My friend Scott sent his guest post to me Monday afternoon; and it’s now Wednesday, not Tuesday. It’s been that kind of week or so. I’ve known Scott since our school opened up in ’01.He teaches health education in the building and is a writer, too. He writes at Life is the Future and is planning to ‘Bite the Bullet’ this coming year. We were talking and writing came up – neither knew the other wrote, it’s interesting how that all works. I knew he loved music and collected vinyl. We got to talking and he agreed to guest post here at Making the Days Count. I enjoyed the read and I hope you do, too. I am thankful for friends like Scott, have a Happy Thanksgiving.
Some of my favorite memories come with a soundtrack. Of course, almost all my memories come with a soundtrack—the good, the bad, and everything in between.
In teaching discussions, and even in life conversations, I make it no secret that music has helped me stay alive this long. Music has been one of my constants in a lifetime of change. It has seen me age, and awkwardly so. It has seen me make bad decisions, and dread repercussion. It has seen me laugh, cry, and scream. It has taken me across the country on the kick of a dream. It has kept me home in the arms of my family.
While writing, I rarely do any stream of consciousness without it. And even then, when the editing grip finally takes hold, I can hear the echo in the embers. It’s in pieces, in manic-depressant fits of stress and relaxation. Like dust motes in the blank stare of a daydream, music can fill space or demand attention. Depending on the mood, music confirms or denies feelings of self-worth, vents of frustration, and outbursts of elation.
Pop music of my childhood combined with the classics from my parents, which led me to being introduced to other styles of music. The alternative music boom of the 80’s and 90’s paved the way for exactly what I needed: the edgy, angsty hooks of punk rock.
I was about 14 when I found punk music. Coming from a fairly normal and fortunate upbringing, punk rock didn’t represent a distaste for life, necessarily, but it hit home as it satisfied a very natural need of adolescence: to question everything. Question the norm, question the rules, question the answers, question existence… question oneself.
A punk song may never change the world, but I could tell you a few that changed me. Which means, by virtue, punk rock does exactly what it sets out to do.
If you’ve been there, you know; people are drawn to punk for many reasons, all unique to each individual. For me, the attitude of the music and lyrics was easy to relate to. But songs with societal meaning registered just as much as the galloping riffs that accompanied those often-indiscernible words. (Good thing for liner notes.) The punk community is one that offends the mainstream with no mercy but all in the demand for tolerance and equity. Racial and class lines be damned.
Identity in school, as in life, remains just as difficult a topic as ever. In my case, not following pre-set expectations made a lot of sense… classifications, stereotypes, cliques all seemed dumb and immature. Counterproductive. Moreover, why can’t a person be interested in a variety of things, and hang out with lots of different people? Funny enough, finding like-minded friends and having that kinship of a social circle is essential in teenage development.
Cue the music.
Following punk and indie rock and getting into everything from “well-known” underground music to smaller, local bands ended up creating a place for me in a counterculture scene that was welcoming and unique. A wide open road of my future.
I even had the fortune of playing in a band as a kid. Well, a college student… but nonetheless, a kid. Toying with such an idea as a teenager seems common, and I followed that path willingly. However, I couldn’t play a thing. No instrument to my name besides the years of piano lessons I left behind before middle school. I messed around a bit with guitar and trombone, but it was nothing ever good. So, what’s a young man to do in that situation? Become the stand alone vocalist, of course. And so it was—I fronted a punk band in the late nineties/early 2000’s. And it was great. Oh, we weren’t particularly good; most of the time we were figuring out our sound from song to song. We evolved in our short time together to be able to put out a few albums and go out a couple self-promoted tours around the midwest and the east coast. I’ll cherish that forever.
All that time, I was introduced to new bands, new people, new conversations about life and its meaning. And because punk was so DIY, the cheapest way to put out music was often on vinyl. Records became an interest of mine because that’s exactly what was put out by the bands I loved.
In graduating college and finding a full-time job (and simultaneously becoming much of what the younger me would have hated), I lost a lot of this past along the way. Music was put out in digital form, MP3’s and online music ruling the release formats. After well over a decade away from records, I found a renewed interest with the resurgence of vinyl in the last 5 years or so. I realized I never lost that need for the animate, tactile version of music. So I got a new turntable, dug out what albums I still had, and have since built my record collection to include all of my old favorites… as well as plenty new. Not just punk or indie rock, but any and all styles to fit the many moods of life.
Lately, one of my favorite things to do is to just sit and enjoy. It used to be I wanted to keep busy with my music—I wanted it to kick me in the eardrum and pull me across the room. But now it’s fulfilling to sit down and relax, flip on the turntable, and drop myself into a record. The world keeps spinning. Right along with the deck and me, the world keeps spinning. All those skips give me pause. All those crackles let me breathe.
See, it’s vinyl that seems to best hold an artist’s passion, and with it, life’s wonder. It’s held in the records, the sweat and grit and hours of work—it can be heard right there in the grooves which have defied extinction, escaped death, and come back to thrive in the music industry. Sure, there are purists who have a distaste for the new crop of record companies popping up, or the more expensive pricetags, or the “hipster” branding to collecting vinyl records. But I’ll take it. I’ll lobby for new artists to release their music on an actual album, one you can hold instead of download. Liner notes you can touch and pour over, examining each detail of a band you love so you can feel like you know them personally. Because, guaranteed, musicians have created music for themselves, but they sure don’t mind if people appreciate what they’ve made.
To lose yourself in sound and lyrics is something I wish for everyone. After all, our favorite songs are the soundtrack to ourselves.
And as for that teenage me of yesteryear? Instead of degrading the older version of himself, maybe he’d be impressed in the philosophical teacher and writer still listening to some of the same bands. Or maybe not… who knows, with all that angsty teenage feist.