In Love and Death: Bert McCracken of The Used

By Jameson Ketchum By | September 12, 2016 at 6:30 PM
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Bert McCracken steps outside his massive tour bus on parked just up the street from The Crystal Ballroom. It’s just after 7pm and he is clad in comfy running shoes, shorts, and a black hoody from his own band. He pulls out a cigarette and leans against the guardrail taking a long drag. McCracken has spent the past 24 plus hours in Portland, soaking up the culture and destroying The Crystal one night prior. This is the second night of a tour celebrating 15 years of The Used. Last night the self-titled record was performed front to back. Tonight is the entirety of In Love and Death, the band’s follow-up.

“It’s always exciting to play music no matter what the situation but last night here at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland was a really small intimate venue, getting super sweaty and hot in the face. I feel The Used fans are a little bit more than the typical music fans in the way that music is a way of life for a lot of us and more than just songs that we want to grind to in a club when we drink. This music, these albums saved our lives over and over again. It’s a little more special. In this atmosphere having people in it with us, it is humbling to say the least. 15 years of dreams come true. I couldn’t be more cliché but it’s so real.”

“I feel The Used fans are a little bit more than the typical music fans in the way that music is a way of life for a lot of us and more than just songs that we want to grind to in a club when we drink. This music, these albums saved our lives over and over again.”

McCracken still appears youthful with a slightly grizzled five o’clock shadow and messy hair. One gets the impression that time has mellowed the front man. Tales of McCracken have ranged from erratic, depressive behavior, to screaming to the point of vomit onstage, to his very public relationship with Kelly Osbourne in 2003. Like any other entity in the public eye, a lot of the tales are most likely exaggerated or just completely fabricated. The Used’s music is something that always overshadowed these stories, however. Even though it was followed by five LPs and two EPs, Used fans always call back to the self-titled as their best. But it was the creation of In Love and Death that propelled The Used into a brighter spotlight, a record written about the death of McCracken’s then pregnant girlfriend.

“It’s not a humble answer but I was always really confident in both records as with all my records.  I never really had any intention behind a second record other than just continuing to tour. A lot of really serious things happened to me while I was making the second record that I had to write about in that moment, so it’s kind of out of my hands.”

The Used at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. Credit: Bright Music Photography

The Used at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. Credit: Bright Music Photography

Outside the quality of the records, McCracken had a lot of reasons to be confident. His stock as a leader in the musical movement was rising fast. When bands like My Chemical Romance exploded, it was already established acts like The Used that continued to grow and benefit by association. At the same time, a lot of the bands that rose to fame alongside The Used have since faded away, leaving McCracken and company to claim a well-respected niche. “We’re a small part of a bigger picture,” he says. “The Used was never concerned with being an individual belief or separate message. We understand how important and beautiful music is and to be a small piece of that puzzle, we succeeded a long time ago.”

That bigger picture McCracken mentions gives weighty merit to the band’s agenda of consciousness. While the punk rock scene may seem very clearly black and white when it comes to hot topics, The Used don’t have any designs on swaying minds, only encouraging a conversation.

“The Used was never concerned with being an individual belief or separate message. We understand how important and beautiful music is and to be a small piece of that puzzle, we succeeded a long time ago.”

“We want to see things happen so quickly and these are changes that’ll happen in the long term. Hopefully my daughter’s daughter will live in a world where people are more honest about racism and differences and tribalism and nationalism and everything that separates people in general, including beliefs.”

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Mention social media to the front man and settle in for a great discussion. He declares from stage later that night, “I will give you $10 if you quit your Instagram and Facebook today”. This is coming from a band who arguably owes a large part of their word of mouth to the early days of social media. “I think we’re kind of lost in a sea of entitlement, that’s so grandiose, but everyone feels so entitled with their little message boards and opinions. With so many opinions in the world, it validates that no one’s opinions really matter.”

The irony of course is that the band is here tonight to perform an album that spread like wildfire in the mid 2000’s by fans who lived and died by these message boards and AIM conversations. Though McCracken does not sound the least bit ungrateful, it is clear that this music runs much deeper than internet fads.

“Music smells, it’s so nostalgic. Few things can take us back to those things in our lives where it hurts us to be there or makes us who we are. The power behind the feeling is incredible, it’s the power that I believe can change the world.”

“We understand that the band and these songs are bigger than the four of us so the fact that we’re out here recreating the record on stage is a whole different atmosphere. Everybody knowing the record, you can expect a few things but I think what you get when you experience it is the record retold from four completely different people which is a beautiful thing. It’s an homage or tribute to what the music has left for us.”

McCracken could go on for hours. His love of music is engrained in his soul, but his belief in the passion is a powerful sentiment. Music isn’t entertainment for him, it isn’t just a way to buck the traditional system of following your dreams. Music holds power to McCracken, it holds evolution. “Music smells, it’s so nostalgic. Few things can take us back to those things in our lives where it hurts us to be there or makes us who we are. The power behind the feeling is incredible, it’s the power that I believe can change the world.”

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