Growing up in Hanover, IN was not how I envisioned my youth. From an early age I felt less like I was growing up and more like I was waging a personal war on the mundane. Hanover is a very small town that happens to have a college in it. I would call it a college town, but that conjures images that do not apply to Hanover. To me a college town is a place like Bloomington, IN or Madison, WI. Five or six iconic bars, quaint used-book stores, a music store full of obscure titles and an over-large classical section, maybe a coffee house or two with open mic nights. Hanover, as I knew it, had one bar on the outskirts of town called “Johnny Rebs.” Johnny Rebs was\is a smoky, smelly, slightly scary brick edifice specializing in cheap beer and angry clientele. I went once after I had graduated from college and ran into many of my old high school teachers who seemed to be contesting for the honor of drinking away the memory of all of the former students. Who could fault them?
My sister left for college when I was in Junior High. She went to Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. As mentioned above, a real college town in every sense of the word. When she would come back for visits she would let me listen to the music that she would get at the record stores there. Violent Femmes, The Dead Milkmen, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Sex Pistols and a thousand other bands that had rarely been heard of by the inhabitants of my hometown. My mind was opened to a completely new world.
The thought that music could be used as a political tool was nothing new to my sister and me. My parents owned the Woodstock Movie soundtrack, so we had heard people lashing out at the establishment. However, nothing was like the first time we cued up “Nevermind the Bollocks.” The sound of marching boots followed by Steve Jones grainy, explosive guitar and then this high-pitched, whiny voice began mocking the entire monarchy of England. “God save the Queen!\The fascist regime!\They made you a moron!\A potential H Bomb!”
While my transition was not overnight, after a couple of years of listening to the music my sister continued to introduce to me, I was seeking it out for myself. Then I began discovering the culture of the music as well. It was not long before I had my combat boots and leather motorcycle jacket adorned in safety-pins and a large Sid Vicious patch on the back. A small town rebel with nothing to lose and everything to prove. Patton Oswald once said in an interview that he was a “Repo Man soundtrack punk rocker.” That summed me up pretty well. While I dressed the part and listened to the music, the real ethos of punk, and the lack of awareness that it was dead before I was in fifth grade, was never in my realm of consciousness. (And before I get berated about saying punk is dead let me just state now that it is a never-ending argument in which I will no longer be engaged.)
Despite my reflection on it now, I wouldn’t trade my attitude in those days for anything. My appearance caused me no end of trouble in my small town high school. Day after day of threats and stare downs from the bitter, squinted eyes of hateful people who despised anything they did not understand, all I was able to endure because of the music. Jello Biafra’s improvised stage story about the last time he was in Portland, Dean Clean singing “Tiny Town,” “Kiss Off” by The Violent Femmes was a personal favorite. The music always made it easy to walk down the halls and endure it.
I will probably be writing a lot about music, because it is the most prevalent driving force in my life. Listening, performing, writing, et al. But it all started on those weekends so long ago when my sister trusted me enough to introduce me her own musical discoveries. I will always be grateful to her for that.