I was introduced to punk rock in 1987 while attending Cistercian Prep School in Dallas, Texas. Actually it was a year or two earlier that I’d gotten my first taste of it thanks to a Skate Rock compilation produced by Thrasher Magazine. I just didn’t realize it was an actual genre of music so much as something scary to freak out the grown ups. I mean, when a magazine with a monthly column called “skarfing material” (that was really just a collection of snack recipes calling peanut butter and jelly sandwiches “bloody guts and vomit bread” ) released a collection of bands with names like Suicidal Tendencies and Red Hot Chili Peppers, it had to be a joke right?
I was a student at St. John’s Episcopal School and the kids I desperately wanted to hang out with were all skaters. They had skateboards with florescent grip tape cut into cool shapes and patterns that showed off their individually. I’d just moved to Texas and these kids were my rebel dream come true. After much pestering, my mom finally allowed me get a skateboard of my own under the strict promise that I would never try to do any tricks. We went to the toy store in the mall, the only place I’d ever seen skateboards actually for sale, and I picked out a skateboard by a company called Nash. It wasn’t a brand I knew of, but I was no expert and it had saw blades on the bottom so it was pretty tough looking. I was a little bummed that it already had black grip tape solid and flat across the top but figured it was a good start. And the wheels were clear and red which was pretty awesome. I was beaming and stood on it at home all night. In my room. On the carpet.
By the following morning I was a die hard skater as far as I was concerned. I talked my mom into letting me take my board to school. I told her I might need it, or could spend my lunch break practicing my balance. In reality I couldn’t wait to show the other kids and be warmly accepted into their inner circle of skater cool. It didn’t end up playing out exactly as I’d imagined.
When I got to homeroom I immediately approached Trey. I seemed to get along with him best. I showed him my board and indicated that I’d know how to ride it any day now and couldn’t wait to join him and the other fellas skating after school. To this day I don’t know if he was trying to be brutal or just brutally honest but Trey explained to me that I would likely not be skating with them because I was clearly a poseur and they wouldn’t want to be seen with someone like that in public. He showed me exactly what was wrong with my skateboard and why there was nothing cool about it. It was the wrong shape, the trucks were too small and generic, the wheels had built in barrings and everything about it screamed prebuilt and lame. Even the brand, Nash was a tell tail give away. Trey pulled out a Thrasher and showed me real brands and real skateboards. Brands like Vision and Alva were respectable, Nash was not. As Trey told me, the only reason Thrasher even had ads for Nash was because they needed their money, not because anyone thought they were cool. He also explained that the super tough saw blades on my board were actually some hippy spinning sun things. Shit.
You might think this would have been crushing information to be handed, but I remember my disappointment being short lived and being quickly overwritten by the great education I was getting. I soaked all of it up and was probably more than a little annoying with all my questions. Trey let me listen to his Skate Rock tape and for the first time I knew there was some other kind of music than the depressing ballads played around my house all the time. That alone was exciting and worth the humiliation. I sat around on the side lines listening and learning for the rest of my time there, and thanks to local radio stations had become quite the fan of the likes Def Leppard, Beastie Boys and “Weird Al” Yankovich.
By the time I got to Cistercian Prep I must not have come across as so much of a dough eyed wanna be and was instantly welcomed into the pack of outcasts. Social classes were a big deal there and since I clearly wasn’t a rich kid, I didn’t hang out with my family at the country club, and I wasn’t on any kind of academic scholarship then the punks were really the only kids I had anything in common with. They took it upon themselves to bring me up to speed giving me copies of tapes by the Circle Jerks, Minor Threat, Black Flag and The Sex Pistols. I listened to all of them until they broke, then replaced them and wore through them again. This was around the same time I was introduced to Monty Python. During my time there I failed Latin (again) and my family started hanging out with a crazy cult that believed Jesus was just one of many gods and by reciting a few Japanese phrases while wearing a special medallion you could project heavenly light out of your hands and heal people. It was an interesting year to say the least, but I can safely say that year shaped me more than any other.
Those first handful of cassettes provided more of an education and direction for my life than any teacher ever had. If nothing else I realized it was OK not to be like everyone else, and more than that it was stupid to try. I could make my own way and my own path, fuck everyone else and the preplanned, prepackaged lives they were trying so hard to fit into. It’s kind of funny actually, the most valuable thing I learned at a preparatory school run by monks was that non-conformity was OK. The school year ended with me being “asked not to return” the following year, which was a nice way of getting kicked out without that shame being added to my permanent record. That summer we packed up and left Texas for good returning to the wonderland of Bradenton, Florida just in time for me to start 8th grade but that is another story all together.
* This post is part of a series of serialized posts that would have been chapters in a book I never finished writing. I’m calling it ‘Bits and Pieces’ at the moment. Click here for info about this as well as links to the other stories/chapters.