Punk in My Forties

I turned 41 last weekend. Thank you. Earlier in the week, before I could make plans, my wife surprised me with a pair of tickets to see Pennywise. They were kicking off their tour in Seattle with Unwritten Law and Strung Out as the opening acts. The last time I had seen Pennywise play was in 1996, when their About Time album released.

I was thrilled to get the tickets — Pennywise was among my favorites of the 90s punk bands — but I was also apprehensive. Punk shows could get rowdy. And whereas most of the wives I know would tell their hubby to take a friend, mine wanted to come. She wanted to experience her first punk show. I loved her for that, even if it did make me worry. It wasn’t that I was concerned for her safety — though a stray Doc Marten is always a possibility — but rather for her enjoyment. She’s never particularly enjoyed listening to punk.

But that was just an excuse I was telling myself.

Same Old Story

Done with yours,
I’m living my life for me

My reservations had more to do with me, my changing tastes, and lingering insecurities. We don’t go to many shows these days — we prefer to spend our entertainment money on the theater and sporting events — and early in the week, I wasn’t so sure I really wanted to go. Attending the Warped Tour back in the 90s with my closest friends was one thing. Seeing Pennywise twenty years later, with my wife, was another.

I was always the preppiest one in the group, something my friends never missed an opportunity to remind me of. I didn’t do much to alter that. Quite the opposite, actually. While they were all sharing an apartment at a nearby state school, partying together and drawing tighter, I was the one who went away to a private college and joined a frat (ugh). Superficial differences and personal tastes were never a source of division, only friendly taunting. They wouldn’t tease, they’d say, if they didn’t care. But when we all piled into a friend’s restored Volkswagen Beetle to see Pennywise headline the Warped Tour just three short days after their bassist was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, I felt on the fringe. I didn’t even know all the people in the car, let alone all the bands we’d be seeing.

Truth was, I’d have been just as happy seeing Pearl Jam, R.E.M., or The 10,000 Maniacs back then as I was seeing Pennywise, Down By Law, Civ, and Blink-182.

People who are really into punk, who go all-in with the lifestyle and affect the look, aren’t necessarily into the music any more than the less conspicuous guy in the background, but they can sure make the latter feel like they don’t belong.

It was those feelings of not really having any business going to the show — that I wasn’t punk enough — that had me almost wishing she had gotten me tickets to the ballgame instead.

Almost.

Living For Today

We’re the ones, the only ones, strong ones, proud ones
We’re living for today

On the surface, the day couldn’t have been any less punk. I spent an hour reading, coincidentally making my way through the 1138-page monster, It, the Stephen King novel with the clown named Pennywise that inspired the band’s name. The rest of the day was spent revising a scene I had been working on, sometimes with a nice single malt by my side at the Arctic Club hotel in Seattle. I met my wife at Folio for their first annual book sale and loaded up on a grocery bag filled with hardcovers. I was very happy to nab a first edition of David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars for two dollars, one of my favorites.

Back at the hotel, I pre-gamed with a bottle of wine and my laptop, continuing my edits until we were late for meeting a friend. My wife changed out of her business suit into something not too yuppie, per my recommendation. The Mariners were still in playoff contention, and playing right across the street, but we were content watching on the television over beers and burgers and wings. They were eliminated the following evening.

With Pennywise not going on until 11pm, I figured we’d be fine arriving around 9:30, just in time to see Unwritten Law take the stage. Ten o’clock came and went, the Mariners pulled off the win, and we finally chugged our beers and headed next door to The Showbox.

Perfect People

Went right up and tried to join their party
You oughta seen the look when they saw me

We were late. Strung Out came on second and was already halfway through their set by the time we arrived. I was disappointed we missed Unwritten Law, but the energy of the room washed away any lingering feelings. We weaved through the crowd to a spot halfway between the soundboard and the edge of the pit.

Strung Out was loud, the sound an onslaught of guitar and drums and undecipherable vocals. Volume. People swirled in the pit, others thrashed their way from one side to the other. But many were at the bar, as is often the case with opening acts. We moved a little closer after their last song while the roadies readied the stage for the headliner.

Pennywise played their way through a shuffled order of their About Time album, celebrating it’s twenty-year anniversary. All was right in the world. Thirty-two minutes of unbridled energy meld with surprisingly good sound quality. My wife stayed close and laughed each time the machinations within the pit pierced the edge. Shoved, pushed, bumped, and jostled, she held her ground. Feet in the air, heads rocking to Fletcher’s blistering guitar as we shouted the lyrics to an album I remembered all too well. It was electrifying.

I wanted to thrash around in the pit, the last great vestige of legal violence. What better way to release aggression? My wife thought I should. “Have fun,” she said. I was hesitant. I was nursing a pinched nerve in my back. And, well… 41. A shirtless bruiser of a guy excused himself, grabbing my arm as he went by with such soft hands that I thought he was a woman. “Go on, I’ll be right here.” Maybe the next song, I told her. Three minutes later, that same tatted-up monster came brushing past in the other direction, blood pouring from his nose.

Yeah, I’m good right here.

I looked around while Jim chatted up the crowd. The majority of the people there, like us, were middle-aged, likely having spent their teenage years listening to Pennywise and Bad Religion and NOFX. Most probably had careers and mortgages and kids. Lawyers, teachers, programmers. To the guys in the pit with the green and pink spiked hair, we probably looked lame as hell.

The band launched into Perfect People, one of my favorites from the album, even if the lyrics used to leave me and my more-prep-than-punk veneer feeling a touch self-conscious. But there was no insecurity on this night. Punk, after all, isn’t about how you dress or the music you listen to. It’s about going your own way, saying no to the prescribed one-size-fits-all order of the world, and living your life on your own terms.

That realization got me thinking about how I’ve spent the intervening decades. So many years spent carving out a life self-employed, traveling the world, taking chances, and now back home pursuing an artistic dream. I thought about all of that while Byron’s drumming hammered sound waves off my chest and I realized, finally, that yeah, in my own way, I’m punk as fuck.

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