There was a time when rock and punk were seriously considered to be viable forms of social and political mobilization, and I think that’s really gone,” observes Max Bernstein, founder and singer-guitarist of MAX AND THE MARGINALIZED. “Even the bands that are considered political often write songs that are very vague, because they’re afraid that they’ll be out of date by the time their album gets through all the major-label red tape. It all but guarantees their music will be too vague to be relevant.”
Many have noticed how disappointingly silent the new generation of popular music makers has been about today’s realities - war, recession, the destruction of civil liberties and the environment being just a few at the top of the list. Aside from the Dixie Chicks, whose career was transformed by a concerted right-wing attack following one offhanded statement on the concert stage, such examples of politically committed music-making as Steve Earle’s album (and radio show) The Revolution Starts Now, Green Day’s American Idiot, and Pink’s album track “Dear Mr. President” have been so rare as to be newsworthy as soon as they appeared on the market.
Max and the Marginalized (Bernstein, Dave Watrous and Jon Ryggy) identify themselves as a political band with a uniquely 21st-century mission: They have, since October 2007, and every week since then, written a new song about a current issue or event, recorded it and released it as soon as completed on Thursday afternoon via their MySpace page, and the popular news/opinion blog site The Huffington Post. So far, they’ve done this for 33 weeks straight.
It may be looked upon as a simple idea — a regular op-ed column as a rock band. But Max and the Marginalized are dedicated to the heavy lifting of documenting the truth of our time — and working in a form popular enough to withstand the revisionism of time and the right-wing think-tank propagandists who have hijacked and cherry-picked history itself to make the political points of today and tomorrow’s election cycles.
It’s the here-and-now immediacy of the need that has been the driving force behind the band’s adaptation of the technology that has been so powerful in the development of a politically and socially effective progressive community on line. “We’re about specifics and urgency,” says Bernstein. “How can we make songs about getting the Republicans out of the White House for an album that wouldn’t be released until after the election?”
Accordingly, the songs of Max and the Marginalized are fired-up pieces of passionate, immediate commentary, capturing the brand-new, illuminating spark of righteous reaction every week, in song and occasionally in video form: “Lectures for the Dying” addresses federally funded abstinence-only education programs in Africa; “Free Evenings and Weekends,” a slice of mod-punk, comments on the little-noticed fight over immunity for telecom companies complicit in illegal wiretapping; and “Black and White and Red All Over,” a fast blast of ‘88-style hardcore, points out the rightward shift of The New York Times op-ed page.
These songs join the decades-long list of topical classics by Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Ohio,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” Junior Murvin’s “Police and Thieves,” The Clash’s Eddy Grant cover, “Police on My Back,” and The Special AKA’s “Nelson Mandela” among the socially-conscious and politically-defining songbook of the world’s youth culture - formerly disseminated through the radio station, dance club, political rally or rock concert, and now speeding through the blogosphere.
Max Bernstein, the singer, guitarist and songwriter behind Max and the Marginalized, is the son of the journalist Carl Bernstein — who, with Bob Woodward, exposed the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard M. Nixon — and the author and film director Nora Ephron. Bernstein’s plan for the group arose from the dissatisfactions of touring with three-year-old songs in his previous major-label band, The Actual. Following a tour opening for Velvet Revolver and a stint on the Vans Warped Tour, Bernstein broke up The Actual, leaving behind the band’s record deal, becoming “determined never to be in a band that existed only for the purpose of rocking out.” Max and the Marginalized was formed seven months ago with Dave Watrous on bass and Jon Ryggy on drums, and since then, the band has toured the U.S. twice, and released 33 new songs.
Whether you look at their music as a cool drink of water in a parched musical landscape, or a desperately-awaited bucket brigade arriving at a house on fire, Max and the Marginalized are a powerful truth serum injected into the on-line bloodstream.