Punk rock is a funny thing, you know? It’s a completely subjective experience. It defines so much. It has a certain jagged beauty to it that is unlike anything else that has existed before or since. For me especially – it puts an answer to a lot of the “why?” questions that I have about my life. Whether it’s a very general thing like: “Why do I get in a van with other guys who smell equally as bad if not worse than i do, drive 8 hours to play for 20 minutes, not get paid, not eat, not sleep, and then do it again day in and day out for months on end?” Or: “Why do I feel the way I feel and think the way I think?” – it gives me a sense of ground and allows me to be a part of something real.
These are the songs that helped me realize my place in the world, and how special something like Punk music truly is:
1. Green Day – “Brain Stew”
For whatever reason, this is my first memory of listening to something I’d consider a “punk song”. When I was 7, I tried recording this song onto a cassette tape from the radio. I remember I didn’t quite get the beginning of the song recorded, so I only knew the words from the “On my own here we go…” part. I would sit in my room and try to make my voice sound like this guy I was listening to in my headphones. I thought it was so cool that someone said their eyes were going to bleed. I thought it was so cool how “messy” it sounded. The only thing I really took away from the experience of listening to that song was that it made me feel fucking awesome. It was the first song that my first band ever played together, covered at a show, etc. Listening to it at the age of 23 – this song still makes me feel fucking awesome and the guitar tone is perfect.
2. Strike Anywhere – “Sunset on 32nd”
This was the first song I heard by Strike Anywhere. If memory serves, it was on a compilation that I got from the girl that used to babysit me. At the time, I was really into Limp Bizkit and KoRn and I loved duster pants and jelly bracelets so I had no idea what could possibly be beyond that Hot Topic cultured music. When I listened to it, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The chord progression alone was something that set this fire inside my body that I couldn’t describe. I HAD to listen to it by any means necessary. When I found out that it was actually on a record, I refused to listen to it because I thought the live version was so great and had a special place in my heart. I’ll never forget hearing the “Defend our yesterdays. Defend our tomorrows” part. I wrote that on every fucking notebook I ever had. I still write it on things. I still wear duster pants and jelly bracelets.
3. AFI – “Days Of The Phoenix”
Art Of Drowning was the first punk record I ever owned apart from a couple Green Day CD’s I’d gotten as a kid. The year was 2002. It was my birthday. I was with two friends of mine in an FYE parking lot, throwing snowballs and swearing because my parents weren’t around. We went inside, because my two buddies decided they were gonna get me a CD for my birthday. As we were browsing, one of the dudes said “Yo, you’d love this band. The singer dresses like an idiot just like you”. Mind you, i was still in my “I’m only wearing black until they make something darker” phase. We picked up the CD, and made our way back to one of their houses. I wasn’t interested in listening to it at first because I knew it wasn’t going to be Coal Chamber, but my friend CJ showed me a music video for the single from the record called “Days Of The Phoenix” that he’d downloaded on Kazaa. From note one, I was swept away. This was the real game changer for me. I certainly “liked” punk rock, or at least what my idea of punk rock was…but nothing really opened me up the way this song did. I left CJ’s house that day a completely different person. That record changed my outlook on everything, and I was introduced to punk rock in a way that I’d never been before. To say that it opened a door for me wouldn’t be fair, because that’s not even close to describing what it meant to my 13 year old self, and of course to me now. Art Of Drowning was IT for me. Ya know? I’ll never forget the way it made me feel.
4. Rise Against – “Black Masks And Gasoline”
Sitting in a basement of a friend’s house in South Buffalo, I heard Rise Against for the first time. I was getting ready to go to Warped Tour when someone said something to the effect of “I can’t wait to see Rise Against today! they’re lyKe Tha KEWLEST”. I asked what they sounded like, and he put on Revolutions Per Minute and BOOM. The first song began with a force like I’d never heard before. I might as well have shit myself. To put it simply, that song was the “Crazy Train” of my young stream of consciousness. I thought the beginning was SO bad ass and couldn’t really believe what I was hearing. I can’t say I’m a fan of anything they’ve done after Revolutions…but that record, and particularly that song were definitely amazing to say the least. The lyrics are cool, the chord progressions are cool, the drumming is fantastic. It changed the way I write music. There was a certain sense of drama and desperation and urgency that I heard and it made me think about music in a completely different way.
