But, still, I longed to share this newfound obsession with other people. Eventually, I found a kid up the street with an old drum set. I found a kid down the street with an old bass. I found a kid across the street with an old basement. And we found a kid across town with an old PA. Several awkward jam sessions later, and we had a band. Obstacle one, cleared. When asked what our band name was upon submitting our official entry to our high school battle of the bands, we applied as "Nameless." We just couldn't fuckin' come up with anything better than that. (Finding a good band name is still the fucking hardest part, by the way . . . I mean, Foo Fighters? C'mon . . .) Obstacle two, diverted. That night Kenny Loggins' "Footloose" never sounded so brave . . . Unfortunately, our enthusiastic rendition wasn't enough to seize the title of "Best Band at Thomas Jefferson High School," but . . . we carried on. We tried our damnedest at Bowie, Who, Zep, Cream, Kinks, Hendrix . . . we played basements, backyards, keg parties . . . we even played the Rolling Stones' "Time Is on My Side" at a fucking nursing home.
And then . . . I went to Chicago.
It was 1982, and on my mother's meager public school teacher's salary, our family had planned a trip to the great city of Chicago to visit our relatives who lived in a suburb up north, right on the lake. We stuffed everything that we could into our tiny, baby-blue Ford Fiesta and started driving. A week and a half of swimming and Italian beef sandwiches was in order, though, upon arrival, the tone of our trip was instantly defined. My older cousin, Tracey, was now a punk rocker.
At first . . . I HEARD her coming down the stairs. The clanking of chains, the stomping of heavy boots, the sound of a fresh leather jacket creaking like an old ship. And then . . . I saw her. Shaved head, bondage pants, torn Anti-Pasti T-shirt . . . she was a fucking superhero come to life. Something I had only seen on the TV shows Chips or Quincy. My heart started racing. My eyes widened. My throat tightened. I stood there, speechless and in awe. Tracey was my first hero.
She took me up to her bedroom and showed me her incredible record collection. Stacks upon stacks of seven-inch singles and LP's, with names I'd never heard before . . . Names like: The Misfits. Bad Brains. Minor Threat. Dead Kennedys. The Germs. Flipper. The Circle Jerks. . Discharge. Crass. Conflict. Black Flag. White Flag. Void. Faith. The Dicks. The Dickies. The Minutemen. The Adolescents. The Ramones. The Big Boys GBH. DRI. SOA. DOA. MDC. MIA. CIA. Crucifix. Crucifucks. X. X-Ray Spex. Wire. Sex Pistols. The Buzzcocks. Rights of The Accused. The Necros. Fang. Government Issue. The Descendants. I sat down and played every last one. This was the first day of the rest of my life.
That night I went to my first "concert." Though, it wasn't in an arena, it was a dingy little hole in the wall directly across the street from Wrigley Field called the Cubby Bear. And it wasn't any band I had ever heard of. It was a local Chicago punk rock band by the name of Naked Raygun. With a "ONE TWO THREE FOUR" the band kicked into the most ferocious noise and bodies were flying everywhere, spit and sweat and leather and volume and broken glass and piss and fucking puke . . . I was in heaven. And it was our secret.
The next day I took the L to Wax Trax records. I bought a Killing Joke T-shirt and the soundtrack to The Decline of Western Civilization. I was converted. I was no longer one of you. I was one of us.
But, more than the noise, and the rebellion, and the danger . . . it was the blissful removal of these bands from any source of conventional, popular corporate structure, and the underground network that supported the music's independence that was totally inspiring to me. At 13 years old, I realized that I could start my own band, I could write my own song, I could record my own record, I could start my own label, I could release my own record, I could book my own shows, I could write and publish my own fanzine, I could silkscreen my own T-shirts . . . I could do all of this myself. There was no right or wrong . . . because it was all mine.
Upon returning to Washington, D.C., I dove headfirst into the local hardcore punk rock scene. Little did I know that one of the country's most prolific and influential music scenes was right in my own backyard. Minor Threat. Bad Brains. Scream. These local bands were now my Beatles. My Stones. My Zeppelin. My Dylan. And these were the fucking REAGAN YEARS, so protest music was on fire! My first punk rock show back at home was actually the ROCK AGAINST REAGAN concert, July 4th, 1983. With the stage built at the base of the Lincoln Memorial steps on Independence day, it was recipe for disaster. Seven-hundred thousand barefoot, sunburned rednecks from Maryland and Virginia in Lynyrd Skynyrd and Judas Priest T-shirts, stone washed jeans and bandanas, converging on the nation's capital to watch the fireworks, coolers full of beer and Southern Comfort . . . only to find Texas' own Dirty Rotten Imbeciles singing their song "I Don't Need Society":
Your number's up, you have to go
The system says I told you so
Stocked in a train like a truckload of cattle
Sent off to slaughter in a useless battle
Thousands of us sent off to die
Never really knowing why
Fuck the system, they can't have me
I don't need society
I don't need society
It was a fucking riot waiting to happen.
I actually bought that record that day from the lead singer out of the back of his van. It was a 33-song seven-inch. Stuffed in a homemade sleeve. It is still to this day, one of my most prized possessions.
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