TRAJECTORIES: Reflecting On The Moments When Music Changed Our Lives

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“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

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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