinct sound.

Influenced by Discharge and Minor Threat, SS Decontrol began their career as strict adherents to and (very strict) proponents of "the straight edge." Also advocates of the nascent DIY hardcore philosophy, the band started their own independent record label, XClaim, and did not appear on (larger label) Modern Method's seminal compilation, This is Boston Not L.A. This is also possibly due to the large divide between the Boston Crew and less "hardcore" bands like the Proletariat and the Freeze. It's also been told that SS Decontrol are the "narrow minds who think the narrow way" mentioned in the liner notes to Boston Not LA.

Along with fellow band DYS and the rest of the Boston Crew, SS Decontrol quickly gained a reputation for hardline straight edge militancy. Although their lyrics depicted "the Choice" as one of free-thinking youth dedicated to improving society, rumours spread across the country of straight edge Boston skinheads knocking beers out of people's hands and harassing and beating up non-straightedgers. Most famous was the Boston-New York rivalry (where Boston kids at a show in New York would draw X's on their foreheads, "so if you grabbed a bald head in the pit and saw no X you'd know to punch them as they were from NYC.").

In 1982, SS Decontrol recorded the classic The Kids Will Have Their Say 12". By putting out the record as a split release with Minor Threat's Dischord Records, the band hoped to use the Washington, D.C. label's already established reputation to jump start XClaim. It worked, as XClaim would later put out SS Decontrol's Get It Away 12", as well as records for fellow Boston bands DYS, the F.U.'s, and Jerry's Kids.

Somewhere along the line, the band officially changed their name to SSD, added a second guitar player, and began "evolving" away from their original hardcore sound. Similarly, most of the band members all but forgot about their previously adamant views on straight edge.

Their final two LP's are testaments to the power of the Boston punk curse - chunky metal with boring songwriting and little to none of the wild energy that made them so amazing before. 1984's How We Rock saw the band upgrading their equipment to full stack amplifiers and wireless guitars, and they were soon doing straight covers of wanky 70's rock songs. SSD never exploded into the mainstream, however, and broke up mid-way through 1985 (posthumously releasing the aptly titled Break It Up later that year).

XClaim has let all of the records go long out of print, so unless you're very rich or lucky you won't find them. Taang! reissued a random sampler called Power which may take the coveted title of shittiest Taang! reissue ever, jumbling good and bad songs into an unlistenable mess. There is a listenable bootleg CD of the first two records that is floating around, as well as a rare bootleg (allegedly done by Revelation Records) of The Kids Will Have Their Say."
Coming full circle, my old band covered "Glue" by SSD on a split we did for Revelation in 1998. To this day when we get those fat $7 royalty checks from Revelation, a percentage of it goes to Al Barile.

Who knew when I was an 11-year old kid in a goddamn Tape World buying this CD, right?

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