Adam Goren’s one-man band Atom & His Package played its last show in 2003 after a diagnosis of type-1 diabetes forced Goren offstage toward a growing family and what he’s called “Plan A”: a job teaching high-school science. (He holds an M.Ed. from Penn.) What can be said of his cut-short career in pop-punk? Atom was brilliant, as sarcastic as he was kind, as blistering as he was sweet. If you vaguely antagonized this underdog, he went after you with all his teeth. If he loved you, he went after you too. Sure, some science snuck into his songs, as in “(Lord It’s Hard to Be Happy When You’re Not) Using the Metric System.” But the real magic of Atom & His Package is how this “science guy” wrote such artful lyrics and compositions. Here are his ten best.
10. “Punk Rock Academy”
Okay. Before you crucify me for putting “PRA” at number ten, allow me to say this song barely made the list. Yes, if you went to see Atom live, you’d want it to be the last song (as it is on the 2004 live album “Hair: Debatable”). And yes, he played out comedian Chris Gethard’s eponymous show with it in 2017. But I really think Atom has written better songs. Nine of them, in fact.
9. “Goalie” by The Zambonis (feat. Atom & His Package)
It’s a little startling to hear Atom backed by a real band, but it’s great too. The track features kid vocalists and interstitial making-of footage. Atom, a full-fledged dad at this point, sings lead and seems joyfully at peace with the stadium claps and wall-of-sound backing vocals. A jock-jam by Atom & His Package? Correct.
8. “Undercover Funny”
A “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode in song form: The singer’s disappointed that his coworker is “only funny when I’m not around.” It’s a really good poppy start to the band if you’re looking to get in. But be careful: You’ll find the lyrics on repeat in your head when you get up to pee at night.
6. “For Aliza Whenever She May Sleep”
A friend once told me this song is about Atom’s sister, Aliza, who was in medical school at the time. It’s a sort of prayer for her health and a stealthy rebuke of the med-school system: “Rite of passage / Healthwise amazing / Educational shroud hides amounted hazing.”
5. “Atari Track and Field / New Controller Conspiracy”
What a wonderfully odd pairing. The “Atari” intro resembles Madonna’s “Open Your Heart,” which Atom will “polka” later in the album. And like a lot of Atom’s music, “New Controller Conspiracy” trades violence and tenderness. Toward the end, a female voice appears seemingly out of nowhere:
What do you think is in store for us?
Is it living room furniture terminus?
I think that’s ninety-five percent acceptable and okay.
Yes, the guy can write, absolutely. At the same time he seems to be tempting mis- or self-interpretation. How many of us, in the chorus, hear “laughed at you” instead of “left that room”? And how “acceptable” would Atom find the error? Ninety-five percent?
4. “If You Own the Washington Redskins You’re a Cock”
Who would have guessed a Y2K punk singer could have forecasted the demise of Redskins-Commanders owner Dan Snyder? The song generally addresses the dehumanizing of racial groups — specifically within what Atom calls “Native American nicknamed teams,” which he rhymes with “awful and mean.”
3. “Upside Down from Here”
The voice from “New Controller Conspiracy” is back — singing the entire opening verse. It turns out to be Goren’s sister, Aliza (remember Aliza?): “North is not up and East is not right / Except for Milwaukee Wisconsin that night.” What the hell happened in Milwaukee? What is Atom saying about geography and physics? Unclear. Doesn’t matter. Great song.
2. “I’m Downright Amazed at What I Can Destroy with Just a Hammer”
This is maybe Atom’s best song, lyrically, and maybe his best song ever. It glides through a litany of concrete objects and proper nouns, which few songwriters, Craig Finn aside, can really pull off. Like so many of Atom’s songs, it’s about the coexistence of love and physical destruction. He wants to love you. He wants to break things too.
1. “Does Anyone Else in This Room Want to Marry His or Her Own Grandmother?”
The sweetest punk song ever. You’ll love it. Your kids will love it. It’s about, well, the singer proposing marriage to his grandma — wait — because her husband died: “It breaks my heart to see you alone / Grandma, let’s elope.” Here we get Atom’s lyrical power on full display:
I’ll pay the bills, we’ll cross the words and watch Murdoch
We’ll dine on the samples at the grocery store
We’ll find a place and paint this whole town purple
Purple-ize the walls and purple-ize the floor
Sins of Omission:
“Mustache T.V.”: Instructions for Scotch-taping a mustache to your TV screen and watching it settle onto people’s faces.
“Hats Off to Halford”: A tribute to Judas Priest’s openly badass frontman Rob Halford.
“Trump”: Listen to Atom’s delightfully condescending whisper during a conjured game of Tripoli: “I see your bad hand.”
In 2021, Goren teamed up with his childhood friend Brian Sokel to release a self-titled album “Dead Best.” Their follow-up is due out this winter.
Photo by Markbellis