5. NOFX, PUNK IN DRUBLIC
By the time I started feeling relatively comfortable at my Christian high school, it was time to start thinking about graduation, employment, and getting married to have sex for the first time. My freshman and sophomore years were pretty rough. I grew nearly a foot somewhere in that time period. I went from being this sort of "tall for Hawaii" guy (i.e. over 5'8") to being this "tall for Germany" guy (i.e. over 6'8"), and my already-unsurmountable levels of awkwardness were about to explode into a full-on social phobia.
Through it all, I had my skateboard. Balance became more of a hazy concept as my center of gravity shot upwards and my size 15 feet made the increasingly narrow skate decks seem like I was attempting to hang ten on a toothpick wearing snowshoes... Snowshoes and size 48 Dickies from Goodwill with an inseam that only reached my ankles because the waistline was sagged well below my butt cheeks. And oh yeah, the bonus round: a wallet chain that was long enough to use as a jump rope or an S&M leash, depending on the circumstance. Has there ever been a more embarrassing male fashion trend? Check back with me in another ten years, when I'm sure to say the same thing about hoodies and skinny jeans.
I persevered because everything about skate culture spoke directly to me.
Not so long ago, there was no skateboarding on ESPN. Tony Hawk had no video games created in his honor. MTV didn't have Jackass, Rob & Big, or that other "reality" show about that annoying teenager who loves his milfy manager mom a little too much, cries over girls, styles his hair, and wins every skate competition he enters. Regardless, the sport was exploding in the early 90s. The three other skaters at my high school and I went from acne-ridden outcasts to acne-ridden outcasts with a mission: to, uh, rub a lot of wax on curbs to make our boards slide over them faster. More importantly, the musical connection Metallica had forged with the sport a decade earlier was still alive and well in my brain.
Music and skateboarding: Has there ever been a more potent, seamless blend of youth culture and rebellion? Maybe music and drugs. But drugs are no match for the clean, empowering feeling of challenging gravity while building self confidence and character with each attempted trick. Throw a little music into the equation and you've got yourself a revolution; a breeding ground for displaced, misunderstood teenagers fueled by their own determination to excel at an intensely creative activity without rules, regulations or formal coaching.
With the aggressive assaults on asphalt and staircases came similarly aggressive assaults on ear drums. High profile hardcore acts such as Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Black Flag were all over the pages of the Thrasher Magazines I secretly devoured behind the backs of my parents. These bands were sometimes photographed next to skateboards, which naturally meant they were licensed to shred on both their axes and their vert ramps (simultaneously, I fantasized). But I never really got into the genre until it had morphed into a more melodic punk hybrid several years later. The only band that truly epitomized skateboarding to me at the time was NOFX.
I got on the bandwagon a little late in the game. NOFX had been kicking around the Californian punk scene for an entire decade before I bought Punk in Drublic (best album title ever?), their fourth full-length, at Tower Records (R.I.P.) in 1994. The album affected me immediately. It was the fastest, loudest, most beautifully harmonic thing I had ever heard. The songs were two-minute blasts of wisecracking political fury that pretty much stopped me in my tracks whenever it was inserted into the tape deck of my old Civic.
My favorite song was a little anti-hippie anthem about 3/4ths of the way through the album called "Jeff Wears Birkenstocks". I remember trying to wrap my brain around how someone could ever play a guitar that awesomely. The chorus never failed to bring a smile to my face, "Is he a jerk? No, just confused. Jeff don't wear regular shoes." Hilarious! Actually, I don't think I had a favorite on that record. Every song was first played to death in that car of mine, and then as usual, on my portable chattering tooth drumset in my mouth. "Don't Call Me White" was a blast of speed-punk perfection that was singlehandedly responsible for two crowns on my back molars alone. Those drums! My goodness. Could human limbs really move that fast? Not mine.
It's interesting to note that my love of NOFX and my love of skateboarding died a similar death, right around the same time. NOFX went on to be plagiarized by hoards of radio-friendly pop-ska-punk bands, and I lost interest in the originators as a result of this homogenization (see also: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Rick Astley). Skateboarding lasted a little longer with me. I still attempt to rock the occasional Old Man Sesh (7am, helmet, knee pads, Ben-Gay) at one of the millions of skate parks that have mysteriously cropped up around the Portland metro area within the past 5 years. But again, it's a little hard for me to get too stoked about an activity that was founded on subversion and individualism and is now about as rebellious as attending a Hannah Montana concert.
Last week I listened to Punk in Drublic for the first time in almost a decade. Although I didn't instantly feel like bleaching my hair or donning a "ravers suck" shirt again, I did sorta feel like rocking out. The songs were still crisp, snotty, and succinct, and the lyrics turned out to be surprisingly well-written. Thanks for this memory lane voyage, NOFX. Oi, Oi!