The first time I saw Lifetime it was one of those magical events that could only happen to a teenager at an all-ages show. It was a night of friendship, burgeoning romance, and standing so close to the speakers that my chest rattled with every bass line and my eyes blinked in unison with the crisp snap of the snare drum. Basically, a night that resembles every single Lifetime song.
Lifetime are from New Jersey in the way the Boss is from New Jersey. But if Springsteen drummed up street poetry of fuel-injected Americana along the Jersey Shore, Lifetime's view of the Garden State is strictly underground—as in basement shows, where they, and countless others of the same DIY pedigree cut their teeth playing all-age punk sets next to the Maytag washer in whichever house was missing parents for the weekend. The band even penned the ultimate punk ode to the show below the ground in "Theme Song for a New Brunswick Basement Show," with its lovesick lyrics of "Do you hate this band too?/I smiled a nervous smile, but I warmed up and acted cool standing by the stove/And your eyes made it strange and I felt out of place/Wondering if you if you could take her place."
If those lyrics seem familiar, they should. After their breakup in 1997, bands began stealing from Lifetime's grave long before the band's corpse went cold. Their legacy never had the time to properly develop, seeing as their style was co-opted and driven straight into the ground within a couple years of their split. What's lost in the shuffle is the fact that what Lifetime did in the mid-'90s was downright revolutionary.
At that time, the East Coast hardcore landscape was a rigid world of masculine aggression, one that did not take kindly to Lifetime's (literal) softening of the genre they held so dear. This "cut the shit, start the pit" mentality was a mantra to a whole generation of floor-punching young men who were baffled by Lifetime's introspective lyrics and forward-thinking ideology. (And it was only men. Like any creatively bankrupt scene, the complete lack of women has a lot to do with the poor musical product that was generated.) While choosing not to be a brainless goon hardly seems like a radical decision, at that time, and in those Jersey basements, it was an astonishing direction for a hardcore band to take.
The band's 1995 release, Hello Bastards, is still, to this day, one of the pinnacle releases in not just hardcore, but punk music in general. Lifetime's songs were melodic, warm, and a welcome invitation to hoards of DIY kids who were intimidated by the typical hardcore thuggery. Like so many other seminal bands who didn't get their dues the first time around, Lifetime has returned for another go. Now signed to the label of Pete Wentz (you might know him from his band Fall Out Boy, and you might know his dick from all those photos that were leaked online), the band recently released a self-titled album that finds them picking up where they left off. That is, making every song sound like it's an endless summer evening in some kid's basement, where the music is far too loud, it's way past your curfew, and you never want the night to end.
Lifetime performs at Hawthorne Theatre on Friday, September 7.