Between eleven and fifteen, life in Warren was hell. School was torture, and there was literally NOTHING to do without getting called a fag or getting pushed around in some way. When I lived in Maryland, for example, other kids were cool with the fact that I was 2nd chair trumpet in the school band, or that I was the lead role in the school play. In Small Town Rust Belt U.S.A., that’s the kind of accomplishment that gets you blacklisted from parties and generally ignored, mocked behind your back or out in the open. I tried to kill myself once by putting a BB gun pistol into my ear because in my thirteen year old brain that seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to effect suicide. Instead I lost my nerves and shot out the mirror in my parent’s bathroom. I figured if I didn’t have it in me to shoot myself I could shoot my reflection.
By fifteen, however, I had found ‘the tribe,” small as it was. Imagine, there were others out there who also hated this place, and who thought high school football was fucking stupid! I hung out with the Boys and the Girls who listened to punk rock and did all the things that early teenage Boys and Girls who listen to punk rock do when they are bored, alienated, and pissed off. We got high. We got drunk. We fucked and fooled around. We tried desperately to carve out whatever space we could for ourselves wherever we could find it. We were just doing it under a very different set of circumstances from people who grow up in an environment where those kinds of outlets are more readily accessible. I mean, shit, at sixteen just going to KENT with some older kids who had cars for a show was a big deal for us.
So we had to make our own fun, which for me led to music. For the tribe, we may have been living in Small Town Hell in those ancient days of the late 90s/early 00s with pre-high speed internet, subsisting on AOL chat, but we weren’t living under rocks. We knew shit was going on somewhere: in Cleveland, Pittsburgh; the Big Cities. The older ones who had cars were more connected to these things and sometimes were gracious enough to let us young punks tag along. We were there for your Big City shows; hanging around the edges of the crowd because we didn’t know you and because our little carload of people from the hinterlands was dwarfed by you and all your Big City friends. But we were there, taking it all in.
Driving back from those shows was like waking up from a dream or landing from a long flight and realizing you were in the wrong place. I looked around Town and saw people who didn’t particularly give a shit about being involved in anything but high school football or trying to squeeze every penny out of their government entitlements and evaporating manufacturing jobs while their politicians deal favors to each other and keep the machine running. Because in reality, that is the Rust Belt Way, don’t listen to anyone who tells you anything different.
So we came back and tried to do something different. Something for ourselves. We had this shit on our chest and we needed a way to get it off our minds or we would all go to jail. You think I’m fucking kidding. There were shows. There were DIY spots that existed for years that no touring bands ever went to, that didn’t have cute names beyond “Ed’s House” or “Zack V’s basement.” But those Small Town spaces were ours, and we owned them. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for a second.
Inevitably, though, life happens. I got tired of the same cliques that were around since middle and high school, the guys that peaked junior or senior year and are now already living in the past, still talking about some fucking high school game that happened a dozen years ago. I got tired of the fact that I was working at a wholesale warehouse stamping cigarettes and loading trucks for very little money. I got tired of the thick dose of social conservatism, which was slathered on by the town elders even as they pined desperately for attention from a Democratic Party which was browner, gayer, and non-unionized. But mostly, I got tired of hearing about the Good Times, when everyone was making enough at the mill to put a couple kids through school, buy a house and a new car on one paycheck and still have money left to save. There’s just not much of a connection to those people people and after awhile, you just get tired of hearing the stories of how things used to be. Because you know that world is gone.