In Hear This, The A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: In honor of South By Southwest, we’re picking our favorite songs about the music industry.
Against Me!, “Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%” (2002)
On the B-side of Against Me!’s excellent The Disco Before The Breakdown EP, “Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%” captured the band at a crossroads. Released in the same year as the band’s debut, Reinventing Axl Rose, on “Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%” the band explored exactly what it meant to become the punk scene’s new “it” band, and all the exhausting opportunities that came along with that.
Bandleader Laura Jane Grace has gone on record that “Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%” is about a meeting her band took with Anti-Flag, which was interested in signing Against Me! to A-F Records. Though Grace doesn’t mention Anti-Flag by name, “Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%” addresses the profound alienation she feels from other bands in the punk scene, and how that only highlights a lingering disconnect within herself.
In the song Grace feels removed from her band, her peers, and her significant other, as a well-intentioned phone call back home quickly transforms into a fight. At her most emotionally bare, Grace takes herself to task for her idealism, claiming “I can’t believe how naïve I was / To think things could ever be so simple.” She’s worn out from touring, she’s struggling with having to treat her band like a business, and all of this is only heightened by her gender dysphoria. It’d be years before Grace would publicly announce she was a transgender woman, but on “Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%”—as well as Disco’s A-side—she’s already grappling with that realization.
The culmination of all these pressures see her fall to her knees in a bathroom, praying to a higher power, not out of religious belief but in the hope of feeling some sort of soothing touch. It’s what makes her cry of “Well, Dear Jesus, are you listening? / If this is the one chance that really matters / Well, don’t let me fuck this up” feel like an emotional breakdown captured in song. It’s also what makes “Tonight We’re Gonna Give It 35%” stand out next to so many other songs about the music industry, as few have ever shown what kind of an emotional burden a band’s success can be.