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Pop Punk and Emo: What’s My Age Again?

This is going to hurt a bit.

But it’s time to fess up.

I’m kind of scared.

Let me work up to it with some background.

Before 7th grade, I was a clueless amoeba of a music listener.  I had a cd and tape player combo boombox, but very few albums.  To reference how meager my allowance was, and also showcase how poor my taste was, here were the CDs I owned:

  • Ace of Base – The Sign
  • Top Gun Soundtrack
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation (Soundtrack to the episode “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1”)
  • Some sort of techno collection.  It included LaBouche, Salt N Pepa, and I have no idea what else.
  • Dire Straits — Brothers in Arms (stolen from Dad)
  • The Beatles — Sgt Pepper

With no fear, I would spin those albums constantly.  Especially that TNG soundtrack.  I’d crank the volume while I was reading, drawing, practicing transcendental meditation (aka thinking), and basically just nerding out real good.  My mom for sure thought her only son was a lunatic, running around in his room, listening to shitty music, talking to himself, and scribbling endlessly in little notebooks.  The signs were there.  But god bless her, she let me be.

The good old days.

We loved some weird stuff as kids in the 90’s, and we loved it hard.  We had no other choice.  My feet could not reach the gas pedal on either the Accord or the Civic and my 5$/week allowance was largely based on completion of chores (not worth it).  I think we might have been the last generation to feel the joy and pain of being forced to make do with what we had.  Any drooling 7 year old with a laptop or iphone can now find any song ever written and listen to it for free.  But way back then, you were a slave to whatever you had.  And you didn’t mind being a slave.  Danger Zone is a helluva tune as it is – but when it’s all you got besides Ace of Base, it becomes the best thing in the world.

But it wasn’t best enough.

The boombox had a radio and I had a small voice recorder (stolen from Dad).  I’d spend hours turning the dial in between kroq, klos, arrow 93.1, and occasionally stopping on power 106 (which was scary).  When I heard a song I liked, I’d quickly hit record on the voice recorder and capture a terribly low quality version of the song — minus the first 30 seconds or so, and often minus the last 30 seconds (thanks to an annoying DJ).  I would then drive my family and friends insane by playing them back repeatedly.

One particularly epic and eclectic mix included:

  • Oasis — Wonderwall
  • Stone Temple Pilots — Creep
  • Bush – Machine Head
  • Coolio — Gangsta’s Paradise

Using the temporal-geography-locator app in my brain, that puts us at about 1995 or so, maybe 1996.

Everything changed in 1997, when Alex, my only other musically-obsessive friend, gave me a copy of Blink 182’s Dude Ranch (which his mother was going to make him throw away because of the bull testicles on the cover).

It was pure, raw energy all the way through.  And it felt familiar.  It was a bizarre form of déjà-vu.  Every time I hoped a chord would come… it did.  There wasn’t a single song I didn’t love.  I couldn’t explain it.  It might have had something to do with the fact that I was singing about my future:

Laughing at the bands we hate, all the spots we used to skate
They’re still there, but we’ve gone our own ways
I know it’s for the best but sometimes I wonder
Will I ever have friends like you again?

Is it too much to ask for the things to work out this time?
I’m only asking for what is mine
I wanted everything, I got it and now I’m gonna
Throw it away, I’ll throw it away (yeah)

You’re gonna drown in the mess you make
Your self-inflicted hate
You turn your back on the friends you lose
When they don’t follow all your rules

But people are what they wanna be
They’re not lemmings to the sea
Maybe it’s time you looked at yourself
And stop blaming life on someone else

Blink-182 – Lemmings

I knew I was on to something.  But I couldn’t find the URL for Pandora back then.  So I sat with my voice recorder, waiting for something similar.  I never clicked with Green Day.  I bought an album by The Offspring as a result of peer pressure.  Nothing worked.  I waited for over a year.

