A personal musical memoir, and a reflection of my childhood.
I. From Steve Miller Band to the Spice Girls and The Offspring.
My first cassette player was the Fisher Price player/recorder with the sing along microphone. It was my favorite toy besides my stuffed animals. I’ll never forget the first time I heard my voice played back to me, but most importantly of all, I’ll never forget the magic of my Steve Miller Band’s Greatest Hits. I could probably sing that whole album from first note to last, to include the bass, drums, and guitar lines. I listened to it all the time, but I always wanted a variety that was hard to come by. My music collection consisted of 80′s pop (my favorite genre at the time), Steve Miller Band, The Beatles (sang by the Peanuts), Mojo Nixon, and miscellaneous kids songs to include, but were not limited to, Barney (I Love You was my shit). Music was my thing way before writing ever was.
In fact, I remember the first time I was asked by one of my classmates about my taste in music. I was around 6 or 7 years old when my friends started talking about the Spice Girls.
“Who’s your favorite Spice Girl?” she asked.
“What’s that?” I replied.
My classmates gasped.
“You don’t know who the Spice Girls are?! Do you know who Nsync is?” another friend chimed in.
“No,” I sheeped.
“Backstreet Boys?!” some boy from the other side of the room proclaimed.
“No, I don’t listen to that.”
“Then what do you listen to?”
“I don’t know… Steve Miller Band… And 80′s music.”
“Well,” said my friend who asked about the Spice Girls,”it’s ok, we’ll have a sleepover this weekend and listen to music!”
She always saved me from that persecution, something that ended up changing later down the line. I mentioned in Ramble on Ayn Rand that the first time I ever rebelled by using music was by choosing Will Smith’s Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It to lip sync in front of the class with my other classmates. After my friend showed me all the music that she knew about, I went on a search for my own. Some of the music I came across through various mediums was Will Smith, Sisqo (lol), Baha Men (forgot about those guys), TLC, Missy Elliot, and Lou Bega. These bands were good for the musical outlet that I needed, but I still couldn’t relate to a lot of their words. They spoke of topics that didn’t really interest me, but I loved the sound of the music.
Frustrated with my taste in music, my big brother tried to get me to listen to bands like TOOL, Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and The Offspring. He also got me into Weird Al Yankovic who set the bar for social satire in the music industry. The Offspring was the only one that really stuck, and was the first band that lead me to musical expression and really helped relieve the stress I felt living in the abusive household I lived in. Smash was the first CD I bought with my own money, an album that still brings me happiness 20 years after its inception.
Smash is a special Offspring album. It was their transition from the punk-rock-esque music of The Offspring (self titled), and Ignition. Bad Habit blew me away, I could greatly relate to the misdirected anger in the song, not in relation to driving, but in relation to my life at the time. The social and political commentary on the album really made me question the society we lived in today and my life at the time:
“I’m not a trendy asshole, do what I want, do what I feel like. Don’t give a fuck if it’s not good enough for you, ’cause I’m alive.”
“Do you accept what you are told without even thinking? Throw it all. You’ll make your own”
Indeed, for 9 – 11 year old Cassandra was enthralled by this band, a band that the empty pop music I was listening to couldn’t keep up with. The pop music was engineered to make me feel a certain way about my appearance and how I should act in my social relationships, but The Offspring was telling me to reject that…. Something that was a breath of fresh air for a child who was trying to find herself in a world which treated her like property and an extension of others’ wishes.
II. The Transition to Punk Rock
From 6th grade to 7th grade, The Offspring lead me to find other bands such as Metallica, Seether (lol wut?), Puddle of Mudd (Remember those guys?), Anthrax, Powerman 5000, and Saliva. What a list.
Needless to say I had enough eclectic music under my belt to pursue an instrument. What was my instrument of choice? The saxophone, of course, thanks to Lisa from The Simpsons. I went to the band director of my middle school and told him I wanted to play saxophone. He said he already had his saxophone spot taken by someone else, but that I could play clarinet until I could try out for the saxophone. Fine. I really wanted to learn the saxophone. So, we go on and I learn a little clarinet, said, “Nah,” and went on to choir.
