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  • Writer's pictureMichael Lenzi

(Re)Collection: Hot Water Music

HWM in concert: Sing-a-long time!

Hot Water Music came from Gainesville, Florida and started in 1993. This is the same year that Seth, Pat and I formed Number One Cup. I was not aware of them in the 90s. I had stopped paying close attention to punk rock and hardcore. I felt I had grown out of the all-ages punk rock scene. I felt too old and jaded for it.

As is often the case with my own late-to-the-party, behind-the-beat musical taste, I finally gave Hot Water Music a chance at the beginning of the 2000s. I was surprised to find that I liked them. I then regretted not having paid attention to them when I could have seen them play a basement show or at all ages clubs like Fireside Bowl, Off the Alley or Medusas. Their own brand of PMA brodown must have been an exciting and life-affirming spectacle to witness and participate in.

I did go to see them in 2006, and then they promptly went on hiatus. When they started back up again in 2008 with some shows for the Till the Wheels Fall Off release, I was able to see them again. With every show I was more enthralled and convinced.

In 2012, they released the excellent Exister LP. It is my favorite LP to date. I went to see them at the Metro the day after I had knee surgery. I stood at the back wall on crutches and sang along to every song. It was remarkable to be at a show where people were so moved by the music that most sang along with their sweaty arms aloft, pointing at the stage and the performers. They participated in the show. They gave a shit and were not standing with their arms crossed tightly against their chests as was the fashion at so many of the shows that I have gone to in my adult life. It was like being at a rocking pentecostal church service. It was euphoric.

I am very fond of Chris and Chuck's raspy singing voices. They both have a wounded yet triumphant quality about them that matches well with the intensity of the sounds and the lyrics. Along with Frankie Stubbs of Leatherface, Ian Mackaye and Guy Picciotto of Fugazi, Henry Rollins of Black Flag, Joe Strummer of the Clash and Tim Armstrong of Operation Ivy, the grit in their hoarse deliveries tell me they have lived what they sing about. They satisfy my bullshit detector.

Chuck and Chris are part of an important tradition of gravel-voiced punk rock shouters. They are missionaries of sorts. They endeavor to uplift. They encourage their fans to take care of each other. Pick one another up when they fall. Because we all fall. At the show or in every day life. It seems like a quaint, unhip idea nowadays, but I firmly believe that they believe their own words. I take them to heart.

Feed the fire

To rid the head of wreck

-Hot Water Music, Paid in Full

from Exister

I am not one for telling others what lyrics mean. Nor do I trust myself to even know what my own lyrics actually mean for that matter. My perspective on everything changes and evolves. But I know what this HWM lyric from Paid in Full means to me now: keep stoking your passion and it will burn away all the self-destructive garbage the brain produces and hoards. It is all very emo, of course. And it is a sentiment repeated in many self-help books. But fuck it, man. It rings true to me. (Although I am pretty damn sure this song has nothing to do with what I think it is about. Sorry HWM. I misinterpret to suit my own needs! When a chorus gets stuck in my head, a song becomes about my impression and interpretation of that set of words.)

When Brian Baker coined the derisive and snarky phrase "emo-core" in 1985 to describe what was going on in the mid-80s Dischord Records scene, it did not strike me as a put-down. There were a growing number of young bands playing sincere and introspective punk rock music in the Nation's Capitol. In my mind, this is what made the music seem new and exciting. It became the de facto style of the punk rock from the city of my birth. Bands and fans alike loathed the term. It caused so much backlash and negativity over the years. But the term persists. I am ok with it.

In this inward-looking yet urgent music, I found messages that were not the same old sex/drugs/rock & roll tropes. Marginal Man, Embrace, Rites of Spring, Gray Matter, Beefeater, Soulside, and Ignition, to name a few, were all intense and serious groups who sang about themselves, their issues and their places in the world. I sang along with them. They echoed what I thought and felt about myself. It may have been a little melodramatic and maudlin sometimes, but it belonged to me. I felt a part of it.

I am an emotional dreamer and the struggle in my brain and heart is no closer to being resolved. It is at the core of being a thinking human being. But when I get down from all the overthinking, I turn to groups like HWM. Chuck and Chris reaffirm the idea that struggle is constant. It is something to keep pushing through. Keep moving forward. Some don't need affirmations and encouragement. I do.

I am ok with people looking down on it as emo. Life is long hopefully. Maybe some of the naysayers and cynics will have an epiphany. Maybe not. But I have been enriched by it. That says something.

This is my favorite song from the Exister LP released in 2012 on Rise Records. I hope you give it a chance.

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