My mother-in-law was a Depression-era kid, and she shared stories of the rail-riders who would pass through her small Louisiana hometown looking for work. They carried all they owned from place to place, stopping here and there to do odd jobs for dinner and a place to sleep. Those travelers became known as hobos, whose lifestyle was romanticized in songs of the period like "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"
History repeats itself, Meemaw often said, and she may have had a point. Our recent economic woes and general unrest have people once again exploring the country by railways and highways. The 2013 model of the American hobo goes by different names -- traveling kid, gutterpunk, oogle -- and isn't necessarily looking for work. Some are looking to escape the conformity or comfort of the suburbs; others are on one long city-to-city party.
Like their tramp forefathers, these new vagabonds turn to music to celebrate their way of life. Rocks Off asked a couple of experts to help put together a list of musical acts these modern-day hobos enjoy.
Matt Derrick of Squat the Planet and "D.J.," from Look at This Fucking Oogle, chronicle the travel lifestyle on their respective Web sites. They shared their thoughts on the bands that keep these travelers moving down an endless road. Together, we came up with these ten groups no homebum should leave home without:
10. Mischief Brew Derrick is a traveling filmmaker, professional adventurer and founder of Squat the Planet, an online community that has explored nomadic lifestyles since 2001. His site promotes seeing "what the world has to offer when you torch the picket fence and set out for a life of adventure." His first selection is Pennsylvania's Mischief Brew.
"[Mischief Brew founder] Erik Petersen has been around since the beginning of the folk punk genre and has probably inspired a billion different folk punk bands," Derrick says. "He writes really inspiring music with lyrics about revolt, nomadism and the like."
Derrick said it's easy to see why hybrids of folk and punk music are popular with these travelers.
"I've definitely noticed that the 'old-timey'/'folk-punk' genre has gotten really popular over the past few years, and it makes a lot of sense, since much like train hopping, it doesn't take much to get started," he says. "A guitar, backpack and something to sing about are pretty much all you need, which fit in well with the punk-rock background that the majority of us come from."
9. Leftöver Crack Like any society, the travel society has microcosms. Some of these present-day vagrants are marginalized by other travelers because they've stopped living on their parents' dime to hitchhike, Dumpster-dive and "spange" (ask for spare change) to survive.
These kids are often referred to as "oogles," and make up the focus of Look at This Fucking Oogle; the Web site is subtitled "Pornography for Homeless People."
"An oogle is basically a poseur in the train-riding world, usually a new kid fresh from home with way too much stuff in their pack and a Leftöver Crack shirt with patched-up pants," says site founder D.J. "Leftöver Crack is a big oogle band, probably because they sing about shooting up and killing cops."
8. Gripe In a bit of self-promotion, D.J. included Gripe among the bands gutterpunks follow. He's the band's vocalist, so those who visit his site have a built-in soundtrack for hours of scrolling through gnarly oogle pics. The band is a mashup of hardcore-grindcore that "tends to focus on negativity and paranoia," he adds.
"Oogle traveling usually consists of riding trains to different shows around the country and getting drunk," D.J. adds. "Without shows and booze, oogles would have nothing left to do."
List continues on the next page.
7. Blackbird Raum These Santa Cruz anarcho-punks are in their tenth year as a band whose pared-down acoustic work and intelligent lyrics have won them fans in the U.S. and abroad. They recently completed a European tour promoting their latest album, False Weavers.
"This band has gotten fucking huge in the past few years, and it seems like every traveler and their moms are rocking their patches now," says Derrick. "I think they have some really amazing songs, but they're far from my favorite band in this genre."
6. The Hail Seizures "This is folk-punk that is a lot more fast-paced than most bands in the genre," Derrick says of the Olympia, Washington-based outfit. "I like them 'cause they get me pumped."
They're also a favorite among travel kids who are on the road flying signs (Sharpie-marked cardboard requesting gas money or rides) and their "doogles" (an oogle's dog is called a doogle).
5. Witch Hunt It's uncertain how many travel kids have actually listened to any music by Philadelphia-based hardcore punk outfit Witch Hunt. Many rep the band's logo, though. It all feels a little like those middle-schoolers who wear Black Flag bars but can't name a single song.
On the other hand, Witch Hunt has been spreading its punk message for more than a decade now, so there's been ample opportunity for fans to learn their catalog.
List continues on the next page.
4. Rail Yard Ghosts A glance at this band's Facebook band page tells you plenty about the traveling lifestyle. Under "About the Band" there's a single phrase -- "On tour forever." It's a huge band (with a sound it describes as "flailgrass") that has recorded some tracks in abandoned Amtrak stations and budget hotel rooms.
The band's last Facebook entry is a video of "us playing 'Ride Freight, Look Great' to a bunch of kids on psychedelic drugs in Kalamazoo, Michigan at 4:20 in the morning, on April 20th."
3. Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains/Wingnut Dishwashers/Pat the Bunny "Honestly, I talk a lot of crap on folk-punk, since anyone can do it," Derrick says. "There's a lot of really bad folk-punk out there, about 90 percent of it in my opinion. That being said, there are a lot of good bands out there, too."
Pat Schneeweis is the mastermind behind all three groups and writes "lyrics about traveling that are just too fucking good to ignore," according to Derrick. Some of the most poignant lyrics of this genre can be found in "Free and Alone," from Schneeweis's days performing as Wingnut Dishwashers Union.
2. Nausea True travel kids sport "backpatches," large patches sewn with dental floss onto jackets and vests, and few bands are as backpatched as Nausea. The New York-based group was active in the late 1980s and is considered a founding group of the crust punk movement. Its apocalyptic themes hark back to the Cold War. Songs like Nausea's "Fallout (of Our Being)" are beginning to seem all too relevant again.
See No. 1 on the next page.
1. Crass Oddly enough, perhaps the most beloved of all bands to American oogles is Crass, a punk-rock band from England that was active before most travel kids were born. The band's prevalent themes of anarchy and environmental and animal rights ring true to these modern-day free spirits. Crass's alternating male and female lead singers became a model for anarcho-punk bands to follow.
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