I might be the only person that actually enjoyed the entirety of this album.
This viral hit by UK anarcho-socialist pop punkers Chumbawamba came out during a seminal time of my life. All hell was breaking loose with me personally: I was transitioning to high school, trying to figure out my place in the social hierarchy of teenage politics while attempting to keep my idea of life together as my family fell apart due to divorce. This was the time in my life that I dedicated myself to exploring computers and the burgeoning World Wide Web–fancying myself another “Zero Cool” or “Cereal Killer” from Hackers (The Matrix wouldn’t be released for another two years). This was one of the anthems of my rebellious phase, which might explain why I enjoyed the whole of the album when most folks (at least, around me) were repulsed by the underlying messages of anti-authoritarian, radical progressiveism, and social liberation.
My mother took my sister and me to see Chumbawamba during Atlanta’s inaugural “On The Bricks” concert series. I had only heard the song on the radio at that point, but her fellow “mid-life crisis” mom friends were going and thought it would be a good way for her to “spend time with the kids”. They played a few tracks that I had not heard before, and I was getting into their odd brand of musical anarchy when Alice Nutter, who had disappeared during a set change, came back to the stage dressed in full habit and swigging from a freshly-opened bottle of Jack Daniels for their performance of “Mary, Mary”. It was at that moment that I “got” them. My mother was confused, her friends flustered, my sister blissfully ignorant (she was only 5 at the time), but I was enthralled. I was forbidden to listen to their “trash”, a demand at which I scoffed before turning them up to 11. They weren’t just musicians, they were artists making a statement–a surrealist, absurdist, antiestablishmentarianist statement–and I ate it up!
“Tubthumper”, besides being a super-catchy pub song, embodied the spirit of rebellion and the attitude of irreverence that helped define my personality. This was the song that played loudly when things would come crashing down around me, and when you’re an angsty teenager, even “trivial” inconveniences could seem like world-ending cataclysms. This was also early into my “British Phase” where–in an attempt to flesh out my identity–I embraced all things UK, especially comedies (Monty Python and Red Dwarf among others, thanks to the local PBS affiliate), James Bond, The Beatles, and punk rock. This is when I developed the characteristic “mid-Atlantic” affectation that I still often display, leading to so many people exasperatedly asking “Where are you from, exactly?” and scoffing in disbelief when I answer (I may write further about that in a later number, but it’s probably beyond the scope of this article).
More to the point, this was a song that punctuated some weirdly dark times in my life. This was the song that reminded me that, no matter the odds against you, you can get up again.
You’re never gonna keep me down.