It was likely pretty early in the initial years of my exposure to punk and hardcore; Like I said last week, I started with local, current, or just weird shit that I'd find at friends houses or in the 7" bin at Newbury Comics (Toxic Narcotic, Limp Wrist, pg.99, whatever). I then started delving into the more historical stuff, like Black Flag and Minor Threat, and later the more experimental offshoots of that scene like The Minutemen and Fugazi. I'd pretty much give any band a shot if they had a cool sounding name or a good album cover. I was really into that first Millions of Dead Cops album for a while.
I don't exactly remember the first time I heard "Bloodstains," but I seem to recall being so impressed with it that I bought the band's first album, Living in Darkness, the next time I found myself at the Bellingham Newbury Comics (a digression: I namedrop Newbury Comics a lot, because in those years when I didn't really go to shows or even leave my neighborhood a whole lot, that store and my small circle of friends were my only real resources for finding out about new music. I swear they're not paying me for this, and though I did end up working for them for a couple months in 2007, I have no special affection for the company). If I did have that record at some point though, I don't know where it went. Probably into the same black hole that swallowed my copy of You're Living All Over Me by Dinosaur Jr. and my rad Dead Kennedys t-shirt.
Where was I? Oh yeah, the song. I hadn't thought about it in years, but lately I've been listening to it near-obsessively as part of my morning routine. In particular, I've been rocking the original version off their first seven-inch EP. It's got that great echoey sound that I love on early punk rock records, like it wasn't recorded by Spot, but it might as well have been (unfortunately, I couldn't find a youtube video of this version, so instead the above clip is the re-recorded version from their first LP, which is still pretty good). As far as hardcore songs go, it's pretty much perfect; I dare say it's a Platonic ideal of the form. One minute and forty-seven seconds of crunchy guitars, 4/4 drums, and pure concentrated sneer.
There are a couple things that set it apart, though. What Agent Orange seem to be most known for is being that California hardcore band that was really into surf-rock. Which, if you couldn't tell by the winding guitar solo at a minute and twenty, you'd probably figure out by the time you got to the Dick Dale cover later on the album. It's pretty neat. The same way Bad Brains carved out their niche with a fusion of speed-punk and reggae, Agent Orange created a sound that is both quintessentially "hardcore" and entirely unique within that scene.
What I've really been grooving on, though, is the lyrics. First of all, "They can't make things worse for me, sometimes I'd rather die" is one of the most perfect opening lines to a punk rock song ever, right up there with "I'm about to have a nervous breakdown, my head really hurts" or "I am an antichrist, I am an anarchist." The chorus, though, is just straight up weird. And pretty great:
Bloodstains, speed kills
Fast cars, cheap thrills
Rich girls, bye-bye
I've lost my sense, I've lost control, I've lost my mind
Seriously, what? It's this strange melange of punk rock signifiers, like they cut up the lyrics sheets to a bunch of late '70s punk LPs and glued them back together. It is, if you'll allow me to be pretentious (like I need your permission), totally Modernist, the kind of thing James Joyce might've written if he were an antisocial teenager growing up in 1970s California.
Anyway, according to their official website, Agent Orange were still together and playing shows as recently as 2005. As much as I love it when bands break up, I think that's totally rad. I would pay good money to see a bunch of 40- or 50-something dudes rocking out onstage to this song. It warms my heart to think about.
-Michael James Roberson