Friday, March 03, 2006

I've Got the Straight Edge

Well, not any more, obviously.

My recent passing dismissal, a look through what's left of my record collection, frequent painful hangovers and too much time on my hands on the overnight shift led to some pointless-yet-fun nostalgia for my straight edge years, distant though they are. It's been, let's see, a good 12 or 13 years since I "broke the edge" and started drinking, I'm only (even vaguely) in touch with two people from that era, and I've gone a good long time now without listening to anything on Revelation or Conversion Records. But much as I (weakly) try to disavow that time, the years of shaved heads, backward baseball caps, chugga-chugga music and debates over whether Sunkist Lemonade was vegan were important ones, if a bit painful to relive.

By the time I moved to Arizona during high school, I'd been pretty seriously put off by the drinking and drug culture in Boulder -- the hippie/yuppie combination would put anyone off -- and when I first heard Minor Threat my first year in Tucson (thank you, Daron Hollowell), I was shocked that there was a band that espoused a non-boozing lifestyle and actually managed to look cool. Soon after, went to my first show -- something like twelve bands down in Bisbee, headlined by Malignus Youth, featuring the pre-Groundwork Upside on the bill. Probably 98% of what I heard that night would make me vomit blood now, but I was 16 or 17, lonely, and absolutely loved it. I got home at 6 a.m. (where my parents were still awake waiting for me -- quite patient and understanding, in retrospect) and was hooked.

To make a long story short, once I got past Minor Threat to the whole youth crew scene -- bands like Insted, Youth of Today, and No For An Answer were pretty shocking and new to me -- I'd more or less committed myself to spending all my disposable income (and some indisposable) on this new love. With (lots of) hindsight, there's a strange acquisitiveness about straight edge -- all about the biggest record collection and the most shirts. Being a relatively well-off suburban kid, I bought in more than most. Everyone had the Gorilla Biscuits LP -- but not everyone had the Forbearance 7" on Smorgasbord or the Awake "Beliefs" 7" on Skene. And when some guy at college gave me his old Judge t-shirt with the crossed hammers pocket logo, I was the shit for a while among the Tucson Arizona Straight Edge crew -- never mind that it was about two sizes too small for me.

The strangest thing, though, in retrospect -- speaking as someone who drinks fairly heavily now -- was the absolute hatred and bitterness aimed at anyone who had lost the edge. We were convinced, as I suppose all opinionated 17 and 18-year-olds are, that we had everything figured out, and being loud and obnoxious about it covered any insecurity. I thought I'd go the rest of my life without drinking. As is probably easy to guess, it lasted 'til I turned 21.

Past my freshman year of college, things started deteriorating rapidly; people relocated around town, stopped spending seven hours a night hanging out at Denny's when there wasn't a show, and the natural frictions began among a group that really had only an outsider status and an abstinence from controlled substances to hold them together. Some of us became college snots, others reverted to natural skinhead tendencies; developing political beliefs made some of us a strange leftist-puritan hybrid, others far-right. By the time I was 20, we were really only running into each other at occasional shows, and there was less and less in common.

Then, of course, the inevitable -- my 21st birthday, and a co-worker gave me a case of (God) Mickey's Big Mouth, and to be friendly, I took the fateful sip. And didn't lose my mind, didn't rape or murder, and most importantly, didn't feel an iota of guilt. Soon after, I saw a girl I fancied at a party with another guy, marked that occasion by getting plastered on (God) Labatt's, and that was that. Figured at the time it was just me that had this moral shakeup, but really, several other friends were realizing that there were worse things in the world than drinking. From then on, the only time I ever really thought about straight edge was when I'd get drunk and put on the Side by Side or Chain of Strength 7"s, which would produce a weepy, sloppy nostalgia -- and when I met some hot straight edge girl from Connecticut and pretended I was still really into it long enough to fail to seduce her.

Now? Well, I wish I'd kept the records around long enough to get into the eBay era -- the Straight Ahead 12" would be a good debt reducer. And, obviously, looking through the old photos is funner than shit. There's an optimism and innocence that I envy now, a certainty that things were great and were always going to be that way, that would occasionally be nice. In them, I've got the joyous smile of someone who's never awakened after six hours of white wine-drinking, someone who thinks the "I'm always gonna be straight... like... an... arroooooooow!" line from Up Front's "Deliverance" is COOL, and sings along lustily. But what can you do? It's Friday night now -- off to get drunk!


Brushback said...

I remember always carrying a Sharpie with me, in case I had to re-draw the big, thick 'X' that was on the back of each of my hands.

gsdgsd13 said...

For some reason (since I liked the power of the symbol) I was never much for the Xing. I occasionally did it -- the photo I originally wanted for this post was the classic SE show picture, bunch of people clustered around the microphone, me with X'd fist in the air.

Confession: after writing this post, I spent much of Saturday listening to "Can't Close My Eyes" over and over and over and over.

Brushback said...

I used to hang out with Youth Of Today, way back when-- believe it or not, I'm on the thank-you list on the "Can't Close My Eyes" lyric sheet.

On the original pressing of the 7", Porcelly and Ray hand-wrote a bunch of nonsense stuff on some of the lyric sheets, as they were putting the records together. I don't remember any specifics, now, but most of it was along the lines of, "76% Uncertain = 100% soft", taking jabs at some of the other bands and people in the scene. A lot of it was pretty funny.

Positive Force didn't heat-shrink the shrink wrap tightly around the records before they went out, and so you could peek through the sides of the picture sleeve and kinda see which were the ones that had the writing on them before you bought it. At one point I had about 4 copies of the original pressing with hand-written notes on them, but they're long gone now.

gsdgsd13 said...

Being thanked on CCME pretty much outdoes anything I'll ever accomplish in this life. Cool. I still remember seeing that grainy photo of Ray on the front for the first time -- seemed to sum up all the danger and difference of that new music I'd discovered.