Retro Album Review: Passafist (1994)

Recently I’ve been dealing with my midlife crisis by exploring all the music I loved in my youth. Of course, some of this music has held up pretty well despite my current standards, while some of this music sounds pretty dated. Part of this is, of course, the fact that my tastes have changed. The top 40 music I so loved as a teen isn’t really what I enjoy now, though some of the album rock I listened to in college is still quite amazing and relevant. All this being said, I am introducing a new topic to explore on aaronjedwards.com. I’ll be exploring, critiquing, and being downright brutal to the music I loved and thrived upon the int 80s and 90s. The general idea is to review albums as a whole, though I might review certain songs on their own, or perhaps certain artists. Some of it will be music most of my readers will know, while some of the music will be pretty obscure.

The first album I want to review is certainly on the obscure side: the self-titled, and only, release by a band called “PassAFist.” The band formed in 1994 after Chagall Guevara’s disbanding.  Some might say that Dave Perkins and Lynn Nichols actually set out to make the second Chagall Guevara album with the Passafist project. Little can even be found on the album or band, so I’ll get right to the music itself.

1. Emmanuel Chant

The first track, Emmanuel Chant, feels like a post industrial dance number. The song almost sounds like if Trent Reznor wrote a song with MC 900 Ft. Jesus. It’s a very simple track, and very trance like. Ultimately, it’s a cry to God – a desire for the presence of the Lord.

2. Glock

The second track, Glock is a heavy and violent song speaking of vengeance. The  speaker in this song is an English teacher, who due to a school shooting, turns to a life of violence. While Glock doesn’t appear to fit with the first song, subsequent listenings could show that the speaker is the same. Emmanuel Chant, being the speaker’s desires, Glock being the speaker’s realities.  A mild-mannered person is suddenly feeling so unsafe that he must pursue a quest of vengeance. The pacifist in track one is suddenly finding himself needing to “pass a fist.”

3. Christ of the Nuclear age

Track three – Christ of the nuclear age is a confusing one. My interpretation is that the song revolves around an egoist who decides to follow the example of Christ, minus the love. We have someone who hangs out with prostitutes, but does not honor them. He’s a person who is not above destroying anything he dislikes, even if this is overly destructive to those around him. He’s one to mix spit and mud, and throw it in your eyes. It’s almost as if this “Nuclear Christ,” mocks Christ and all who follow Christ. But really digging into a deeper meaning, one can find a bit of a subtext: The man is actually representative of many churches. These churches try to mimic Christ, but forget that Christ had love as his central message.

4. Love E900

Track 4, Love E900 is a commentary of the culture that, before the internet, arose around 1-900 numbers. You could call for psychics,  you could call for phone sex, you could call for jokes, financial advice, and pretty much anything you might now just google. One could raise a pretty hefty phone bill on said services. I’ve always felt that this was the weakest track on the album, but that doesn’t mean it’s a weak song by any means. In fact, one might say that it’s a valuable piece of history. Love E900 shows the proto culture that eventually evolved into our culture of instant gratification. It shows a culture that demands instant gratification from their technology.

5. Appliance Alliance

Track five, Appliance Alliance pairs nicely with track three. They’re both about a church without the love of Jesus. Having said that, while Christ of the Nuclear age explores one unnamed man, Appliance Alliance is specifically about Jim and Tammy Faye Baker. The image of “Queenie” crying is a dead giveaway, as the now late Tammy Faye famously cried, several times on the PTL network. This is only one of the many details included on the fall of the Baker’s TV Ministry. It’s quite the chilling tale! Of course the take away from this song is that of any history lesson….learning from the mistakes of others. In this case, Appliance Alliance shows us what happened to Jim and Tammy Baker when they put money and power ahead of God. The current generation of televangelists should take head of this, sometimes, “Entertainment is…hell.”

6. Street Fighting Man

Track six, Street Fighting Man, is a cover of a Rolling Stones song. One must ask why Passafist, an album which talks about so many evils – violence, corruption, greed, and heresy, would include this specific cover. However, the song serves as a metaphor. The fact that Street Fighting Man found inspiration from the violence and outcry in Paris and America, while London seemed rather quiet in the late 60s. It feels as though Perkins and Nichols are asking themselves a question: With all this evil in the world, is it enough to just sit back, quietly, and play rock and roll? Are they changing anything by talking about said evil? Do they need to do more? Really, it’s the eternal struggle of all creators – be they painters, writers, musicians, etc. Where does singing songs really get us? When is it time to put down our guitars, paint brushes and pens and do something more?

7. The Dr. Is In

Track seven, The Dr. is in, ends the album with what can only be said a tangled mess, an anthem of peace, and an amazing tribute to a classic film – Dr. Strangelove. On the surface, the song sounds as though it’s just trying to give a recap to the film – complete with crazy conspiracies of Soviet plots to poison us with luoride. In the deeper sense, this song is all about what it takes to get peace. Essentially, “Peace like a river,” only “flows through this land” when we’ve fought ourselves to oblivion. When we’ve nuked ourselves and our enemies into a nuclear winter. Hopeless, eh? Or maybe not….this is a song about the cold war, written three years after the cold war had ended. Could it just be that Perkins and Nichols still didn’t trust the Russians? Or could it be that they’re pointing out hope despite the lack of hope? It’s a bloody miracle that the Cold War ended the way it did. There were several times that we came dangerously close to all out war with the Soviet Union….and yet we somehow didn’t. So perhaps peace like a river can flow without hell freezing over. Perhaps there is hope.

Is Passafist still relevant?

Part of this experiment is to ask how this album has aged. Musically, Passafist is a little dated, though I’ve seen worse offenders. The album sounds like a typical mid 90s rock albu. Could it have been composed today? Maybe….but probably not. Granted – while it’s not a “modern” sound, the music still holds up. The music may have aged, but it’s certainly aged gracefully. The lyrics, however, are certainly still relevant. Glock, talking about un violence and school shootings. Appliance Alliance, while talking about a specific televangelist, certainly warns current televangelist about their plight if they don’t watch their steps. The Dr. is in certainly could become very relevant if we end up in a second cold war – considering the crap Putin has pulled recently…. Of course, Love E900 hasn’t aged well as the technology involved really isn’t relevant. Still, as a whole, Passafist has indeed aged well for being almost 25 years old.

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