Subculture Soundtrack- The Road Trip

Playlist for a drive to Vermont and Montreal: been feeling a UK82/ No Future vibe lately.  I think because I feel as bleak lately, as I did when I was fifteen. I revisited some old tunes on a long drive. I’ve been thinking about how so many generations before my own have struggled with the same fears of being the final human beings to inhabit this planet. I wanted to go back and revisit the music and art of a generation of punks, the “kids of the 80’s” if you will who feared the nuclear fire next time.

The ExploitedPunk’s Not Dead.  The first Exploited record I actually heard was The Massacre.  Melanie got a copy of it when we were 14.  Her and Forrest and I scratched our shaved little heads thinking “What the fuck is this metal shit?”.  I didn’t like metal at all for a long time, based on the washed up heshers in faded Slayer shirts that would try and fight us for being “Punk Rock Faggots”.  It was funny when we tried to play the tape in Forrest’s Mother’s car and the track “Sick Bastard came on only for Forrest’s mother to ask us if Wattie was screaming “Shit Master”.  Might as well have been.

Oh yeah.  I was talking Punk’s Not Dead.  A baby punk rite of passage, at least in the 80’s and 90’s.  I don’t know anyone who liked The Exploited in earnest after they turned 18.  God this record is dumb, but it’s got its moments.  I maintain Out of Control and Dole Q got some genuine angst.  So do a few other tracks.  I Believe in Anarchy is just plain silly.  Fuck the mods is one of the more boneheaded throwaway songs ever written. I would rather listen to The Jam’s “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight” nowadays, hands down.

The ExploitedTroops of Tomorrow.  I liked this record when I was fifteen.  I traded Dan Jenkins an Alien Workshop t-shirt for a cassette version of this record and an Exploited T-Shirt.  I still think I got the better deal. I thought I was so cool. The cassette cover had a picture of Wattie playing live wearing a t-shirt of Sid Vicious wearing a swastika shirt.  Yikes.  Not cool Wattie.  I looked up the tape on discogs a while back.  It’s worth like $30 now.  I have no idea where mine went.  In tenth grade, Jamie Buckmeyer told me how she heard The Exploited toured the US with Skrewdriver back in the 80’s and we maybe shouldn’t like them anymore in case they were Nazi sympathizers.  I always kinda thought “Hitler’s In The Charts Again” was maybe an antifascist anthem, but I couldn’t make out what the fuck Wattie was saying.

I know now that 1. Skrewdriver never ever toured the US.  They had a hard time even playing England without getting some well-deserved ass beatings and 2. The Exploited toured the US with Agnostic Front, a skinhead band with far less reprehensible politics.  Life before you could just google anything you wanted to know was wild, and rife with misinformation, but maybe a bit more mysterious.  3.  I was about a year away from outgrowing The Exploited anyway.

The ExploitedSingles Collection.  All these songs are still pretty decent.  Dead Cities is The Exploited at their rapturous, apocalyptic best.  Romanticized hopelessness.  I still see the appeal in this song nearly 40 years after its release and 25 years after I heard it for the first time.  Rival Leaders gets you pumped for nuclear Armageddon. Computers Don’t Blunder warns of a nuclear holocaust brought on by computer error.  Nowadays I don’t know anyone who doesn’t’ immediately think of the all-seeing surveillance apparatus we willingly participate in with our smartphones and social media when we think of computers.  I still maintain Attack is such a catchy, weird punk tune from a band that just wrote a lot of the same song.

The ExploitedLet’s Start a War… (Said Maggie One Day). I never listened to this as a kid.  This record is fine. I might be able to concentrate on it more if I wasn’t driving.  This record came after The Exploited lost their classic lineup.  Only Wattie left.  I like the samples in between songs.  I like that the record is almost exclusively centered around opposition to the 1983 Falklands War. Rival Leaders got pulled off this record as a single. It’s just as fun here. The chorus of “10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1… here we go!” Gets me just as pumped for watching ICBMs raining from the sky here as it does on the singles collection.

Where other punk bands wrote protest songs, so many Exploited songs have this air of lackadaisical nihilism to them. We are all going to die. Whatever. Might as well keep doing drugs and screaming in infantile rage about our impending doom.

I can’t help but admire that right now.

The ExploitedHorror Epics and Death Before Dishonour.  These records are fine for mid-80’s punk fare, starting to veer just into metal territory, but not nearly as tragically as Discharge would around the same time.  Horror Epics is a really stellar record title and I always liked the cover.  Three punks sitting in an old school movie theater with a vampire looming creepily over them. Really, so much of what I loved about the 1980’s is right there in that cover. I like that they wrote a song about Margaret Thatcher that just says Maggie Maggie Maggie you’re a cunt.  Is there a historical figure more maligned within punk rock then Margaret Thatcher? Maybe Ronald Reagan. I hope teenage punk kids are out there somewhere in a thousand basements and garages writing songs about stabbing Jeff Bezos to death in a post climate change wasteland.

I don’t remember anything about Death Before Dishonour.  The cover, Margaret Thatcher embracing the grim reaper in front of a haunted looking church is pretty great. All The songs on both these records kind of sound like the band was just mainlining speed and putting music to Wattie’s paranoid ramblings.  I’m kinda into that, given how I struggle with paranoia.  Do I have a kindred spirit in Wattie Buchan?  Fuck.

