February 24, 2005

The Pretty Toney Column

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Avid Pretty Toney Column readers (all 10 of you) may recall when, in a rare column devoid of blatant factual errors, I commented that the resurgence of Mission of Burma was one of my favorite musical storylines of 2004. Twenty years after their last release, OnOffOn cemented the band’s timelessness — when your songs are as good as Mission of Burma’s, there’s no need for experimentation.

Mission of Burma was on an incredible roll in the early ’80s, producing some of the decade’s best punk. The Signals, Calls and Marches EP and Vs. are certifiable classics which have left a sizeable impact on many of today’s best up-and-comers and on bands as venerable as R.E.M. or Fugazi.

Their best songs ranged from supercharged rockers like “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate” and “Peking Spring” to passionate numbers like “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver” and “Forget” that leave listeners unsure as to whether they should get out their lighters or just pump their fists. But for all their successes in the last quarter-century, Mission of Burma were never as brilliant or as powerful as they were on “Academy Fight Song.”

If I were limited to only one word to describe “Academy Fight Song,” I would choose “perfect.” It’s absolutely perfect. The guitars are perfect, Clint Conley’s voice is perfect and the climax where Conley screams, “I’m not judging you I’m judging me” is the indisputable apex of all music made in the 20th century. While it would be absurd and unrealistic to suggest that “Academy Fight Song” should supplant “The Star Spangled Banner” as our national anthem, I don’t think anyone would mind that much if I had my way and we started singing it during seventh inning stretches instead of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

I love “Academy Fight Song” so much that on several occasions I pleaded for the Dismemberment Plan to play it when they would take requests during their shows. I’d like to think that Travis simply didn’t hear me. A friend of mine was lucky enough to see Mission of Burma this summer while on vacation in London. Not long ago, I revealed to him that every time I go to a concert, I secretly dream that, no matter who is playing, the band will spontaneously rip into “Academy Fight Song” and march triumphantly off the stage. His response: “That dream came true for me once, and the band was Mission of Burma.” My jealousy has yet to subside.

Archived article by Ross McGowan
Sun Staff Writer