“The End Is Nigh!”

Have you guys heard that the world is ending? It’s true. The oceans are rising and the storms are massing in the wings. Meanwhile, the poles are melting, the food is poisonous, our lifestyle is unsustainable, there are too many people, every single chinaman wants a car, there’s a drought in California, Pepsico owns every lake in America, babies are fat, the boomers are getting old, Crimea is the tinderstick that’s gonna flashpoint us all back into a nuclear borne future-past and on top of that, only one in 25 college grads can find Afghanistan on a map. We are fucked.

You’ve heard this. Lots of it is probably true, though to be fair, unless you’re a weather scientist, a globetrotting politico/anthropologist and/or a statistician, you’re taking some of this shit on faith, because you haven’t empirically seen the evidence of this. What I mean is, YOU didn’t do the research that indicates that the oceans are rising and threatening to displace millions of people. You just like the cut of the jib of the guys who DID do the research. Right? Sure. Let’s not bullshit each other. You really don’t know. It sounds true. You may have some anecdotal ‘evidence’ that seems to corroborate the findings of the science guys, but really, truly, you don’t know. You don’t. Nope. Don’t believe you. Your belief in whatever the imminent apocalypse is is based on faith on par with Kirk Cameron’s belief in his own (vastly different but no less awesome) imminent apocalypse. Sorry. Saying “well, ‘my’ theory is based in science and math’ is only a good argument if you personally do the science and math. If you’re just trusting your math priest, you may as well be wrapped in the robes of the newly baptized, or whatever it is religious flocks wrap themselves in…I don’t know.

Now, I’m not a climate change denier. Far from it. I tend to stand on the side of science and progress as much as any other shrill liberal dipshit, but I’m not arrogant enough to pretend that it’s my discovery, or that I really, truly have any knowledge of why it predicts what it predicts or what those predictions would bring were they to come to be real. The thing is, the future is unknowable. That’s by definition. Science, intelligence (meaning spying OR athletic critical thinking), and sure, faith, can give you ideas, ways to hedge your bets, clues to consider, but when it comes to the future, we don’t know and none of these speculating scientists or priests know either.

Consider this: since the development of language, people have been predicting the end of the world.  The “The End Is Near” guy with his beard and his doomsaying is a trope that fits into any time period. The most brilliant minds of every generation since the beginning of time have been certain that the world was going to end, that civilization was going to collapse in their lifetimes. And you know what all these brilliant minds had in common? They were all, to the last, wrong.

This is the arrogance of the living: We need to believe that we are so important, so cosmically volatile or spiritually bankrupt or uncontainably dangerous that WE are bringing about the end of the world. Your parents thought this, (google Y2K), MY parents thought this (google ‘cold war’), their parents thought this (google WWII), and all the way back to a couple of dudes sitting around in Rome wearing garlands discussing, in Latin, the way the world was about to end.

“AH! But what ABOUT Rome?!” you say.  Uh, what about Rome? It’s still a huge cosmopolitan city. It’s not scorched earth. Sure, power changes hands and borders get redrawn. That’s not the end of days. That’s just shit in the overhead compartment shifting during flight. The Romans were wrong. The cold war kids were wrong. And right now, everyone who’s crowing about the world ending is also wrong. They just are. How do I know? Science. Probability. If 100% of the people who have predicted the end of the world since the beginning of time have been wrong, it’s a pretty fucking dumb bet to suddenly think that THIS group of world geniuses suddenly have it nailed. Sorry. That’s not odds I’m taking. I don’t wager based on the sheer force of generational arrogance. We’re not that important. The world, shitty and unfair and poisonous and dangerous as it is, will go on as planned. Sorry to disappoint.

Besides, if you really feel like you absolutely need to cower in fear before a great, unstoppable doom, consider this: for all practical purposes, this world and everything that comes with it ends when you die, and you’re definitely gonna die, so you’ve got that going for you at least.



Age Before Beauty

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.