My ex and I met in 8thgrade when my family moved from Chicago to the suburban hell scape that was Elmwood Park Illinois in the late 80s. I’m being dramatic about it being a hell scape but I did feel truly betrayed by my parents for moving us into the suburbs. How was I supposed to become cool now? How was I supposed to have real harrowing city adventures on the lame streets of Elmwood Fucking Park? Where were the gangs? The drugs? The thugs and punks? Not in my junior high. Not yet anyway. So that’s where we met and it’s not like it was love at first sight or anything close to that. He was a full foot shorter than me, skinny, with braces and very uncool. But he was sweet and funny and he made me mix tapes because he liked me. Fuck flowers! Make me a mixtape and I am mush.
We also went to the same high school where he discovered skateboarding and I discovered skateboarders. I devoured Thrasher magazines and Bones Brigade videos like it was porn and I was a horny pubescent boy. But it wasn’t until after high school when he shaved his head and picked up a guitar that I fully put him out of the friend zone forever. I won’t get into the details of our young whirlwind romance but I will say that it was intense and amazing and heartbreaking. It was absolutely everything that a first love should be.
He would invite me over to his parent’s basement to watch the band practice. They were new to it. They sounded rough and raw but fuck it was cool. I had never known anybody in real life that was in a real band. They wrote their own music and were even starting to play in front of people which blew my mind. So little by little they played out more, put out records and eventually even got signed by a California label and I was there for the entire ride. Like every other aging punker out there I have a steamer trunk full of dusty memories from the scene too boring to get into. I’ll just say that it too was intense and amazing and heartbreaking. It was absolutely everything a punk scene should be.
By this time I was in my 20s and totally in love. I was in love with my boyfriend, with our friends and especially with the music. Punk rock colored every bit of my life. It was the lens through which I saw the world and it’s not lost on me that I got special access to a lot of it because I was someone’s girlfriend. Not that the perks back then were anything compared to what they are now. I got into shows for free and I’ve even had my name shouted out from the stage a few times but that was pretty much it. (I do have a great backstage story about Rancid that I will tell anybody that asks)
Now that I’m older I know that my story isn’t unique. I know now that there were hundreds of girls just like me out there at the shows. Usually stuck behind the merch table in the back. We dutifully sat through countless shitty opening bands to hear the same ten songs played for the hundredth time but still we were having the time of our lives. It was far from glamorous even though my memories of it all are pretty rose colored. But if I’m being honest I also have a lot of regrets about those days.
1. I should have taken more pictures. I hate that people can’t enjoy an experience anymore without having their phone out but honestly I kind of get it. I wish I had been braver and had brought a camera with me everywhere back then.
2. I should have been inspired by my musician friends instead of being intimidated by them. I should have learned to play music instead of worshipping it from afar. My whole life I thought I wanted to fuck the guys playing the songs on stage (some I still do) when all I really wanted to do was BE them.
3. I should have tried harder to bond with other girls in the scene. I ended up with a great group of girlfriends in the end but honestly it could have been bigger. We should have made more of an effort to join forces, form our own bands and labels. I remember we even tried to start a chapter of Riot Grrrl in Chicago but our efforts fizzled and it never took off. We let the insecurities of youth get in the way of making real connections.
These days my ex and I are strangers. He’s somewhere out there being a good Christian husband and father. I’m out here being single and discovering amazing new music and people every day. My relationship with him ended years ago but the other love affair that started way back then, the one I have with punk rock, is still going strong.