And holy hell, on June 1st, 1999… one week before I graduated Junior High…

Enema of the State came out.

Not coincidentally, there was a huge tropical weather system that delivered enormous waves every day that summer.  No hardboards allowed.  I lived half a block from the beach.  This was a dream come true.  My friends and I had double overhead waves to bodyboard all to ourselves.  And that boombox would come along and sit on the sand next to us, blasting Enema of the State.  It was the soundtrack to that season of my life.  Nothing could have fit better.

Blink 182 – Dumpweed

And in the days leading up to my first day of high school, I held onto that album like a childhood stuffed animal.  I had no idea what to expect.  The only people I knew there were Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge, and Travis Barker.  Their songs were all I knew about adolescence (dangerous in retrospect).

My first day of school, my very first class was advanced English.  It was full of 10th graders, I was the only freshman.  In the first 10 minutes, Mrs. Harris decided to pair the class up for a project.  I thought it would be sweet to be paired with Allison Metchikoff (what a fox).  Or that getting paired with Trevor Burdge could’ve help my popularity.  I guess I didn’t care all that much.  Just please, God, give me anyone but Chris Crockett.

But of course, the teacher’s voice interrupted my prayers:

“Matt Zbrog, why don’t you sit with Chris Crockett?”

Uh, okay Mrs. Harris, I can answer that, but it’s going to take a while:

He hasn’t shut up since the bell rang.  He’s got liberty spikes.  Patches everywhere.  He smells like cigarettes and maybe alcohol and definitely BO.  He has facial hair.  I get the feeling he’s going to stab me with a crude type of knife in the hallway later.  He carved a swastika into his desk instead of doing the first writing exercise.

Of course the screenwriters of my life made sure the predictable irony panned out, and I was worshipping the guy by the time class was over.  I was lucky enough to have him in 6th period French, too.  Awesome way to start and finish the day.

The kid was a genius.  The best human blog I’ve ever met.  He would constantly befuddle teachers and make them question their profession.  He had the revolutionary politics card down.  He taught me how to make my Bible teacher cry.  He showed me the ropes.  And of course, we debated music.  He was punk personified.

I’d fight hard for local, contemporary talent like Homegrown.  He’d fight back with gutterpunk oldies like The SubHumAns and The Descendants.   He taught me about history, like The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, The Clash. He’d flat out refuse some of my picks (Rufio/Yellowcard) but use them as a basis to recommend truly incredible bands like NOFX – their epic song  The Decline changed my life.

The two of us together was like The Breakfast Club but with less Emilio Estevez.

So when Chris Crockett got expelled the next year for getting drunk and getting a blowjob from Crystal in the chapel area [how in the world is that a crime], there was a vacuum.  I had to find my own stuff.

I started going to punk shows every weekend.  Sometimes weekdays.  I was making more and more friends based on shared taste in music — a trend that continues to this day.  My network was growing.  The internet was barely beginning to open itself up to music and Napster, and I was sifting through it for any scraps I could get.  I was going to venues to see every act.  There was a new EP circulating every month.  I was on the front lines.

I was growing up, and so were the bands.  The Taking Back Sunday demo came out and dropped an atomic bomb on my brain in 2001 (The album version, Tell All Your Friends, would wait until 2002).  These guys were smart in a genre that historically put a priority on being dumb.  But they didn’t care, and they decided to go on being smart, making fun of past idiot bands in the process.

Get up, get up
Come on, come on, lets go
There’s just a few things
I think that you should know
Those words at best
Were worse than teenage poetry
Fragment ideas
And too many pronouns
Stop it, come on
You’re not making sense now
You can’t make them want you
They’re all just laughing

Literate and stylish (literate and stylish)
Kissable and quiet (kissable and quiet)
Well that’s what girls dreams are made of
And that’s all you need to know (and that’s all you need to know)
You have it or you don’t (you have it or you don’t)

Taking Back Sunday – Timberwolves At New Jersey

I wrote every single lyric to Tell All Your Friends on the cover of my SAT booklet when I was finished early and not allowed to leave.  I think it was probably the reason I got a perfect score on the verbal section.  All those analogies.

