Songs and Sickness

"It's not an act," insists the voice over the phone. Nor is it -- to paraphrase the voice -- some brash pop-culture statement on life imitating art. Rather, the voice implies, D Generation's story represents something eminently more real: hard evidence of rock music's ability to save lives.

It was a pre-interview briefing the likes of which I hadn't experienced since my half-hour drill with Beach Boys management to preface a ten-minute talk with Mike Love. D Generation publicist Jocelynn Loebl is intent on keeping at it until she's convinced that I understand what the band is about -- and more important, perhaps, what these gritty punk purists are not about.

In short, D Generation are not glam (may the spirit of Johnny Thunders strike down any journalist brave enough -- or stupid enough -- to compare D Gen to the New York Dolls); they don't wear makeup; they're not looking to capitalize on the kiddie-punk success of Rancid, Green Day and their West Coast ilk; they're not easy-living suburbanites striking a tough urban pose for credibility's sake; and, no, they're not the easiest group to talk to.

Loebl may have overplayed that last item a bit. D Generation may indeed be the real item, but they don't necessarily spend every minute of their time acting like sorry-assed street punks. Lead singer/songwriter Jesse Malin, the band's primary mouthpiece, can be disarmingly gracious, soft-spoken and polite, and if he's being insincere, he's certainly got me fooled. Malin is much less intimidating, it turns out, than the delinquent street urchin staring out indignantly from the band's publicity stills, or the snarling vision of pent-up rage evoked by his blistering vocals on the group's first legitimate major-label CD, this year's No Lunch.

"I don't care what terms you use to describe us," Malin says softly. "We're just D Generation, a hard rock band. We listen to a lot of everything -- a lot of Chuck Berry, Motorhead, Iggy and the Stooges, Bob Dylan, Germs, Bad Brains, James Brown, Otis Redding."

Malin's handlers, on the other hand, seem committed to perpetuating a punk-specific aura of bad-boy naughtiness, in hopes, perhaps, that it will precede D Gen wherever they go. And who can blame them? Such typecasting worked fine for the Sex Pistols (as you'll soon see, the Pistols/D Gen parallels don't end here) -- that is, until it backfired when certain band members began subscribing to every excess, as if each were another mythical step in the ladder to rock immortality.

In D Gen's case, the hype seems more a silly imposition than a necessary evil, a cheap image makeover that its members must spend extra effort dispelling as they move from one city to the next. Stripped to their essence, D Gen are five reasonably good guys from Queens just being themselves, even if that means living the punk-rock stereotype -- black leather, spiked hair, coy stage names and all.

Walking cliches or no, Malin, singer/guitarists Danny Sage and Richard Bacchus, bassist Howie Pyro and drummer Michael Wildwood have all the raw ingredients needed to claim punk legitimacy. First and foremost, D Gen cooks live, bashing out a furious noise that often polarizes audiences into love-'em/hate-'em halves. Even if you wind up in the latter group, you'll have a difficult time walking out of their show unmoved. Whether it's Malin venting his sheer disgust with the world around him, the band's unconditional surrender to the destructive and recuperative powers of rock and roll or the fearsome action in the mosh pit, something about a D Gen performance is bound to make your blood boil, staying with you long after the ringing in your ears fades.

"We like to get out there and break a sweat," says Malin. "You get into people's faces; you get something, and they send it back to you -- it's a give-and-take deal."

No Lunch is D Generation's spit-spattered manifesto (at least, until the next one comes along), 12 angst-ridden rifle cartridges loaded and spent in less than 42 minutes. "If you can say it shorter, all the better," Malin says. "We're not into overindulgence, long guitar solos and all that. Just get it done and get it out there; keep it right to the point. That's what it's about: songs and sickness."

Lean and mean, No Lunch is a highly listenable '70s/'80s time capsule, though one that rarely sounds antiquated. From the strong-armed snare-drum strokes that ring in the CD's first cut -- the one-minute-17-second hissy fit, "Scorch," in which Malin screams ruts in his throat like a prepubescent Bon Scott -- to the unabashed Cheap Tricky power-pop of "She Stands There" and "Too Loose" to the Replacements-inspired garage anthems "No Way Out" and "Major" to the semi-crazed Stoogesesque theme-song finale, "Degenerated," D Gen pays its respects not only to its punk icons but to many of the worthwhile mainstream bands of the last two decades.

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Hobart Rowland