Listen to this track by Deptford punk rock inheritors and comic geeks Art Brut. It’s “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes” an anthemic cut off of their self-referential 2009 LP Art Brut vs Satan, their third.
By the time the band came to record this album, they had hit their stride and were free enough financially in their personal lives to all take the time to record while in the same studio together. On previous records, they’d had to stagger the sessions to make room for their straight jobs, with each member coming to lay down parts at different times. With Art Brut vs Satan, they could play like the punk band they were; in a room at the same time bashing out the tunes. It helped that Frank Black, himself no stranger to recording his own bands live off of the floor, was steering the ship as producer.
And what of this song, a tale of a twenty-eight-year-old boy who still reads comics and drinks milkshakes? Well, the arrested development angle plays somewhat into what it means to be in a rock n’ roll group where staying forever young, or at least with a teenage mindset, is actively encouraged. Even if there is a more than a whiff of self-deprecation to be found here, I think this song has a few things to say about age and our perceptions of maturity that actually shows wisdom beyond its years.
Like a few others before them, this band is named after an art movement; Art Brut, which is roughly speaking a label to classify outsider art or “raw art” as it was developed in France in the early twentieth century in reaction to the academic nature of mainstream art by that era. And what is that but the punk rock of its time, putting instinct to the forefront instead of meticulous technique and established conventions?
This rawness and instinctual approach to delivering this song starts with vocalist Eddy Argos’ unadorned sung-spoken delivery in his own regional accent. This brings the whole song into a specific context, which is one of things that makes punk rock so appealing. I think though that the narrative in this song hits upon another punk rock hallmark, and that is an attempt to reflect the social landscape of the times. This is particularly when it comes to the concepts of maturity and the expected progression from one phase of life to another.
As much as this kind of thing seems pretty hard-coded a lot of the time in our society, the fact is that the concept of growing up has been a pretty fluid thing through out history. There are a lot of moving parts to this, with economic forces and even the length of average life-spans making an impact on the outcomes. Historically speaking, you don’t even have to go back very far to see that a twenty-eight year old man even fifty years ago had quite a different life to a twenty-eight year old man in 2009, or in 2017 for that matter!
These days, the conventions are falling away to include a readily acceptance of man-boys, or woman-girls, for that matter. It’s common for people of a certain age to hold down dayjobs during the week and dive right into cosplay, role-playing games, and comic book conventions on their off-hours in a way that would never be thought of in the mainstream twenty or thirty years ago. New movies about superheroes are now completely mainstream even in a way that they weren’t even when “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshakes” came out in 2009. These movies aren’t aimed at kids as they would have been a generation ago. They’re aimed at the average twenty-eight year old who never got over that amazing taste.
Having said all that, I don’t think this song is meant to be a judgemental call on the things one should just get over when they grow up. I think the real intent with this tune is to frame the models of maturity placed on people when they reach adulthood as ultimately pretty impractical, and more than just a little absurd as a one-size-fits-all model. I think this song is about trying to preserve the things that bring us joy and comfort in an uncertain world no matter how old we are. It’s a song about the freedom to define oneself by liking what one likes. Some things will always be great. What would compel someone to give those things up?
Despite the self-deprecative tone here, this is a song is also about how the theory about what it is to grow up often turns out to be a lot messier in practice. That’s a pretty mature thing to express between comic book panels and sips of chocolate milkshake.
Art Brut are an active band today. You can learn more about them on this page at Pitchfork.com.