entering valhalla

An excerpt from The Storyteller by Dave Grohl found exclusively on audible.

From a dirty old couch deep within the bowels of London's Wembley Arena, I watched the usual parade of familiar faces file into the Foo Fighters dressing room as I happily nursed my well- deserved post-show beer, still sweating from another exhausting night onstage. As would happen most evenings, our small, curtained off area would soon erupt into a celebration of joyous reunions amongst lifelong friends and extended family, each greeted with a cocktail, a smile, and a long embrace. This was our routine. Another show, another gathering of the loving, gypsy-like tribe that we've gathered over the years, all reminiscing about the past and reeling in the present over gallons and gallons of drink. Everyone grateful for life, music, and the people we love. As the clamor of the crowded room grew to an excited roar, our guitarist Chris Shifflett approached with a guest and said, "Hey Dave, someone wants to meet you..." I stood up to say hello, and with extended hand, the handsome young man introduced himself with a broad smile. 

 

“Hi, I'm Dhani.”

 

In all of our years traveling and touring, playing concerts and festivals from Mississippi to Melbourne, I can honestly say that there aren't too many strangers in the world of Foo, but as familiar as Dhani's face seemed, I couldn't place where I had seen this young man before. But, with  a nagging sense of Deja vu,  I felt I knew this person somehow, almost as if we had grown up together.  After casually chatting for a few minutes over cocktails, Dhani kindly handed me a CD that he said he had worked on with “his father.” Curious, I took one look at the colorful cover, an image of five mannequins holding a television set with the word Brainwashed across the top in bold, black letters, and thought “Wow. Good title….” I smiled, gave the disc a quick but polite inspection, and was about to stuff it into my back pocket when I noticed something handwritten in the lower, right corner...

 

By George Harrison.

 

Confused, I looked up at Dhani and immediately realized why he looked so familiar. As the son of the late, great George Harrison, he is the spitting image of his father. I took in his features: The unmistakable brow, the cheekbones, the shaggy, dark hair. I suddenly felt as if I were face to face with the "quiet Beatle" himself. And in that moment it all made sense....little did Dhani know, I had grown up with him. 

 

It was November 22, 2002, only a week before the one year anniversary of George's death, and Dhani explained that he was in London preparing a tribute concert for his father at the legendary Royal Albert Hall. As he read down the list of performers, my jaw dropped and dragged on the dirty carpet: Eric Clapton, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Ravi Shankar, Jeff Lynne of ELO, Billy Preston, Jim Keltner. And of course, the two remaining Beatles: Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. The line-up was a virtual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame dream come true. And all under the same roof to pay tribute to my favorite Beatle! These musical giants were not only the soundtrack of my life, but many of the gods that I had bowed to ever since I picked up a guitar. In my mind, this was Valhalla.

 

“Would you like to come? I'll put you on the list if you're in town!” Dhani offered. Speechless, I turned to the Foo Fighters trusty tour manger, Gus Brandt and he enthusiastically nodded. It just so happened that was a day off and we could indeed attend. If there was ever an instance where a human being actually levitated, I do believe that my feet literally lifted off the ground in bewildered excitement in this unimaginable moment. I'm sure that Dhani had no idea how momentous this gesture was to me. But it felt like I was being granted a lifelong wish.  We exchanged info, hugged, and happily exclaimed, “See you in a week!”

 

The next six days passed in slow motion. Continuing on our tour for a few more UK arena shows, I counted the hours until I would finally set foot within the hallowed walls of Royal Albert Hall, a name I learned singing along to the Beatles song “A Day in the Life” when I was a kid.  To be included in such a monumental affair felt like my life's greatest reward up until that point, so every waking moment was spent awaiting its arrival. Of all the places my crooked musical path had taken me up until this point, this would undoubtedly prove to be a memory I would cherish forever.

 

One week later, standing before the illuminated columns and archways of the century old building, my stomach was in knots with anticipation. A relatively formal affair, I squirmed in my collared shirt and nerdy sweater as we waited in line at the box office, praying that Dhani hadn't forgotten our chance meeting. After a few nail-biting minutes, we finally approached the ticket window, gave our names, and were thankfully handed a thick envelope bulging with tickets. My Sweet Lord! We tore into it like excited children on Christmas morning, and to our surprise found not only tickets, but backstage passes as well! Eat your heart out, Willy Wonka! I was expecting nosebleed section. Oh no.  Handing our tickets to the usher as we entered, I was prepared to start scaling stairwell after stairwell, but instead we were quickly escorted to a box positioned dead center on the first level. We looked at each other in absolute astonishment. This could not be happening, I thought. We quickly took our seats, before someone changed their mind.

