Monday, August 09, 2010

Gang Of 40 (MRR #327)

You can stubbornly avoid resetting the clock on your VCR after a power-cut, but the battery-powered clock on the kitchen wall ticks on resolutely. The idea of freezing time at a certain point in our lives has such allure; during those golden years of teenage freedom, or perhaps at that elated moment when our team scored the winning goal at the final whistle to bring home the European cup. In case you can’t guess, I’ve been indulging in bouts of nostalgia lately. Partially brought on by an impending birthday, partly from looking at old photos posted on the Internet, and partly from spending time reminiscing with my oldest friend. If I could once again recapture the feeling of that first band practice in a garden shed, or that first road-trip with friends to a BMX contest in England. How about that first time I saw Snuff and Leatherface, or my first trip to San Francisco and the pilgrimage I made to Maximum Rocknroll magazine, meeting the legendary Tim Yohannan for the first time?

I spent my youth without much thought for the future. When prospective employers or representatives of State oppression unearthed that hoary old chestnut about where I saw myself in five years, I could only lie and make up something that I thought they’d want to hear, something that would result in some kind of income-producing labor or at the very least a guarantee of continued dole money. I made choices by not choosing, by following whatever path seemed most interesting at the time. Not that I never took any risks or anything but I’ve managed to be pretty lucky so far. When I moved to San Francisco in 1995 I never imagined I’d still be here 15 years later, but I didn’t have an alternative in mind either. And so here I am. Could be a lot worse. I’m living many peoples’ dreams, I suppose. I could be drinking away my redundancy money from a long-gone factory job, or wearing the tinfoil cloak of smack addiction, or lying dead in a gutter, killed by hyper-aggressive Burberry neds. Perhaps that’s overly dramatic; it’s not like the only options open to me were A) move to America or B) fail at life. But the option to move to the US seemed the best thing at the time and it’s worked out okay so far.

Of course when I look back through the green-tinted bottom of the Buckfast bottle of nostalgia I don’t want to freeze time completely: there are a few changes I’d like to make… I may never have to jump in a customized DeLorean and go back to the late 60s to make sure that my parents actually get together, but I would certainly love to go back and make a few tactical haircut recommendations to my tonsorially experimental teenage self.

The aforementioned old friend, Sandy (who has enjoyed guest appearances in this column many times before) lives in Austin, Texas. So as well as our shared upbringing dodging gangsters and casuals in a small former mining village in the West of Scotland, we have the common experience of navigating life as Scots in America. We talked about this a lot during my recent trip to Austin. It’s funny, I don’t think either of us ever articulated a desire to live in the States when we were younger: it was unspoken but there was an unmistakable draw, fuelled by BMX and skate magazines, as well as American punk records and zines. I think I mentioned in an earlier column about how we imagined life in the US to be one endless sunset pool session, like an infinite JFA ad from Thrasher. I wish I was still that na├»ve and hopeful, but many years have gone by since those days and at times it definitely seems like the negative aspects of life can get the upper hand on the positive. I mentioned an upcoming birthday earlier in this column, and indeed, by the time this sees print I’ll have turned the ripe old age of 40. I once told myself I’d stop doing this column when I hit that age. I felt like there were enough old men dictating the ins and outs of punk rock on the pages of Maximum Rocknroll. However, I only just got back into doing the column after a self-imposed hiatus brought on by issues in my personal life. I don’t feel quite ready to throw in the towel just yet. Plus, given the demographic makeup of our esteemed and benevolent leadership cadre, it’s been a long time since the direction of the magazine rested solely in the hands of grey-haired white men. But I promise not to turn my column into yet another monthly orgy of nostalgic self-absorption. In these last throes of my thirties I have continued to experience new ‘firsts’ to add to those listed in the first paragraph: First, after years of BMX riding, I finally mountain-biked for the first time in my life on some technical single track one balmy sunset evening in an area of Austin green belt. I’d ignored mountain biking for years (even though I live only a few miles from Marin, where the sport arguably started) but it was a lot of fun, if hard work: my own fault for going out for the first time with a couple of hard-charging seasoned vets; Secondly, despite being a fan of their records, I never had the chance to see early 90s NY hardcore legends Rorschach live. I finally rectified this in Austin and they were even louder and heavier than their recorded output. Getting to see them was better than I could have imagined.

Okay, so seeing the reunited Rorschach had a certain nostalgia factor to it, but I saw many current bands that I’m excited about in Austin too, many of them for the first time. Some highlights for me included Give and Lion of Judah from DC, Brilliant Colors, Grass Widow, Wild Thing, the Young Offenders of course, Arctic Flowers, and The Marked Men. Notice how many of those bands are from the Bay Area too: there’s a particularly vibrant scene here right now with an amazing variety of bands. Hopefully MRR will have our ‘locals only’ Bay Area comp LP out fairly soon with a sampling of what’s been going on around here.

I suppose the purpose of this column is to say, OK, I’m going to be 40 soon, and despite maturing and growing up in a lot of ways, I’m determined to keep racking up ‘firsts’. Perhaps these days I do live my life with a thought to the future, and I’m always happy to reminisce about the happy times of the past, but I do have both feet firmly planted in the here and now. So let’s have it.

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