Broken BonesSingles Collection – I heard Broken Bones for the first time on one of those Cleopatra UK82 comps put out in the 90’s.  For whatever reason, my friends and I thought buying a record without having heard the band first, just because you were curious or whatever, meant you were buying the record because the band’s logo looked cool painted on some other punk’s jacket and therefore you were just buying the record to be cool, and you were definitely a poser.  I could give a shit about this kinda thing now, but I will cop to having been a pretty insecure kid.  Comps were a loophole to hear bands before you bought the record, thus saving yourself from poserdom.  I guess it also saved you from the possibility of buying a shitty record based on seeing the logo painted on some other kid’s leather.  Anti-Nowhere League, for example were on the same comp, and their track demonstrated to me that they in fact sucked, despite the frequency with which I saw their logo painted on Jackets.

The Roberts brothers really saved themselves a lot of humiliation by getting out of Discharge while the getting was good.  Broken Bones did the whole crossover thrash thing well, without veering catastrophically into hair metal territory like the aforementioned Discharge.  I like all the songs on this record.  Perfectly dark with tons of killer riffs.  I don’t really know how to write about music.  The opening riff of “It’s Like” feels huge and dark, like a plunge into a black leather abyss.

On the topic of painted leather jackets, I saw a kid outside an Aus-Rotten/Stratford Mercenaries show at Stalag 13 in Philly way back in 1997 in a leather trench coat with the Broken Bones logo painted elaborately across the back.  I wonder where that jacket is now?  Where are all the studded leathers of yesteryear?  I sold mine for $50 when I was hard up for traveling money at 22.  I wish I hadn’t now.  The buyer at the thrift store even tried to talk me out of it.

Broken BonesDem Bones – Started to get highway hypnosis while this one was playing.  Thrash thrash thrash.  Had to skip over the title track due to its silliness.

Broken BonesBonecrusher – I like this record more.  Probably because it contains a lot of the singles I had been listening to for a long time.

BlitzVoice of a Generation – Okay.  I still listen to this record pretty regularly.  An Oi/Streetpunk classic.  Most of the hits.  A few filler tracks that I normally skip over at home.  I can do without the almost surf rock vibe of “T.O?”, and whatever “Vicious” is.  Ironic though, because I do admire Blitz for being willing to experiment Blitz musically, coming from a scene seemingly full of knuckle draggers more looking for a soundtrack to a brawl than branching out musically.  I mean…  They literally have a song named “Fight To Live”.  Blitz will always epitomize so much of the No Future vibe emanating from the second wave of punk for me. Maybe it was the bleakly tough promo photos, or how seemingly fast they self-destructed, despite being remarkably prolific for a group of broke punks and skins.

BlitzSingles Collection – This is my first and favorite Blitz record.  Not a bad track on it.  Someone’s Gonna Die introduced my friends and I to both the Oi chant, and the entire genre when we were fifteen.  Somewhere lost to time, or a Pennsylvania basement, there’s a demo recording of my first punk band.  We set a boombox at the top of the basement stairs for the clearest (yet still terrible) sound.  If one were to unearth those recordings today, they would hear the static empty air hiss of the cassette as the spindles lurched to life to record our messy teenage tunes, immediately followed by our drummer shouting “It’s recording!  Oi! OI! OI! and stomping down the stairs to take his place behind his drumkit.  His snare head was constructed almost entirely out of duct tape and sounded gloriously awful.

Listen, I even like the New Wave singles at the end of this record.  I’m not afraid to admit it.  They’re solid songs.  Maybe not on par with New Order, but I think these singles and the Second Empire Justice LP would have done better had the members of Blitz who ended up with the name when the initial lineup split had recorded the records under a different name.  As it stands, the new wave records were resoundingly rejected by Blitz’ established fanbase and the records, and the band faded into obscurity.  Most of us didn’t even know about later period Blitz until well into adulthood.

One Way SystemAll Systems Go – Give Us A Future is a classic anthem of desperate youth demanding a better world.  Stab The Judge is one of the best punk revenge anthems of all time.  “What we gonna do if it all goes wrong, keep on running for how long?”  When I was young, I think I romanticized my emerging punk rock life as one which would inevitably end in tragedy.  My friends and I talked about murdering at least one our tormentors with a casual ease. I never saw any kind of happy ending to that story. I wanted to go out in a blaze like the unnamed character in this song, striking out against oppressive authority figures.  A punk rock last stand. 

I never imagined making it to 18, then 21, then 15, then 30.  Now I’m almost 40 and have been in proximity to enough tragedy for two lifetimes while our collective future feels more uncertain than ever and I feel like I want to cling to consciousness harder than ever before.

I always thought Stab the Judge would work great covered as a darkwave track, but I don’t know how to make music.

DischargeHear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing – The almighty D-Beat was born right here. There is nothing I can say about this record that has not been said a thousand times by writers more talented than me.  Discharge’s masterpiece, their plateau before a disastrous descent into hair metal territory.  The opening bass lines and guitar riffs of The Final Bloodbath sound like the mouth of hell opening (or an enormous door slamming?) and it remains one of my favorite urgently haunting hardcore punk songs of all time, a desperate warning for humanity (or at least the punks) to recognize the imminent danger posed by war mongering leaders and ravenous corporations.

40 years later, you wonder if anyone heard it, or if we’re all just so beaten down by trying to survive that it saps our will to resist.

Syndrome 81Beton Nostalgie – For whatever reason, my car’s stereo system would switch to this record whenever I got a text message.  I was gonna listen to it at some point during a long ass drive anyway.  A compilation of all of Beton, France’s Syndrome 81’s recorded output so far.   Everyone knows France’s punks and skins are producing some of the best Oi! and Street Punk in the world these days.  Syndrome 81 are no exception, save for adding a healthy dose of dark/post punk into the mix.  These songs sound like what I think Blitz could have done following the New Age single.  Dark punk with a slightly thuggish edge.  These records remind me of Olympia.  I think mainly because I’ve read in interviews with Syndrome 81 that Beton is a port town where it rains all the time.

