When I was 16 I was fortunate enough to meet Matt Stamps, Rob Kellenberger and Dan Andriano, who were 17, 17 and 15 at the time, respectively. They were starting a band, a ska band, and needed a singer. I came out to give it a shot, we instantly hit it off and boom! We were a band. We called ourselves Slapstick and, thanks to Matt’s tireless networking, the ability of all three of those guys to write great songs, and their pedigrees due to the bands they’d been in before Slapstick (Flowers and Slugbug, anyone?) we were soon playing shows all over the Chicago suburbs. Pretty quickly, we added a horn section and before we knew what was going on, within a year, we were playing shows to upwards of 500 people pretty much every other weekend.
By the time I was 17, we were a pretty popular band around Chicago and we had something of a wee buzz nationally (keep in mind, this was 20 years ago, so there was no internet), and shit was pretty great. Slapstick was a band, along with a few others, notably, Less Than Jake and the Suicide Machines, who were kind of ushering ska punk into something approaching a punk mainstream. The thing about Slapstick though, the thing that everyone really always noticed and mentioned about us every time we played a show or were reviewed was that we were YOUNG. We were just kids. We did our first tour to Canada in a cloth top jeep and a GMC Jimmy in winter when I was 16, for fuckssakes (the ‘tour’ was 2 shows, 3 days long and very unsuccessful, unless you count learning about ‘bottle tokes’ as a success, but I digress)! We were young as shit. I remember playing a show with the Blue Meanies and Dyslexic Apaches at Metro. I was sitting backstage with the dude from the Apaches and when he found out that I was 17, he got super quiet, and he said “Man, I wish I had a cool band like yours when I was 17.”
I think about that a lot these days, as now, I’m 37 and uh…I ain’t OLD like your pappy or anything, but for a guy in a punk rock band, 37 is old. This is a game played mostly by people aged 23-33. You fall on one side or the other of that spectrum, your age suddenly becomes an interesting factor in who you are and what you’re doing, particularly the farther away you get.
That’s why people were so blown away when a band like the Starting Line made these songs that resonated with so many people. “That kid’s only fucking 17!” motherfuckers were saying, and that’s why when Nomeansno put out the spectacular All Roads Lead To Ausfahrt a few years back, people were like, “DAAAAMN! These old ass men have not lost a SINGLE FUCKING STEP!!! They’re still THE BEST!” (go listen to the song Mr. In Between if you doubt the fury of the mighty, unbreakable power of Nomeansno, and consider that it was composed and performed by dudes in their 60’s!)
The thing is, if you’re young, you’re not supposed to be able to have the perspective to be relatable and once you get old, you lose your fire and you forget what’s cool…at least that’s how the story goes, so to be able to be relevant in a medium as fickle as rock and roll, well, wow! You’re 16! Wow! You’re 50! That shit is amazing. Most people start late and quit early, and if we’re being totally honest, most people suck the entire time that they’re in they’re in their “prime” too. Rare are the Dan Andrianos of the world, who have seen success on both sides of things.
My point is, I’ve been lucky enough to have been kinda young and somewhat old in this world, and I’ve come to realize something pretty shocking. It’s WAY cooler to be old than young. I mean, not really. No. No. Being old is gross. You look gross, you smell gross and everything hurts. But to be relevant as an older dude as opposed to as a kid, waaaaaay cooler. Here’s why: When you’re a kid, you’re an outlier, you’re coming into a world that already exists as a new applicant for recognition and sure, you’re looking up to the gatekeepers and looking for their approval, but if you don’t get it, fuck em. You got plenty of time, you got plenty of piss and vinegar and plenty of dumb exuberance and idealism in your tank to convince you to get out there and go for it anyway. If people do notice the 17 year old you, you’re fucking IN, because nothing makes for an exciting story like young ass kids doing something that grownups can barely do. Ask Michael Jackson about it. Ask Leif Garret. Ask Britney Spears. Ask the dead guy from Old Skull. Ask that kid from the Starting Line. It’s no secret that youth is a premium advantage in the world of entertainment, and sure, it’s hard to figure out how to do something worth a shit when you’re still barely able to drive, but guess what? It’s ALWAYS hard to figure out how to do something worth a shit. Kids have the perfect combo of dumb gumption and no responsibilities that really help facilitate getting your bullshit where it needs to be. The fact is, most kids just don’t have confidence. That’s what comes in your 20’s and that’s what makes youngsters who are awesome particularly awesome. The rare, genuine, youthful confidence.
