I’m a second generation punk rocker. I came in when new wave was wiping the slate clean by mixing in jamaican rhythms and rock steady beats. Punk was still alive and still strong, but it was taking a break from the mainstream. My very first concert was The Clash, who at the time, were fusing their sound with the new wave and creating some of the best music of our generation. As the concert film says when the Clash are being brought to the stage ; “The ONLY band that Matters!” I was 9 years old when I saw Joe Strummer and the boys on stage. I wish I could have been older so I could appreciate the moment better and fully drink in the experience of seeing these rock icons on stage.
It would be almost 10 years before I would get to see Joe Strummer on a stage again. In that time, my interest in music grew and grew. One of the great things about growing up in New Hampshire during the 80’s was that there wasn’t alot to do. I know, that doesn’t sound right and at the time, I know I was a bored kid but that boredom forced us to go out and discover things and make our own fun. I lived by the ocean (still do) and most of my fun involved going to the music store in the mall, buying the latest vinyl (later,tapes), heading down to the beach and listening to music. The two things became intertwined for me: music and the ocean. Each having their own rhythms, each supplying a soundtrack for my life. Many summer nights, we would sit on the rockwall, listening to everything from Michael Jackson (yes, just like everyone else, I owned the Thriller album) to the Dead Kennedys and of course, my beloved Clash.
For awhile, I had two record collections. One was the stack that I let my friends listen to all the time, full of the mainstream silliness (Duran Duran, Flock of Seagulls, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Motley Crue, etc) and then there was the other collection. The other collection was my little secret, only brought out on special occassions. Full of the Clash, the Jam, the Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, the Ramones, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, MC5, Blondie, Iggy and the Stooges, Fugazi, Minor Threat, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Dead Milkmen and not to mention countless local bands and Boston bands of the street punk era. This was the collection I kept hidden from the ‘preppie’ crowd because it was uncool to be a punk. Despite the treatment I received from the people in my school, I wanted desperately to fit in. I dressed conservatively, pretended not to really like the very thing that moved my soul. I was just as fake as the people I spent my days with. When I was outside the confines of my small town and hanging out with kids who, like me, held in this secret love for punk rock and all it stood for, only then did I feel like I was myself.
Finally, in my sophmore year of high school, I came out of the closet and revealed to everyone that indeed, I was a PUNK ROCK KID! I dyed my hair blue, bought some combat boots from a surplus store, a long black trenchcoat from Chess King that I proceeded to cover in patches and pins and even a metal chain that ran across the back of the shoulders. I had a dog collar necklace with a padlock in the front, just like Sid Vicious. My jeans were torn in the knees and patched with band patches. Literally overnight, in the eyes of my peers at school, I went from normal kid to punk rocker. As my friend Jeremy put it : “Wow, you must have had one hell of a weekend!”
The reason behind my boldness wasn’t just to live my life as I truly was but I was influenced by other people in school. I grew up down the street from Joe King, the lead singer for the Queers. No, they were not a gay punk rock band, the name was picked in the early 80’s and it stuck. One of his band mates was a guy in a grade below me named Chris Barnard (B-Face) who had the same kind of transformation: one day, he looked like any other metalhead kid in the school and the next, he showed up with orange spiked hair and was rocking the whole punk rock halloween costume. People were shocked, but accepting. I thought if he can do it, why can’t I?
My experience was vastly different. My assumption of acceptance was based on the experience of a kid who was already popular and in with the cliques at school. I was already the freaky outsider kid to begin with. Add the colored hair and combat boots and well, now I was the scary outsider kid. Fights and trying to avoid them became a daily occurrence. I tried out for football when my hair was cut in a mohawk and was beaten by most of the football team for the way I looked. The beach, never the most accepting place when it came to strangeness, became a dangerous place for me since other kids, looking for any reason to fight anyone, always seemed to make a beeline for me. Usually, I would hear “Nice hair faggot!!” and then be tackled to the gound and have to fight to get back up. Ah, good times.