 

 

 

Twenty-Eight

Ugly people
Haunt you
Just enough
To remind You
The day you left them
Felt
Like a first breath
Back
From the shadow
Of the valley of death

There is magic
Living
Breathing in
In this world
I know this much
Is true
Too bad
There’s none left
Living in you.

World Burns To Death

The lead up to another yet another war in the Middle East has me thinking a lot about the young punk rocker I was 17 years ago, and the music that provided the soundtrack to my small acts of resistance to the war machine. The recorded output of World Burns To Death came into sharp focus. Releasing 3 LPs and a handful of EPs before they faded away at the end of the 2000’s, World Burns To Death were at the forefront of American Hardcore Punk.

World Burns To Death wrote some of the most crushingly brutal D-Beat to grace our turntables, including a sonically harrowing concept album about the failures of state communism. Finding their EPs always felt like such an exercise in giddy horror, so much so that I remember finding one I didn’t have in the summer of 2004 while traveling and carefully wrapping it up in spare black crusty shirts in my pack and hopping trains all the way home to Denver with it in my pack. Stark black and white covers, and some of the most straightforwardly ugly lyrics, in the grand, desperate tradition of Discharge before them. Exactly what I needed. Exactly the ugliness I felt roiling inside of me every single day.

That whole summer, I struggled with a sense of despair so massive that I was quietly suicidal, though I told none of my friends. A sense of apocalyptic failure haunted my dreams. The Iraq war had entered its second year and the torrent of opposition to it that had flowed through the streets had dwindled to all but a trickle. That winter we learned climate change truly would be the doom of us all, and the burning world spun on. We drank like our livers wouldn’t last and the poison would let us forever opt out of a futile future. I made a tape of someone’s Sucking of the Missile Cock LP and listened to it on repeat, fantasizing about an ending in self-immolation every time Apparatus closed out the LP, so tired of all the horror, the hurt and the desperation for my life to mean something.

A friend said something to me the other night that really resonated about feeling all the same anger and motivation that we felt when we were young people circa 2002-03 during the lead up to the Iraq invasion, the weight of age having done little to dull those feelings, but they just come accompanied with so much more fear and absolutely none of the optimism nowadays. A feeling of “this could be it; the final war punks have been screaming about, living in fear of for our entire adult lives might be here” hangs heavy on the hearts of all the youth of yesterday I know.

It’s hard to look back at the years between then and now and recognize the ease with which the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan gradually became relegated to the white noise of atrocity in the background while we all just tried to survive and make it to our thirties without catching felony charges or going to an early grave. There’s an undeniable privilege there, but if you’re reading this you probably know that already.

I feel that same despair today, but with almost two decades worth of cynicism and existential depression added to the pile. Whatever horrors those in power are readying to unleash on the world, I have little faith the left will mount any real resistance to. My cynicism and distrust make it hard to connect with community, in a time when we all just need each other. I’m in a new city alone, trying to live like the world isn’t collapsing. So I get up in the morning, eat my breakfast, walk my elderly dog, go to my dumb job, and try and find a dentist that will take my insurance in the feeble hope that my teeth will stop rotting out of my fucking skull, despite how regularly I brush and floss.

In solitude, I turn to music for solace, and these records still give voice to the seething revulsion I feel at the way power maneuvers throughout the world. The anger. The hopelessness. The Despair. I’ve realized lately that I’m at that age where I think I’m at that crossroads of settled into the music I love in a way that makes me less interested in newer punk, and finding myself drawn to music made by people my age or older who are still trying to be creative. More and more, I feel alienated from younger punks, too. With punks not always being the most long-lived people, 40 is roughly “ok boomer” age in punk rock.

It is what it is, but I also miss punk and need that shit more than ever lately.

If you are a creative person out there making music and art despite your despair, please keep creating.

A sadness spell.

Close the blinds in my room
Blackout curtains drawn against the gray
Morning light greeting the world outside
Last night, the hands of the clock hovered at 2 AM
For four hours straight
I’m on my lonely bedroom bullshit again
Spirit whispers scratch pen to paper
A poem written to no-one and nothing
Save for the safety of locked doors
Shelter found behind four walls
A monument to empty rooms

A recurring theme, for sure
I just need the quiet tonight
With the sound of East Carson
Ringing in my ears for hours
After I punch the clock

The smell of smog and exhaust
Coats my throat
Sticks to the inside of my lungs
I love this city, or I don’t
Or I like it as much as anything else
That passes for home these days

I fear the cold hand of death reaching down to collect
This tired body, sending it on its way
To greet the heart I long ago discarded
Visions of the end
Out here on the pavement, alone
Crushed under under the tread
Of indifferent wheels running
The race to nowhere fast
A casualty cast to concrete canyons
With those mountains so beloved
So far gone to shadow
Of memory and time running low

Pedal to the pavement, anyways
Playing the odds
It’s the end of days
Or so they say
And nobody can think
Of anything better to do.

