When I was a kid, I was restricted to the music my parents would let me listen to: 50s & 60s rock & roll and classical. Don’t get me wrong, I loved (and still love) that music, but I needed more. As I neared my teens, I discovered grunge, alternative, and more; I replaced The Zombies with Soundgarden, Wagner with Oasis. Then, in my fifteenth year of life, I moved to California with my mother and discovered the music that I would most closely identify with for the next 10+ years: Punk.
My grandmother, the person I loved more than anyone else in this world, had just died, and I missed saying goodbye to her. My parents had divorced the previous year. I was moving away from my friends in Oklahoma (in one of the rare non-hick/Republican parts of the state, no offense to any hicks and/or Republicans), not likely to see them again any time soon. It was a period of great change and upheaval in my life, and one of the first things that greeted me in a state I had visited for years, but was now my home, was a genre of music that let me vicariously rage against the years of repression and protected living. Now, I didn’t do anything crazy with my hair (except once when I died it bright blue), and I didn’t turn into a fashion punk (except for my BITCHIN’ wallet chains, which I still have somewhere). I identified with the sound of the music and the feeling behind it. I wanted to go crazy, I wanted to break out of my shell, I wanted to destroy the world.
Of course, I did that by staying up until 4:00am on mIRC (Criten, Saltek, and EFNet) with my friends (shout out to c-W and FTS!) talking about music, rebellion, and the state, then going to school the next day, keeping my head down, staying quiet, and graduating early. Outwardly, I was the clean-cut, well-read, intelligent youth held up as a role model within my family. Inwardly, I was rebellion; rebellion of thought, rebellion of intent, rebellion of belief. Punk, be it hardcore, skacore, rock, skate, anarcho, street, Oi!, horror/goth/glam, psychobilly, folk, pop, gypsy, emo (Rites of Spring and Embrace, not what people consider emo nowadays), or any other of a hundred sub-genres, gave me a way to shape my feelings and desires into tangible thought. By the examples set in punk, I was able to understand myself, the world, my place in the world, and more in a way I had never been capable of before.
Now, with the ability to articulate what I felt was wrong with the world and what needed to be changed, surely I would be on my way to doing something that made a difference! What? I work an office job playing with numbers? Ok, well then those numbers must be important to the state of the world! What? It’s just analysis and projections for fruit sales and harvest? Dude, what the hell?
Well, I grew up. I got married. I acquired responsibilities of both the financial and personal kinds; the revolution would have to wait while I paid off my student debt and supported my new family. I still feel the need for revolution, but I now feel my responsibilities and desire for peace and comfort more acutely. I’ll vote with my conscience in an attempt to make the world a better place, but I no longer dream of overthrowing the state; I dream of some really surreal crap (but that probably stems from eating junk food before going to bed).
Now, if you’ve made it this far, I’m sure you’re getting to the point of saying, “Chris, dude, what the hell does this have to do with anything? We don’t come here to read your life story, as interesting and fascinating as it may be! GET ON WITH IT!”
Ok, I’ll get to some semblance of a point.
Punk rock saved my life. Ok, perhaps that’s exaggerating it a bit. Well, maybe that’s exaggerating it a lot. Ok, that’s an outright lie, but hey, didn’t it sound terribly dramatic? While not quite up to saving my life, what punk did manage to do was open my eyes to a lot of possibilities that I would never have considered otherwise because of the sheer difference of what punk was compared to what I had known before. It’s not that punk changed who I was inasmuch as it allowed me to understand, accept, and embrace who I already was better than I ever could before. This kind of experience is not limited to punk, by any means. Music in general can be a great way to open yourself up to new experiences, concepts, and possibilities. When done well, music can trigger different feelings within you that you may not have known were there. Music can put definition to your innermost ineffable thoughts, and can help you understand yourself better.
“But Chris,” I hear you thinking, “I listen to music, and I haven’t had any personal epiphanies come along that define my very existence! You’re so full of shit!” Well, perhaps you’re secure in your identity. Perhaps you know who you are, understand your place in the world, and are content. Perhaps, just perhaps, the right song hasn’t come along to make you realize just how much you didn’t really know or understand. It has been my experience that most people will stick to a particular genre of music; something they are comfortable with and something that helps them fit in with their social groups. Music outside of this bubble is generally shunned and ignored, then, which closes them off to new experiences and epiphanies. I was guilty of that for a long time, but once I was exposed to punk, I started expanding my horizons to see what else I could learn. Because of punk I started listening to hip-hop, electronica, and more. To be fair, I’m still guilty of closing myself off to certain genres; I don’t listen to a lot of pop (I think Lady GaGa is over-rated and stupid), I refuse to listen to country (I also refuse to make out with my sister (I don’t have a sister anyway, and no offense to anyone who likes country. I imply that you make out with your siblings only as a stereotype joke, not out of any real belief that you make out with your siblings.)), and I’m far too white to listen to straight up gangster rap (except for the occasional classic from Dre, Snoop, Tupac, or Biggie, of course).
I guess the overall point is that while music can change a person, I believe that music’s greatest strength comes in helping a person understand themselves. It’s ineffective if you refuse to be open, though. Don’t base your music-listening decisions on genres as a whole, give everything a chance. Who knows, one day the right band might come along and open your eyes to the world.
So, now on to the “discuss” part. Obviously, the first thing to discuss is whether you are in agreement with my position or not. After you tell me that I’m right, why not tell your own story? Was it more a specific song than an entire genre that sparked your evolution? Was it an album, artist, or something else? Was it, like me, an entire genre? What’s your story?