Laura Jane Grace solo album: Out of the Way!

Laura Jane Grace solo album: Out of the Way!

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Punk rock, sell-out accusations and gender reassignment: Laura Jane Grace takes stock of her new album “Hole in My Head”.

Laura Jane Grace has just released her second solo album Photo: Bella Peterson

The eternal conflict between the underground ideal and major label sell-out temptation runs through the history of punk. And thus also through the biography of Laura Jane Grace, singer of the US punk band Against Me! Her debut album, “Reinventing Axl Rose”, was released by a small label, the following two by the medium-sized US indie Fat Wreck Chords. Then it went to Major Sire, which resulted in snot attacks and middle fingers from the audience at almost all Against Me! concerts, and even bar fights with disappointed fans.

Against Me! with stadium tours in the supporting program, such as the Foo Fighters, best buddy photos with Bruce Springsteen and appearances on all the TV late night shows of the noughties. Quite astonishing for a band from Florida’s anarcho-punk scene, whose singer consistently drank everything that came her way.

“Hole in My Head,” Laura Jane Grace’s second solo album, sounds for the first time like the music of someone who could now, at the age of 43, make peace. Her band’s anthemic punk rock was always infected with folk. On “Hole in My Head” you can also hear a few manifestos of eternal juvenile rebelliousness and resistance (“I’m Not a Cop”).

But also a gesture of reconciliation with an outstretched hand, set to music only with an acoustic guitar. “I am sorry / I make mistakes / I never think through the choices I make / And while I’ve got no right to hard feelings / I don’t deserve them / I just take them home,” Grace sings in “Hard Feelings “.

Laura Jane Grace: “Hole in My Head” (Big Scary Monsters/The Orchard)

Laura Jane Grace: “Tranny. “Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Notorious Anarchist Traitor.” Translated from English by Gunnar Christiansen. Golden Press, Bremen 2023, 380 pages. 25 euros

Autobiography worth reading

The song can be found at the end of the album, and the finale, “Give Up the Ghost”, also wants to clarify something. It is not clear what exactly the spirit is that oppresses the lyrical self and which should disappear. But there is at least the danger that what comes after will not necessarily be better: “I think it’s time that I give up the ghost / With the spirit gone / I’ll be what I fear the most / An empty vessel / Just machine at the most”. The discomfort remains.

If you not only have the music in your ears while listening, but also Laura Jane Grace’s autobiography “Tranny”, which is well worth reading, you will be happy about every one of these lines. Grace sings about anarchist ideals, which are closely linked to her experiences as a trans woman. About the “Dysphoria Hoodie,” for example, which you can wrap yourself in to hide your own body shape. “A feeling of security is blanketing me / Your arms of protection are wrapped around me”.

Laura Jane Grace is not the first punk singer to identify as trans. Transcending traditional gender categories can already be found in protopunk bands such as New York Dolls and Wayne County & the Electric Chairs in the 1970s. But Grace is probably the first to begin a transition and make the experience the central theme of her art, on the best Against Me! album, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues.”

This experience makes the autobiographical text “Tranny” more than just the usual rock-star-breaks-and-repairs-herself narrative. Grace describes the extensive use of drugs and alcohol as increasingly desperate self-medication due to gender incongruity, which drove the singer to the point of suicide during her transition.

Fight for pure punk doctrine

And the struggle for pure punk doctrine that accompanies the band’s history appears in a different light against this background: the very person who is said to have distanced himself from the hard, radical core of punk, the traitor, comes around the corner with a problem that is in contrast about the mainstream versus underground shenanigans have nothing contrived, but are actually existential.

The fact that Laura Jane Grace was rehabilitated in her own scene after years of criticism by coming out is a nice point. All of this reappears in traces on “Hole in My Head”. Laura Jane Grace has developed a simplistic and clear version of folk punk in which the subjective and the general are combined.

Lofi farewell songs (“It’s been a long time since we used to play / Punk rock in basements”), a folk song that embraces the world in all its awfulness like “Cuffing Season” (“I wanna crash into the sound / I wanna learn to trust the fall”) and songs like the title track, for example, which have something potentially life-saving for those in question (“You can try to outrun all the pain you come from / And that would be a real mistake”).

The acoustic pieces also sound most beautiful and coherent on “Hole in My Head”. They don’t seem exciting at first, but in the combination of text, biography and scene background they are unique and radically opinionated.

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