Falling Asleep to 1990’s marketing Extravaganza Dick Tracy

The plot isn’t much to speak of
Scattered and hard to follow, but the colorful and garish
Sets, they just soothe the edges of my soul
Eyes adjusting to the darkness ahead of rest

I might always live like
A faceless wraith stalking my way
Through the avenues and alleyways
And haunted spots of anytown, USA

I liked that about the movie
How those obviously painted hulking
Concrete and steel monstrosities
Static and frozen, yet still somehow in motion

Could be a metaphor for the underbelly
Of any city, the concrete canyons of New York
The cold labyrinthine streets
Carving the wastes of Chicago

Okay, those are actually the only
Two cities that come to mind
When I think about just where
“The City” might have been based on

Not nearly enough sunshine
For the soulless sun soaked streets of LA
But I’ve always been such a sucker
For a hardboiled detective anyway

I love the two-dimensional villains
Out to get theirs at any cost
All physically deformed and amoral
Impeccably dressed in tailored suits all the same

After a day’s worth of eating shit and air pollution
Cutting two wheels across cold pavement
For a hundred bucks and some exercise
Knees that creak and wrists that ache

I think I understand
Just how busted hands
Could reach for a gun
Trading the violence wrought

On aging bones
Through toil and exhaustion
At the end of every workday
For the violence of

Striking out into the cold
Of this heartless world
To take what’s rightfully yours
Instead of what those hogs at the top say you deserve

So meet me tonight at the docks
Underneath a yellow moon peering
Indifferently though the smog
Down at streets seeped in soul and sorrow below

I’m a sultry songstress
Bruised but unbroken, just like you
Always on the same side
With a loaded .45

Pressed against my thigh
Sticking to circles of streetlight
Until the hour arrives
To slink back into the shadows

Of The City and strike
Out at its black heart
Because in this life
There are hard truths they teach us

Before we can even grow
First and foremost
We come to know
That only suckers fight fair

3.14.4.18

One.

The first time I saw you:
You were magnetic
With your cracked tooth grin
Tattoos gracing your skin
Your steel toe boot
Stomp across a scuffed
Hardwood floor painted
The color of one hundred
Midnight hours passed
In delicious summer stillness
Your eyes
Catch mine
You smile
And I smiled back
The humidity hanging
Thick in the air
Turned electric, sending
My skin tinging
For a moment
Like an alien
Sensing a kindred spirit

Two.

Two hours later
Dancing at the show
Sweaty and smiling
On the precipice
Of “punk for life”
I wonder
Just when we get
Too old for this
Fifteen years after
I screamed the words
“Young until I die!”
For the first time
The band
Right on the cusp
Of stardom, or what passes
For it down here
On this dirty living room floor
Is giving it their
Absolute all
You introduce yourself
In the sweaty afterglow
Wild hair stuffed
In a knit black beanie
Despite the summer heat.

Three.

Two years on
All fucked up
On sleeplessness and loss
And expensive liquor
Twenty-one days since
A single shotgun shell
Shattered the world
Of almost every person I know
Back home

So I came out here alone
Breaking in steel toe boots of my own
Praying to stomp my way down
Enough strange streets
Turn down enough blind curves
Walk up enough steep hills
To outrun this
Sadness swallowing sadness

We share a drink
And a fierce affinity
For one another
Intelligent eyes
Growing harder
And harder
I look at you
And see a mirror.

Four.

You are my friend
And one of the
Best and brightest
I know
Sitting in your parking spot
Making the most
Of our small hours
Before the dawn

I wouldn’t go back now
To visit those hours
Inhabit those shed skins
But I wish
I could visit
To hear the grace
Of your laugh
And the light
Behind your eyes
One more time

Five.

The sharpness in
Your words matches
The razor glint
In your eyes
I’ve seen that malevolent
Glow pouring out of my
Own skull, tasted that venom
Dripping out of my mouth
So many times before

Blessed as we are
With this curse
Brilliant minds, that move too fast
And suspicion to match it
Paranoid thoughts pushing
A soul past the red line
Like the time
Our friend kissed
That boy who
Wasn’t your boyfriend
But you wanted him to be
Even though you claimed
It was all no big deal
Later.

You sent a text
To our other friend
Telling her you hoped
Her clit shriveled
And fell off

“Goddamn, girl.
I wish you hadn’t said that.”

“What?
She fucked me over
And now she doesn’t
Deserve to ever
Feel pleasure again
I don’t see what the big deal is.”

Like it was the most rational thought in the world

I shuffled my feet nervously
Beneath the table
Reminding myself
To never get on your bad side
After all
We are so much alike
And I been on my own shit list
For most of my life.

Six.

I have been in bed
For four days now
The diagnosis came Monday
And with it a shattering
A feeling of never being
Able to trust myself again
I could stay here
In this room
Forever
Let heart starve out
Go to oblivion
Nobody calls on the phone
And I feel a loneliness
Like I’ve never known

And then you are at the door
Pulling me up into your arms
And into the world outside my window

“Come on, let’s get something to eat
Your brain may be trying to get the best of you
But this shit doesn’t have to be a death sentence.”

Seven.

Christmas comes.
And you, Josef
And I, are all alone.
Running from the worst
Goddamn heartbreak
I ever known
And the kind of cold
That cuts to the soul.
I made the three
Of us dinner
And we ate together
Thankful for the sanctuary
Found here in one another
From the heartless
Rain of this wretched city

I didn’t take any pictures
Of that night
But now I wish I had
You were too on edge
Looking out the windows
Over your shoulder
As if some unknown enemy
Would cross Eastside Street
And knock on the door

I mostly remember trying to play off the tension
And Josef hating the movie I pirated
And with good reason
That shit was way too violent
To watch on Christmas

And I see now
All the little red flags
I should have seen back then
The Storm getting ready to rage
Suspicion bordering on madness brewing
In the world behind your eyes

Eight.

New Year’s Eve
And We’re fighting
In earnest now
Outside a bar
That I didn’t even want
To be at anyway
Feeling like a thousand
Eyes are staring at me
In judgement
And condemnation
The beginning of
A long and painful
Process of separation
From this city

The same city
We both arrived in
With such cautious hope
Once upon a time
Like shaking hands
With something waiting
To gnaw at your insides

Struggle to comprehend
The reason and rationale
Behind your wrath
But the silence
And the evasive glances
Drive the final nail
In my new year.

