White Punks on Hate: Fear’s “I Love Livin’ in the City”

Like so many bands from the punk era, Fear always felt just a tad out of place. Although frontman Lee Ving’s right-wing politics never really jived with the movement’s more progressive aims, like a SoCal Johnny Ramone he eagerly rode the punk wave and earned a considerable degree of musical notoriety in the early ‘80s, as well as a modest acting career that landed him roles in films like Clue and Streets of Fire. At the zenith of their powers Fear featured prominently in the 1981 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, chronicling the LA punk scene. That very same year the band gave a scorching performance on Saturday Night Live, complete with a slam-dancing cameo from Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye, when Fear superfan John Belushi secured them a rare chance at national exposure. And with such catchy riffs and frenetic energy, it’s hard to deny the power of Fear’s music, yet the group’s lyrics are riddled with misogyny and homophobia, and whether Ving was spouting his own twisted beliefs or simply baiting his audience is still something of an open question – even 40 years later. “I Love Livin’ in the City”, the band’s 1978 debut single, paints a grim portrait of urban decay. Rather than pick up a mop and start scrubbing, Ving revels in the filth, proudly describing his home as “chock full of shit and puke,” putting more fair-weather punks to shame (oh, hygiene, up yours!). Ving’s humble abode also boasts a heck of a roach problem, not to mention a bevy of ball-crawling pubic lice. While enjoying a few laughs at the expense of the poor and dispossessed is bad enough, “I Love Livin’ in the City” raises the stakes by taking a dark and sexist turn – and all before the first chorus. You see, despite facing grinding poverty and woeful sanitation, Ving’s sole priority is to “fuck some slut.” What a complete asshole. Is this Ving’s warped right-wing idea of free love or something? It’s difficult to know if “I Love Livin’ in the City” was intended as a stark introduction to Fear’s right-wing beliefs or just a dumb punk needling his parents. Perhaps in 1978 Ving wasn’t sure himself, but with a message like his, neither answer provides much comfort, especially for today’s listeners. Even though Fear’s debut album The Record wouldn’t drop until 1982, the group’s toxic message remained largely intact. With only four original studio albums in over 40 years, being prolific has never been the band’s strong suit. I guess Ving’s been too busy scratching his balls all these years. With crabs like these, who needs Red Lobster?  

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