Old, however is a different matter. With old, there’s a lot of baggage. Firstly, there’s the most basic of all: you’re physically a big, gross old person. As a representative of an insurgent subculture, “dad” is not the greatest look. That can be a hard thing to overcome. Secondly, chances are good that, if you’re old, you have some sort of legacy that you have to at least acknowledge in your current output. For example, if you were in a 90’s fat wreck, baggy shorts, doodle-bap band, you can’t just start playing indie pop and expect no one to notice. “the dude from Burgermobile is trying to pretend like he’s in the Pixies now” is the kind of thing a lot of people will say before summarily dismissing your old ass and subsequent output. It’s not to say that reinvention is impossible, but it’s not easy, and the more you spent your 20’s doing something that was very popular back then, the harder you’ll have to work to shed the image that you spent your salad days crafting. Overcoming that? WAY cooler than just being slim and lucking into 3 chords and a narrative about a mean girl who broke your soul. Jessayin.
The other thing is that when you’re older, your shifting perspectives can tend to make the subjects of your art things that haven’t necessarily occurred to lots of the people who could potentially consume it yet. AND, chances are, by the time they get to be old enough to relate to the song you wrote, they ain’t gonna care anymore. Because at a certain point almost everyone stops giving a shit about new stuff and just clings to the shit that used to give em boners. That’s why your grandpa told your dad that music was better in his day, your dad told you the same thing and you think Skrillex sounds like dogshit. You’re all wrong, actually. It’s ALL dogshit. But being in the moment makes that dogshit temporarily beautiful. Ah…this isn’t the point. This isn’t even an issue for most people. The BIG issue for older artists, and this is the kiss of death for like 90% of motherfuckers who try to stay relevant, is they forget what made them cool back in the day. They try to stay exactly the same (impossible) or WORSE, change with the times—change up their perspective, and in doing so, they lose sight of who they actually are. Rather than bringing the angry young James Hetfield into the 21st century with the gravitas of the rich-ass man he’d become, James Hetfield decided to pierce his labret and slick down his hair and pretend to be a whole different kind of insurgent young badass, all while ignoring that he was 45 and had a household name and several million dollars. That, folks, is what makes motherfuckers old: pretending to be young, jumping on cue to stay relevant, pretending that they’re not one component of a two-part moving sea. In order to stay cool, you gotta keep an eye on your surroundings, and keep an eye on you. OR YOU’RE FUCKED. If you just do you, and you do it well, you will define what relevant is. If you’re trying to pretend nothing has changed, or worse, trying to grab onto something, anything at all, you’re a pathetic old loser and people will see that and be sad for you. That’s how it works.
Anyway, I’m aware that I’m not really that old (or terribly cool for that matter), but I’m older than everyone in all the bands we just took on tour on the east and west coasts, and those were no spring chickens themselves (Elway excluded, as they’re total chickens). It’s very nice to still be able to do this shit on a level beyond ‘dad bar band’ and I hope it stays that way for a while. It’s been about 8 months since I last wrote a song (Acheron River was the last one I wrote) and I’ve recently cranked up the machine again. It’s exciting and fun and I appreciate the opportunity to be able to still do this shit with some sort of interest behind it. I think a big part of why we’re still around is that we were never huge, so we never really fell from grace, and in that way we got really lucky. I remember feeling lucky when I was 17 too, but I also remember not really giving a fuck about anything or anyone. That shit’s all done changed now. I give a bunch of fucks about stuff. It’s cool. Y’all are cool, and this song I wrote about being naked and doing drugs out of a pool of blood on the floor of the garage is cool. It’s gonna really get your zones moving, I promise.