Call it good
And leave the party
Before the countdown
To midnight even begins
Walk the tracks
Alone all the way home
In the bitter cold
Which I like
More than rain soaking to the bone
Ring in the new year
On the phone
Sitting at my desk
Staring out the window
Whispering nervously over
The phone to my best friend in this world
Because I got a feeling
That all hell
Might be coming home
For both of us
In the year to come

Nine.

I see you crossing the street
Through the fog
Walking home alone
The rumors been swirling
Around this lonely
Little town for weeks now

We all know
But don’t know
How to hold
Or how to even sit
In proximity to your pain
And the paranoia that follows
Praying to all the gods
Above and below
For your freedom
The best lover not a one
Of us ever got to know
From sorrow
Thirst
Hunger
Want
And loneliness
To wrap you in its arms
And bring you safely home.

Ten.

You are my friend
And still one of
The best I’ve known
Pacing around in the back yard
Pointing the finger of suspicion
In every direction
We’ve all known loss before
But goddamn,
It never came to me
Quite like this
There’s a first time
For everything, I guess.

Watching the mask of sanity
Slip away not with a whimper
But with a plaintive wail
And every accusation imagined

I drive home
And want to cry
I want a flood
To fall from my eyes
To wash this city clean
From all the bitterness
And all the fights
And all the plots contrived
That drove us to this point
That we may finally sleep
Through the night

Twelve.

We sit in the sun
In the bed of my truck
Outside the storage building
Where we both rent units now
You smoke a cigarette
And we soak
In that familiar
Feeling of defeat
Staring down the barrel
Of uncertainty and instability
For the hundredth
Time in this life

When you sold
Most of your stuff
I never told you
How I raced down to Rainy Day
And begged them to sell
Your records back to me
“Look, my friend is just
In a very dark place
I’ll pay double whatever
You gave her for all this stuff
So I can keep it safe for her
Until she’s well again.”

I threw my hands up
In exasperation when the
Guy behind the counter
Offered to sell me the
One of your records I
Could even identify
For seventy dollars.

You give me your bookshelf
Saying you might come back
For it someday
Even though I know you wouldn’t
And we carry it into my unit
And I padlock the door behind us
I see the resignation
Like set deep in your eyes
And feel a morbid sense
Of relief at what
That resignation replaced.

Thirteen.

You send a text message
To my phone right before
You get in your car and drive south
Straight out of my life

“I’m sorry.
I know you did your best
And you’ve been such a good friend
I just don’t know what’s real anymore
And I have to go.”

Fourteen.

Everyone hates what happens next
All the worry
And the wishing
Praying to the gray
Sky above us
Even though we
Are no longer certain
It even listens
For you
To just
Make it out
Of this.

Fifteen.

The last time I saw you
You were scared
And all alone
Smoking a cigarette
Flying a sign at a rest stop
Outside your busted car
Somewhere along the I-5.
When I stopped to piss
I had a feeling I would
See you standing there

I said hello
Gave you fifteen dollars
Told you I loved you
I didn’t try and argue
Or even address the demons
Taken up residence
In your head

I got back in my car
Drove and drove and drove
Away from Washington
Through Oregon
Straight to California
Luna and I didn’t stop
Until Los Angeles
Where the sun finally shone above us

Standing at the observatory
above the glittering ocean
Of electric starlight
I wished for a way
For the light
To wash away
The resignation
That comes with
The knowledge
That you can love
Your friends
As hard
And as true
And as purely
As anything you have
Ever loved in your life

But sometimes that love
Is not enough
To pull them back from the dark.

The Road – 5/17/19-5/19/19

I got back home from Philadelphia late last night.  I spent just under 24 hours in the city of brotherly love, but I managed to pack those hours with as much living as possible.

In order, then.

Not a ton interesting to tell about the drive to Philadelphia.  I stopped in Lancaster to stretch, and dropped in Angry, Young, and Poor.  Partly for nostalgia’s sake, partially to look at boots.  I always want to look at boots.  I bought some records, but didn’t find much else I was stoked on.  I still loved the familiarity of being in the shop.  It felt like returning to a place I had known and loved after a long absence.  Punk Rock one hundred percent saved my life when I was a lonely teenager stuck in Southern Pennsylvania in the nineties, and this place was a lifeline back then. I even still have some of the records and punk rock t-shirts I bought at this place twenty years ago.  I made small talk with one of the owners behind the counter, joking about how I hadn’t set foot in the shop in just about two decades and I was just happy that it still existed.

“Well damn, dude.  Welcome back to Pennsylvania.”

Something hit me that would be a repeating motif all weekend, was how friendly and just how real punks, even jaded aging punks keep it on the east coast.  I couldn’t remember when a punk rocker I didn’t know in the Pacific Northwest was this friendly to me.  Even some of the ones I did know, well odds are just as good they are gonna pretend they don’t see you in the grocery store or at the show anyway.  Olympia is a cold fucking town and I was so glad to be done with it for good.  As if to punctuate all this – the friendliness of punk rockers, the eager kids still keeping it real – as I was getting ready to leave the shop, two young kids came in to buy t-shirts and patches.  Dude behind the counter eagerly engaged with them, asking them what they were looking for, instead of treating them like some chump posers who would be so lucky to shop at his spot.

I smiled to myself the whole way out of Lancaster.

Driving through Pennsylvania doesn’t haunt me the way it once did.  I used to not be able to roll through Southern York County and through the expanses of forest and farmland without returning to the eerie feeling of being trapped that accompanied the very first time I crossed the Pennsylvania state line with my mother twenty-eight years ago.  I remember it still, like it was yesterday.  Ten years old in the passenger seat of my mother’s car and feeling like the trees that lined either side of the highway became more ominous as the mile posts ticked ever upward until we were in Pennsylvania proper.  Even then, I had a sinking feeling I might never leave this place.

