TRAJECTORIES: Reflecting On The Moments When Music Changed Our Lives

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I suppose there are a couple moments where I could make the claim and point definitively where I believe that music changed my life. Was it for the better? I’d like to think so, sure.

It was around ‘91 or ‘92 in Southern California. I was a mouthy little suburbanite living on the outskirts of Long Beach. I was well into punk rock music by this time so I guess that story we’ll save for later. However, most of what I and my small group of friends had learned of punk was being taught to us by the older kids. The older brothers, sisters, and cousins were the ones imparting this loud and angry ethos of musicality upon us, the troublesome little shits of the neighborhood.

They taught us about Minor Threat, the DC scene, and what straight edge meant to some people. We learned from them the importance of Bad Religion’s logo, and how punk wasn’t stupid or naïve. It was to be taken seriously. They even taught us about TSOL and what “Code Blue” meant – not that the lyrics didn’t spell that one out for us!

Those older kids gave us a lot to go on which, honestly, without punk rock music to back it all up and facilitate these ideas and concepts that lurked behind all of the attitude and the leather and the distortion – shit, who knows where I’d be today? It was actually really great to have some guidance to help us circumvent all that music and madness. I mean, aside from irony, what was Mötley Crüe really going to teach me about drugs with the song, “Kickstart My Heart” playing on an album clumsily named, “Dr. Feelgood?” All while knowing full well that they were blasted out of their minds most of the time. It was all suddenly so dumb. It was a dumb image and an even dumber message. Punk rock music taught us that everything on the radio was bullshit. And our older pals taught us how to use punk to hone our newfound bullshit meters.

It was at one of their many house parties that I saw for the first time, Bad Religion’s video, Along the Way. It was playing on the television in the living room. A copy of a copy on VHS, so the tracking was dipping and waving in and out. It was a good bootleg for the most part.

I was already listening to Bad Religion by this time – only slightly less than religiously (har har). I’d first borrowed a blank cassette copy off a guy at school who had recorded the No Control album onto it. The music was so consistent, and driving, and good. The lyrics of the first song, “A Change of Ideas,” were written so that their cadence flowed so well alongside those perfect, chainsaw guitars. And the drums! Fast and gunning for the end of the song so much that you couldn’t wait for the next tune to start while hoping the current song would never end. It was, and remains, a great fucking album.

Back to the party.

The house had a bit of dinginess to it that you’d come to expect from a local neighborhood house in the ‘90s. The leftover style and look of the ‘80s, complete with faux wood paneling on the entertainment center AND the television; the tan carpet that might’ve been white so many years ago; the cigarette burns on the arms of a worn smooth, mud brown corduroy recliner; and the stale scent of old beer lingering with the aroma of several freshly cracked new ones.

I remember walking in, seeing the video had just started. The credits came up and their logo flickered. I heard familiar sounds of tuning and random drum hits. I saw and heard Greg Graffin. I grabbed the nearest chair from the dining room table, pulled it right up to the screen, and sat directly in front of the set. It was just like that old Maxell tape ad: the ‘Blown Away Guy’ with the shades in the chair bombarded by the incoming wall of sound. Nobody was watching but me anyway.

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It was the first time I’d been able to actually witness the band perform. (This was still before my first ever show of theirs at the Palladium in Hollywood just before Generator came out. Yeah, yeah – another story.) And, since I was trying to learn drums for my own shitty little punk band that I was in, I was locked onto good ol’ Pete Finestone. That dude was an animal. I still believe that he was the one that truly defined the driving power that Bad Religion came to have. Don’t get me wrong. How Can Hell Be Any Worse is clearly one of the best, and Finestone is present for half that album. But Suffer? No Control? Against the fuckin’ Grain?!

Yeah, no contest.

Finestone was ripped too. He was fucking those drums up on every song! There’s even a part where he’s pulling something broken off his rack tom and then just clicking in the next song like there was nothing in the way but the audience. And those people were getting rocked! Although, the funniest part for me was when they interviewed him and he just down plays his role in the band as if he wasn’t actually the bedrock of force that the rest of the guys were standing on.

One of the high school mentors came up to watch with me. He took a sip of his beer and blew smoke from his cigarette at the screen.

“You gotta keep practicing so you can get as good as him.” He pointed.

“Yeah.”

“You still have a long way to go though, dude.”

“Yeah. I can’t practice at my house. Parents hate my shit.”

“Well, I mean, he’s buff, dude. You gotta long way to go. You’re just a little skinny guy.” He chuckled as he took another drink.

“Oh. Yeah.” I laughed it off. I was still glued to the set.

A few months later I took the bus over to Zed Records in Long Beach and bought my own copy of Along the Way. I watched it until it wore out. I memorized it. Honestly, I still have it memorized.

Since I couldn’t practice at my own house, I sat on a stool in front of a mirror in my room, put the video on, and pretended to play what Finestone was playing. It was really the only way I could practice – mimicking the physical as best I could in order to get that muscle memory working.

I think the slip cover on that VHS was in tatters by the end of it all. But I swear to this day that whenever I’m writing or playing the drums, one of the things I think of is Pete Finestone behind his set at those Bad Religion shows. I think of what sort of rolls or fills he would do and try to incorporate that sound and that feel into my own parts.

They should bring Finestone back for a reunion, man. That dude’s drumming changed my life.

Thanks for reading.

Thank you Cary, for the trip down memory lane! You can hit Cary up on twitter @CaptFakeHead 

If you’re reading this and thinking “hey I have a story about how music changed my life!”  please, write it down and send it my way. I don’t care if it was 1978 or 2018. All stories are welcome as long as they’re about punk or punk-adjacent music. Catch me on Twitter @SteveDoesnt or email me at doesntsuck604@gmail.com

-SD

TRAJECTORIES: Reflecting On The Moments When Music Changed Our Lives

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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.

Hey! If you have a story of your own you’d like to share, send me an email: doesntsuck604@gmail.com