The Curious Case of The Kids Are Ready to Die

Posted: January 6, 2014 in A Little Less Profound
Tags: , , ,

By Glen

There has been an air of mystery about “The Kids Are Ready to Die” ever since its April 2011 release on All At Once.

In what is perhaps The Airborne Toxic Event’s angriest song, writer Mikel Jollett takes his nation’s leaders to task for “not being willing to die for a cause but sending someone else to do so; and how that disrespect for other people’s lives is going to be visited back on you. That a lie can only exist as a lie for so long, and will eventually become known—which is a terrifying idea for governments, but for people, too.”

Given the fury of the lyrics, one might expect them to be set to equally ferocious music. And indeed, in a live setting, that is exactly how it is presented: as a no-holds-barred, balls-to-the-wall, rock ‘n’ roll assault.

And yet, that’s not what we find on the official release. A slow burn can sometimes be more powerful than a tantrum; for Exhibit A, contrast Springsteen’s quietly seething, stripped down acoustic rendition of Born in the USA with the anthemic, fist-pumping, stadium shaking original which many careless listeners have wrongly taken for triumphalist nationalism.

Likewise, the studio version of Kids is devoid of frills. Instead, Mikel’s anguished vocals and haunting cries stand out against a stark, bare background, filled for most of the track by only a lone guitar – and that, strummed sparingly.

Just as they achieved with a pair of strikingly distinct versions of “Half of Something Else,” TATE succeeds in evoking two very different emotional responses with their two arrangements of Kids. But unlike the former, in the case of Kids, only the slower version has ever been released. Those who prefer what we’ll call “Punk Kids” have had to content themselves with jumpy YouTube videos and muted live bootlegs.

Adding to the confusion is that the iTunes-released deluxe packaging of All At Once includes a bonus “Alternative” version of “The Kids Are Ready to Die” – a recording that appears, to most ears, to be an exact replica of the album version, and therefore wholly superfluous.

The existence of a studio recording of Punk Kids is an open question; the evidence conflicting. I can’t recall if it was in the context of an interview or a fan Q&A, and unfortunately I can’t find the source to back this up, but I recall Mikel once being asked why the fast version wasn’t included on the album, and his response was that they didn’t settle on that arrangement until after the album had already gone to press.

That fits nicely with an Aug. 2012 Twitter Q&A, in which Mikel was asked if studio recordings of the punk version of Kids exist. His response? “No. But they might in the very near future.”

The timing of that remark coincided with the recording of Such Hot Blood, leading one to wonder if there was some thought to releasing Punk Kids as a B-side to the album or one of its singles. As we now know, that didn’t happen.

However, all of the above would appear to be contradicted by this video from way back in March 2010 – more than a year prior to the release of All At Once. Here, a heavily processed studio recording of punk Kids provides the backing to TATE’s airport tomfoolery. Perhaps this was just a demo that was never finished to the band’s satisfaction, but I’m betting that the fans who voted Punk Kids as the unreleased TATE track that they’d most like to get their hands on would gladly accept it.

So what to make of all this? For awhile, I had a pet theory about that iTunes “Alternative” version. Is it possible that the band intended for Punk Kids to be that bonus track, but somehow a mistake was made, resulting in the same version of the song accidentally being included twice? It’s hard to fathom that such an error could be made, and even more so that it could go overlooked and uncorrected. But if not that, what other explanation could there be for releasing an identical version and calling it a bonus track?

However, Mikel’s denials that a completed recording of Punk Kids even exists (as of 2012, if not now) led me to revisit the “Alternative” version. Is it actually identical to the official rendition, or are we missing something?

After listening to them back-to-back multiple times, and then playing them simultaneously over top of one another, I’ve concluded that they are in fact one and the same – aside from the one obvious but inconsequential variation in that the closing note is drawn out for a good 20 seconds in the alternative version, while the official version is swallowed up by the opening chords of “Welcome to Your Wedding Day.” The only other potential difference I could detect is that the falsetto “Ooohs” that open the track may be ever so slightly more layered and robust on the official version, as compared to the bonus track. But then, this could just as easily be my ears playing tricks on me, or my brain wanting to find something – anything – that would justify the release of the bonus track.