So it was a surprise seven years later when Momma moved away.  Still, the feeling of being ensnared by Southern York County lingered for years, decades.  This place was a backdrop, a foundation.  So much a part of me and the person I grew into.  I see this place in my dreams, in my memories.  I write about it often.

More on that later though.

I rolled into Philly through rush hour traffic and went straight to pick up J for the show.  I know I used to talk shit on cities, and the gray concrete expanse of Philadelphia does make me feel a little bit claustrophobic, but goddamn.  This city has some beautiful architecture.  Rush hour sucked, but I was happy to take a breath and marvel at the buildings.  The whole northeast feels fresh like this for me, really.  I think this feeling is another product of living in the drab as shit, Pacific Northwest for five years.  I remember when Hannah visited me there a few years ago and she commented on how drab and lifeless, without history all the buildings and houses looked.  She’s not wrong.

I picked J up and we went to the show.  It was at some bar in South Philly.  Inside the show, the feeling of familiarity found me again.  I commented to J about how little the Philly street punk aesthetic had changed in my twenty-year absence.  I even saw a few kids with Blanks 77 and Violent Society patches on their jackets, bands I loved and absolutely lived to see when I was a kid who I don’t think have put new records out since before I was old enough to drink alcohol.  I think I read somewhere that Blanks 77 are playing shows again, but I don’t know.  They’ve been off my radar for years.

I don’t remember the name of the first band.  The Stance played second.  They played the gruff brickwall Oi that the punks and skins go nuts over.  I liked it well enough.  A little too gruff and not enough melody for me.  If I had any complaints, it was that the show felt a little bro-heavy, but I was still happy to just be out in the sea of smiling punks.  When the pit started too close to me, I just kept a side eye on the crowd and kept an elbow out, a tactic that has kept me safe for well over two decades now.  I thought about that time kids in Olympia jumped a dude, drug him out of the bar and broke a pint glass in his face for dancing too hard.  Color me relieved to be far away from reactive nonsense like that.

I grabbed some water at the bar before Battalion Zoska.  Pat was up there grabbing a pitcher of water for the band at the same time.  We made small talk for a second when he complimented me on my “Sometimes Antisocial, Always Antifascist” shirt.  Thanks dude.  I awkwardly shuffled through saying that catching Violent Society shows when I was a teenager was like finding an island in a sea of dead eyed pop mediocrity when I was a kid.  I went on to elaborate that watching one of my best friends deck a Nazi skinhead with every ounce of strength and bravery in his teenage body at a Business, Warzone, Vision, Violent Society show in April of 1997 was one of my introductions to antifascism, and gave birth to a lifelong hatred of Nazi skinheads, full fucking stop.  He said thanks for telling him that story, and walked to the stage.

Watching Battalion Zoska, felt so much like coming back home to the kid I once was, enthusiastic about punk and guarded all the same.  I only felt sad for not knowing any of Battalion’s songs.  I did, however admire Pat’s vest from the front of the stage – it looked like the kind of thing any one of us would have worn as a kid, but made by a man well into his forties, decades past giving a fuck about what anyone at the show thought, and if they thought he was a poser for having a Sex Pistols backpatch or not.

The Boils played next. I’d been so out of touch with their music, that I didn’t even realize that they had more or less retired a decade ago, only reuniting occasionally for special one-off gigs.  The kids and the middle-aged weirdos absolutely fucking lost it from the first note, to the last echo of feedback.  I stood onstage occasionally ducking a stage diver or crowd surfer doing their best to get into the light fixtures hanging from the low ceiling.  I smiled and got that feeling in my body that shows gave me before I left the east coast – the one where you feel at home and like this room is the center of the world for a half an hour, and that’s just fine.  All the war and oppression, and atrocity that you worry about 8 out of 10 of the days can wait at the door for a bit and you can just be.

I’m well aware that I’m idealizing a scene a bit, but goddamnit if I don’t need to believe in something right now. When I was a kid, punk kept me from killing myself I don’t even know how many times because it was there to remind me of the good inherent in my fellow human beings.  Right now, I want to remember that more than anything, so it’s what I’m running on because it’s a thousand times better than bitterness, emptiness and misanthropy.

Lion’s Law played, and shit was energetic, flawless, but less emotional.  I sang along to the songs I like and wondered how skinheads make those tiny cuffs in their jeans.  I’m more paranoid about germs than I used to be, and it’s funny.  I have papercuts all over my hands from work, and was constantly trying to touch sweaty crowdsurfers as little as possible for this reason.  The set ended, I bought a shirt and J and I drove back home listening to Bell Witch and making plans for a trip down south later in the summer.

I stayed up way too late talking to N, well past three AM.  The next morning all three of us went out for breakfast and coffee.  I felt hungover despite having consumed not a drop of alcohol the night before.  Just ragged from no sleep and movement.  I was happy to sip strong coffee and think about how much I love punk and my friends.  Maybe I was drunk on how real J and N are, and how sorely I have missed that authenticity while sequestered in the gray land of passive aggressive cliques and infighting.

Driving through Southern York County felt like searching for something without knowing what I was looking for, as it often does.  I followed my routine of going to the Shrewsbury Wal-Mart that opened in 1997, reshaping (read decimating) the economy of this town, like I always do.  I go to the bathrooms in the back of the store to piss, then I buy some tea.  I am always ready for someone to recognize me and make what-have-you-been-doing-all-these-years small talk, but it never happens.

When this fluorescent lit monument to consumerism opened in 1997, all my friends, and my mom got jobs here.  Before the Wal-Mart opened, these were just some vacant hills that kids rode their dirt bikes around on homemade trails.  Those days are long, long gone.  You stand in the parking lot now, and it’s almost impossible to imagine there was anything but a Wal-Mart here.  I cannot help but wonder how long the structure will stand after humanity starves itself off the planet?