 

Above the stage hung a huge a portrait of George Harrison, which upon first sight, immediately brought me to tears. His influence and relevance in my life suddenly poured out in  raw emotion, and I wept. I sat and stared at his image, quietly thanking him for the gifts he had not only given me over the years but those he had given us all. Before long, the house lights dimmed, and the show opened with a beautiful Sanskrit chant, while George's widow Olivia lit incense on the stage, creating a sense of serenity and connectivity that I had never before experienced in a musical setting. This was no longer a concert hall this was a temple. Eric Clapton appeared next, offering a few kind words, and then introduced the master himself, Ravi Shankar. The room was in awe as Ravi appeared on stage, welcoming the audience by saying "I strongly feel that George is here tonight" before introducing his daughter, Anoushka who proceeded to sit and play the sitar in what can only be described as a truly transcendent performance. Dhani, dressed in a long, white Kurta shirt, then joined with Jeff Lynne for a beautiful rendition of “The Inner Light,” a song George wrote that was the B-side to the Beatles “Lady Madonna” single. That was followed by a  23 minute long original composition by Ravi Shankar called “Arpan” (to give), performed with an Indian orchestra that put me into some kind of trance, with tears streaming down my face once again. It was clear that this night was more than a concert. This was a spiritual experience.

 

After a brief intermission (and another box of Kleenex) the Rock and Roll began. Well...not before the infamous cast of Monty Python had their way with us for a few hilarious numbers, but the guitars came out and we buckled in for the ride of our lives. Waves of joy and sadness swept over me. It was as if my life was flashing before my eyes with song, each note a formative memory. Clapton, Petty, Lynne, Preston, one giant after another, performing the soundtrack of my youth, within such proximity that I could see their fingers dancing up and down their fretboards. I could not imagine an evening more magical.

 

And then…Ringo Starr appeared. Waving his trademark peace signs high to a standing ovation, he greeted the audience and launched into his classic song, “Photograph.”

 

     Every time I see your face

     It reminds me of the places we used to go

     All I've got is a photograph 

     And I realize you're not coming back anymore

 

As if the previous hour hadn't already been the most life affirming jolt to my soul, Ringo's presence and this song in particular struck an unpredicted chord within me. Here was a man, generously withholding his own grief of losing a dear friend and bandmate, spreading love and joy by sharing the most healing force in time of mourning: Music. 

 

I realized that I had been trying to do the exact same thing since  that cold, cloudy morning of April 5th, 1994. The day that Kurt Cobain died. 

 

I sang along at the top of my lungs.

By the time Paul McCartney came to the stage, I was officially in a state of shock. I had run a marathon of emotions, witnessed once in a lifetime performances by a cavalcade of legends in the flesh, and experienced a sort of transcendental meditation from Ravi Shankar's otherworldly Indian orchestra. I was practically numb, yet so very much in the moment, feeling a deep connectivity brought upon by the overwhelming amount of love that was on display. If George was indeed in the room, so was every person I had ever loved.

 

When Paul began strumming the chords to “Something” on the ukulele, I closed my eyes and drowned in the vivid memory of learning that song as a child, sitting on my bedroom floor with my 1964 Sears Silvertone guitar, playing along to George's voice as it crackled from the tiny speakers of an old turntable. And when the band kicked in to the guitar solo, I hummed along to every note, as it was the first and only guitar solo I had ever learned. To me, it seemed that the circle was finally complete.

 

As the concert drew to a close and the confetti fell from the rafters, I wiped a final tears from my face. Then, I checked my back pocket to make sure that I hadn't lost the pass Dhani had left me. I've never been to a party that I couldn't have missed. Except this one.