Choir is really where I found my niche. My voice allowed me to sing both soprano and alto thanks to trying to sing a long to Mambo No. 5. Thanks Lou. I projected my voice outward, and found my own sound. I liked reading the music and listening to the harmonies, crescendos, and all different aspects of the voice in music. I was often picked for ensembles because of the rich tone in my voice, but it took me a long time to be comfortable enough to successfully sing solos. I stayed in choir until my junior year in high school (we aren’t there yet though, still in middle school). When I was in choir, nothing mattered except the notes on the music and the notes in my voice.
When we took the clarinet back to Guitar Center, I looked around me at all of the different types of guitars and was amazed at how different every single one of them was. This is when I knew that I was not meant to play the saxophone, I was meant to play the guitar. I immediately asked for a guitar for my birthday. It was still spring. During the summer of my 6th to 7th grade year, I struggled immensely. I was dealing with trying to find myself and trying to break away from the illusion that surrounded my household. It was during this time that my parents labeled me a liar. To them, I lied about everything. I lied about what I was doing, where I was going, that I wasn’t doing drugs and that I had no intention to do them. This kind of behavior from my parents was the result of their poor parenting — a lack of emotional and psychological support, and a whole lot of manipulation and control. It was as if my siblings were all I had and that we were the sole property of my parents. I needed to learn the guitar to get away from all that.
But I knew that my parents did not own me and that I was not an extension of them. I was very active on the internet when I was not allowed to go over to my friend’s house or go outside on my bike. It was the way I escaped from my family, in fact, I spent hours upon hours chatting to people online when I couldn’t be with my friends. Through this experience, I kept on hearing the words, “punk rock.” I listened to a little bit of The Ramones at the time and decided to do some more research.
This was the early 2000′s when punk rock was being commercialized and bastardized. Girls around school were listening to Simple Plan, Blink 182, Sum 41, and Greenday (If you mention Dookie, I will lose my mind.), and the worst of all of them: Good Charlotte. These bands whined (literally) about benign topics in a commercialized “anger” that teens were supposed to feel towards their relationships and their failure to keep them. This genre of music, what I refer to as “the greatest piece of shit ever to have been produced in a studio,” can’t even be referred to as “punk” rock. It said that if you shopped at Hot Topic and dyed your hair blue, you were “punk.”
Well, that didn’t sit well with me, my Yahoo! search returned what is and is not punk rock. One of the bands that was considered punk rock during that time was The Casualties.
III. Punk Rock — the Motherland
I’ll never forget the first time I listened to The Casualties (For The Punx, to be exact). It was the last month before my 7th grade year started. I laughed at first because I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Then I listened to For The Punx a little closer:
“DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO SAY
DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO WEAR
OI! OI! WE’RE THE PUNKS OF TODAY (SPIKEY HAIRED DRUNK PUNKS)”
Their songs exhibited the anger that I felt deep down inside me. I transitioned from the sad, depressed Cassandra into really fucking pissed off. This album exemplified rebellion, originality, anger, and corruption in the government. All of a sudden I understood why the police never helped me, because I didn’t matter. Live fast, die young. That was my new motto. This rebellious music allowed me to stand up for myself and express my distress in my living situation. But, most importantly of all, it made me feel like I was not alone, that I wasn’t the only one who felt this anger. It affirmed my emotions, and charged my rebellion. It was only a matter of time before I found bands such as the Lower Class Brats, OxyMORON, The Unseen, A Global Threat, GBH, and Cheap Sex. I found my outlet. I refused to listen to anything besides this punk rock for a good two years.
So, I found out about punk rock during the summer, away from my peers. Now I had a different outlook on the education system and my fellow classmates. They came back to school without the mentality that I had. I was mad, and I wanted answers. I just knew I needed to behave myself until I got my guitar I wanted so badly. Once I got good enough, I was gonna form my own punk rock band.
My brother and I got guitars for Christmas: an acoustic Esteban. My guitar teacher tried to teach me Sweet Home Alabama but my lack of coordination with the pick hindered my learning, so I learned Blackbird by the Beatles. I loves plucking the strings and hearing the sounds coming from my fingertips. My little brother learned guitar much faster and more efficient than I did, but that was alright. I realized that I couldn’t play punk rock with my fingers…. Unless I played bass, so I learned some guitar while I was on my way to playing bass. My brother could play guitar, and I could play bass.
