When I was a kid the world barely expanded beyond the cul-de-sac at the end of my street in Northside PoCo. I knew about 4 phone numbers. To me, a long distance was the walk to my school, which then seemed like miles but, in adulthood, it probably clocks in at about twelve minutes. The world to a child seems enormous, but a child’s world is rather small; mine was anyway.
I was pissed off.. My mom died when I was eleven. After that I started to act out. I felt like I had to grow up but I wasn’t ready. I would get in trouble at school for being destructive. I wanted to be cool and fit in, but I never really understood how. I would try to tag along with the bad kids but I didn’t have the same clothes as them, and I wasn’t allowed to stay out late like they were. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I spent those years searching for my place in the pack and never finding anywhere I felt at all comfortable. Everything changed one night when I was 13 years old. That was when I found punk rock.
In 1995 my sister, who was two years older than me, started hanging out with these skater-chicks from school. There were three of them, and of course I developed a substantial crush on all of them immediately. They wore Airwalk sneakers, they had their hair dyed different colours and they all packed around skateboards. I knew if I wanted to impress them I needed to have a skateboard too. Somehow I inherited one, I think from one of my sister’s friends, but it was huge! It must have been meant for extra tall adult men with giant feet or something, but it was all I had and I made it work.
All summer long I tried to figure out how to ollie on a strip of pavement in our backyard, and when the skater-chicks were over I would make sure I was nonchalantly watching X-Games or something cool like that. Despite my efforts, summer had ended and I think they still just saw me as the dorky little brother of their friend. I needed a new angle and I decided this “punk rock” stuff they were always talking about was going to be my gateway to immortal coolness in the eyes of every 15 year old girl at my school.
Like most bedrooms of older sisters with pesky younger brothers, hers was stringently off limits, but I needed to infiltrate it to have access to her CD collection. Me, I was still on cassette. My sister was the only one in the house with a CD player, but I knew I could dub her CD’s on to tape if I could just buy enough time. I’d had success at this in the past with Pear Jam and Cypress Hill, so I knew it was possible, but I also knew that if I was caught, I would have to face her vicious fingernails and my tape would be promptly destroyed before my eyes.
It was around Christmas that year when I decided to make my move. My sister was preoccupied, probably watching Sailor Moon or Degrassi on the TV downstairs. There was a window of opportunity so I took it. I snuck into her room and went straight for the CD’s, but I had no idea what I was looking for. How do I know which ones are punk!? I started by looking at the album covers, but that wasn’t getting me anywhere; None of the bands had “punk” in their name either, and there was no sticker on the front that said “this is punk rock”. Defeated, I started looking at the song titles on the backs and finally, on the back of one gnarly looking CD with a kid chewing his own arm on the cover, I saw it, a song called “Punkhouse”. I knew this one had to be what I was looking for, and it had 31 songs on it too. More bang for my buck! The album was Kill The Musicians by Screeching Weasel.
I popped my blank cassette into the front of the machine and the CD into the top. I made sure the volume was all the way down. Then I hit record on the tape, waited a few seconds (you always wait a few seconds because the beginning of any tape is unrecordable), then I hit play on the CD and got the hell out of there! It was nerve wracking, having to wait for it to finish, worrying the entire time that my sister might go into her room. Of course I would have to sneak in at the half-way point too, flip the tape over and queue the CD up where it left off. I managed to do all of this and get out alive with my tape in tact.
I waited until nightfall, after she had gone to bed, because if she saw me with my walkman she might investigate what I was listening to. I remember it like it was yesterday: Everyone was asleep and, because we had relatives visiting, I was demoted to sleeping on the couch downstairs. I huddled up in the blankets, put my ear buds in and hit play . . . *GUITAR*/ ”SHE TOOK ME INTO HER LOVELY HOME/CALLED NICARAGUA ON THE PHONE/SHE WENT TO SEE INDIANA JONES!” . . . Then the snare came in like a machine gun, and in that moment; In that very instant, the importance of trying to impress the skater-chicks was completely removed from my brain, and what happened immediately after that, I can only describe as absolute clarity. In a split second, and for the first time in my life, I knew, without a doubt, exactly who I was and where I belonged. I didn’t realize I was searching for something, but I knew I had found it. I listened to that tape, front to back, at least twice that night, and every day walking to and from school for probably six months straight. It was fast, it was rude, political, grubby, snarly, it was pure excitement! I’ve never been the same since.
This is a story I’ve heard told many times; something along these lines anyway. Everyone describes their introduction to punk with the same words and phrases: “clarity” “hope” “a place to go” “where I belonged” “my tribe” “what I had been searching for” “home”. I love all of those descriptors, and for me, I would add one more, “a world beyond the cul-de-sac”.
Not long after that fateful December night, my sister moved on from punk. I even inherited her CD’s, and cherished them until they were obsolete. I still have them though. Over the years my taste in music has broadened significantly. I’m not ashamed to admit that I even went through an intense gangster rap phase, but punk rock was always a constant, always bubbling away inside me. Everything I’ve ever done was in the spirit of punk. It was always my identity, It always will be, it was never a phase, and that asshole Ben Weasel will always be my savior.