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August 11, 2013 8:50 AM Morning music: New Jersey’s unsung punk band, Detention

By Kathleen Geier

To me, one of the great things about punk rock is that punk didn’t have to be great to be good. Punk democratized rock at a time when it was getting stodgy, elitist, and stale. It broke down the barriers between fans and musicians, and promoted a participatory, anybody-can-do-this-thing ethos. One of my favorite stories that illustrates this involves the Ramones’ first gigs in London in 1976 — shows that, according to legend, were attended by members of many bands who were to become the seminal artists of the English punk scene just a short time later. The Clash’s Paul Simonon approached Johnny Ramone backstage. The following conversation ensued:

Johnny asked him, “What do you do? Are you in a band?” Paul said, “Well, we just rehearse. We call ourselves the Clash but we’re not good enough.” Johnny said, “Wait till you see us—we stink, we’re lousy, we can’t play. Just get out there and do it.”

I love that story. I try to remember it whenever I lack confidence or feel fear.

All of which brings us to Detention. They were a band that came out of Manville, New Jersey in the 1980s. They were not great, but they were often very good, and that was good enough. “Beaches,” which is one of my favorite songs of theirs, celebrates an aspect of Jersey culture that, prior to the Jersey Shore TV show, was relatively unsung (apart from Springsteen, of course): New Jersey’s beaches. I’m posting the song now, not only because it’s beach season, but also as a reminder that Jersey’s shoreline, which last year was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, has still not fully recovered. The shore towns whose economies depend on beachgoer revenues continue to be hard hit. Earlier this summer, I was shocked to hear from my mom that she and my dad have no plans to visit the Jersey shore this year — for the first time, ever, in their 70-something year old lives. Apparently, their favorite beach is still a shell of what it once was, and they didn’t think it would be worth the trip.

No doubt it will take some time for the Jersey shore to recover, and some — many? — of those towns may never be what they were. Look for you-know-who to run for president in 2016 on a message that goes something like: “I brought back the Jersey shore from economic ruin, and I can do the same for America.” It may not be true, but it will sound awesome.

Now, on to the song. If you can identify the New Jersey public figure the singer imitates toward the end (during the lyrics “New Jersey and you — perfect together” — it was a tourism ad), you win a free subscription to this blog.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee

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