Brand New’s Your Favorite Weapon proved that TBS wasn’t a one off (even though Jesse Lacey wrote lyrics on both albums).  The floodgates were opening.  It was the era of song titles the size of gigantic sentences.  And while other kids were singing Limp Bizkit to get out their rage, I was singing along to one of the most eloquent ways to tell someone to go kill themselves:

Brand New- Seventy Times Seven

I was just beginning to interact with girls (he’s a late bloomer).  I fell in love over and over again, for no real reason.  I used a large vocabulary and got strange looks.  I often wrote in notebooks about my “emotions and feelings”, and now here were these bands that did it, too.  It was instant kinship.

People laughed and called it emo.  You know what I call it?  Being fucking 17.

I went to see Fall Out Boy at Chain Reaction in 2003 when they opened for a hardcore band.  There were harsh vibes all around us.  But I was still up front with my idiot friend, singing every word, because we knew where the talent was.

She took me down and said,
“Boys like you are overrated, so save your breath.”
Loaded words and loaded friends
Are loaded guns to our heads

Cause every pane of glass that your pebbles tap negates the pains I went through to avoid you
And every little pat on the shoulder for attention fails to mention I still hate you

You want apologies
Girl, you might hold your breath
Until your breathing stops forever, forever
(…every pane of glass) the only thing you’ll get
Is this curse on your lips:
(every pane of) I hope they taste of me forever

Fall Out Boy – Chicago Is So Two Years Ago

Woah, right?

I know!

It was perfect for its time and place.  Like rollerblades, or bellbottoms, or peace signs.  It was the last year of high school, and the first summer before college.  A new heartbreak every month.  Prom.  Surfing after class.  Cheaters.  Girls with tattoos.  Gossip.  Drunken singalongs to Deja Entendu.  We were there for it, and we knew it was going away.  The whole scene was a high school swan song.

Once college started, time for venues and music searches gave way to frat parties, actual girlfriends, and “class”.  Those years, musically, were spent in a haze of growing my secret obsession with Nine Inch Nails, trying to understand Radiohead, falling head over heels for Joy Division, exploring underground electronic music, and occasionally dipping my toes in the old scene… just out of habit.

The bands I loved sold out, which is another way of saying they just continued to do what they’d been doing and I grew out of them.  I’d like to think the rage I felt because of that was the reason for my mistakes like Atreyu, Killswitch Engage, and As I Lay Dying.  Somewhere around the birth of Paramour or something, I had to cancel my membership.  I cannot endorse this sort of behavior any longer. The time between me loving a band and me disavowing all knowledge of ever liking them was getting incredibly short.

I felt like that one disciple who denied Christ three times before the cock crowed.

In retrospect, a real bitch move.

So, with that said, here it goes:

I’m 25, decently intelligent, and I am aware the incredible importance of being hip in today’s society — but I occasionally listen to Blink 182’s Enema of the State.  Sometimes I listen to Tell All Your Friends or Pump up the Valuum at the gym.  Occasionally, I’ll even look up Rufio on YouTube (and clear my history/cookies afterwards).  It’s not a problem, I totally have it under control.  I just like the way it feels.  It makes my life flash before my eyes.  I understand how this sounds.  I am a grown man.

“When I was a child, I thought like a child, I acted like a child, but when I became I man, I put away childish things and then took them out again later when no one was looking.”

I’d like to think everyone has one album that really changed it all for them when it came out.  For years, you are this formless goop that goes with the flow of whatever is around you.  And then That One Album comes along and you say fuck that other stuff, I’m going to keep going this way for a while.

So don’t turn your back on it, no matter how embarrassing it looks in the rear view mirror.  Sing it out loud.  Own up to it.  You’ll feel better.

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