TRAJECTORIES: Reflecting On The Moments When Music Changed Our Lives

dan vierckSustaining Momentum and Trajectory

In my early teens my slightly older neighbor played lead guitar in a band that covered Nirvana songs. I hounded him with variations of: ‘Yeah but what song do just real fans love?’ He was so nice that it took him a whole summer before he lost his patience and told me that every real fan’s favorite song is the first song on From the Muddy Banks of the Wishka. I sprinted home. Twenty plus years later obviously it was a pretty funny joke but that afternoon – and many times after that – I set my CD player on repeat and listened and re-listened to Krist and Dave tuning while Kurt stoked the fire under his larynx of boiling nails. I wedged myself between the decibels, searching for some hidden Pandora’s box, or rabbit hole, or skeleton key. I wanted in with that particular earnest, maniacal determination that is common as cooties amongst dejected, selectively vulnerable adolescents.

This was late 90’s. Nirvana was over. I bounced between the library and Napster and Sam Goody to hear every band Kurt Cobain ever mentioned in an interview, in liner notes, on a shirt, or on his shoes. No one was loud enough, catchy enough, unintelligible enough, or Nirvana-y enough. So for years I marinated in three studio albums, one outtakes album, one live album, one live acoustic album, four terrible “import” bootlegs, and a live compilation VHS.

One gutter entrepreneur in our 6,444-person town owned a PA and would rent out the basement of a senior citizen community center for shows. There’d be the band that covered Nickleback, the band that covered Jimmy Eat World, and then my neighbor’s band. And on one fateful night there was an ‘all originals’ band on the bill called Cured Ham.

I bought their CD before they even played. The guy who sold it to me said, ‘We haven’t played yet. Are you sure?’ Yes, of course I’m sure. I took it to my car and unwrapped it but fought the urge to play it immediately. I mean – what could a band called Cured Ham possibly sound like? In the single-fold insert, one of the five guys had a BC Rich guitar so, joke or tragically-serious were both on the table.

The dubiously named quintet eventually took the stage – no BC Rich – and they exploded. I remember chaos. I remember a sensation not of my equilibrium shattering but of it having shattered. Every sense I had went to rubble. I could not find a thread of anything I had ever heard before to grasp onto, to begin to understand what I was hearing. I’d tell people later, “There was one guy who all he did was scream.” I’d add, “Like a dinosaur.” That’s the best I could do.

I said they took the stage but there was no stage. The lights in the room were on. Some wood paneling, otherwise white walls with framed prints of flowers. Oak trimmed windows and doors. It probably wasn’t their first song, or the second. I’d like to think for some reason it was the third song where I could finally understand some of the words: “It’s fucking cold outside / I wanna die! (palm mute) Die! (palm mute) Die!”

I doubled over in ecstasy, laughing. I laughed Guinness Book hard. This seismic euphoria unclogged synaptic channels or paved new ones. Or both. I don’t know. But I found my new Nirvana.

No one cared. Mom, brothers, friends, karate instructor. I told everyone about it. I started my new life with curedham.net everyday. Nothing changed. Then every week. Nothing changed. Until some search led to some link led to some page to say they’d changed their name to Farewell to Twilight.

They played a lot of shows at an old armory, so, in a gym. They would rent it out and invite other bands from Southern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois to play. Still no stage and the only lights were construction-grade floods on the ground.

Other fans of Farewell to Twilight, I suppose, already listened to Small Brown Bike and Hot Water Music and Converge. Whoever. And they knew to wear all black – especially black shoes. And don’t show up to Warped Tour with a homemade t-shirt. And if you’re gonna thrash, it’s a short violent burst through the pit with your head down swinging your fists and feet: Like This. You do it Like This or else who the fuck do you think you are? You’re ruining this for us. And if you’re not doing the short violent burst through the pit then you stand. Your arms. are. folded. at. all. times.

I bought almost every t-shirt they made. I had one for every day of the week plus a spare. They never really left the Midwest or toured for more than a week that I remember. But I drove to Rockford, Milwaukee, and St. Paul to see them.

They got to play at their tiny town’s Fourth of July celebration one year. They were still playing when the fireworks started and I knew that this was the best live music experience I was ever going to have. I knew someone was going to stop it, and they did, but it was fine. Seeing them was good enough. Seeing them with fireworks? C’mon. What kind of world would it be if things that good went unabated?

Farewell to Twilight announced three final shows and played two of them. They released a last song online and poof. Done.

To date I have one tattoo: The letters FTT inside a shield shape on my ankle. The shield shape mimes Kurt Cobain’s only tattoo (which he got to prove his loyalty to a label he wanted to be on). No matter what else might change I knew I wanted to make permanent something about this version of myself, the version of myself who cared more about music than anything, who cared more about this music than anything. I wanted something to be permanent because things were starting to change. I was signing leases, applying for jobs, and charging $185 of khakis, leather shoes, and a belt on a shiny new Kohls card.

