This morning I stumbled on a well-buried playlist entitled “Working Class Suburban RIOT.”
Is your interest piqued? Mine sure as hell was. I clicked on it, and it automatically started playing, blasting through my speakers as my roommate lay sleeping.
Like a punch in the gut I was transported back to my senior year of high school, standing in the parking lot of my Catholic school attempting to show my best friend how to skank dance (note: google, it’s not what you think). I had a ratty Rancid tshirt on with my uniform skirt and was weighed down by the Doc Martens that I wore instead of the required uniform shoes. My friend stared at me in a mix of fascination and horror as she pondered how she had ever possibly become friends with this creature.
I quickly cut the music off, terrified of giving my slumbering roommate a heart attack. I plugged my headphones in, and scrolled through the playlist. There, enshrined, was the evolution of my high school rebellious stage. It started small, ska here, some punk there. I could trace the playlist from my freshman year of high school with a song by The Fratellis. I remembered listening to it quietly with my headphones in, terrified that someone would ask me what I was listening to. I was desperate to shed the weird girl image of junior high and fit in with my friends who listened to Rihanna and Colbie Callait. I didn’t want to be the kid who listened to the band no one knew (though ironically, The Fratellis would become popular my junior of high school thanks to an incredibly catchy iTunes commercial).
Further down the list was an Against Me! song that I picked up from my first boyfriend. It was one of the hundreds of songs we passed back and forth, and one of the dozens he could play on his bass. We were fifteen, neither of us could drive, and so instead we would sit huddled with earphone in each ear. We had similar taste in music—a bit off the beaten track, but not too far off. Just edgy enough to make us feel cool amongst our fellow freshman peers, but not far enough to be alienated.
The sixth track down is a Tool song, one I listened to over and over and over as I attempted to learn how to drum correctly. Nine Inch Nails and Tool were the soundtracks to my ill-fated and short lived drumming career, songs that I had inherited from an older sister during her own rebellious phase. The seventh was a No Doubt cover of Oi To The World by The Vandals, my first taste into the world of punk and ska.
When my boyfriend and I broke up my sophomore year of high school, I thought my world was ending. We had been the stereotypical high school couple, attached at the hip, surrounded by friends, and wholesome. I had successfully shed the “weird girl” stereotype with his help, and became a popular, homecoming court nominated girl who wore skirts and dresses. I could pinpoint the exact spot where the breakup happened, nine songs in. I withdrew into myself and railed against him and everything that he stood for. I threw myself into the pursuit of everything that was the exact opposite of him and who we were.
As high schoolers are wont to do, I jumped immediately to the first person who offered me that dichotomy, a boy who wore studded leather jackets and inappropriate t-shirts and listened to music that would make my mother red in the face. I dove headfirst into his culture. It wasn’t a stretch—I liked the music, and I had always moved towards punk and ska. But I found myself wearing Docs and ratty band tshirts every day and walking everywhere with him and his delinquent friends. I absolutely ate up the punk culture and did everything I could to be accepted, to be part of the crew: watching SLC Punk and Trainspotting every weekend, perusing Netflix for weird offbeat movies, screaming “fuck the police” at the top of our lungs.
But that relationship was almost as fucked up as Sid and Nancy’s. Neither of us knew where we were going or what we were doing, and both of us were too damaged to have any business inserting ourselves into the lives of another person. I was always an angry kid and an angrier person, and it channeled itself well into the punk lifestyle. But I spent those months fueled by nothing but anger and indignation, fuming at everyone in my life, shunning my friends and spinning myself into a head on collision with a nervous breakdown. The only friend I had left during that time was the girl who had been with me since the beginning, my next door neighbor and the only one left who didn’t judge me. About a month before the explosive ending of that relationship, Becky gave me a CD her brother had burned for her.
I listened to that CD over and over my sophomore year, positive that they had captured the exact despair and restlessness that I was feeling. The punk had left me, but I hadn’t quite left punk. I was isolated and still without my friends, and the only one who seemed to have any compassion for me anymore was that first boyfriend. But I took his concern for condescension and it fueled more and more anger and confusion that spilled out from every fiber of my being. The music was my one link to a world that understood my anger, and I pulled on that thread and let it take me farther and farther, and slowly the anger turned into a chasm of ache.
And then my junior year, a boy I knew killed himself. Everything I had thought about the world changed. I was punched in the gut repeatedly at the thought. When Becky texted me that night, I collapsed on the floor of my grandparent’s kitchen, unable to process the waves that hit me. The anger and confusion and fear and dread that had been building for 17 years reached its peak in one night. I let it wash over me and allowed it to take control, positive that I would never come out the other side alive.
The playlist from there is full of The Cure and The Smiths, intermixed with long melancholy hymns by Lou Reed. And then suddenly it changes direction. I know exactly when the last song was added—three weeks after my junior prom, and two weeks into the relationship that would last me through high school, the beginning of college and up to today. I consider the dawn of that relationship the day that my teenage rebellion officially ended, and I began the phase of my life where I live in perpetual fear of the realities of the adult world.
I don’t wear combat boots or facial piercings. But I still like to blast the Casualties with my windows down, and the band t-shirts in the back of my drawer have a special place in my heart. It’s a shockingly open and accepting subculture. I formulated political and moral beliefs during that phase that have stayed with me. I had a truly unique experience that most kids will never know, and I came out of it the wiser.
I’ll never be a top forty girl, and while my time amongst crusty punks was a knee jerk reaction, there’s something about the delinquent summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school that makes me smile. I still listen to Rancid when I’m sad, and I have my old animal rights patches attached to my book bag still. It’s a part of me. And besides, a little rebellion now and then is fun.
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