In 8th grade, I went to the local record store to pick up a CD. I couldn’t go to a big chain store like Tower Records to get it because it was by a local band that was on a small label. Perhaps, it’s because of the limited availability, but it seemed like a lot of kids in my classes were excited that I bought it. Lots of kids wanted to borrow it, and since I had just bought it, they knew that they would need to let me borrow something in return. This is not a story to boast about being one of the first kids at my school to own the debut album by Blink 182 (I’m sure I wasn’t), this is a story about how I used that album to find something even better.
In middle school, they pulled me out of the gifted english and history classes, because I was pretty ambivalent about my studies in 6th grade. This allowed me to get good grades in 7th and 8th grade, while still being ambivalent about my studies. So, in 8th grade English, I talked about music a lot with a kid named Billy, who was really into exploring punk rock, so I knew he’d want to borrow the Blink album. (Later that year he’d end up going to one of those radio station sanctioned concerts that was headlined by Blink 182 and some band called Radiohead – the mid 90s were a weird time) In exchange for Blink 182′s Cheshire Cat, he let me borrow Red Medicine by Fugazi.
I’m not sure if he decided to let me borrow Red Medicine on a whim, or if he gave me a few options and that’s what I picked. Red Medicine was obviously a much more difficult listen that Cheshire Cat. The production was more raw, the guitars weren’t always exactly in tune, and the vocals were a little harsh, but I immediately loved the album. It was what punk rock is supposed to be, passionate and fiery. While I still enjoy Cheshire Cat, it’s not a punk album, and Blink 182 is not a punk band. Fugazi opened my eyes to what punk was at the exact same time that San Diego was becoming known as the punk/ska capital of the music world.
Eventually, Billy and I had to return the CDs to each other and after that year in middle school, we kind of lost touch. I was placed back into the gifted english and history classes for high school, Billy stayed in the regular classes, and I didn’t really see him again until prom where he showed up in a purple pimp suit. I don’t think I talked to him directly that night but I remember him being particularly obnoxious. It saddened me a little that I felt that way. I should’ve been proud of him that he was going against the grain and being edgy, but I don’t think he was trying to be punk rock that night. At least, not in the Fugazi way, maybe in the Blink 182 way. Even though I was wearing a tux, complete with a boutineer, I didn’t feel like I had sold out.
It would’ve been nice to lie and talk about how Billy’s appearance at prom had reminded me of how un-punk rock I had become, but it hadn’t. It actually made me wonder if the CD exchange from 4 years earlier, had altered both of our life journeys. Billy went down the road of dick and fart jokes with Blink 182, while I raged with indifference against the ridiculous and unforgiving social fabric of high school society. While I’m far from what Ian Mackaye would want me to be, he’d probably appreciate that I understand that I’m not very punk rock opposed to thinking that being juvenile and obnoxious were the ideals.
We were young, and hopefully that was the last time that Billy ever wore that outfit. I may never see him again, but I do wish him well. I did really like talking to him in class in 8th grade and I’ll never forget that he introduced me to a band that was much much better than Blink 18s, and for that, I will always be thankful.