 

We were soon led to a stairwell filled with people, all descending to the downstairs backstage area, each person undoubtedly as nervous and honored as I was to be there. I noticed a security guard checking passes at the bottom of the stairs, and I watched in horror as some people were directed to a room on the left, others directed to a room on the right. I knew what that meant. That meant that there was the VIP room, and then the actual VIP party. To be honest, we were guilty of this cruel, but common game ourselves, only allowing our closest friends and family into the sanctity of our most sacred space. Wherever we ended up, I couldn’t  complain. I had already experienced the greatest night of my musical life.

 

"This way, please" the guard said as he checked our passes and pointed to a doorway beside the stairs. We entered, and my heart sank a little at the sight of the completely empty room. I knew it. This was not their inner sanctum or sacred space. We’d been sent to the  holding pen with a bar. This was not the Valhalla I had wished for. This was the end of the line. I was at peace.

 

Our little group stood alone at a table and recounted the evening's magical moments over a few drinks, still reeling from the spectacular show we had just witnessed and beyond grateful for being included. Turns out I wasn't the only person in our little group that was seemingly transformed by the performance. Each of us shared specific memories from our lives, recalling instances when the Beatles music became more than just verses and choruses, it became essential code in our DNA. 

 

"Wait....is that George Martin?" someone whispered. I quickly looked up as a tall, older gentleman with white hair walked across the empty, fluorescent lit room. “Holy shit!” I thought. But I decided it couldn’t be him.  Why on earth would the "fifth Beatle" himself be slumming along with us in this desolate, concrete after-show lounge when he could surely be rubbing elbows with the evening's musical elite in the actual VIP gathering?  Then, something else caught my eye: Ravi Shankar quietly sitting in the corner eating a plate of Indian food all by himself. “Oh my god!” I exclaimed. “This is it!!” This was rock and roll ground zero. We had arrived.

 

One by one, they all appeared.  Each of the evening's legendary performers were now present, casually rubbing elbows and celebrating a triumphant performance in the name of their dear friend, but as much as I wanted to feel a part of this sacred fraternity, I felt a stubborn disconnect, a refusal to consider myself worthy of sharing the same air as these icons. My entire life had been spent imagining them as more than human. And yet, here they were. It was almost too much to fathom.

 

Thankfully, there were a few familiar faces in the crowd to anchor my gripping anxiety. Dhani, of course eventually appeared, and we all thanked him profusely for such an amazing opportunity, congratulating him on his beautiful performance. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, my old friends and a band that I nearly joined soon after Nirvana's demise, were wandering around with their usual vibe as the  epitome of Americana cool. But, for the most part, I felt like a fish out of water, a feeling I couldn’t shake.

 

I noticed Paul McCartney out of the corner of my eye, chatting away with friends, and I couldn't help but stare. There. He. Was. I don't know what it feels like to see a UFO. I don't know what it feels like to see a ghost. I don't know what it feels like to see Bigfoot, but I know what it feels like to see Paul McCartney, and if that's not a supernatural event, then I don't know what is. I tried to avert my eyes, but it was no use. I was mesmerized. A man approached and asked, “Hey Dave, are you going to stick around for a bit? I'm sure that Paul would like to say hello." I froze and choked on my complimentary samosa. Wait...what? Paul? Me? My heart doubled its tempo, the lights seemed to dim in a bizarre, twilight tunnel fashion, but doing my damndest to stay cool, I managed to muster a nonchalant “Uhhhh, yeah! Sure! I'll be right here.” 

 

What happened next will forever remain a blur. I don't recall exactly how Paul and I were introduced, what was said, or how long we talked, but I do remember putting on my best “this is not the most incredible thing ever to happen to me” face while trying to keep from making a fool of myself. I think I may have tried the “So, are you guys on tour at the moment?” line, but who knows. I was beside myself, having an out of body experience, living a moment that will surely be revisited in my final hours. I would not be standing there that night, much less writing this today, if it weren't for this man. Like so many who have made lives as musicians, his music had been a teacher when I needed instruction. A friend when I felt alone. A father when I needed love. A therapist when I needed guidance, and a partner when I needed to belong. 