When my mom briefly worked here, it was the first time I had seen any trace of hope on her face.  She even chastised me viciously for bleaching my hair blonde while she was at work.  “Now you look like a San Francisco Faggot, and I can’t take you to meet my manager!”.  It was like she believed a nine hour a day, forty-hour week at nine dollars an hour shift might let her re-write her story just enough to let her forget that she spent most of her days wanting to die.  The despair crept back in within a month.  The work was grueling and thankless, and for scraps at that.  The final straw came when one of her co-workers told my mom that their manager had been mocking her for wanting to change her schedule enough that it would allow her to see me on some days.  Writing this twenty-two later, I still feel incredibly anger at the insidiousness and heartlessness it must take to exploit the fading dreams of all the small-town suckers like my mom and my friends, desperate to change their stories.

It’s strange to think about my mother wanting to see me, considering how little she has “seen” me my entire life.  She saw what she wanted to see, putting the low down and dirty of who I was from her mind.  She still does this, I just resent her less for it now than I used to.  I mostly feel bad for her.  She missed out on the entire adult life of her only child.

I remember when one friend quit this place when she went to the hospital for her eating disorder.  That trip to the hospital began a downward spiral into heroin addiction that I don’t know if she ever recovered from.  I lost track of that friend over two decades ago. My other friend, the same aforementioned one that punched out the Nazi skin at the show worked there too.  He quit in style, just a month or two after my mom.  He came over directly afterwards, laughing and telling us how he balled up his apron and threw it in the shift manager’s face, telling him to go fuck himself.  This was the same manager my tangled with.

After Wal-Mart, I drove to the Shrewsbury Cemetery.  I’m always drawn to this spot anytime I’m back in Southern York County.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because it’s in such close proximity to where I attended my first punk show, at a rented church hall across the street.  Maybe it’s because it’s where my friends and I rotted away countless crawling hours that seem so serene and idyllic now.  D and I would hang out in the gravel shack during slow as molasses summer days, doing graffiti while D smoked weed.  We’d stand on the hill at the south end of the cemetery and look out off into the distance, into Maryland.  Watching the radio towers blink red steadily in the distance reminded me that life, an entire world existed outside of this tiny town, and one day we’d all escape it.

I couldn’t tell what, but something felt missing, like I was being pulled somewhere else, so I got in my car and moved on.

From the cemetery, I drove south on whatever that street that runs parallel to Main is.  It exits on Tolna, right near where E and L lived when we were kids.  Tolna Road is unrecognizable now, and part of me felt sad about this.  I drove down Main and took note of what all has changed at the intersection of Constitution and Main. I surprised myself at being disappointed that the Getty Mart is gone.  Torn down who even knows when to make way for a Walgreens.  The shopping center next to it looked like it had changed, but it was hard for me to tell, never having been as much of a focal point for my friends and I.

I thought about driving through the neighborhood where I had my first job – a paper route when I was 13, but skipped it.  Instead I drove South on Main as it gave way fully to Old York Road.  I passed the hill near the baseball field where DS broke his arm in 1993.  It’s still there.  I wondered how many kids have broken bones on it since.  There was the house across the street from the hill where I used to awkwardly fool around with a girlfriend in the basement when her parents thought we were watching movies when I was fifteen.  I thought about pulling into the bank parking lot further down the street to snap a photo of the spot in the parking lot that my friends and I utilized for skating late at night, but thought the better of it.  I try and spend less time looking sketchy nowadays.

My old neighborhood has changed considerably.  The last two years mom and I lived there, developers were building a new street and new houses at the end of our road.  J, A, and I hid up there one night when it was still relatively empty to smoke weed.  That’s my big memory.  Not worth driving up for.

My childhood home looks significantly different than it did the last time I drove past it.  It doesn’t look at all like the dilapidated repository for my mother’s dead dreams that I left behind two decades ago.  No overgrown lawn.  No peeling paint.  No foreclosure notice tacked to the door.  The owners built a new front porch, vastly extended from the stoop that my friends and I once sat on, listening to tapes and talking.

I left my neighborhood and headed back to New Freedom proper by the back road that I surprised myself by remembering my way around after two decades since the last time I walked it.  I remembered this one night during the summer between seventh and eighth grade when M and I were spending the night at his parent’s house.  I was on the phone with two girls across town while M tried to fall asleep watching TV.  The girls asked if we wanted to come over and make out.  I was into it.  I asked M if he wanted to go, and he said no.  Too worried about getting caught.  I tried to implore him to go along, telling him we could take this road, and not a soul would be on it at this hour and see us.  M wasn’t having it and went to sleep.  I got off the phone.  I remember little about those two girls past that night.  I fell into punk, and they fell into the background, significantly less enchanting then the world full of joyous outcasts I was falling in love with.

In New Freedom, I went to the Rutter’s to buy coffee and piss again.  I skipped going up Third Street.  I don’t even remember if M’s parents still live in that house.  I think she told me that they had long since left.  I think I remember the last time I drove east on Third, that K’s old trailer had been demolished.

Probably just as well.  Who knows what kind of energy would still haunt that place?  I think about that house, and being there as a wide eyed and scared kid.  Watching K’s mom nod out, watching her sketchy murderer boyfriend drink beer after beer. I remember listening to sad songs in K’s room, huddled around her small boombox and CD collection like it was salvation, or at least an escape from the kind of listless summer drudgery that I could almost wish for now, in that our days were filled with more boredom than worry.

