It's 2002, and I'm in Dearborn Music trying to find AFI's latest, The Art of Drowning, on CD. Even though it was released two years earlier, two years earlier I didn't have the internet and my musical taste was dictated by Disney Channel concert specials. Now I'm 12, and I've decided to be "punk rock." When the record store employee tries to convince me that while The Art of Drowning is great, Black Sails in the Sunset is actually AFI's best, I say that I'll have to pick it up later. And I do, and my musical world starts falling into place like tetris pieces as I comb through the thank-you section of the album's liner notes, finding artists like Rancid and Tiger Army and, hell, even the Misfits. I put their albums on my Christmas lists and my family members traipse through the aisles of Best Buy trying to find them. (They should've gone to Dearborn Music.)
It's 2004, and I've fallen in love with a guitar for the first (and last) time. It's black and shiny and it has little dials on it that I don't understand. I go to lessons, and Greg the Guitar Man tells me I have to master the basics before I can play Coheed & Cambria songs. I dutifully practice "Smoke on the Water," but I don't know the chords by name and I don't make much progress. I bring in tabs I've printed and I ask to play those instead, and I think Greg is embarrassed beneath his obnoxious black cowboy hat, because reading tabs isn't really the same as knowing how to play the guitar. The guitar ends up in a closet where it's lived for the past 10+ years, and I feel grateful for all the musically-talented people in this world who aren't me.
It's 2006, and I'm at one of the first live shows I can remember. I'm watching Gogol Bordello open for Flogging Molly and pretty certain I've inhaled too much secondhand pot smoke because what's going on in front of me doesn't seem real. There are entirely too many people on stage, and some of them are playing washboards, and none of us are sure whether to take the band seriously. Later, Flogging Molly opens their set with my favorite song, and one of the friends I came with runs across the room and knocks me over with a huge hug, and his sweat-soaked mohawk flops in front of his face and mine and I've never been happier.
It's 2008, and my best friend is yelling at me for not crying at my high school graduation. I'm so excited to be leaving my hometown, and the state of Michigan entirely, that I have nothing to be sad about. I drive my car around town that summer to a song by Missy Higgins called "Steer," and I relish in calling my musical taste "mature" now that it's made up mostly of singer-songwriters plucking on acoustic guitars. At Duke, my dorm room faces the communal bathroom, which is outfitted with a boombox. Paramore's "Misery Business" and TI's "Whatever You Like" play hundreds of times a day, their repetitive sounds leaking across the hall into my head. We go out to clubs (where I sneak in because I'm still 17) and I hear those same repetitive sounds, but instead of yearning for my punk-inspired CD collection that's collecting dust at home, I sing along to songs I know aren't good. Yet, they seem to belong to everyone - even non-music-lovers - and I'm content to be a part of something.
It's 2010, and I download some new program called Spotify and pay $5 a month to listen to literally anything else that exists (except for the Beatles). When I'm with friends, we turn to playlists from a cringeworthy website called fratmusic.com. I'm sure you can imagine what they sounded like. But when I'm alone I find myself clicking that little black-and-green logo to cue up Thrice and Rise Against. The next spring, I break up with someone I dated for almost three years, and I let a Rise Against song called "This is Letting Go"tell me that it's okay to go on alone. I see AFI on the cover of a magazine in a Barnes and Noble and find out that they've just released a new album. I check it out, and although it's not up to the standards I've set for my once-favorite band, some part of it feels like home.
It's 2012, and I've spent the last few months excitedly rediscovering bands that I've loved and forgotten, from Thursday to The Lawrence Arms. I'm working a fairly easy research tech job with a lot of downtime and an office to myself, so I invest in the nicest pair of headphones I've ever owned and I drown myself in music. I reactivate my account on the AFI forums when they cryptically announce their first album in four years, and I check absolutepunk.net every day for recommendations, reminiscing on the site's little heart logo, which hadn't changed since my first visits in 2002. I find an old notebook in my parents' house with a list of bands I'd been meaning to investigate in 6th grade, so I make a point to add Say Anything and Armor for Sleep to my repertoire, wondering why 12 year-old me hadn't followed through on downloading their songs through Limewire. I hear about Riot Fest for the first time, and I buy tickets on a whim to what will be my first music festival (not counting Warped Tour, where my mom sat in the air-conditioned "Parents' Tent" while we ran amok). In preparation, I make a festival playlist and write a 3-page Word document detailing my picks to the friend who's going with me. I used to include extensive notes with the mixtapes I'd make in middle school too. I wonder if anyone actually read them.
It's 2014, and I'm at a show in Columbia, Missouri. I've never been to this venue - or, actually, Columbia - before, but I've driven two hours by myself to be here, because I couldn't miss an opportunity to see Against Me! after they blew me away at Riot Fest a few months prior. I stand to the side of the stage, and the opening band says they're from Lansing, Michigan, which isn't far from my hometown, so I feel a little less out of place. I think about the first Against Me! album I ever owned, Reinventing Axl Rose, and how in some convoluted way my decision to pick it up from the sale rack at Flipside Records lead me to standing here. I twiddle my thumbs until Against Me! start to play, and somehow when they do I don't feel in any way alone, so I sing every word I know and even the ones I don't. Someone comes up behind me and starts talking, and we learn we have the same favorite band, and he asks, "Did we just become best friends?" And we did. Maybe not in that exact moment, but over months of sharing playlists full of everything from punk rock to country, we did. And we are. And I have music to thank.
Graduate student taking a break from grants and manuscripts to wax poetic on music.