Total Eclipse of the Punk Heart

"I've always believed that the great thing about punk rock is the same thing that's great about rock and roll," Frank states. "You've got real songs there that are performed with some kind of energy and tension. What appealed to me when I first started listening to punk records in the late Seventies was the fact that there were actual songs with verses and choruses and bridges that were written by terrific songwriters. Those old records by the Undertones and the Buzzcocks were just brilliant. That's why people are still listening to them, whereas I don't know anybody who throws on Millions of Dead Cops records for their strolls down memory lane.

"It's like the stuff from the Sixties," he continues, on an impassioned roll. "That was a great time for protest music, but I think people today find more relevance in the Beatles' 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' than in something by Phil Ochs. Punk rock in the Eighties turned into this thing where the attitude was more important than the songs, and for the average geek or the not-too-bright adult, it's easy to come up with something that will seem intelligent and socially relevant to them. But really, it's just claptrap. All that pseudo-political stuff is just completely infantile."

Then he hedges his bet. Sort of. "Who knows?" he shrugs. "Maybe all those bands are right. Maybe Maximumrocknroll [punk's ultrapolitical underground bible] is right. Maybe I am being duped by a proto-fascist government. If that's the case, then I'll formally apologize. Right now, though, this world is a great place when you've got a girlfriend who loves you. That's my world-view."

As the bulk of Love Is Dead proves, however, Frank's world-view is hardly so idyllic. Fraught with confusion, longing, and self-doubt, the album maintains his persona as punk's love-struck loser, a defeatist who's forever standing beneath dark clouds. The break-up rocker "The Future Ain't What It Used to Be" opens with one of Frank's patently pessimistic declarations: "I'm going to miss you/But let's not skirt the issue/From now on everything is going to suck." And if you're looking for anthems celebrating, respectively, passive-aggressiveness and romantic dysfunction, wiggle into a straitjacket and spend some time with "I Fell for You" and "I'd Do Anything for You." Even when Frank gets the girl, his nihilism never ceases. In "Thank You (For Not Being One of Them)," he and his girlfriend try to figure out how to kill the guys who just beat him up, and "I Just Want to Do It With You" begins with Frank giving his newfound love a list of all the things he's not: "Cool dude," naturally, is at the top.

"That's just how I write," Frank says of his penchant for verbal gut-spillage. "It's cathartic for me. Somewhere down the line, I guess I engaged myself to write the break-up song from every possible angle. But to an extent there is some distancing at work. Part of the joke or the gimmick is that I'm always wearing my heart on my sleeve, so people expect that of me. But I try to at least twist the songs around enough that they have some new angles. People tell me that the songs have a therapeutic use for them, which is nice because I listen to songs for the same reasons."

That's why this elder statesman of American punk finds solace and reassurance in the open-heart anthems of vintage country and western, ranking George Jones and Webb Pierce among his favorite artists. "I'm a songwriter fetishist," he admits. "When I hear a well-constructed song on the radio, I feel really impressed because it's so deeply divorced from what so many people are doing. I love country music because no matter how bad you feel -- no matter how shitty things are going -- there's always a country singer who's made a song about that exact feeling that's clever, articulate, and sometimes a little funny. Nobody can do that like the best country singers, and when it works, it's pretty swell.

"So many people now don't seem to realize that your songs have to have a point and rhyme and have to develop," he goes on, "so that you end up learning something about that point by the end of the song. That's just basic stuff to me, but these days it's possible to build a career by substituting those things with some kind of directionless pseudo-political, pseudo-intellectual angst. The result is that now you can't turn on the radio without some impassioned person screaming in your face. I just don't get it."

The Mr. T Experience performs Saturday, February 3, with opening acts Quit and Hudson at Club Impact, 4301 N Federal Hwy, Pompano Beach; 946-1704. Showtime is 8:00 p.m. Admission is $6.

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