Somewhere in the winter of ninth grade, K’s mom disappeared for a few months.  She ended up living with relatives.  One night she spent the night at my house just as the nights were their frozen nadir.  My mom made her sleep in the guest room, as if I wouldn’t end up just sneaking out of my own room and sleeping next to my friend anyway.  If my mom knew, she never told me.  Nothing happened that night anyway, aside from shared secrets.

K told me how she lost her virginity to a boy she was dating a few months earlier.  He was older than us by a couple years.  His name is lost to the years now.  Something beginning with a J, I think.  She told me how they had nowhere to go to have sex, so they broke into her mom’s vacant trailer and she had sex for the first time there.  When they were done, the boy held her all night.  They broke up a few months later.  I always thought that the trailer was maybe totally empty, and they must have fucked on the floor, but I think how little sense that made now.  K was living in the trailer with her mom and a different sketchy boyfriend by that next summer.  D, L and I went to see K shortly after they moved back in, and all the furniture was still there, smoke stained and sticky, just like it had been the year before.

I drove north to Glen Rock, and found the high school without a GPS after a friend challenged me to see if I could do so. I was only a little disturbed to find out I could still remember the way.  I drove around the parking lot and remembered being up there fucking around with D one summer and seeing this other fuck up that I knew only as someone who one of our friends had tried to stab in the neck with a pencil that year over him violating one of our other friends. The boy was driving his parent’s van fast over the speed bumps in the parking lot to see if they could get all four wheels of the van airborne at once.  Everyone in the car was laughing.  I noticed a younger girl in the passenger seat that I didn’t recognize.  The next school year that girl was dead from an accidental overdose after the boy broke up with her.  Everyone blamed the fuck up boy their friend’s death. So much so that he had to change schools to escape the bloodthirsty groups of kids out for him.  A few of us found out where he lived one night later that fall and threw forty bottles full of piss through his car windshield.  I remembered driving away laughing, and seeing him darting out to his front lawn to stare down our taillights.  I remember how angry and defeated he looked standing there in the lawn, fists balled up at his sides.

I thought about hanging out at school to write and let my dog run around, but the memory (and many others left a bad taste in the back of my mouth).  It felt too weird being there, almost like an atmospheric pressure, telling me I was in the wrong place, to keep moving.  I took a picture and left.  Eager to put distance between me and the place that had done it’s best to indoctrinate me and kill my creativity.  It didn’t even feel like a victory, writing there.

I drove to Glen Rock proper, left at the intersection where J and D and I once stalled out in a stolen car.  I drove past SM’s old house which I had totally forgotten about.  I instantly remembered how F told me he was out walking with his niece one night, and had seen the cops in front of the house, looking for SM.  They walked by later, just as SM was coming home.  F told me how he saw SM’s dad on the porch, waiting, and how hard he shoved him, right there on the porch.

I have always wondered if that was that awful night.  Driving past, I wondered if SM’s parents still lived there.  I heard somewhere that his mom never got over having to bury her firstborn baby.  I felt for SM’s mom, and his dad, and his brother and sister, and his own children.  Weird how different people can have different perspective on a life and its loss, and how time can soften that perspective.

I wished that the Wetzel’s was there, so I could go see if DS still worked there.  I haven’t seen DS in twenty or more years.  I’ve heard things here and there though.  F and L both told me that he worked at the meat counter there since just after high school.  That’s twenty years and a thank you for all your hard work and good luck out there.  I just googled it.  Wetzel’s was open for thirty-three years.  That means D worked there for twenty of the thirty years the store was in business.

I wonder how that was for him.

I drove back down Old York Road from Glen Rock, trying to find a place to write in Shrewsbury.  The park was filled with cub scouts.  Not really who I wanted to be near while I sat around and chronicled my lost youth and dreams dried out.  I went back to New Freedom to sit b J and L’s graves for a few minutes.  In another month, they will have been gone for twenty years.  I remember how significant that death felt at the time.  We were so young.  I sat with them for a minute, said hey, and moved on.

I used to skate in that church parking lot. A and I used to meet there to make out too.  I wasn’t allowed at her house.  Both because I was a bad kid, and because she wasn’t allowed to see boys yet. So that left the church.  The day before ninth grade, we met there to talk and make out.  She was mad that I had cut my long hair in favor of something I could put into liberty spikes.  We kissed goodbye and said we’d see each other tomorrow.  The next day I passed her in the hall, said hi, and she ignored me.  That was it.  We never spoke again.

I think we saw one another one more time after that.  On D’s porch.  She came over with her cousin who I had also dated to score weed.  I was visibly uncomfortable, and I remember D joking that I should make an ex-girlfriend club.  I heard later that she was seeing SM.  I worried for her, knowing the monstrosity that guy was capable of.

I finally settled on New Freedom Park to write.  I sat at a picnic table beneath the bandstand and wrote a love letter to C, wanting to share a significant and strange part of my history with them.  While I was writing, I noticed Crip and Blood graffiti on the table, which amused me to no end.  I told C a few things I remembered about the park and told them I missed them, but I was maybe glad they weren’t here.  I thought it would just be boring for them.

The park was eerily empty, save for a few kids playing on the other side of it, near where A and I once made out.  I left and went back to the cemetery in Shrewsbury to say goodbye to Southern York County for now.  The moon rose red and low in its majesty just as I pulled up.  I felt so thankful to greet it.  I looked to the south at the radio towers that my friends and I used to watch when we were kids, desperate for any sign that life existed outside of this place.  They were there, like always.  Blinking softly in the fading light.

When I looked to the south, I felt an old lover out there, somewhere else and I smiled.  I said hello to their spirit out in the night and thought about love, and time, and movement and letting go.  The sun was down, and it was time to get moving, to go home.  It was sweet, and I was ready to leave Southern York County.

I drove through the night, arriving home reinvigorated and relieved to live on the east coast once more.