🎵 Super Rad 🎵


It was the turn of the century – Y2K and all that jazz.  Kendall threw a “Pop Party.” This so-called pop party had only one price for admission – bring pop-something.  Popcorn. Popsicles. Pop Rocks. You name it.

We quite literally partied like it was 1999 – for only a few more, short minutes.  Everybody who is anybody was going to be there and my best friend had explained to me this kissing tradition I had never heard of before.  

I was about to turn 16 years old, which meant by law (almost literally around here) I was going to be allowed to date.  The idea of finding that somebody I would spend the rest of my life with during a New Year’s kiss? Best. Idea. Ever. #SoSixteen

My best friend, M— was already dating Kendall, and he was the keyboard player in what was without a doubt THE most popular local ska band at the time (and quite possibly ever since).  

M— was the type of girl that was confident and compelling.  Without warning, she flung open the front door and entered mid-dance.  She turned to grab my hand, pulling me into unplanned shenanigans. I forced past my corner-dwelling personality and skanked through the door, just behind her to the familiar tune of near-local favdom, The Aquabats.

🎵 We’re on our way, here we go, we’re going to take over! Set it off one last time, here we come again! 🎵

We caught everyone’s attention as we entered and it seemed almost every person in attendance came to say hi to M in particular.  That’s where that corner-dwelling part of me kicks in again and I squeeze through the ensuing circle in search of a patch of unshared air.  

I wandered aimlessly through a large, multi-level house that seemed to live and breathe as if it were still the 80’s – dark, shag carpet and frilly, wooden cabinets in a kitchen that still had harvest gold appliances.  

My plan was to mindlessly eat pop-themed foods until Mthought to introduce me to her other friends.  This was before I realized I was that friend that existed only to make her look that much more lively and compelling, not the friend you want to show off to all of your friends.  I hadn’t exactly come into my own.  It took me a while to realize this because I wasn’t exactly the fat friend either.  I was just thick boned, right? All I knew was I could share clothes with the best of them, but nobody exactly wanted to borrow clothes from me.  In so many words, I was that girl.

“I don’t know, it’s just being really slow,” the kid next to me tapped away on an ancient, IBM labeled laptop while I stood gargling down a third pack of strawberry flavored Pop Rocks like it was the best dinner I had ever had.

I peered at him from the corner of my eye.  Blue Dickies jacket. Blue Dickies pants. Lagwagon Tshirt.  Spiked hair. Yes, please.

“Umm,” I said, causing him to turn around at the exact moment that a final popping Pop Rock flew from my mouth.  I threw my hand over my mouth and rapidly talked myself out of embarrassment. Go with it. Go with it. Go with it.  “Haaaaaaa.” I let out an almost forced laugh.

🎵 And if we die before the battles through, Tell your mom, tell your dad we were Super Rad…🎵

Quick!  He was turning away to talk to this red headed chick sitting on a stool next to him at the kitchen counter.  Who the heck was she and where’d she come from?

“I can fix that for you!” I insisted.

“Really?”  He smiled and I fell in love.  

He had a face that was perfectly framed by side burns that said he had to be older than any of these other kids but not old enough to be a creeper among friends.  But that smile. Holy cow, that smile!

I must’ve stared blankly at his perfect, white teeth for a solid minute before stopping myself from taking in another mindless scoop of Pop Rocks and instead, reaching out to shove him off the frilly, wooden kitchen stool and sitting down at the harvest gold countertop to set his computer up to defrag.

I was a bit of a computer geek – priding myself in having made it to AP Computer Science as early as 10th grade, which was precisely the grade I was in now.

The crazy-pixie Punky Brewster looking redhead continued chatting him up, stealing his attention away from my attempt to prove I was the smartest, most interesting person there that night.  But I couldn’t think of anything interesting to say or any way of interjecting into their almost practiced conversation. This was big kid stuff, I’ll just stick to my silly little defrag and continue to eat Pop Rocks for the rest of my sad, sorry life.

Then I heard him start to talk about his band, and before he could get another word out to little miss red thang, I swirled around on the freshly polished stool and asked, “What do you play?”

I was in!

“Drums,” he said.  

Crap! I knew nothing about drums.  If there was any one instrument made to exist in spite of any natural musical ability I was born with, it was the drums.

“Oh…” I paused.  “That’s cool.”

“You know what they say about drummers…” this girl started to say.  Aimee was her name. I had gathered that much. I was head deep in an eye roll when she finished her sentence, “… they’re good at multi-tasking.”  I swear at that moment she winked and popped her bubble gum. I honestly didn’t see the appeal.

