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Sunday, July 3, 2011

from Home Sweet Home, Brian Guttman

The rotten stench of double standards and ignorance hung over the city like a toxic cloud which I was steadily inhaling as I found myself walking past a remnant of my past. It was the tae kwon do school where a small group of friends and I used to host shows. I had been a part of two bands that played shows on a regular basis. The shows were always local bands but every so often one from Chicago would make the voyage down. They were always small scale with few in attendance but the energy was incredible. For most of us, it was our first taste of pure expression. The thrill of being heard was superb and in the beginning it had innocence in its humility. There was something virgin about this small music scene built out of the ashes of the last kids to attempt it years before. I remembered seeing the last days of the music scene before in junior high. By the time I had reached high school, most traces of that beautiful experience had been eroded away. I made it my personal objective to revive it and restore it to its former glory. At this time I had joined a metal band formed by my fellow classmates. We began to get serious and were really inspired when we attended a show held in my friend john’s basement. The band was called Last One Standing and was formed by a group of personal friends who were a year older.

I mark this as the rebirth of the second scene because after this we made a list of songs a decided on a name. We called ourselves Barbershop Massacre and played for two years, which in all honesty was a surprise. We sounded like complete shit but that was of no importance to us; we were addicted to the energetic lifestyle and kept playing. It was then that we secured a venue and began playing shows with other local bands. We hosted a show almost every month and somehow kept our sanity. Between us and Last One Standing we booked the bands, set the price, acquired the equipment, and advertised the show. I had learned how to advertise when I had attended shows in the first scene. It began with acquiring a photo of some sort usually something like a skull or fist or random design but the first was a picture of me shirtless and flexing. Most would be asking themselves why and this is where I paint a picture of myself. I was then and still am a rather ugly kid with a pale complexion and flabby torso, so we decided to use the picture to gross out respectable people who wouldn’t understand what we were trying to accomplish; which ironically was a concept we too had trouble understanding.

Nevertheless, we would then write the show info over it using paint and buy hundreds of copies for something like ten dollars. After that we would pack our book bags full of them and hand a flyer to everyone we saw at school. And just in case an unlucky person didn’t get one; we would wait till the end of the school day and flood the hallways and stairwells with them. One would run down the hall dumping out the contents of their backpack as two others simultaneously stood at the top floor and poured flyers down both stairwells. After that we would make an elusive escape before an official caught up to us.

The music kept playing for another year until a major rift happened in my band and the scene in general. It began when The Color Morale, one of the first bands we booked for a show got signed. That drew the line and set the stages for the descent. I quit the band and began a new one with my drummer who stayed in both groups. We decided that it was time to change the face of the scene. We saw what had become of our creation; we had paid so much attention to building the goddamn thing that we forgot to maintain it. The scene had become a breeding ground for the same generic and exclusive ideals that we rejected in the first place. We recruited a guitarist who I had gone to catholic school with and started a new band called RCK or Rape City Kids. We strayed from the metal that saturated the current shows and started a punk band in honor of the first scene. Even the name was forged as an attempt to be as ridiculous as possible, but upon deeper delving into it one would find the meaning hidden in it. It stood as a fuck you to the town we grew up in but this was the first of many mistakes; I underestimated how careless these kids really were.

We held our first show in a living room on good Friday, It was my friends living room so we hung a big blanket that we had spray painted Bad Friday and an upside down cross on it. We did mostly covers like “California Uber Allies”, “Baby I’m an anarchist”, and even covered the theme song for the power puff girls. All in all it was a decent performance given our obvious status as amateurs. A month later we had our first show and had enough songs to play a full set list. The topics ranged from the local police to the education system to the “Scene kids” who had taken over. We played all of our songs except “Crack Rocks for Jesus” which we excluded in respects to the owner who was a Christian and generously let us use the place. The song “Sweatshop Scene Kids” always gave me joy when I played it at shows. It was nice to call out a large portion of the audience at a show for having no regard to any real message. There was very few who recognized our motive of being as absurd as we could. Behind all the fun we had with our antics was a goal we strived to accomplish. We saw that it was going to have to be up to us to educate the younger kids on what it meant to be truly free. It goes without saying that we were widely shunned for giving these kids something they had never heard. We introduced real punk rock into the shows; I remembered how I could almost see their ears bleed as they stared with confusion about what to think of it.

The biggest blow to the scene was when the only venue in town shut down after a brawl between testosterone filled drunken apes beating each other to dust to decide who was more hardcore. That was rock bottom because at that point it was clear that every shred of what the scene was built on had been abandoned. A movement formed with unity in mind was infiltrated by petty gangs. Even when RCK was formed and Barbershop had become Slaughter of a Mortician everything had been fine. There were no hard feelings whatsoever, we actually practiced with each other using the same space and equipment because we understood each other’s goals. We had seen a few fights but they were always scuffles between the crowd and a random asshole that would come in hopes of war. That show had seen our serenity shattered; the same serenity we had kept going for a year and a half. Even in the violent pits injuries were common, it was all in good fun and never escalated into a fight. Most see a mosh pit as a breeding ground for violence but this is not the case. The pit formed out of a unifying bond of extreme frustration for all the horrible things happening around us. It was a way for kids to connect with each other under the banner of the song playing.

It was three or four months later that we decided to hold a small show in Dixon again. We made it small and held it in a basement in order to return to our roots. We booked a modest three bands that were all from the local area. The lineup was Rover, a local Ska band, RCK, and Last One Standing. The show started with a fairly good turnout and both Rover and my band played without problem. After we had finished Last One Standing set up but delayed the show for a half an hour to an hour awaiting their collection of lights. I was ridiculous to me at the time and even now, but when the lights came they began playing. Two songs into their performance the cops came and shut the show down for noise violation. That was the last nail in the coffin which ironically was driven by the people we started the whole scene in defiance of.

As I got closer to home I began thinking about how long it had been since what the remnants call “The Death of the Scene.” So much had changed since then and now it feels as though a year and a half was a lifetime ago. Many had moved on to other things, fell prey to this cesspool of a town. Some got girlfriends and “left that life behind” and others simply faded away and turned into strangers. One thing was for certain; there was no more of that unifying force that propelled us. It was then that “Look Back and Laugh” started playing on my mp3 player. I couldn’t help but nod my head as I connected with all the words being sung. My only problem came when I began looking back and couldn’t even bring a smile to my face. Two lines stuck out in my head “I think there was too much dreaming, too much to hope for.” That was us, a collective of pissed-off kids trying to figure themselves out, something I hadn’t accomplished. My mind was blanketed with confusion as thick as the snow under my feet. I didn’t feel alone in this respect, I think all of my friends are just where I am, stuck in the aftermath of good times that’re long gone. It was such a powerful experience that most kids my age don’t see. A minute feeling of accomplishment swept over me as I thought of how we actually created something regardless of significance. This feeling was immediately struck down the recollection that it was some abstract remnant now.

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