Named after a doll from the 1950s, 8 Inch Betsy‘s hardcore/punk is not just full of attitude; there’s a lot of love in there as well. It was sad to read about the history of this group, seeing as they started out with a lot of promise and some obviously great songs written by founder/vocalist Meghan Galbraith, and all that came to an end in 2015 with her passing. Identifying as queer and being active in that community as band coach, touring musician, and general good samaritan, Galbraith left behind The Mean Days, an unreleased album which was reissued by indie label Baby Robot Records and will be officially released this coming August.
Independent punk music is the site of all sorts of free-spirited, radical, and subversive communities. It’s where so many find a safe space to express themselves openly and honestly without fear of backlash. Punk is not so much about musical output as it is about values. There was a big backlash against “nazi punks” back in the day, as they were seen to be hijacking the scene. Groups like the Dead Kennedys reclaimed the style with songs like “Nazi Punks, Fuck Off,” a clear rejection of prejudiced attitudes which were antithetical to the punk ethos. The punk scene, in its most ideal version, is communal, open, expressive, revolutionary, peaceful, and accepting of all kinds of identities. While reality may be far from this, for people like Meghan Galbraith, rest her soul, these values meant something. She didn’t just talk or sing about these ideas; she lived them. And the work she left behind, and the lives she touched, are evidence of that.
“Reformatory School,” the fourth song off of The Mean Days is a cry for help. The narrator is addressing her parents, attempting to defend her own seemingly-odd behaviour. “I’m not bored I just enjoy the long walk home I’m not afraid I just need the long walk home,” she protests. It seems like the parent’s solution is to put her into reformatory school, where she could be mentally re-conditioned perhaps. The narrator sounds tired of trying to live up to some sort of ideal standard set by authority figures. She sounds like she’s about to buy into it when she admits, “yes I need help take me to reformatory school.” However, we can see that she’s simply building up her walls more, after realizing that there is no real empathy coming her way.
The production on this tune is everything great about alternative rock. It’s simple, yet balanced. Meghan’s vocal is sitting well with the other instruments, and isn’t overtly compressed to make it stick out. The band already have a great sound, and the mix engineer seems to be a student of the Steve Albini school of recording and mixing. Albini has always been militant about faithfully capturing a band’s performance, without imposing too much with production technique. It’s an old concept, but it sure as hell gets lost on too many musicians/artists who just didn’t spend enough time really honing their sound and working on their chemistry before going into the studio to work on a record. I’m not saying there isn’t great music happening these days, but it’s hard for us who grew up in the heyday of 90s alternative, indie, and pop-punk not to feel nostalgic towards those sounds. I’m obviously romanticizing the idea of cool-ass folks like 8 Inch Betsy going into the studio and having a time jamming out their tunes while a Struder machine captures those moments faithfully and in a kind of human way. All the same, at least we have a tune like “Reformatory School” to keep us going. Thank you Meghan Galbraith and friends. You shall be missed.