Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Life lessons learned through distortion and stage dives



I was an angry teenager.

I skipped class, drank too much and sometimes I even broke things for fun.

I hated authority and the cops, because I was just such a friggin badass, man.

Of course, to any outside observer I was just another middle-class, small town prairie kid on the tail end of puberty who — like many teenagers — felt a little lost and overwhelmed by the world.

And like many teenagers do, I took refuge in punk rock.

I exclusively listened to music that was aggressive and anti-establishment, because that's what I related to.

I also played in many terrible punk bands of my own, and believed without any hint of irony or self-awareness that I would someday make music my career.

My mother was very patient, allowing me to chase the dream until it inevitably failed, at which point she insisted I would go back to school.

So for four years after high school I chased that unattainable dream, playing in a couple more terrible bands and recording embarrassing demos (that I swear don't exist anywhere on the Internet so don't even bother looking for them).

By the time I was finally shepherded back to school by my mom — who went so far as to register me for all my first-year classes and apply for my student loan to make things as streamlined as possible for my stupid ass — I was unknowingly on the verge of a major shift in psyche.

Going back to school after four years of imagined rock star debauchery was a revelation. I did a lot of (admittedly delayed) growing up while in university, and somewhere along the line the viciousness of punk rock lost its appeal.

Suddenly I was much more Modest Mouse than Rage Against the Machine.

Let's just say that these days I would more often prefer to listen to a quirky, indie-folk band than dive headfirst into a crowd off of a speaker.

But when I heard that Pittsburgh punk band Anti-Flag was playing Whistler, it brought back fond memories of those days when I was young and stupid.

Anti-Flag was one of my favourite punk bands when I was younger, so when I had the opportunity to interview Justin Sane — the band's founder and lead guitarist — 18-year-old me was getting drunk and smashing stuff somewhere deep inside my soul.

Sane was a fascinating interview — soft-spoken, articulate and incredibly passionate about social change for a guy who's been fighting the good fight for more than two decades.

It was a great discussion, but by the end of it I couldn't help but feel like a bit of a societal let down.

Sane's overall message is to resist the urge to be cynical — if you subscribe to the belief that you can't possibly affect positive change, you're probably not going to affect positive change.

I looked into it and the math checks out. And as anyone who's read any of my previous columns in this space will probably know, I have a tendency to be a cynical guy from time to time.

But sometimes it's hard not to be cynical in Stephen Harper's Canada. After eight years of our Conservative "leadership" — which is really just a big brick wall of stubborn, dangerous ideology — I find the easiest thing to do for my sanity is to ignore the whole circus altogether.

It's not just a Conservative thing, or even a Canadian thing. It's all politics, everywhere. It's corruption and deceit at all levels, to the point that you take one look at it all and decide you'd rather sign up to be one of the first humans to die on Mars instead.

But my eyesight is less than perfect and I'm not physically fit enough to be an astronaut so I guess I'll stick around.

And as long as I'm stuck here on Earth, there's really no point in being hopelessly cynical. Not when it's even slightly possible to be anything else.

There are millions of ways to make the world around you a better place. Sitting on your ass and bemoaning the sad state of everything is not one of them.

So I guess the big lesson here is that while my musical tastes have evolved, as tends to happen with humans and their brains, the core tenets of the religion of punk rock have yet to betray me.

I may be older, wiser and fatter than I was at 18, but I'm still not satisfied.

I'm still angry, and for that I'm thankful.