The Power of Being Outside the Mainstream

I never fit in. Not in a Hollywood depicted way, but in the way where I never liked what that my friends were into or what was playing on the top 40 radio station, in the way where I always felt like I stood out as just slightly off, in the way where I never wanted to join in. It wasn’t until I was 12 or 13 that I started to find things on my own that did interest me. I was drawn to anything that was different, weird, or in some way designated as “other”. I searched out any book, zine, piece of art, music, movie, or movement that was as far away from your mainstream culture as I could get my hands on (I will not go as far as to say that everything I found was “good”, some simply were embraced for shock value). I wanted art that was raw. Art that was honest. Art that I had a visceral reaction to. If you didn’t like me, that was fine. I didn’t want your pop music, your best sellers, you blockbusters. Oh, this movie/book/album is banned in America, how do I get a copy? Will my name be on some government list because I have acquired a copy? 

I idolized those who were able to make this art they knew would not be accepted. I listened to the Sex Pistols, Cocksparrer, the Buzzcocks, Bad Religion (there seemed to be double points if the band name could incite a reaction regardless of what they sounded like, which meant you also just neeeeded to have the t-shirt too). I read the Marquis de Sade, Irvine Welsh, Bukowski, and Oscar Wilde (what I wouldn’t have given to know about Kathy Acker or Daphne Gottlieb back then). John Waters was making movies and had an arsenal of past work to dive into (and man, Divine was just unbelievable), Harmony Korine’s Kids and Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting battled for the most efficient way to terrify your parents and teachers. I watched Suburbia, The Decline of Westerclivization, and Another State of Mind. I found Bettie Page and Rocky Horror Picture Show. 

I wanted to create a great dividing line between me and you. I wanted you to know I did not like you, I did not stand for the things you stood for, I had no interest in ever being like you. And you know what, let’s do one better, why don’t I give you some reasons not to like me? I colored my hair, got tattoos, dated guys your parents have nightmares about, my messenger bag was covered in pins and patches, my hoodie was a DIY screen printed Screeching Weasel logo. 

I found other outsiders. Other freaks. Other punks. Whatever you wanted to brand us as. I knew who was on my side by the books they carried, the clothes they wore, the patches on their bags, and the pins on their collars. We found our own culture, outside and opposed to the dictated norms. Iggy cut himself open and bled for us on stage. GG Allen threw shit. Johnny Rotten spit in our faces and we spit right back. Greg Graffins lyrics expanded my vocabulary. The Clash and Jello Biafra politicized us all. 

We did just fine building our own community. Building a community that you couldn’t access. We ran local venues, put on local shows, formed bands, wrote zines, and made our own skate videos. We wrote to labels to order albums from bands we had only heard about, we mailed zinesters cash in exchange for a subscription and hoped for the best. We passed videotapes copied from videotapes, bootleg cassettes, burned cds, and dog eared books from friend to friend.

Smelly kids in dirty vans drove from town to town finding other pockets of outsiders and played a show for one night, then someday soon those kids from those bands would come to our small town. We created our own history and passed it down generation to generation. To the next group of kids who knew that they simply didn’t fit in. The next group of kids who wanted to stand for something more or just something opposite than the mainstream. 

Eventually the shock value wore off, but the ideals, the questioning, the middle finger to authority’s face always remained. We held food drives as shows, joined Students for a Free Tibet, attended Food Not Bombs meetings, and protested the circus. We wanted to know the world, the whole world, not just the one presented by our parents, teachers, small town, america, and media. We knew there had to be more. We knew our voices could matter. We still didn’t want to be part of the mainstream system. 

All these years later, I still feel like I don’t fit into most groups. Even the punk ones. I still struggle to see what people are attracted to in most pop culture. I still would rather talk to you about Kim Addonizio than Beyonce. 

Am I better for always being an outsider? I think that I am. I may not be that headstrong snobby self-righteous kid anymore. But I do still question. I take things on their merit. I know what it is like to not be in the majority. I always consider the minority. Even if I don’t know what it is or understand the point of view. I know that it is there and it should be explored because even though there may not be as many people, it is equally as valid. 

Back in the day, when I wrote music reviews

I used to write music reviews. It was a dope gig. I was able to write whatever I wanted about whatever bands I wanted. I made connections in these wonderful music and writing communities. 

The drawback? Why did I stop? It didn’t pay. Seldom freedom like that does. 

Life moved forward, my day job became more demanding, I stopped writing my poetry, I started to look at writing the reviews as an obligation that I had to fit into my already hectic day. I had started to get jaded. I started to feel a distance from the music. I stopped listening to music as a fan, but as an evaluator. I picked it apart, I tried to analyze and articulate why I liked it instead of just enjoying it and telling everyone about it. When I went to shows I was stressed, I needed to get up front so that I would have at least one really good photo to run with the review, I would take notes the whole time, I would be watching the audience as much as the band. And instead of being entrenched in the passion and visceral reactions that make us all go to these shows in the first place, I was focusing on just how I was going to tell you what you missed or what you might see if that band hadn’t been to your city yet. 

I made the decision, I needed to say goodbye. That farewell was one of the hardest things I had to write, writing about music (for a living) was always a dream. So I said goodbye to that as a real option. I said goodbye to the readers, the bands, the label owners, the PR agents that I had developed friendships with. But it was what I needed to do. I needed to fall in love with music again.

Over the years, I get inspired to go back, look through those reviews, look at my portfolio, and I miss it all. I miss the new music, the shows, the connection with people over three cords. So, I suppose that I have succeeded in falling in love with music again.

Now, in the pandemic, I have gotten emails from a few of the bands who I had reviewed in the past, I found excerpts of my reviews on Spotify profiles, found my name mentioned in interviews and I must admit, it stings a bit. There is that awesome twinge of nostalgia and that prideful feeling that people that I respected actually cared and respected what I was doing, that I was doing my small part for the punk community that I love so deeply. But there is also the sting that I couldn’t make it work, that I gave it up, that comes in sharp.