“This subculture is equally responsible for ruining my life as it is saving it.” -Dolphinfartz 🐬💨
Many thanks to Steve for allowing me the opportunity to dig into my formative years. It’s a rambling, goofy, nonsensical mess… but that’s what being 15 is all about. Not to put your dear editor on the spot, but that’s what I love so much about his site, writing, and attitude about music. The energy and excitement never leaves some of us and, at the front of that bus, Steve is driving.
For the sake of my own personal TRAJECTORY, let’s call my agents of punk enlightenment Bob1 and Bob2. The former was the shift supervisor at my first after school gig, which consisted of slingin’ Slurpees and stealing Camel Lights from an asshole named Joe that owned the local 711 empire. Other than being my means to purchasing the seven hundred dollar rusted Corsica that was perennially for sale in a neighboring cul-de-sac, my new job also chopped my social life off at the knees. Weekend late shift aside, there was only one place my fellow “grits”, as we were strangely dubbed, hung and, you guessed it… it was in the parking lot of my employer. Rendered off limits to those of us lucky enough to sport the Christmas-colored bowling shirts our shift-work required, I instead turned my attention to skateboarding, music, and the readily available ditch weed one procured in nowhere, Maryland.
The communal CD player that lived in the stock room was of unknown origin. It was a bespeckled piece of shit that I immediately knew had a blown-out speaker. After all, I could only hear Hetfield when blasting Metallica. With no Hammett in the monitor, I reckoned it was ultimately not worth the risk of bringing my precious collection into contact with the half-junked Petri dish. I was instead subjected to a litany of hard-won musical life lessons, the majority of which were negative and would make the bravest of us shudder.
As a Marylander, you can’t move without bumping into a lacrosse player and I seemed to work alongside most of them. Great dudes, for the most part, but I was subjected to the deeply layered and multi-faceted discographies of Barenaked Ladies, Dave Matthews Band, Seven Mary Three, and Matchbox 20 seemingly at infinitum. My burgeoning depression and isolation was only bolstered by the new guy insistent on the rich dividends paid by closer examination of the “back catalog” of Sublime, Incubus, and 311. It’s not that I didn’t yet have my thing, necessarily… I was (and still am) still head over heels in love with the first Green Day album but I hadn’t the bandwidth to understand that there was a world beyond 99.1 on the FM dial. The faces that peered down at me from my postered walls were the suburban-issued standards of Cobain, Staley, Cornell, Vedder, rinse, repeat. Enter Bob1, the goofball that first averted my gaze from the Mt. Rushmore of grunge adorning my bedroom walls.
To this day, I’ll never know how old he was. In my mind, he seemed endlessly mature and suave. He just seemed, you know, fucking cool. He once bought me a case of Michelob bottles for staying late one night while he fooled around with his boyfriend in a Ford Escort. It’s likely the wizened and world weary shift manager was closer to, uhhh, 19. The gap, at the time, was enormous. Our overlap in 711 tenure wasn’t nearly as long as one would gather from my high regard for the guy. The gift he gave me was unintentional but altogether more life-altering. His day typically consisted of scamming money orders, smoking in the office, and digging through his backpack that was impossibly jammed with scores of tapes. He abhorred CD’s and, for some reason, would expound at length on the merits of the cassette. It seemed a bit short-sighted, but everyone has their soapbox.
As the summer of Bob1 rolled around, my hours ramped up and I became a trainee for the overnight shift. In theory, this was to consist of doing literally nothing until the donut dude showed up around 4am. Not much for work itself, Bob1 instead cracked open my skull… through my ears. One night, as we were refreshing the cold box with newly uncrated Yoo-Hoo’s and, more than likely, extinguishing the propellant on cans of whipped cream; he popped in a mix tape. Bad Religion’s “Modern Man” followed by Operation Ivy’s “The Crowd” followed by Screeching Weasel’s “Ashtray.” Just like that, I was gone. Whatever needed to shift had shifted. I’d found something I was unaware was missing but it locked into place and I was forever changed.
Bob1 was fired a few nights later. Shit, maybe it was months later. All I ever heard was him being caught “manipulating” himself in the backroom. As would be expected when unceremoniously fired from a post of such esteem, you don’t get time to pack. The only severance was, unfortunately, not for him. The silver lining, for this future punk, was an abandoned knapsack of predominantly unmarked tapes. The ones donning legit packaging and liner notes were undoubtedly pilfered from Planet Music, a short lived megastore whose lifespan was undoubtedly shortened by the endless parade of Catonsville shoplifters, myself included, worth their weight in overpriced longbox Compact discs.
Bob1 was never to return, though I saw him the following year watching pornography… at the public library. By that point, it was far too late. His tapes were now mine. Months of research aided by (still-spotty but perhaps the best gift I’ve ever been given) my dialup, revealed the unmarked album I’d been obsessing over was my first copy of NOMEANSNO’s world-beater “Wrong.” I couldn’t wrap my still-forming brain around it, but it yielded two things. My first favorite album and the P.O. Box for Alternative Tentacles. That was all it took.
In my recollection, the Bob2 era feels like it was either concurrent or years later. In all honesty, it was likely mere weeks after the aforementioned masturbating trainee’s inadvertent punk rock gift. Somewhere in there I got the world’s shittiest car. Regardless, I hadn’t seen my cousin since my family had fled the increasingly drug-addled neighborhood of my youth when I was 13. A couple years on and my cousin’s family had finally followed suit. In the intervening years since we’d last played wiffleball together and dicked around the gross creek behind our Baltimore rowhouses, Bob2 had grown really long hair and braided it like Dexter Holland did in one of those videos. Google that monstrosity… wow. At the time, though, it was the coolest and most punk thing I’d ever seen. Plus, Bob2 was a rad skater. He’d grown long and lanky. He was a bit awkward on land, sure, but he was all grace and flying limbs on his Alien Workshop board. He was my entree into the world of actual skaters. It was here that I realized I was not, in fact, an actual skater. I clumsily pushed and crashed and recklessly fell off stuff, but he was great. When the rain or uncompromising Mid-Atlantic humidity pushed us inside, he still insisted on practicing carpeted kickflips or other such tasks I found increasingly unlikely. At the exact middle of our Venn Diagram, though, was the grainy and over-saturated VHS we found at the thrift store when scanning for punk threads.
Unlike the myriad JNCO clad dudes in ball-bearing necklace vids he foisted upon me, it was 1989’s “Blockhead Skates: Splendid Eye Torture” that quickly became our indoor activity of choice. As his dusty SNES retreated further into the rearview, my next logical step came into view at exactly the five minute mark. To this day, I can still trace the choreography of Steve Berra’s halfpipe maneuvers, only if because it was how I was introduced to Minor Threat. “Stumped” and, later on in the compilation, Fugazi’s “Brendan 1” again split my wig. It was likely years before I was “cool” enough to know that the singer was the same dude! In much the same way Bob2’s predecessor was deserving of a more shadowy moniker, my cousin’s deserving of anonymity for no reason other than those fucking colored rubber bands that he lovingly braided into his locks in the fall of 1995.
Massive thanks to Adam for writing this brilliant story, and for the very kind words. What a classy guy! Obviously he is highly adept in the art of wordsmithery. You can catch many more of Adams thoughts and words relating to punk and Hardcore on NOECHO.COM, or follow him on twitter @adam_yoe 🐬💨
Anyone who has their own story to tell should shoot me an email and I’ll put it on the site. Hit me up firstname.lastname@example.org