Coming Back Home to Punk
Way back in July, Kristen asked the Mable Syndrome Facebook group where we first learned about the Mable Syndrome podcast and what our first impressions were. I spent some time thinking about it, then spent time thinking about the impact Mable Syndrome has had in my life, then I thought about blog post I’d like to write about it, and then, well, I got caught up in 2020 and completely forgot about it. A few weeks ago, Kristen encouraged me to contribute something and it reminded me of the post I thought about back in July. So here I am writing a personal story that will be read by friends, complete strangers, and far more people than I like to think about. I’m a private person and “sharing” tends to be something that makes me shudder. Yet, Mable Syndrome and the bad ass women involved, despite having never met most of them, have become a community where I feel comfortable sharing a version of myself most people don’t know - a strong, punk rock woman.
I actually don’t recall how I found out about Mable Syndrome. You see, I don’t have strong connections in the Minnesota punk rock scene so it definitely wasn’t word of mouth. It’s likely that I saw a band or musician post about the podcast on social media. What I do know is that I started listening to the Mable Syndrome podcast in the midst of a personal crisis. This sounds hyperbolic but Mable Syndrome helped me find my way out of an identity crisis and brought me back home to punk.
Since I started listening to music, I’ve listened to punk (also not hyperbole). I didn’t grow up around music. My parents owned very few cassette tapes and CDs. I think my Mom had a Yanni and Damn Yankees CD. The radios in the house and family car were generally tuned to AM talk radio in order to catch the agriculture reports. That’s not to say I grew up in a musicless environment. Doo-wop, R&B, and soul were a large part of my childhood because the radio in my Dad’s farm truck was sometimes tuned to the oldies during a time when those genres dominated the oldies station. To this day, if I hear Sam Cooke, the Supremes, or Otis Redding, I can still smell diesel and grains.
The person who introduced me to punk rock is my brother. Throughout his junior high years, he listened to heavy metal, learned to play guitar, and sported a leather jacket and long hair. But in high school, he traded metal for punk rock. His band, Bound to Change, is the first punk band I remember hearing and I was hooked. Growing up in a small farming town a few hours from Chicago, punk shows were far and few in between. My first few shows were to see my brother’s band at local, all-age venues. It was at these shows where I met other like-minded kids and started to get introduced to other local punk bands: Alligator Gun, Apocalypse Hoboken, Oblivion, the Blue Meanies, Slapstick, the Bollweevils, Jerkwater, and so many more. My brother bought me my first CDs: Strung Out’s “Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues” (who would quickly become my favorite band for life), Rancid’s “Let’s Go,” NUFAN’s “Leche Con Carne,” and The Muffs’ “Blonder and Blonder.” From that point on, I inhaled all the punk rock that I could get my ears and hands on. My teen and young adult years were spent haunting the CD stacks at Record Breakers and seeing shows at the Metro, the Fireside Bowl, the Pit, and random garages and basements sprinkled throughout the Chicago suburbs.
In the early 2000s, I moved to the Twin Cities to finish my education. It was this move that distanced me from the punk scene. Punk rock was still a part of my life but I found it difficult to connect with anyone in the Twin Cities punk scene. I’m not going to mince words. The scene didn’t feel inclusive or welcoming. I’d later come to find out that this has nothing to do with the scene but instead is something called “Minnesota Nice.” According to Wikipedia, “Minnesota nice is a cultural stereotype applied to the behavior of people from Minnesota implying residents are unusually courteous, reserved, mild-mannered and passive-aggressive.” Behind closed doors, transplants to Minnesota joke, “Minnesota Nice. It’s like ice.” Don’t get me wrong, I love Minnesota but it is not easy for transplants. People are polite to your face but if you suggest grabbing a cup of coffee they will ghost you forever. Fortunately, I eventually found a strong community of other transplants to Minnesota. Unfortunately, none shared my passion for punk rock.
After a few years in the Twin Cities, I had pretty much quit going to shows because my friends weren’t interested. They preferred folk and bluegrass which is popular in the Twin Cities. Any dive bar with a stage in Minnesota at any given time, has a fiddle and acoustic guitar duo belting out “Wagon Wheel” (side note: I hate bluegrass and folk). My boyfriend (now husband) played banjo in a bluegrass band and, as a result, I spent a lot of time in that scene gritting my teeth (no offense or judgement to anyone who enjoys this genre, it’s just not my thing). I grieved the lack of punk rock in my life. Anxiety, and what I’d later learn as codependency, prevented me from going to see shows by myself. It had been years since I’d bought a new punk album. I couldn’t even name newer bands. Depression’s ugly voice told me “Why bother? You’re not going to ever go see them live.”
It felt false. I didn’t feel like myself but here’s the thing, anxiety is loud and imposter syndrome is very real. I forced myself to enjoy the things that those around me enjoyed. I wasn’t true to myself or to the people in my life for that matter. This was all exacerbated by my first “big girl job” which had catapulted me into an Executive Director position that I felt wholly unqualified for. At 32 years old, I was left in charge of the largest coalition of women’s organizations in the country and tasked with leading a grassroots campaign to pass historic legislation advancing the economic status of women. I mean, me? An inexperienced imposter? WTF?
In all seriousness though, I was totally qualified and rocked that job. But, if you allow it, imposter syndrome and anxiety will turn you into someone you don’t recognize in the mirror which is exactly what happened to me. Fortunately, a wake up call finally came. One morning almost four years ago, the facade that I had carefully built imploded, waking me up to the reality that I was incredibly unhappy with who I had become and the life I was living. Without going into too much detail, my husband and I found ourselves in crisis and fighting to save our relationship. Thanks to mental health professionals and sobriety everything worked out.This crisis was what helped me understand that I need to always be true to myself. I needed to stop trying to fit into a mold that society tells women they should embody. I was a punk rock woman and damn anyone who thinks that’s not acceptable.
In the midst of this crisis, I heard about Mable Syndrome and began listening to the podcast. Pre-pandemic, my job required driving around the state a few times a month, allowing me to binge on podcast episodes for hours at a time. I discovered new bands and reconnected with old favorites. More importantly, even though I didn’t know Jessica, Kristen, or the women they interviewed, I felt seen as a punk rock woman. Punk rock women do bad ass, important things, and there is a community of them across the country.
Eventually, I found my way to the Mable Syndrome community online. And, damn, what a crew. Aside from my close friends and local Eureka community (ask me about this later because it’s another long story), I’ve not found another community that is supportive, honest, non-judgemental, and welcoming. While I’ve only met one other Mable in person, I feel confident that I can turn to this community for advice on deeply personal matters, trivial matters like clothes or hair advice, and good conversation about bands. Each day I’m inspired by the things these women create and accomplish. So inspired that I went to a show by myself for the first time ever just a few months before the world went on lockdown. It was fun and I can’t wait to do it again but I also look forward to meeting many more of you in person and maybe going to a show or two.
So this is my love letter to Mable Syndrome: thank you for opening a door. That door, along with boatloads of personal growth, helped me find my way back home to punk. I didn’t intend for this blog post to be all about my personal journey. But there was no way to not get personal and convey my first impression of Mable Syndrome. Punk is personal and Mable Syndrome is punk as fuck.
Erin Parrish (@notorious_eep)