Ten years later I’m married, one child and trying for a second, with a house, a dog, an all-consuming hobby of performing stand up comedy, also drinking too much, with sprawling credit card debt, and a series of unfulfilling retail jobs that landed me in the esteemed position of Insurance Salesman. This brought me to the door of a screen printing shop owned and operated by the former rhythm guitarist of – who else – Farewell to Twilight.

Me in my flat-front business casual pants, tucked-in Goodwill button down, and the shoes I’d bought for my wedding repurposed for this. Naturally I apologized for how I looked. He coolly responded along the lines of: ‘Nah, this’s always been you.’ The statement rang devastatingly true, instantly, and was the most unwelcome news I’d ever received.

I didn’t want to admit to myself that the Farewell to Twilight part of me was attached to the selling insurance part. I’d only adopted the insurance selling facade to provide for my family. And yet here was 1/5th of the venerable institution by which I definied myself (my self of selfs, my self so true I didn’t even tell most people about it) pointing out that I was irrefutably both, if not more facade than venerable institution!

My opinions about music and art should be more important than the things I do to provide for my family, right? I’m not just another credit card account balance, am I? No – I’m the guy with the Farewell to Twilight tattoo! Do you hear that, Kohls?! Do You?!

But if I am a cog, if I am little or nothing more than an interest-generating account balance, then what are Nirvana and Farewell to Twilight? Are they ugly and dismissable remainders of juvenile development, like baby fat or wisdom teeth? Are they totems of stunted development, or breadcrumbs leading me backward to a smothering death of instant gratifications? What is it about me that I can’t get past them? Or what is it about them?

I will call Sean a “vocalist,” conceding to detractors that some of the time what he’s doing is not singing. His voice is a Killdozer. It is blunt and merciless. It’s movements are tectonic, impassioned, puppeteered by the metaphysical. Tyler’s lead guitar work is searing needlepoint, establishing expectations then left-turning and curve-balling, a Pied Piper who teases and eludes. Bryan’s thundering rhythm guitar and Tyrannosaurus wails ground the whole business. His presence anchored everything FTT did or hoped to do. Drummers never get enough credit. Mark was as volatile as any other member and imbued his parts with character enough that if the band were the beast they sound like they are, the drums would be an ornate and multifaceted exoskeleton more than a purely structural necessity.

I am not nor have I ever been “a Killdozer.” I do not sear or wail, or thunder. Ornamentation embarrasses me, and my posture only suggests the possibility of a skeleton. I am a caricature of a white, middle class male. I have two bachelor’s degrees, and I have guitars I don’t know how to play. I like button down shirts. I worked sales. I am that guy.

But irrefutably, the first night I saw Farewell to Twilight changed my life. It jump started a then un-namable determination to be a certain way. Not to dress a certain way or to have a certain job, though, as much as I thought that was it. The years since they disbanded I kept coming back to the CD I’d burned of all 21 of their songs, and each time I listened it stirred the dim embers among the pale coals of my bygone aspirations. “Stirred the dim embers among the pale coals of my bygone aspirations?” Jesus Christ. My undying attraction to their music tripped me up like a root bulging through the foundation of my cozy bubble of privilege. There was something there but I never stopped to dig it up, you know? It was enough for me to know something, potentially something meaningful, was there.

We can go as long as we want without asking why something feels significant. We can go on without questioning because maybe we don’t want to, or don’t have to, but at a time in my life where I felt rudderless and was grasping at every straw for one sense of self from which I could cobble some sort of direction, I had to wonder: Why do I keep coming back, what – if anything – is there?

Farewell to Twilight struck a balance of articulation and abandon. They stared down the barrel of the relentless unknowableness that life can be, and they metabolized it into hostile and caustic parcels, as honest as they are clear. Striking and sustaining that balance is a process, a courage, and an ambition worth emulating, no matter where I buy my pants or whatever else changes.

One of my many insurance supervisors, all who stood to earn more if I earned more, took me out to lunch and asked what success looked like to me. I said it’d be nice to make enough money to pay my monthly bills (which after a year I’d almost done once), but that even if I was making that much money I’d feel like a failure because I’d be sacrificing more than I was willing to sacrifice to make money for the sake of making money. Shortly after that I transitioned to full time bartender (where I’d been picking up shifts to make ends meet).

After years of failing to develop a skill set of moderation I finally stopped drinking. I kept doing comedy, but scaled back. I enrolled in a debt management program. I still bartend at what is essentially a truck stop. In this capacity I entertain no delusion of ambition. There’s an autonomy I enjoy and some regulars have become friends, but I knew going in I was doing it for the money and the schedule. I am at home with our second son during the day. I am providing my family with more than any amount of money would. I am at peace. I am honest and clear and leaning forward.

Farewell To Twilight Bandcamp page

If you have a story you’d like to tell please get in touch!