During the time I was learning guitar, a lot of things were happening in my life. I got my hair cut off after I secured my first guitar lesson so that I could be a part of this spikey-haired punk rock tradition. That I did. I tried to perfect the liberty spikes and eventually did. I had two other friends that did the same thing, and we were the punk rock trio in our middle school. We made fun of the kids who thought they listened to punk rock and reveled in thoughts of going to our first concert together. I had a lot of friends that supported me through my search for self, and I was starting to be happy.
Then we moved from Hudson, Wisconsin to Phoenix, Arizona, partly because my parents got evicted for not paying for my medical bills that they incurred, partly because my rebellion was raising eyebrows amongst my teachers, and partly because my dad was getting transferred there. My parents’ story changed from “it’s mandatory” to “we just wanna move somewhere hot,” but either way, their excuses for moving us around was all bullshit to cover up the many financial schemes my dad was planning in order to keep up with my mom’s obsessive spending habits. Hard to prosecute someone in a different state. (NPD) There’s a lot more to that story, but I won’t hang my family’s dirty laundry all over the internet because it’s not worth my time, but the context of what was going on with me at the time is important to understand how I got to be where I’m at now.
So, I went to my first concert the year I moved away from my two best friends, but it was the Lower Class Brats so I didn’t mind. The Lower Class Brats ended up being my favorite band out of all of the ones that I had discovered. I felt the anger in the music was not just directed towards having spikey hair and drinking til you pass out, but it was more directed towards the chains of society and promotion of the individual self, that “chaos” would be a hell of a lot better than the control we feel now. I felt like their music was real and from the heart, and when I went to their concert, I was proven right. I will never forget the energy I felt, the happiness I had to finally be around a group of people who understood me.
My parents resisted my rebellion, hard. I received psychological punishments for expressing myself, and I found release through music, art, and writing. I was blamed for everything that was wrong, and continue to be blamed for everything wrong by my parents; a scapegoat of sorts. They cite my anger was fabricated by the emotion of punk rock, but I was already acting out before I found punk rock. Punk rock gave me the COURAGE to speak out because I finally knew that I was NOT alone. I hated everything and everyone, except for those who I knew understood the struggle I felt. By the time high school rolled around, I was fully equipped to handle the culture shock of high school.
I quickly met friends who liked similar music, and I met my first boyfriend at a Casualties concert the year before. My big brother had just moved down to Phoenix because he was struggling in Wisconsin, and he and I had chats sometimes until 3 in the morning about random topics which further allowed me to question the “conventional wisdom” of our society. One day when I came home from hanging out with my friends, I found my father deleting all of my beloved punk rock from the computer. I looked at him and I told him he’d be sorry. So, I went up to my room, turned on some loud music, and slipped out my front window onward towards freedom without anyone knowing where I was or where I was going.
My destination? My boyfriend’s house. I hopped on the first bus I saw going east into Phoenix. There was a lot of anxiety leading up to hopping on the bus. I thought I was going to get caught, but I didn’t care. I made a choice, and I was going to be happy in the end. As soon as a sat down on the bus, I felt a release that was unlike one I had never felt before. It was the feeling of freedom, a release from my situation that was controlled by outside forces into a situation which I chose. This was the first time I ever smoked marijuana, and it was the first time in a long time that I felt happy (even before the weed). I met a lot of strange characters and even managed to not get kidnapped. There was a girl my age that disappeared from the same spot I ran away to that day. Somehow I managed to keep my composure and to keep people away from me. Maybe it was my self-made mohawk.
At this point, I had been playing my bass for almost a year. I finally got it for my birthday when I was 13, and quickly picked up the rhythm required to be a good bass player. My problem was that I kept on comparing myself to other musicians. Even though I had a solid foundation to build off of in order to find myself, I did not realize that musicianship is also an individual talent. Everyone plays their instrument differently, but that was hard for me to understand. As a female, there was already high pressure on me to be able to play the instrument that mostly men play. I felt the stigma every time my brother and I went into Guitar Center or Sam Ash for new strings or just to look ’cause we loved going in there. To this day, musicians in those stores are surprised when I pick up a bass and play with flawless rhythm. That’s all it takes to be able to play the bass, but what does it take to play it WELL?