But it wasn’t all bad. By now, I was old enough to drive and had friends who could drive and we would head down to Boston for shows together. We found TAAANG! Records, who used to have their headquarters in Cambridge MA, down the road from Harvard Square. This was my refuge, my home away from home. We would hang out in the square or in fron of their headquarters, meeting bands, talking with musicians, hanging out with other punks and all going en masse to local shows. I became part of a ‘scene’, I belonged. I found a place where the freaks and punks all hung out together for the love of one thing: the music. Boston was wild back then: one wrong turn and you would end up in Roxbury which, if you grew up in New England in the 80’s, getting lost in Roxbury is one of those horror stories everyone understands…. The Boston scene was amazing! Every weekend, we would head down to Harvard Square, meet up with the rest of the crowd and head to shows. I loved it! I lived for it! I would make it through another miserable week at school and my part time job just so on the weekends, I could head into Boston and join my people. And on the rare occasion we could get away, we even snuck down to NYC to see a show at the classic CBGB’s. That was almost like a religious pilgrimmage when we set foot in that club. My first time was to see the Exploited, I’ll never forget walking in and seeing a wave of mohawks lined up in front of me.
The music brought us all together, misfits finding camaraderie through punk rock. Some weekends, we even hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show (but thats a whole OTHER blog) but for the most part, we would hit shows at the Rat, Middle East, The Channel, old Lansdowne St, Cask and Flagon. I’m surprised I have any hearing at all these days… 🙂
In 1989, I saw the Pogues for the very first time in Boston MA. This was an eye opening experience for me. At the time, I was so wrapped up in being punk, that other music had been left behind. And some of my old favorites, including the Clash, had been collecting dust at the back of my record collection while the more hardcore punk was getting some regular airplay. My friend Garrett played the Pogues for me while we were heading to Manchester NH for some party. I almost had to pull over, I was so overwhelmed by the sound. Traditional irish music mixed with punk aesthetics and rhythms. Amazing!! I was thoroughly taken with them and knew that the next time they played here in the states, I was going. For so long, my musical vision had been narrowed but the Pogues really opened my eyes and broadened my interest. Suddenly, I was listening to Sinead O’Connor, the Pogues, the Chieftains, etc. All music I would have scoffed at earlier, I found myself wrapped up in.
The Orpheum, Boston MA: I was right near the front row when the show started. Some forgettable opening bands had finally cleared the stage and the Pogues were ready to hit the stage. There was some delay (we would later find out that they had to revive Shane McGowan who was found in a drunken stupor in his dressing room) but finally the lights went down again and the unmistakable opening of “IF I SHould Fall From Grace With God” started up. Shane was shoved onstage, beer in hand and began belting out the song. I was entranced, like the first time I had ever heard punk rock, the music became a transformative experience. This was beyond a rock concert, it was a cultural awakening for me, reminding me of the joy and power of music.
And there, standing behind Shane, playing guitar and singing along, was Joe Strummer. Unannounced, unbilled and totally by surprise, there was my punk rock hero, singing with the Pogues. I was awe struck. My hero, the man whose music changed my life in many profound ways was here again, here at a moment where I was discovering this new sound. He looked as happy as ever. The Pogues gave him lead singing duties on a couple songs, but mostly, he was back up for Shane. They did a cover of the Clashs “London Calling” with Shane and Joe sharing vocal duties and I wanted to cry. That one song felt like my worlds were colliding: my old punk rock life and my new soon to be adult life. Joe had obviously mellowed over the 10 years since the first time I had ever seen him. Older, grayer, more mature but still able to be a rock star.
The following year was college and that same year, Perry Farrell put together the first Lollapalooza tour. Alternative music would burst onto mainstream radio, no longer condemned to the world of college radio. And our little club, the misfits, the rejected, the disaffected, the downright crazy kids that had kept punk and alternative music alive on the fringe, would be thrust into the spotlight and the outcasts became the mainstream. The scene changed quickly from a reclusive little club and shows in dingey bars and clubs to arena rock shows and record moguls. Gone were the intimate little shows we loved and cherished. For those of us who were there from the beginning, it was hard to adjust and grow with the music. I learned to change and evolve and grow beyond the halloween costume and punk postering to a genuine love for all music, but at heart, deep down in my soul, I’m still that teenager with the blue mohawk and the combat boots and I’m looking forwad to the next show.