Still, I couldn’t leave the conversation at this.  I had successfully turned it away from anything this other girl might have to say for no other reason than she already knew the answers to these questions.  “So uhh, when’s your next show?” I asked, pretending to be deep into a computer process that required absolutely no monitoring at all.

“I’m not sure.  I’m working on getting that booked right now actually.”

“I’ll do it!”  I quite literally raised my hand as if I were an excited teachers pet volunteering to feed the class hamster or something.  I blamed the Pop Rock overdose.

“You’ll book the show?”

“Ya.”

Heh. Ok. Where?”

As I thought about it, I realized that I had no idea what I was doing.  I had never booked my own show before. I didn’t even know what options I had, if any, for where the show could be booked.  “Ve…” I started to say at the same time he projected, “Vet’s Hall?!?”

“Yea!!  There…” I was out of things to say and hoping he wouldn’t ask me for any details.

“Great!” There was that smile again.  He seemed excited. “Are we playing with anyone or do you still need to book the other bands?”

Oh crap!  I hadn’t thought about that.  Other bands. In fact, I would need to find at least 3 other bands.  I barely even knew 3 other bands!

“Uhhh. Yea.  I haven’t booked anyone else yet.  I still need to do that.”

“Cool!  I can help you with that.”

Yessss!  I was in.  I was in. He was going to help me book his show. We would have to work together and talk and stuff.  And that means we’re going to be together forever and he’s probably going to kiss me at midnight and stuff!  I was elated. #SoSixteen

“I can make flyers too.”  He took out a small piece of paper from the left pocket of his Dickies and took a pen from the kitchen counter, placing it in his left hand.  I love left-handed people. I wish I was left-handed. “Vet’s Hall…” he said out loud as he scribbled it across the top of the page. “Ok. When?”

Right!  When? “Probably for my birthday.”

“Probably?”

“I mean actually!  Actually, it’s for my birthday which is on the 13th.”

“Well, that’s a Thursday.”

“It is…” I fumbled. “That’s why the show is on Friday!”  Why did everything I say come out like I was Tour-Guide Barbie?  Ugh. If he just didn’t ask me how old I was going to be, we might actually make it out of this alive!

At 11:51pm, the front door burst open with an unfamiliar, “Let’s get this party started!” announced from a big guy sporting camo shorts and an oversized, black hoodie despite it being the middle of winter.  “K— ya bastard, where are you?” he said as my computer challenged soon-to-be boyfriend turned, throwing both his hands in the air for a double high five as he walked up the short set of stairs there by the kitchen.

At almost the exact moment their hands clasped together for a true bro-moment, a small, long-haired kid fell through the still partially open front door, stumbling over himself in what might have been my first ever witnessed drunken stooper.  He yelled, “Move! Move! Move!” and shoved past people, down the stairs, down another set of stairs, and out what I can only assume was the garage door.

K— followed after him, yelling an innocent, “What the heck man?”

I must’ve had a confused look on my face when K— returned to see how his very long and boring computer defrag was going.

“Who was that?”

“That?!?” He pointed over his shoulder toward a trail of destruction.  “That! Is Bert McCracken.”

The name meant nothing to me at the time.  In fact, it meant nothing to most people in 1999.  Bert had yet to even become local famous let alone charged with the start of a worldwide screamo pandemic.

“He used to be in our band.  And that,” he pointed back up the stairs to the guy in camo shorts, “that’s Scotty X.  He is one of the guitarists in my band, and he is also in another band with Bert called Cobra Kai.  But you’ll probably also know Bert from a band called Strange Itch.”

It was an introduction to what would be a pivotal moment, marking the rest of my life as dedicated to this powerful, centered life of music.

I was saved.

🎵 She’s Famous Now 🎵

🎵 I’m singing too high tonight, I’m gonna lose my voice / I heard her on the radio, don’t want to sing along, but I’ve got no choice! 🎵

At first I was annoyed, “Mom!” I groaned. “Stooooop!” Typical teenager.

Her entire face lit up when she laughed, turning from pink to red with a glow that seemed to prove she was somehow magical – like Mrs. Santa Claus – unable to hide the twinkle in her eye when she was truly happy. She was just a bit mad herself, so it was impossible to stay mad at her as she started to swerve the car back and forth to the beat.

We were listening to a mixtape made by I don’t know who. The creator doesn’t matter as much as this single moment held in time.

