On Burma

11Oct07

Our heart goes out to the Burmese monks of Myanmar but our mind drifts back to the post-hardcore band from Boston. As much as any other band in our collection, Mission of Burma was one whose impenetrable mystique electrified us at an age when we were still anxious to be electrified. The songs were angular and dissonant, angry and emotional in a manner that — like the name of the band itself — could only be described as political, but never preaching. Their existence was short — they broke up after just a few years — and their slender catalog strangely unobtainable; songs were passed to us via tapes and compilations featuring gruesome hand-drawn artwork on cheap construction paper.  Nobody we knew had ever seen them live; Roger Miller was said to be a recluse (though regrettably, not a gay one) and Clint — “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” — Conley a family man.

In retrospect, the reunion show at Irving Plaza was revelatory, but for reasons that had little to do with the performance; the band played with passion — in Miller’s case, a bit too much passion — and sent us and perhaps 2000 other souls (oddly, we seemed to know them all) spinning through an amazing and agonizing time warp: we were confronted by music that had once inspired us to write angry protest songs of our own, to send streaks of electric distortion ripping across the sky, to punch through the heavy curtain of conformity that always seemed to hang around us. To hear these Mission of Burma songs a decade or more after we first encountered them was to acknowledge the utter failure of our grandiose plans of revolution; this was both a source of sadness and — ultimately — great relief. Mission of Burma marked both the beginning and end of our youth, and only by relegating them to the past could we begin to understand the looming complexities of a future far different than the one we had previously envisioned.

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