Well, shortly after I ran away to my boyfriend’s house and found the medicine that is marijuana, I started to be exposed to a variety of music thanks to my friends I used to smoke with. Now my brain was shifting from PUNK ROCK ONLY to, “What’s this? And what musical talent does it bring to the table?” It was a long transition to start to accept different types of music, but the artist that really opened up my eyes was Bob Dylan.
In my high school freshmen English class, we had to do a research essay on a poet. I wanted to do Robert Frost because The Road Not Taken was my favorite poem. I was going to write the paper based off of that poem. We had to choose from a list our teacher gave us, but only one person was able to write about each poet. Someone took Robert Frost. “Shit,” I thought, “Who the hell else am I supposed to do?! I don’t know any of these guys…” I looked down the list. “Bob Dylan. He’s pretty famous, Hunter S. Thompson likes him. That’ll be easy.”
That day, I went home, smoked a joint (still only 14), and listened to some Bob Dylan. Woah. I found the music kind of annoying at first (duh, all I listened to was fast and offensive punk rock), but then I listened to the lyrics and the composition of the scales with the stories he told. I was ecstatic. I felt like the words he spoke came from within, that his music had heart and was deeply seated in the heart of anti-authority and anti-war. He was punx before punx was punx. Needless to say, I wrote a pretty awesome paper abut Bob Dylan. Wish I still had it.
I remember the first time I actually bought a Bob Dylan CD. I skipped school that day, and decided to skateboard up to Barnes and Noble to see if they had any of his CD’s. Sho nuff, I found Highway 61 Revisited and was on my way to the cash register. The guy looked at me, then at the CD, and back at me again.
“Your father must listen to this.”
“Nope,” I scowled
“Yup,” now I was getting annoyed.
“Somehow I don’t believe someone your age could just start listening to Bob Dylan without some influence.”
“You don’t know me, and you’re wrong. I found out about him on my own,” my voice was getting louder.
“Alright!” He rang me up and handed me my bag, “Have a good day.”
“Fuck you,” I mumbled.
He wasn’t expecting a “fuck you” that morning, that was the punk rock thing to say, of course. Sorry dude. That man was just the object of my frustration with the adults in my life at the time, always citing my age as something that restricted me from knowledge and experience. It was very frustrating for me as someone who wanted to be recognized as an individual and not property or an extension of someone else. However, although I chose Bob Dylan on my own, the influence that pushed me towards that choice was none other than Hunter S. Thompson, as I had mentioned before. It is interesting that he thought my father listened to him, but my father doesn’t have the cognitive ability to understand Bob Dylan’s music, so he never listened to him. Hunter S. Thompson’s writings were a guide for me through life, which is one of the reasons why I never gave up on myself. Hunter S. Thompson taught me that all the bullshit doesn’t matter:
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’”
So, that’s what I did. After I found out about Bob Dylan, I started listening to bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, moe., Gov’t Mule, Animal Liberation Orchestra, Phish, and other 60′s-70′s music and the jam bands that were influenced by them. Their bass lines were phenomenal, and the music was the result of talent. This was also the time that I started studying other poets, and discovered the Beat generation. Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Charles Bukowski were the main influences in the poetry I was writing at the time. (Those poems are in the vault. Lol.)
Shortly after being exposed to all of this new information, I had met a boy who I was madly in teenage love with. We were both coming from broken homes, and we both loved punk rock. That was our thing. I was moving to Florida in the summer time, and an incident occurred which made me know that I was never going to see him again. I was afraid of the blowback from my parents, and so was he. I was already ready to leave at any moment, I just needed someone to go with and I finally had it. We left my house and I had nothing but my purse, made a pit stop at his house to grab a backpack and a few essentials, and we were off to California where we squatted, hitchhiked, lived on the streets.
