A music addiction is cheaper than alcohol and drugs. And not only that, it’s healthy, invigorating, fun, and liberating.
I was a disheveled and bedraggled disaster of a person back in the winter of 2012. I lived for alcohol. If beer was the entrée, crack-cocaine was my digestif. But after an intervention and rehab, I’ve been sober nine years now. I never could’ve done it without music.
Even though I had spent most of my career working in the music industry as a producer for MTV News, music wasn’t really a significant part of my life during the worst of my drinking days. But when I was a teen and again now, music has been of utmost importance. Now as an adult I realize music is better than sex.
It’s better than drugs. And it’s better than alcohol. It’s a natural high. If given a choice between music and drugs, I choose music. Starting with punk.
A Youth in Revolt
“Where do you go now when you’re only 15?”
Rancid, “Roots Radical,” off the 1994 album And Out Come the Wolves
I’ve always felt like a bit of an outcast. As someone who struggles with the dual diagnosis of addiction and bipolar disorder, in a way, I am. But I’m proud to be an outcast, and my punk rock upbringing only reaffirmed that being different is cool.
In the spring of 1995, March 9th to be exact — 26 years ago — I experienced my very first punk show. It was Rancid with the Lunachicks at the Metro in Chicago. I still have the ticket stub. I was 15. And in that crowd of about 1,000, I felt like I belonged. I had found my tribe. It was a moment that would transport me on a decades-long excursion, one that finds my punk rock heart still beating now and forever.
I often think in retrospect that maybe there were signs and signals of my bipolar status as I grew up. I was in fact different from the others. And I was experiencing bouts of depression inside the halls and walls of high school. Freshman and sophomore years in particular I did not fit in. I was the quiet kid who had barely any friends. I didn’t belong to a social clique like everyone else. I was a rebel in disguise. Until I found punk rock. Then I let it all hang out.
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School
I am a Catholic school refugee. Punk was my escape from the horrific bullying I experienced in high school. Back then, the kids from the suburbs threw keggers. We city kids — I had three or four punk rock friends — were pretty much sober, save for smoking the occasional bowl of weed if we had any. We were definitely overwhelmingly the minority at school as there were probably only five or so of us in a school of 1,400. For the most part, though, we found our own fun at music venues like the Fireside Bowl and the Metro. We went to shows every weekend at the now-defunct Fireside – the CBGB or punk mecca of Chicago that used to host $5 punk and ska shows almost every night.
The Fireside was dilapidated but charming. It was a rundown bowling alley in a rough neighborhood with a small stage in the corner. You couldn’t actually bowl there and the ceiling felt like it was going to cave in. It was a smoke-filled room with a beer-soaked carpet. Punks sported colorful mohawks, and silver-studded motorcycle jackets. Every show was $5.
My few friends and I practically lived at the Fireside. We also drove to punk shows all over the city and suburbs of Chicago – from VFW Halls to church basements to punk houses.
The Fireside has since been fixed up and has become a working bowling alley with no live music. A casualty of my youth. But it was a cathedral of music for me when it was still a working club. After every show, we would cruise Lake Shore Drive blasting The Clash or The Ramones. I felt so comfortable in my own skin during those halcyon days.
Punk Up the Volume
Punk isn’t just a style of music, it’s a dynamic idea. It’s about grassroots activism and power to the people. It’s about sticking up for the little guy, empowering the youth, lifting up the poor, and welcoming the ostracized.
Punk is inherently anti-establishment. Punk values celebrate that which is abnormal. It is also about pointing out hypocrisy in politics and standing up against politicians who wield too much power and influence, and are racist, homophobic, transphobic, and xenophobic.
Everyone is welcome under the umbrella of punk rock. And if you are a musician, they say all you need to play punk is three chords and a bad attitude. Fast and loud is punk at its core.
They say “once a punk, always a punk” and it’s true.
Punk was and still is sacred and liturgical to me. The music mollified my depression and made me feel a sense of belonging. I went wherever punk rock took me. My ethos — developed through the lens of the punk aesthetic — still pulses through my punk rock veins. It is entrenched in every fiber of my being.
A New Day
Now, whether it’s on Spotify on the subway or on vinyl at home, I listen to music intently two to three hours a day. Music is my TV. It’s not just on in the background; I give it my full, undivided attention.
I started collecting vinyl about eight years ago right around the time I got sober and I have since amassed more than 100 record albums. There’s a reason why people in audiophile circles refer to vinyl as “black crack.” It’s addictive.
I’m glad I’m addicted to something abstract, something that is not a substance. A music addiction is cheaper than alcohol and drugs. And not only that, it’s healthy, invigorating, fun, and liberating.
And while my music taste continues to evolve, I’m still a punk rocker through and through. My love affair with punk may have started 26 years ago, but it soldiers on today, even though I mostly listen to indie rock and jazz these days. I recently started bleaching my hair again, platinum blonde as I had when I was a punker back in high school. It’s fun and it also hides the greys.
Looking back on my musical self, I knew there was a reason why I can feel the music. Why tiny little flourishes of notes or guitar riffs or drumbeats can make my entire body tingle instantly. Why lyrics speak to me like the Bible and the sound of a needle dropping and popping on a record fills me with anticipation
Punk is a movement that lives inside me. It surrounds me. It grounds me. Fifteen or 41 years-old, I’m a punk rocker for life. I’d rather be a punk rocker than an active alcoholic. I’m a proud music addict. I get my fix every day.
Please enjoy and subscribe to this Spotify playlist I made of old-school punk anthems and new classics. It’s by no means comprehensive, but it’s pretty close.