Either way, if one must listen this carefully to determine whether there are in fact any differences, it’s questionable as to why the band and label felt the second version was worth releasing as an extra. And yet, Mikel’s comments punch a hole in my “iTunes mistake” theory. The whole situation seems highly unusual, but after giving it my best shot, I’ve got to admit that I’ve been unable to crack it. The curious case of “The Kids Are Ready to Die” remains open, pending further evidence.

Purchase The Kids Are Ready to Die (Alternate Mix)

Glen, Fan of The Airborne Toxic Event Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

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Comments
  1. I feel relieved now that I know Inspector Hoos is on the trail!
    In Ireland they might say the special bonus track was included, “To be sure, to be sure”
    Others might say to get double the royalties.

    Seriously, your *hunch* might be right. Maybe they had done all the promotion, marketing and labelling only to discover that the band had not had time to record it, or never intended too.
    I have found a youtube live *jumpy* concert clip where Mikel, in his introduction to the song, vehemently defends his song as not being anti American. The complete opposite he protests. It follows with a punky type performance of it.

    You will have to investigate further, inspector. Maybe loosen Mikel up with a few Jameson to get to the truth of this curious case.
    Leave no stones unturned!
    Keith

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  2. Christine says:

    I saw them play the punk version in Boston when they did the Jack Daniels tour (the airport video was made a few days before the show). Before playing the song, Mikel said he was in a D.C. airport and there were young men and women in military uniform lined up against a wall waiting to be sent somewhere. He said they looked so very young and iterated the idea you quoted about leaders sending out “kids” to die for them. It made me think of Pink Floyd’s Us and Them, specifically the line “forward they cry from the rear and the front lay down their lives.” That said, I was really hoping the “alternative” version on the album was the punk one as well!

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  3. Hi Christine,
    Your post greatly clarifies the lyrics for me.
    Thanks for posting.
    *Midnight* played on my ipad one evening quite by chance as a random selection. I immediately delved deeper and this track was the next one I played.
    Been hooked ever since.
    Cheers, Keith

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  4. Slightly off topic, but regarding this linked acoustic version of *Born in the USA*, I have to put my hand up as I guess I am one of those, *many careless listeners*. A sorry statement for me as I have a huge collection of his stuff but that performance just gave me the goose pimples.

    I know this topic is about Airborne ( for some strange reason, I am not too fond of TATE), but that clip just underlined my opinion that with Bruce, we are witnessing a legend in his own life time. That doesn’t happen too often. Such labels are usually clipped to the orbituary. Not so with this guy.

    One of my concert highlights was seeing him live in Dublin on stage with another legend, Jerry Lee Lewis. Jerry paid Bruce a huge public complement that night, humbling Bruce into an almighty second half performance.
    Just my opinion, but I feel Jerry was the main instigator of Rock as we know it today; there wasn’t too much going on before he came on the scene. (*A whole lot of shaking* afterwards though)
    Any doubters out there, just take a listen to his full length live youtube concert from Bristol, (My home town).
    I digress.
    Again, thanks so much for the post; this site justs gets better than ever.
    Cheers…Keith

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  5. […] Around Midnight”) All At Once, I’m Out of Control (“All At Once”) The Curious Case of The Kids Are Ready to Die (“The Kids Are Ready to Die”) Six of One, Half a Dozen of Something Else (“Half […]

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  6. Susan S. says:

    I say you put Mikel in the tickle chair and make him talk. I know some fan girls who would be willing to lend a hand, or two. 🙂

    Keith, for some inexplicable reason, “TATE” annoys me too. I always use “Airborne” and was a little put out when Daren had TATE on his kit. I need to get a life.

    Liked by 1 person

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