TRAJECTORIES: Reflecting On The Moments When Music Changed Our Lives

yoe

“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 doesntsuck604@gmail.com 

TRAJECTORIES: Reflecting On The Moments When Music Changed Our Lives

TRAJ

Times were different in 1999. It was when AOL and Netscape had begun providing internet to the common folk in full swing. Even so, most of us still weren’t just endlessly pirating entire libraries from people off Soulseek or Napster, especially since those tasks took all day with a 256 kbps modem. And imagine if one of your family members picked up the phone. No, indie record stores were very much still the center of the universe for music and nothing brought me more pleasure than spending hours inside of one instead of being in a Psychology 101 class at the nearby community college I was attending.

Around this time period, I was 20 years old and thanks to the endless stream-of-consciousness band shout-outs from random kids on AOL Punk Chat, I had been introduced to countless punk bands. I was on a steady diet of ’77-88 Street Punk and Oi! at the time, after having graduated from gateway bands like the Sex Pistols and Descendents. Any time I entered Noise Noise Noise (Costa Mesa, CA RIP) I immediately went to the punk section and scoured for any new albums that someone had recommended. Sometimes, I bought things solely for the album and/or the band name. Most of the time I was happy with this gamble. If you think about it, punk bands were good at advertising if they were shit or not via cover art. Take, for instance, Minor Threat’s “Out of Step.” There is no denying that in that sleeve contained a piece of vinyl that shouted songs at you about being a misfit child that belonged nowhere.

But I remember feeling like I never quite fit in. I never understood quite how angry these middle-class white kids were in Orange County and I felt like there was so much hypocrisy. I also hated that you had to fit a certain mold, hold a certain identity to be respected. I despised that so much. Plus, I was tired of how punks and skinheads treated their ladies. 1999 was not a woke time period, dear readers. It was filled with toxic masculinity and misogyny (internal and external). Not that I understood what all of that was as of yet, but it definitely felt off and uncomfortable. It was around this time that I started to wander into other chat rooms. Fuck, this is insanely lame as I type it out, but like, this was how I navigated the world back then. Leave me alone!

Here in Indie Chat and Emo Chat were the original soft boys, with their 60s shaggy hair, Vulcan hair cut, or shotgun blast. They were so artsy, so sensitive, so pretentious, and full of disdain. I wanted to make out with one so badly and I knew that if I wanted that to happen, I’d have to start watching Godard films and listen to stuff other than Suicidal Supermarket Trolleys or some shit. I probably had to start dressing differently, too. Baby steps, though.

It was then I decided to break into unknown territory at Noise Noise Noise. I wandered into the indie section and started to paw at unfamiliar cover art that were vastly different in mood, composition, and themes than what I was used to. I was overwhelmed, to say the least, and I wasn’t the kind of kid that would ask the record store clerks for recommendations. So I just diligently kept flipping through with my heart beating faster for fear of being judged since I was wearing TUK creepers, a three-row pyramid belt, and a cheetah print spaghetti string tank top. But I was determined to make a purchase. I landed on this gauzy, mostly peach, cover of what were ghostly figures of humans I assumed were the band members. My Bloody Valentine. The name was sort of familiar. I think some really hot dude on Make Out Club had cited that this was his favorite band. So why the fuck not. I clutched it in my hands and paid for the damned thing and took it home.

I removed the cellophane wrapper, slid out the vinyl and placed it on my shitty Sony record player, slid down onto the floor with the cover in my hands, and waited for sound to emit from my speakers. What I heard, I was not prepared for. It was discordant and repetitive. The bass line was aggressive and maybe too bare. It made me nauseous. And when Kevin Shield’s voice came on, it sounded like whining and I was disgusted. I tore it off the record player, placed it back in its sleeve and literally tossed it across my room. I hated My Bloody Valentine. The hatred was so visceral that I can still feel ghost nausea whenever I recall this memory.

My Bloody Valentine’s “Isn’t Anything” is currently my most favorite album of all time. Do you want to know something weird? I can’t even remember when I decided to give it another chance. I’m not sure how much time had elapsed and how many other bands that were not punk I had listened to before I came back to it. All I know is that I did eventually listen to it again. I could not get enough of it. I want “Cupid Come” played at my funeral. I don’t care of it’s sexual. Everyone can stand some fucking sexiness while celebrating my worthless life here on earth. I also don’t want to spend time extolling the virtues of this album versus Loveless or whatever other shoegaze band there was. That wasn’t the point of this story.

I am talking about how differently I experienced music back then and how I know that kids today will never know what any of that was like. It doesn’t make me better or superior. It’s just a completely precious and strange time capsule of an era, especially if you think about how soon DSL became a thing in 2000 and everyone was pirating shit left and right off of P2P sharing clients. It was much harder to fall in love with a lot of music. You really had to have crushes on weird people and spend a lot of time and effort to explore entering a different subculture or realm. You couldn’t just go to fucking Urban Outfitters and buy a Joy Division tee shirt and be mercilessly mocked by your cool cousin for not knowing who they are. That means something to me. Some weird sort of circumstantial pride.

Anyway, get off my lawn!

 

Thanks Nat!

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

CH

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.

images_maninchair

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