Welcome to Singled Out! where we ask artists to tell us the inside story of their latest single. When we saw the premiere of Against Me!'s new video for "I Was A Teenage Anarchist," we knew there had to be a great story behind the song and video. Lucky for us (and you) frontman Tom Gabel was happy to fill us in. We now turn it over to him for the story:
I got into radical politics when I was 15 years old, shortly after discovering punk music. At first I thought punk was just nihilism, misanthropy, self destruction, Sid Vicious. Then when I was 15 I got beat up by the cops; the experience changed my life. It was the 4th of July, Naples, Florida. Every year there's a fireworks celebration down on the beach by the pier, at least there used to be. Small boardwalks connect the street to the sand. I had gone down early to meet up with a couple friends and I as I stood there on the boardwalk looking out into the sea of people trying to spot my friends, two police officers approached me. I was asked to get off the boardwalk, they said I was blocking the flow of traffic. So I did, I turned around and walked off the boardwalk back down onto the street.
Then the two officers approached me again telling me to get off the boardwalk. I told them I was off the boardwalk. Next thing I knew one of the cops had grabbed me by the neck, twisted my arm behind my back and started dragging me over towards their parked cruiser. They slammed my face down onto the sun-baked trunk of the car., kicked my legs apart and started going through my pockets. Every time I tried to get my head up off the burning trunk it was slammed back down harder. After a long and immature verbal exchange, most of the immaturity being on my part (I think the words "f**king" and "pig" were used quite a lot if I remember correctly) they cuffed me and threw me into the back of the cruiser. The one cop stood there taunting me through the window until more officers showed up on the scene, at which point they pulled me out of the cruiser. My body went limp and I fell to my knees. Two officers pulled me up, one on each elbow, putting all my weight onto my cuffed wrists, my legs kicked out involuntarily, two other cops grabbed one each. They brought me around to the other side of the cruiser and dropped me face first into the middle of the street. One officer put a boot to my head, another put a knee in my back and then they proceeded to hog-tie me. I was then lifted up like a suitcase, held by an elbow and a leg and thrown into the back of a different cruiser.
When I got down to the station I remember the main officer who instigated the whole thing opening the car door and telling me he was going to cut my legs free, that if I kicked him he would put a bullet in my head. I was charged with Battery On An Officer and Resisting Arrest With Violence, two felony charges that I was convicted of despite my mother hiring an attorney that she couldn't really afford. I know now it was a small injustice compared to other instances of police violence I've heard of over the years, I was just a dirty punk kid who walked past the wrong cops, but at the time I was more than outraged.
The experience politicized me. I dropped out of high school. I started doing a zine. I started a distro of political pamphlets and Anarcho-punk records. I started a Food Not Bombs chapter with a group of friends. We met other like minded people across Florida and started a radical activist network. We organized protests, we organized gatherings, workshops, participated in direct action. I was a Teenage Anarchist. When I was younger my opinions where very black and white, I was either for or against something, and that's how I defined myself. A lot of those opinions where formed by social influence from the scene I was a part of, being younger I felt the need to belong to something, a group of people, I wanted acceptance. Over time I realized how some people use their positions of stature to pursue their own personal agenda's, selling their own personal brand of self- serving revolution. This all being the complete opposite of what drew me towards Anarchism in the first place. I found that the people who professed the loudest that they were the most open minded individuals were in fact usually the most close minded. I feel like the revolution sold to me when I was a teenager by the punk scene, by the Anarchist scene was a lie. The real revolution was the political awakening. That initial spark that made me want to change the world. And that's what I'm interested in, maintaining that fire. That's what the song is about. I am an autonomous individual. I think for myself. I have no need to supplement my identity through belonging to a scene or exclusively endorsing any brand of political thought. And if anyone is offended by that I feel like it only reaffirms my conviction. For if it's heresy for an Anarchist to say "F**K Anarchy" then Anarchism is truly just another flag, and I say burn it along with the rest of them.
This is the title track to the band's new EP and will also be on their forthcoming new album, 'White Crosses,' which hits stores early next month. Now that you know the story behind the song, and video check it out for yourself - right here!