As we look back on this last decade, I feel that most people will only have negative things to say. Although, that seems to be the case with every decade. For me, however, it was a time of personal growth. As soon as I entered my 30s, I realized my life was speeding by and time was truly a finite resource. I attempted to hang onto my rebelliousness in an act that was a little early for a mid-life crisis. I went straight edge for a year.
In 2014 I was wondering what to do with the rest of my life. I was grasping at any thread that would allow me to ditch my boring office job and ‘follow my passion’ to lucrative results. I was nearing the end of a decade-long toxic relationship with my now ex-girlfriend who had a severe weed habit that put financial strain on us. Stress was an understatement and eating was how I dealt with it. Eating a lot.
I’ve always been overweight, but I had grown to be the biggest I’d ever been. This only added to the depression. I eventually snapped on myself and declared enough was enough. I started dieting and exercising, and the weight began to drop. I found it was much easier if I cut out drinking and smoking weed. While dieting, I was listening to a copious amount of straight edge music. The positivity and dedication in the lyrics mixed with the high energy and anger always made me felt like I could achieve any goal. Everyone else be damned! I hadn’t felt that good in a long time and I figured if I quit cigarettes, then I would be living the straight edge lifestyle these guys were singing about. So, at the age of 32, I claimed straight edge.
Straight edge was born in the 80s along with the birth of hardcore. Declared in the lyrics of the song Straight Edge by seminal DC hardcore band Minor Threat, a lifestyle was generated that rejected the excesses of the era. That meant no drinking, no smoking, no getting high, and to some, that even meant no premarital sex. This was a new culture built on rage and raw emotion, all from a handful of songs by one band. The straight edge subculture continued to grow into its own thing and along with it came rules. The most important one being you stay true till death–no substances from the time you claim until the time you die.
I was always into punk. I was coming of age during the big revival in the 90s and taught myself how to play bass by jamming to Green Day CDs in my bedroom. As I got older and angrier, my focused moved towards hardcore, a more raw and aggressive form of punk that also incorporated a lot of metal influences at the time. Straight Edge and hardcore go hand-in-hand, so now that I was claiming that lifestyle, I REALLY wanted to join or start a band. This was a problem though, since I lived in a small Wisconsin town. The likely hood that I would find enough people who like this sub-SUB-genre of punk in this town was slim to nil.
I did some searching online, however, and by the grace of whatever god exists I found some band in Minneapolis that was looking for a bassist, and they wanted to play straight edge hardcore. I damn near shit myself when I found it. The timing could not have been any better, so I replied to the add and crossed my fingers. I made the drive into the cities (over an hour each way) and the band gave me the spot. I was so stoked. “I finally made it!” I told myself. I thought everything would change, except it didn’t.
My time in the band was an experience I would never change. We played some kick ass shows, mainly around the Minneapolis area, and I made some great friends. Or at least I thought I had. The positivity and camaraderie in the beginning was almost, for lack of a better word, intoxicating. I learned a lot about myself and I was engulfed in the local hardcore scene which was, and probably still is, very prosperous.
After about 8 months though, things started to get a bit rocky. The band was making moves and spending money on things I had no say in whatsoever. Shows were booked without my knowledge, and if I couldn’t make it, they’d find someone else to fill in. Merchandise along with where and when we recorded was all decided without anyone asking me. That brotherhood I once felt was now fading fast. I was eventually cornered after practice one day with an ultimatum: either dedicate all of my time and resources to the band in an effort to “make it”, or quit. I chose the latter.
The hardcore scene is a mixed bag. The sound that was born in the poverty-stricken streets of major cities such as LA and New York is now co-opted by a lot of kids from the suburbs. The result was a lot of tough guy posturing at your local shows. To many, this lifestyle WAS a person’s only identity. It wasn’t, “I’m a welder, 1st baseman for my local baseball team, and I’m also straight edge.” It was, “I bleed straight edge and that makes me better than you.”
It was around this time I also noticed I had stopped losing weight and started gaining it back. You’ll often hear the concern for this very thing from people who quit smoking. I slowly began to realize that I had replaced all of my vices with-you guessed it—food. Yeah, I was living ‘healthier’ by not smoking or getting high, but I was also putting down a half dozen donuts in my spare time cause what else was I going to do? I also started to question who I was and came to the conclusion that I had become a phony playing pretend with nothing to show for it.
I “broke edge” a little past the year mark. I remember opening that first beer and smoking a bowl with my girlfriend and thinking it was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted. As you can imagine, this is heavily frowned upon by the straight edge community. Most people are exiled or shunned, and if they do continue to go to shows for the music, they end up standing in the corner by themselves. Sometimes there will be a physical confrontation, so most people choose not to go at all. It’s funny, but this happens to a lot of the kids who claim the straight edge lifestyle. You figure there would be more support around that, but instead it’s backs being turned.
Now I’m nearing the end of my 30s and I have to chuckle when I look at the person I’ve become. It’s quite the drastic change, but I’ve been happier and relaxed more now than I was when I was forcing a bunch of rules on myself for no tangible reason. Let me get this straight – I’m not knocking the lifestyle and for those who truly enjoy it. It’s a healthy lifestyle and some people need that structure. But in the end, it just wasn’t for me. Sorry guys.