My childhood musical choices reflected my life-station.
There was plenty of The Walrus going goo goo g’joob and Jumpin’ Jack Flash was a gas gas gas thanks to my older cousins. Then the suburban America standard issues demanded that I respond to Peter Frampton’s question about how I felt, and that it was indeed more than a feeling when I saw my Mary Ann walking away, and I can guaran-damn-tee you that I wanted to rock and roll all night and party ev-u-ree day even if that involved losing my mind in Dee-TROIT rock city. Unique to my geographic birthplace were the reality that Sweet Home Alabama caused raised glasses when the guitar intro played and let’s just say that the way we ran our lives made no sense to me and when we gambled with our time we chose our destiny (please tell me some of you know that one).
In sum, my childhood bordered on idyllic. I had good friends (some of which I still have today) and we were outside almost all the time. We made ramps out of plywood and the picnic table to jump trash cans like Fonzie did in that episode of Happy Days. We went to minor-league hockey games and worked out rides with parentals doing the drop-off and pick-ups. Hours of football, baseball and basketball (and even street hockey) modified by the yard/driveway we happened to be playing in. As we got older that changed to driving with the windows down (and the music loud) and toilet-papering yards and chasing skirts. In so many ways it was generic and we were good kids who seemed to figure out that fine line between mischief and trouble.
My musical tastes reflected that childhood story I’ve referenced plenty of times in The Diner over the years. I won’t bore long-time patrons with it again and noobs can hit the archives to dig it up.
You can dig around in the archives with the story of how that all ended in 1979, too. The short version is that my dad died unexpectedly when I was 13. My life changed dramatically as my mom went back to school & work. During school and the extracurricular stuff I was outwardly a good kid. So many of my “good” decisions when I was out and about blurring the line between mischief and trouble came mostly because I didn’t want to make my mom cry anymore. I stayed in-bounds even when society would’ve given me a free pass to go crazy. The power of a mother’s tears, at least to this kid, were quite the Jiminy Cricket.
But inwardly, I was angry.
I never told anybody about how angry I was. I’m not entirely sure I had the tools to do that, anyway. I couldn’t put into words the sorrow about my dad’s death even if I’d wanted to. How do you tell your friends you feel like you got universally ripped-off? How do you tell your friends about your deal with God that if He’d stay on his side of the universe you’d stay on yours? Why would you tell your friends that stuff when they had their own stuff to deal with? I mean, their parents were divorced. They didn’t make clubs or teams. Their girlfriends broke up with them. Et al. High-school is pretty tough on everybody (file that under “Lessons We All Learned From The Breakfast Club”).
So, I went to school and didn’t have to think much. I exerted precisely the amount of effort to avoid taxing myself while keeping Mom off my back about grades. I chased skirts with more losses than wins but the wins were spectacular. Lots of laughs and good times with my cronies. Pretty normal all-in-all.
But when I got home the house was empty for the most part. My sister and I were five years apart in time-line but that may as well have been a solar system apart in life-station. I came home and in the hours alone things got pretty dark. I took to reading Edgar Allen Poe and if Steven King wrote it, I got it as soon as I could get to the bookstore (Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Stand all hit my nightstand during this time). I journaled extensively. I was a loner until my sister and I came out of our respective room-caves to fix our own dinner. In my case, those dinners were one of three things: Hot dogs heated in our new microwave, mac & cheese, or soup. Then we found some sort of TV to watch and we even had cable (when I wasn’t watching the Atlanta Braves on WTBS, mostly we watched the new channel, MTV).
And my musical choices reflected that.
Granted, it took 3 years for punk to get to Alabama, and few bands ever came there…but the Ramones found their way into my life with four guys in nothing but leather jackets and jeans in front of a brick wall on their album cover. This required a purchase of the cut & paste of the Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. These were gateway bands and led to Black Flag, X, Fear, the Germs and a host of other hardcore punk bands that came of age during my high school years. And when Social Distortion’s first album hit my hands my junior year of high school, well, I recorded the album to TDK cassette that very day. Put it in my Jensen sound system for whenever no one was riding with me. Even my closest friends didn’t get it…and by extension…
…they didn’t get who I was becoming. And isn’t being misunderstood one of the most frustrating and devastating things that can happen to you?
But that music was my drug, man. And using it didn’t make my mom cry. I could go to a punk show and mosh around and while I was bruised and roughed up I came home feeling strangely better. In fact, Jim Lindberg, lead singer of the California punk-band Pennywise (who many snowboarders and skateboarders and surfers still listen to when they practice/compete) wrote a book on parenting called Punk Rock Dad (as an aside, it’s a book I HIGHLY recommend…lots of common sense stuff) with punk ideals and describes that time:
Punk rock came along at the end of the decade just when we needed it most, and in the chaos of it, everything made perfect sense. The music was fast, furious and seethed with adolescent resentment and frustration. It was anti-fashion, anti-authority, anti-everything. Verbose social critics saw it as a postmodern expression of Dadaism, an exercise in semiotics, the rejection of traditional culture and values, and the symptom of an underlying societal disease. We saw it as a righteous way to piss off the status quo. We would shove their screwed up world right back in their faces, wear torn-up clothes, and put the middle finger up to the mainstream. We would never grow up, never sell out, and never give in. We’d change the world with distortion, anarchy and angst. Just as our parents used Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Beatles as the soundtrack to their adolescent rebellion, we would use Johnny Rotten, Keith Morris, and Joey Ramone.
Now, you can say what you want about how well it all turned out (and I’ll deal with that in a future entry). But at the end of the day…
…I discovered that that status quo was something that should constantly and vociferously be challenged. It’s a GOOD thing to do. And punk was the first time that I realized it SHOULD be done and that very thing was rewarded.
…I discovered that you didn’t have to be an observer. You could be a participant. Ever been to a punk show? The crowd is just as much a part of the show as the band. The stage wasn’t a barrier.
…I discovered that the medium was indeed the message (even if I later would realize the message had gaping philosophic flaws, well, that happens when you grow up).
…I discovered that movements could grow on its own without a lot of planning or manipulation. Simply people who felt the same way finding each other…which is such a cool moment: When you find your tribe. It’s the exact opposite of being misunderstood. The movement grew without the traditional means of agents and record labels (and even without the Internet).
…I discovered that when thing were kept at a “do it yourself” level, without commercialism, it would stay minimalist and the movement would stay true to the ideals.
And that’s how Punk changed my life.
And I’ll be exploring that and how the Church could learn a few lessons from Punk.
So, a few things for you to join in the conversation:
What music brings back fond memories of your teen years and why did that music make it a good memory?
What music “spoke” (speaks) to you, if any?
How do you deal with it when you feel like an outsider, or misunderstood?
Have at it kids…should be a fun few days, no?