Flipping through my homework, writing my name in the top corner of every paper with a final zig zag of the Z, my pencil drew a random line off the corner of the paper. She had zagged when I had zigged. I looked up and glared at her as best I could. I pushed out my lips and squinted my eyes, trying desperately to keep up my tragic teenage stereotype. Instead, a smile spread infectiously across my face as I shoved the papers in my bag, giving up on any sense of procrastinated organization to sing out loud with her.

I reminded her all the time, “Some kids would be embarrassed by a Mom like you ya know…” and this morning was no different as I rolled down the window to her seafoam green Ford Contour and yelled the lyrics out the window,

🎵 She used to be my girl but now she’s famous!
She used to be my girl but now she’s famous! 🎵

Pulling my head back into the car, I could hear her laughter above the scratch of the cassette tape in the car stereo. We must’ve replayed this song a thousand times this week alone.

🎵 No one will ever touch the way that I feel
Just for the record, she got the deal
I don’t want to hear it! 🎵

We lived alone. Just the two of us. On a cross country jaunt with his aging father, my dad received a phone call for a job offer. Two job offers in fact. It was one of those answers to desperate prayers as he had been out of work for nearly two years. That’s what brought us here, to a basement apartment 2/3 of the country away from where we had been living the last eight years. We were here to be close to his parents in a place we thought we might end up if all worked out. But prayers never work that way. Instead, he took a hard right and moved to Texas and we were to follow. The thing is, no one. had told me…yet.

I was the youngest of four children and it was safe to say that my dad and I had spent at least the last handful of years at odds. Extreme odds. You might even say we hated each other, but I don’t think either of us cared enough to put that kind of energy into it.

In those few, short years, life changed. My siblings all graduated, went to school, married, and moved out before I could even say that I survived the 7th grade. At that point, we stopped sitting down together for dinner. It was easy to assume that the obligation was no longer there when we were only half of a family, but it was more than that. My mom never argued. She never bickered about spending more time together. Instead, she prepared dinner in phases – allowing me to scrounge down enough food to fuel a professional athlete before my dad even sat down to the table. We were separated. It was easier that way.

So, it won’t take any great effort or imagination to know that moving to a small, dark apartment in a sorry excuse for a mountain town was hard on the both of us. There were a lot of slamming doors and insisted alone time. Once he was gone, he was happy. He had a job now. He could refuel that sense of being a caretaker, or whatever. Meanwhile, my mom and I were mucking it up to overplayed tracks on ska mixtapes.

With one-foot propping open the car door, I gathered my things before heading in for another day of school. And just before getting out of the car, we leaned in together, belting out some of the final lyrics,

🎵Well she’s like me, just not as ugly🎵

I’ll never forget the nights we’d chose to warm up frozen pizzas for dinner rather than cook anything remotely healthy, and during the five short minutes it took to crackle the crust, we’d dance circles around each other to the sounds of trumpeting punk rockers.

My mom cracked me up. I felt lucky. The woman I had grown up with and most of my life, knew nothing about. Now we had all the time in the world to spend together and she was as silly as ever. I felt like she was all mine. I knew her in a way that no one else knew her. I knew her in a way my dad had never known her.

Credits

Header image of Reel Big Fish live by https://www.flickr.com/photos/chadcooperphotos

Intro to Music 101

Suddenly my life had energy. It had purpose. I felt motivated to greet each day, and for the first time, I had an idea of what it was I wanted to do with my life. I was in love with music!

Having grown up as a damn near professional touring, Classical concert pianist, it was unbeknownst to me that radio stations existed past the lower 80-FM channels. For most of my life, the radio remained on Classical NPR, and the only albums floating around the glove compartment were Bob Dylan inspired folk artists like, Peter, Paul, and Mary.

This was the soundtrack to my life, and life… well, life was boring.

It was only during the summers my parents sent me away to stay with my older sister that I was introduced to the compelling sounds and lifestyle of Punk Rock.

Punk Rock was amazing. The short, repetitive sound of only three, simple chords on violent repeat on songs that never lasted more than a couple minutes was just what my hyperactive, over-emotional brain needed. It allowed me to put my energy into something, and feed my natural rebellion into what seemed like the only real thing I had ever believed in.

Punk Rock wasn’t just a sound – it was a cause!

My very mantra was to be anti-everything, before I even understood what these super-powered political responses meant.

As rebellious as I felt, I was too young to truly care about much more than what mattered to me in any singular moment as a teenage girl. That’s where ska came in, and that’s exactly how I fell in love.