I mentioned back in my post about “Take a Chance on Me” that I have a soft spot for songs I think of crassly as Incel Anthems. These are songs performed by all genders in which a person lists out all the reasons why they’re a better match for the object of their affection than the person with whom said object is associating romantically. “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA is one example, as is “Alone Again, Or” by Love/the Damned. There are a lot of these and I’ve always liked them. They’re romantic: the idea of someone quietly pining from afar (or a’near, because I think a lot of these are crushes-between-friends kinds of situations). It’s flattering because it’s basically a crush. I think it crosses the line into shitty when hostility and indignation come into the picture. I also think, whether anyone’s going to admit it or not, you’ve felt this way at one time or another, even towards a friend. They’re relatable.
I don’t have a problem with these songs. Other people, I’ve found, feel like these songs haven’t aged well, where Incels and Proud Boys and whomever else have taken the shine off the charm this thematic musical trope once had. I disagree. Descendents’ world wasn’t as connected as ours is. The dangerous and skeevy friend-zoner types probably existed when these songs were written, but how can you hold the writers responsible for knowing the trope back when music was one of a handful of forums in which to voice this kind of frustration? Also, fuck it if I’m willing to give those creeps that much power. Seriously. Fuck it.
All of this is to say that you can’t take “Hope” away from me, you just can’t! I’ve posted before about how Descendents mean a lot to Pete and I as a couple. The very first time we met in person, he gave me a copy of Descendents’ then-up-to-date singles/hits collection, Somery. It’s a very well-put-together collection, now that I think of it. The storied, enduring classics are sprinkled throughout. Clocking in at 53:12, any album or collection of that length is not necessarily going to be listened in its entirety, particularly by a teenager whose primary mode of transportation was the city bus. It took me several listens until I got to track 21, “Hope.”
I’ll never forget the first time I heard “Hope” because my whole perception of reality shifted. I remember I was on the bus and I must have gone somewhere else right after school because I was alone and standing and since I rode that bus route end-to-end, I generally at least got an outer seat. I was listening to this pleasant song I could tell would end up being a Descendents favorite when ¾ of the way through it, straight out of a completely different song I heard the words “you don’t know what you want, it’s gonna take you years to find out.” You may or may not know that turn of phrase also shows up in “Disconnected” by Face to Face*. I think enough of Face to Face to know that this was a tribute and not a ripoff but it was also very cheap. The relative obscurity in which Descendents lived up until 1996 (actually the year in which this story take place) would have had most Face to Face listeners, myself included, unaware that they lifted the HOOK to their biggest hit (released in 1993, but per my research didn’t get much alternative radio play until 1995). I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. I ran home and immediately called Pete to give him the news, as he was less of a fan of the radio-friendly pop punk of the day than I was. I don’t recall what his reaction was exactly but suspect it involved a snort.
*LOLOLOLOL I also was just reminded by accident that Sublime covered all of “Hope” on 40 Oz to Freedom, which was released in ‘92 and I was listening to it in full by ‘95 and I can’t for the life of me remember why Face to Face’s lil’ tribute stood out to me more on first listen than Sublime’s full cover. Except maybe that 40 Oz is also a very long album and “Hope” is track 20.
I honestly don’t want to pick this song apart the way I sometimes do. There really isn’t any way to describe why it stands out more than any other exceptionally romantic Descendents song that appears on Somery (i.e., “Silly Girl,” “Good Good Things” [a runner-up for the top 100], “Bikeage,” “Cheer,” and “Get the Time”). When I listen to it though? Particularly those first several guitar chords? It’s like going home, slipping into a warm bath, or some other cliche about comforting music. It’s part of my brain, part of who I am (except that one line “so you wait for his cock”--ugh, Descendents did this so much). Net of my Somery fixation (it was the first recording I had by them), “Hope” of course, appeared on Descendents’ best *album* Milo Goes to College, which I can hardly wait to put on when I’m done typing this.
Another notable factoid about “Hope” is that it was written by Milo Aukerman and not Bill Stevenson. I must have known that at some point but guess I forgot until a second ago when I had to cartoonishly rub my eyes to make sure I hadn’t hallucinated the writing credit. It’s not that Milo doesn’t have this kind of sweetness in him--he certainly does--but most of the best Descendents songs, particularly the sweet ones, were written by drummer Bill Stevenson. On the other hand, this also explains “so you wait for his cock.” That’s so painfully Milo.
I can’t recommend enough the 2013 minor motion picture Filmage, the documentary about Descendents. If you haven’t seen it yet and have more than a passing interest in Descendents as a band, I have to insist you watch it. Going in, I didn’t think I could love them any more, but here we are. I love it so much, just bringing it up in this post makes me want to prioritize a rewatch, if only we didn’t have such a stout week of television in front of us. There are a hundred lovely moments in it but two stand out. First of course was the unbelievable story of the removal of Bill Stevenson’s brain tumor by a surgeon who turned out to be a Black Flag (for whom Stevenson briefly drummed) fan. And the origin story of the songs “All” and “No All,” along with the accompanying All-stylized animation. It’s perfect.
I’ve posted recently in the context of listicles regarding the first time I saw Descendents, but not the most recent time I saw them (I think I did write a long post the morning after the show, though). It was in Silver Spring at the Fillmore--not the ideal venue--and was the third time in a handful of years I’d gone. Because I’d seen them twice so recently and the latter time had been a touch disappointing, we almost didn’t go. You know how it was pre-pandemic. Being bored and tired was an easy excuse to not do things you can’t fathom passing up now. With their always kind-spirited enthusiasm, they urged the crowd to maintain *hope* in dark times and most of all, get out and vote. It’s hard for me at this point a year or more later to put into words how good for the soul it was to watch them with hundreds of other people who love Descendents, but it’s also hard for me to imagine passing up a chance to see them again.