I won’t get into all of the gory details of the streets of California here, that’s saved for my essay on Skid Row, so stay tuned for that. When we were walking, we sang songs that we knew. Sometimes singing was the only thing that relieved the survival stress that I felt… But hey man, I was free and on the run. It is interesting to note that I felt safer on the streets than I did my own home. I met people along the way that helped me without expecting anything in return, and I mean like saved my life helped me, out of the kindness of their hearts. There were more people that helped us than hurt us, and it gave me a sense of thankfulness. I wanted to know how I could give back to them, so I resorted to a sense of patriotism. The music that I listened to didn’t have a lot of patriotism mixed in, and I was sensing that my mindset was changing. I had more pride in myself for surviving that which not many people do. That’s when I turned to Oi! and the ANTI-racist skinhead scene because I felt like skinheads with their working class mentality would help me find more pride in myself. I already had a shaved head because I cut all of my hair off when I was living on the streets after I almost got kidnapped in Los Angeles:
VI. The Anti-Racist Skinheads and the Politics that Divide Them
Ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking, “Well, my whole life all I’ve known is that skinheads are racist neo-Nazis because all I’ve ever known about them, I heard from the mainstream news media and others who are ignorant to the sub-culture. So that means that since I heard it told to me this way my whole life, it must be true and there are no such things as anti-racist skinheads.” Well, guess what motherfuckers. You’re wrong.
There are many different types of skinheads, and the reason for this can be seen at the birthplace of the sub-culture: England. Yup, that’s right Americans, the English paved the way for the skinhead sub-culture and was bastardized over there before it even reached the United States in the late 70′s, early 80′s.
The Spirit of 1969 as they like to say, this was a time that civil rights movements were not just in America, but everywhere across the world. Here’s the very very short, crude version (don’t worry, I’ll post some links too): Jamaicans were immigrating to England, having been under English control, and were in search of jobs. Either they sent all of their money on fashion and scooters and became what’s called a “mod,” or they ended up landing working class, blue-collar jobs and did not have enough money to get their hair cleaned, so they shaved their heads. Their white English brothers caught on, and started shaving their heads too. Together, the Jamaicans and the English resisted their oppressive working conditions and found solidarity through the Jamaican ska and reggae and the English punk rock, eventually turned into “skinhead” punk rock, also known as Oi!. <— Always have to have the exclamation mark.
This sub-culture eventually garnered a gang-like mentality. They promoted alcoholism and violence, but also called for unity for black and white people, because they realized the good it did to help your fellow man and get to know him instead of judging him for the color of his skin. The group eventually found its colors: collared shirt, blue jeans, suspenders, Doc Martens, and the shaved head. Females more often than not did not shave their heads bald, but the “initiation” is to shave the entire back of the head, leaving a fringe in the front, and growing out the back fringe. The back fringe was to show how long you had been in the scene, and the importance varies depending on the location of the female skinhead. If they were not wearing jeans, then they were usually wearing a skirt with fishnets and Doc Martens. Quite simply, this attire said, “Don’t fuck with me.”
Skinheads were always causing trouble with the law; drinking and starting fights. The sub-culture got so big, that it was hard for law enforcement to contain. And, as a culture grows, so do the people who are rejected by it. The skinhead sub-culture was not immune to rejects. More often than not, the rejected skinheads were the ones who failed to live up to the ethos of loyalty, hard work, pride in oneself and country, and the important aspects of friendship regardless of the color of someone skin. Patriotism is what ultimately landed the skinhead scene under fire in the media. The rejected skinheads were easy for the National Front to confront and conform. The rejects wanted a place to belong to, and they already didn’t fit in to society. The National Front exploited this weakness, and started to recruit the rejected skinheads to their racist and nationalistic cause. They blamed the Indian immigrants for the problems that these rejected skinheads were having, that they couldn’t find jobs because the immigrants were taking all of them (sound familiar?). Of course, already instilled with a nationalistic patriotism from the scene that they were rejected from, these skinheads turned quickly to blame others and join the neo-Nazi National Front in the UK.
