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Today, I’d like to present my breakdown of the Descendent’s earth-shattering 1982 debut LP, Milo Goes to College. I can’t overstate the importance of this album in both the spectrum of punk and self-acribed “geek” culture. The game-changing nature of these 15 California-suburb soaked pop-punk blasts almost overshadows the musical element, which, to say the least, is pretty outstanding.
I don’t want to sound like a bitter old man, especially since I wasn’t even born when Milo Aukerman, Frank Navetta, Tony Lombardo, and Bill Stevenson made this album. But because “the kids” today need a swift kick in their collective, spoiled ass, here’s a bit of didactic ranting. Once upon a time, 27 years ago, it sincerely sucked to be an adolescent. The legions of science nerds like Aukerman (but who would never grow up to become figureheads with their likeness tattooed all over punk fans across the globe) didn’t have it so easy. They got beaten up to the point of torture by people who Ted McGinley typified onscreen, and they had no internet to find other people like them. Nobody found solace in knowing that young people in 2009 would celebrate Reagan’s shitty era on a weekly basis at bars by wearing legwarmers and listening to music that the Descendents carved out a place in history by railing against. Despite the fact that Aukerman could easily write a thesis on it if it were, this wasn’t rocket science. Milo Goes to College is uncompromisingly angry, sometimes to a cartoonish degree, but the Descendents didn’t even come close to pulling a punch on this record. The work they did made it safe for millions of angry kids with bad fashion sense and glasses their moms picked out to stand up for themselves. Granted, now, kids are picking out those ugly glasses themselves, and the Blink-182s of the world owe pretty much everything to the SoCal quartet’s musical style. It’s rare that you can trace such a huge subcultural revelation to under 25 minutes of music, but with respect to Devo, Elvis Costello, and other savvy nerds, it all begins with Milo Goes to College. Let’s do this.
15. Parents (Track 4)
Guitarist Frank Navetta probably still lived with his parents (as did most of the band, likely- they were all barely out of their teens) when they recorded this. It’s gritty and uncompromising, certainly, but probably the most tuneless thing the Descendents ground out early on, and not representative of their talents. “I’m a boy and not a toy / I will kill and I will destroy.” Yeah… at any rate, Navetta’s legacy of quality riffs is still fully intact. Tragically, he passed away last year at the age of 46.
14. I’m Not a Punk (Track 7)
“I’m just a square, going nowhere,” bellows Aukerman in the song’s focal lyric. It reminds you what a trailblazer the dude was in a lot of ways in the hardcore community, where you’d get called a faggot for not being hairy enough, and then get called a faggot for being too hairy in a different town.
13. I Wanna Be a Bear (Track 2)
The mostly incomprehensible lyrics to this 43 second song are, at first, reflective of the band’s goofy food-loving, coffee-guzzling persona that’s largely absent on Milo Goes to College. But upon inspection, it’s just as visceral and misogynistic.
12. Statue of Liberty (Track 10)
What once meant something to a lot of people, is now a huge fucking eyesore to a lot of people. Pretty simple, really.
11. Marriage (Track 12)
I don’t get what 18-year old Milo Aukerman had to say about the idea of marriage, but it’s still a magnetic tune. According to an interview in Playboy, he was awkwardly losing his virginity at the time.
10. Jean is Dead (Track 15)
A fine, somewhat stirring finale, with that twang on the last note that so many bands throw in to make it seem like the record’s open for a sequel. Oddly enough, the album’s title was exactly the case; Aukerman was taking off for school and the Descendents were about to go on the first of many hiatuses.
9. Kabuki Girl (Track 11)
I know that bassist Tony Lombardo wrote this song, but let’s be honest here. The trials of an Asian fetishist come much more believable out of the mouth of the nerd screeching the words up front.
8. Tonyage (Track 5)
Lombardo has his own stab here at the “where were you douchebag poseurs 3 years ago?” theme. It has a ton of dated and in-joke style references but it’s still full of righteous anger and the band’s performance here is great in its shambolic glory as the song speeds up.
7. M-16 (Track 6)
In 1982, this was a lightning-quick, anti-war, shooting people as a metaphor lark. Fifteen years and dozens of high-profile school shootings later, it’s harder to listen to without prejudice. Which is unfortunate, since Bill Stevenson’s drum work on here is pretty kick-ass.
6. Myage (Track 1)
Lombardo’s iconic bass riff that opens this one is among the most memorable moments from all of 80’s punk.
5. I’m Not a Loser (Track 3)
Excessive vitriol and language from songwriter Navetta that some would call homophobic date this one, but it still has just as much, if not more fire than anything on here. It’s a perfect example of nerd-rage pointed directly at the yuppie-poisoned youth culture that seeped in at the end of the 1970’s.
4. Catalina (Track 8 )
Nothing quite like a song about going fishing as therapy. Bill Stevenson is apparently a huge fishing enthusiast, and there’s no sport more relaxing. Surprise, surprise, though- the lyrics work in sexual frustration about “only smelling fish” on board of a boat, and the genuine release of blasting cassettes of the Beatles and the Doors.
3. Suburban Home (Track 9)
Any song that has a record label, a mail-order service, and I’m sure a bunch of bands of varying musical styles named after it has to be important. This was SST Records’ song of choice to contribute to compilations the world around, too, and it’s the Descendents’ contribution to a bunch of “Hey, kid. Simple Plan fucking sucks, listen to this and educate yourself” box sets. “I want to be stereotyped; I want to be classified…”
2. Bikeage (Track 14)
I used to have Frank Navetta’s jangling guitar lead-in as my ringtone. What better twenty seconds of music to never get sick of? The lyrics completely reek of desperation, but who better than the Descendents to remind you that only you can really save yourself? Right? Okay, maybe not.
1. Hope (Track 13)
There’s something enduringly sweet about the anger in this song. Truth be told, Milo Aukerman wrote few of the Descendents songs; the band is essentially drummer Bill Stevenson’s project. But Aukerman became the band and nerd-punk movement’s figurehead for a reason, not just because of his balls-out intensity as a singer or his prototypical nerd image. He completely walked the walk behind his image, and he could also write an outstanding song or two when called upon. Sublime covered this song on 40 Oz. To Freedom, and Travis Barker has the word tattooed on his back in giant letters as a tribute to this song.