Punk rock saves lives

Photos by Hana Frenette

I was a typical 14-year-old freshman coasting through high school when I met a kid in my select chorus class (humble brag) named Jose.

He had blue, spiked hair, mismatched tube socks and, on days when we had a substitute teacher, a small group of us would hide away in the teacher's office where he would play guitar for us.

Much of my academic career at that point revolved around fitting in. I begged my parents for a pair of Birkenstocks when all the other girls had them. Then, the next trend was clunky, Doc Marten sandals, and we had to run out and buy those, too.

Jose didn't give a shit what kind of shoes I wore. He introduced us to early Blink 182 and the genius of Buddy Holly — your taste in music mattered more than whatever brand names for which you could scrounge up money.

Jose would eventually invite me and my best friend to come see his band, Rawly, play at a show in a dilapidated American Legion building. We had no idea what to expect, but we liked the idea of doing something new.

We were embarrassingly overdressed. We even rocked body glitter. Everyone else was wearing ratty T-shirts and jeans. We wore high-heeled boots and tank tops.

Turns out, the punk-rock scene could be just as judgmental as the halls of our high school. But, it wasn't because we didn't have the right clothes; we didn't have the right attitude. Long before Avril Lavigne soiled the words, punk rock meant you didn't try to impress anyone else but yourself. It was about expressing your personality and celebrating your choices.

I could argue that body glitter was our unique expression of self, but that's a lie. We dressed with the intention of trying to fit in with a crowd that aims to go against societal standards.

I won't say I didn't continue to try too hard, but I did hang up my boots and buy a pair of beautiful gray, suede Adidas gazelles. Sneakers were just more practical at shows when trying to avoid a three-dude mosh pit or for the long walks my friends and I took around the neighborhood when a band was playing that we didn't care for.

I stopped obsessing over labels and instead looked for band T-shirts and started hunting for vintage clothes at Goodwill. My favorite thing to find was colorful sweaters from the ‘80s. Strangely, I got a thrill from the weird looks classmates gave me.

Most importantly, the local punk-rock scene introduced me to new music. This was the age of sites like Napster and Kazaa, where I downloaded The White Stripes’ "Fell in Love with a Girl" and tried to record it on my mom's tape recorder, because I didn't have a CD burner.

I didn't accept the social norms. I sought out music and film in independent stores and alternative magazines like “Jane” (R.I.P.). I credit this curiosity to the local punk-rock scene of my youth, where kids shared their ideas and interests. And, I likely wouldn't have gotten there without Jose.

About four years ago, Jose took his own, precious life. I wasn't close enough to him to know he was in trouble, but I felt bad that I couldn't be there for him in some way. I don't think he had the slightest clue how much he changed my life. It didn't even really hit me until I read the news on Facebook.

I'm thankful I got to know Jose at all and that he shaped my high-school experience. Of all things, I am really grateful I signed up for chorus that first semester of ninth grade.

Jennie is a moonwalking, Spice Girls-singing child of the early '90s. She's a hoarder of black shirts, nude lipsticks, and comic books. She loves trying new trends, but she's had the same haircut since she was 5.