5. Self-Destruct – “Still Screaming”
After the whole AFI thing happened…It broadened my horizons to many different styles of punk music. I started listening to The Unseen and A Global Threat and lots of other street punk bands. I got a Punk Core Records sampler where I heard Mark from The Unseen’s side project at the time, Self-Destruct featuring a track from the only recording they’d ever done which was a 7″ called Violent Affairs. It was the most pissed off song I’d ever heard.
6. Rancid – “Axiom”
Obviously, when I first heard this song I thought Matt Freeman was the best bass player to have ever existed in the history of the world. This jam and entire record beat the shit out of me and I loved every second of it. It’s a better hardcore record than most hardcore bands have ever written. Thinking about this song makes me want to circle pit naked in a room full of thumb tacks.
7. Wednesday Night Heroes – “Music For The People”
The first time I heard this song, it made me so happy that I cried. That’s not an exaggeration. It actually happened. I don’t know what it was that made me so emotional, but I was somehow so overwhelmed whenever I listened to this song. I got chills every time. I couldn’t even understand what the fuck he was talking about. I still don’t. It’s just a great song that made me cry once or twice. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
8. Catch 22 – “1234 1234”
I got this CD from a friend named Josh who only liked rap music. He somehow ended up with it and decided that it would be better suited in my hands. I listened to this CD every single day until it skipped so bad that it wouldn’t play. There is no possible way you can listen to this song and not be put in a great mood. It reminds me of the summer I got this CD, playing basketball and wearing a lot of plaid. I loved the vocal patterns. The whoa’s are catchier than a short stop for the New York Yankees.
9. Against Me! – “Impact”
The first time I heard this song was also the first time I’d ever stayed up for an entire 24 hours. I was hanging around with this girl Mary and this guy Mike who had gigantic mohawks, wore ripped clothes from thrift stores, ate from trash cans and were the punkest motherfuckers I’d ever met. We snuck out of Mike’s house late at night, stole bikes, rode to the opposite ends of the city, got flat tires, stole more bikes to replace the ones that had flats and rode back to Mary’s house once her parents were gone in the morning. She heated up some left-over chinese food and asked if I’d ever heard Against Me! before. I said no, and she proceeded to put on a mix CD she made of all her favorite Against Me! songs. This was the first one I’d ever heard and I was hooked instantly. I love everything they’ve ever done, but this song in particular, and this era of the band will always be special to me.
10. Crime In Stereo – “For Exes”
I went into a record store in the art district of Buffalo with some money that was burning a hole in my pocket. I called a friend and asked what he was into lately. He told me to buy Crime In Stereo’s “The Troubled Stateside”. When I left the record store, I popped it into the CD player in my parents Kia Spectra 5. At this time in my life, I was about 17 or 18 and thought that I knew everything there was to know about punk rock. I’d already been into, and gotten over so many different bands and genres that by this time…I figured that I liked what I liked, and that was gonna be it. Nothing was ever going to inspire me ever again. I felt I was jaded. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I left the car in park on the street. I stared at the car stereo, studying the controls while listening to this record as if there was some message to decode on the “play” button. I couldn’t believe what I was listening to. There is so much I would like to say about this song, this record, this band…but I wouldn’t even have the words to quantify it all. Simply put, this record changed my entire fucking life. Much the same as AFI did back when I was 13. I get choked up thinking about the first time I heard this music. I have never been so moved by something musically, or otherwise, than I have been by The Troubled Stateside. This song represented a lot for me at the time, and in the year that followed. The happiest day of my life came during this seemingly insignificant moment of time about 3 summers ago, listening to this song while riding my bike and screaming it at the top of my lungs through the streets near my apartment. I looked and sounded like a lunatic. But in those moments, I learned so much about myself and the world around me. This song was the sound-track for finding myself. I don’t give a fuck how cheesy this sounds. If you listen to this song and more importantly this record, and don’t immediately feel something inside you screaming to be realized, then you’re not a human being.