Off the bus, six in the evening, walking by Satyricon on the way to the NW Hoyt post office. (Open the latest?) Gotta pay these credit card minimums. Have to send 'em priority mail this month. (Or everything falls apart?) There's a homeless kid wearing a threadbare punk T-shirt, his skin bronzed by equal parts filth and sun. He's staring at a show flyer. Smirks at first, scratches his partially shaved head, smiles warmly, and appears to remember: the Casualties.
In all likelihood, he and I both consider the band a work of good fiction. Formed in the grounded halcyon days of melodic punk—after the reign of New York hardcore and before commercial emo—the Casualties brought fantasy to the VFW halls with liberty spikes and bondage trousers. They looked like the Exploited, sounded like a pop-punk Charged GBH, and sang self-referential, rule-breaking illusions about the "punx" and pounding 40s in New York City. "Sniffing glue/drinking beers/don't give a fuck how the hippies feel," goes "Made in NYC," their ode to the Ramones.
"Somebody said one time that we're a 'gateway band,'" recalls guitarist Jake Kolatis on the eve of the release of their new LP, We Are All We Have. "And you know what? I'm fine with that. If we can get some new kids into the scene, it's awesome. Don't get me wrong, I love the underground. We started in that. In 1993, we were playing squats in New York City."
Since then, with punk hubs such as St. Mark's Place giving way to the gentrifying influence of nearby New York University, the Casualties have been forced to cross one river or another. Half wound up in Jersey City, where students can be seen running home from middle school, and a studio apartment can be rented for $500 a month.
Their fable continues—four chords, Oi! in the voice, bottle-smash percussion—but the new album is more sobering than intoxicating. Vocalist Jorge Herrera has stopped drinking ("Looking Thru Bloodshot Eyes"). "Who doesn't listen to Slayer?" asks Kolatis (in regard to the thrashing "War Is Business"). There is an acknowledgment of their Jersey ties ("Lonely on the Streets"). There are two reggae songs. It's a balance the homeless kid and I don't seem to be feeling.
We're just punks: sniffing glue, drinking beers, don't give a fuck how the hippies feel.