Not too long after the integration of these skinheads, the henchmen were running to Indian businesses, vandalizing them with swastikas, breaking windows, beating up immigrants, and just being all around disgusting. When the media reported these incidents, instead of referring to these guys as henchmen to the National Front, they referred to them as none other than “skinheads.” Seeing as though the National Front is a political organization, I wonder who the media teamed up with to tarnish this reputation. Hm! It was hard for skinheads to separate themselves from the BONEheads (derogatory word for racist skinheads), which resulted in the group Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP).
SHARP is not the only sub-set of skinhead. There’s RASH: Red Anarcho Skinheads, Trads: A-political skinheads (Spirit of ’69), and Oi!/Punk skinheads who had varied strong political opinions and heavily influenced by the punk rock scene (this was my variety). A Google search will verify this information.
I got big into this scene when I moved to Orlando, Florida where the punk scene was awesome. This is where I hooked up a band from Philadelphia with a show to play downtown before I could even drive and where my involvement in the punk scene got more intense as I wanted to spend even less time at home. I was going to shows any weekend I could, and drinking and smoking a lot of weed. Weed was something skinheads didn’t like because “drugs” aren’t their thing, and I was often called a hippy for smoking it, but I didn’t care. People referred to me (and still do) as The Cass. It became my staple in the scene, and the networking I did on the internet allowed me to create and internationally distribute my first magazine: The Stay Press. It covered political issues, band interviews, culture issues, and music reviews. It was an editorial created by the scene, and I just put it together. People were very excited. I wrote about a bill that was being introduced to Congress which would label almost anyone a terrorist: the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Act. Oh yeah, I was only 16.
This scene allowed me to grow up faster, provided me with lifelong friends, and provided protection to me from my living situation at home and from bullies of all shapes, sizes, and colors. There were great memories that I hold dearly to my heart, like when I beat up this dude for punching me in the nose at an Agnostic Front concert or when we lost the bassist to American Made (an Oi! band from Florida) and had to ask the cops if they got any calls about a drunk person wandering around. Skinheads take care of their own, but they are also as arbitrary as any gang, and can negatively affect the psyche of a young teenager (usually skinheads get shaven in around 14 or 15 years old. I just turned 15 when I was. If you hang out with the wrong people, say the wrong thing, or get in a fight with the wrong person, you are shunned, outcasted, and dropped like a fly. People who you thought were your friends call you racist scum (whether you’re racist or not), and never talk to you again.
This never happened to me, I was always upfront and honest about my activities in the scene, and I was adopted as a little sister to the older skins. I, like a lot of others in the scene (including the punks), grew tired of the left-wing politics dominating our BBQ’s and shows. It was hard, as an up-and-coming libertarian, having just found out and was very excited about Ron Paul, and being labeled as “right-wing” and “nationalistic” and “might be racist ’cause I love Ron Paul and there was this one story that said that he said racist things.” I slowly saw my friends turning to collectivist mindsets given the turn of the Great Recession: they lost their jobs and thought the government should be required to pay unemployment and that everyone should receive unemployment or something like that. Ok, so who cares? Well, they were my friends, and I didn’t care. I thought, “Well, he’s a commie, so who gives a fuck? He’s my friend.” But then the division started happening: If you weren’t RASH, you weren’t right, or rather, you were a Nazi. Now, coming from people who struggled with their identity as a skinhead and had to recite skinhead history probably like 4 or 5 times a week, being called a Nazi by your friends hurts and it is one of the biggest insults in the skinhead scene. To this day, the people who were involved in the Orlando punk scene from 2006 – 2009 cite those politics as the reason everyone went their separate ways and the scene went to the dumps, passed on to a younger, crustier, left-wingedier Orlando punk scene generation.
Well, I gotta say, I agree. I wrote off my friends conforming to the communist side of the scene simply because they were bringing me down. It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if they didn’t ask me why I never read or agree with Marx when we had a party and argue with me until they’re blue in the face. I didn’t want to talk about that shit when I was hanging out with my friends. Now, I don’t care anymore that they’re pinko commie fucks. I don’t talk to many of them anymore, but they were there for me when I needed them and vice versa, and that’s all that matters.
Just to reiterate here: once again, I am not and will never be racist. If you still don’t believe that, I suggest you do some research.
