Speaking of things I was into when I was sixteen…
The first time I saw Strike Anywhere was also the first punk show of my life. I remember it pretty distinctly; I had ordered a Rage Against the Machine t-shirt online, and had bought black pants (replacing my usual khakis and polo shirt) in the hopes that I wouldn’t stand out too much. The show was in Phoenix and on a school night, so getting to go required a fair bit of negotiation with my parents; eventually, I was allowed to go, but only if my Dad drove down with me. I don’t think I quite realized it, but going to that show was a major turning point in my life, when I started to break out of my rule-abiding, center-left, wannabe-future-world-leader straightjacket.
The second time I saw them was at Asbury Lanes in New Jersey, a decrepit bowling alley in a decaying waterfront town that is nonetheless famous in the history of American music. They set up the amps straight on the lanes, and I wound up leaping from the bowling-ball holder onto the stage, singing the chorus of my favorite song into the mic. Rather than marking the point where I took on a new identity, this show made me realize I didn’t need to stifle one I already had: I had been at Princeton for a few months, and that night—off campus with a few representatives of Princeton’s tiny punk community—was the first time I truly felt I could be myself.
Compared to these previous occasions, I can hardly attach any life-altering significance to Monday night, when I hopped the London-Oxford Tube to see Strike Anywhere and Propagandhi play in Camden Town. I’ve grown steadily more apprehensive about going to shows, as bands I listened to when I was in high school get “bigger” and attract a steadily younger fan-base (or is it just me getting older?). To some extent, seeing parents dropping their kids off at a concert only reminds me that at some point—I’m not quite sure when—I was supposed to outgrow all of this. That said, I had an outrageously good time.
In keeping with my self-declared agedness, I had planned on standing in the back and sipping on a beer, but I couldn’t resist: I threw myself into the crowd and screamed along. Smashed from all sides by what felt like a like-minded mass—people whom I understood without knowing—I didn’t even mind the fact that I went to the show alone, that I had met anyone here with whom I could share the experience.
Fittingly, on Tuesday, Pall—another M.Phil from my program—and I had a jam session in a rented room out Cowley Road. Aside from the joy of interacting with someone from my program, it felt great to pick up a bass for the first time in a year. Shockingly, my bass playing skills have not improved in my year off—I remain terrible—but I still remember a few Rage and NOFX songs, and that was good enough to make some noise and have fun and forget about the complexities of the world for two hours. The idea of being in a rock band is tantalizingly immature and fun.
While I’m probably past the time in my life where going to show was the highlight of the month or I’d wake up and think “How am I going to look punk today?” this week reminded me, in the words of Tsunami Bomb, “Just how momentous music is.”