I left the scene because I was off to bigger and better(?) things: the United States Marine Corps. An institution which wears a button-down shirt, straight-legged trousers, a MCMAP belt, and combat boots which says, “Don’t fuck with me.” A gang-like culture with a set of strong ethos, just like the skinheads, but far more violent and supported by the government.
V. The Hip Hop and Punk Rock Connection
I was still pretty mad at the scene pretty much the entire time I was in the Marine Corps. I felt betrayed, and I stopped listening to Oi!, I steered away from punk rock, and I mostly listened to Bob Dylan. That was until I met one of my best friends who showed me his favorite artist: Tech N9ne.
Rap was not my forte. I listened to some Geto Boys, Scarface, Xzibit, and David Banner, but that was it. Literally. I thought that the music had long since been distorted and useless. I thought that there wasn’t any real talent in it because they weren’t actually playing the instruments they were using, and the lyrics they sang in their popular songs didn’t have any substance. Tech N9ne changed that.
His song, Slacker, made me hungry for more angst:
“You say get a job, I say hit a knob
’cause the way you run the world is every bit of fraud
So what you ask of me? You get no tax from me
I got whites, natives, Mexicans and blacks with me”
My buddy and I were in the car.
“Dude,” I said, “Who the fuck is this?”
“You don’t know Tech N9ne man!?” he proclaimed, “Hands down, favorite artist of all time.”
“Alllllllll time, duuuuuude.”
We listened to some more, and he showed me more songs like that. Now, I was on a quest. Rap was not dead, just like punk was not dead. Rap was not substanceless, just like punk was not substanceless. How could I have been so ignorant for so long?!!?! The musicianship did not lie within the ability to actually physically play the instruments. It came in the composition of the music itself. I was listening to simple funky bass lines like Tupac’s It Ain’t Easy. My favorite lyricists are Bushwick Bill and Ice Cube, my favorite beats come from Scarface, and my favorite rap artist of all time is Eazy-E.
After I found out that Eazy punked the White House by donating to charity under Eric Wright and being unintentionally invited to George H.W. Bush’s Republican “Inner Circle,” I just knew that there was more to him than what was being portrayed in the stories about him. The “Inner Circle” Republicans were furious when Eazy-E got off the plane with journalists all around him. He said he paid $1500 for millions of dollars worth of press. Eazy-E was a business genius, as if that wasn’t already proven by him making money off of Dr. Dre’s “diss CD” with Death Row Records.
I also found out that the corruption in the music business was far crazier than I could have ever imagined. There’s a common vein amongst the music industry that is deep-seated and evil, just like the “devil” that is described in many different raps songs by different artists which is just as frightening as realizing that the President is not the leader of our country for the first time.
Punk rock and hip hop are not all that different. Both groups of people are oppressed by authority and the police. (Although, punk rock was saying “Fuck Tha Police” for longer. ;)) So, it’s a shame that these two cultures are constantly at arms with eachother. Music is a spiritual experience, just as I have guided you through my spiritual music experience. It brings comfort to the downtrodden and pissed off, it brings people of two different social groups together, and it exposes oppression amongst the population.
When I found the connection from hip hop to punk rock, it was a lot easier for me to hone in on my musical abilities because I was a lot more open minded. But, my musicianship did not really fully develop until I read Victor Wooten’s book The Music Lesson.
In the Music Lesson, young confused Victor is visited by his spiritual mentor to explain that music is what you feel. The bass is the honorable instrument: holding the band together and providing the groove without all of the recognition. Fact of the matter is, you don’t start dancing until the bass and drums come in. That’s why the bass guitar needs to be felt, not examined. I didn’t NEED to play the bass like Victor Wooten because musicianship is spiritual, not tactical.
VI. The Conclusion
I’ve come from a very colorful past, but the one thing that kept me going was the music that reminded me that I was never alone. There was always going to be people to care about me no matter what culture label they associated themselves with. I guess I just found spiritual enlightenment through all of the different types of music I listened to over the years, and the different experiences each of them shared with me. Dude, if you ain’t got music, what have you been doing your whole life?!