 

Of course, I thought of my mother. She would  surely understand what I felt in that moment. Upon returning to the hotel, I immediately picked up the phone and called her at home in Virginia, the same tiny house where I had spent my childhood listening to George Harrison and Paul McCartney. From the desk where she would grade her papers every night after making my sister Lisa and me dinner, she cried tears of joy, knowing that all my years of struggle and faith had led to this profound, life changing night. After all, it was her who bought me my first electric guitar and Beatles songbook when I was 11 years old, changing my life forever. Every day, she watched me strain my little fingers to form the chords within those pages while sitting in front of the public school record player she brought home from work. And now, here I was, immersed in THEIR world, surrounded by THEIR lifelong friends and extended family, reminiscing about THEIR past and reeling in the present. Everyone grateful for life, music, and love.

 

And survival.   

The Storyteller

By Dave Grohl

out now!

Tracey is a punk rocker

An excerpt from The Storyteller by Dave Grohl

“Tracey, they’re here!”

          In the extravagant foyer of my aunt Sherry’s turn-of-the-century Evanston, Illinois, estate, I stood at the bottom of the long, winding staircase waiting to greet my ultra-cool cousin Tracey with a much-anticipated hug. Though we weren’t technically related, I considered Tracey family as much as I did any blood relative. Our mothers had met as teenagers in high school and became lifelong friends, even forming an a cappella singing group called the Three Belles that performed at their local Boardman, Ohio, Kiwanis clubs, Women’s City Clubs, and school functions in the early fifties (not to mention a morning TV cooking show where my mother drank milk for a commercial endorsement and almost threw up all over the set). Joined by their dear friend Jeralyn Meyer, the trio sang “Tea for Two,” “Bewitched,” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in perfect harmony, all smiles and matching outfits. With no real professional aspirations, theirs was more of a heartfelt passion, a way to pass the time and share their love of music with friends. After graduation, my mother and Sherry went their separate ways in life but vowed to reconnect every summer from then on, which we did, no matter the distance between our families.

x700123.jpg

          Our seven-hundred-mile drive from Springfield, Virginia, to Evanston was no small feat. My mother, my sister, and I would cram our luggage, pillows, blankets, and cooler full of snacks into our baby-blue 1981 Ford Fiesta for the eleven-hour drive, usually stopping halfway in Youngstown, Ohio, for a few days to visit with my grandparents, not far from where I was born in the little town of Warren. It was the highlight of the year, driving up the Pennsylvania Turnpike into one of America’s most beautiful corners, winding over rolling hills and through long mountain tunnels. I always enjoyed the trip, singing along to the radio with my mother from the front seat, pulling over at rest stops for souvenirs, and eating sandwiches that we had brought or the ride. It was my first real taste of travel, and even then I could appreciate the gradual change in landscape as we barreled across the country toward the Midwest in our tiny little car, squeezed in like cosmonauts for hours on end. I can only think that the pleasure I found watching the long road ahead inspired me to follow those same highways later on in life.

          After traveling from our sleepy suburban Virginia neighborhood, into the Pennsylvania hills, and past the long, flat cornfields of rural Ohio, the sight of Chicago’s sprawling metropolis before our windshield was nothing less than triumphant. Like the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz, the glorious vision of the Sears Tower standing in the distance always filled me with a sense of amazement and wild anticipation, wondering what this summer’s trip would have in store. I absolutely loved Chicago. Its multicultural maze of subway cars and brick buildings seemed like a playground of opportunity, much more exciting than the quiet suburban environment of my home in Virginia. Along with my cousin Tracey, the most adventurous of my “cousins,” there were her three older brothers, Trip, Todd, and Troy, who would always take me under their wing and show me a world outside of my own that I otherwise never would have experienced, from exploring the city to playing for hours on the warm beaches of Lake Michigan. This was my Fantasy Island, my Club Med, my Copacabana. This also became my life’s first real taste of independence, as I eventually began taking the L downtown without my mother’s supervision to explore the city’s many corners, quickly finding my own sense of identity that stretched far beyond who I had been led to believe I could be. I was living a classic 1980s John Hughes coming-of-age film without realizing it, aesthetically and emotionally.

          As I stood waiting for Tracey to bounce down in her usual shorts and polo shirt, I noticed an ominous sound from upstairs. The sound of chains clanging and leather creaking, boots hitting the floor with a thud in every step, like a Viking slowly approaching an intended victim. A home intruder? A Hells Angel? The Ghost of Christmas Past? My heart raced as the footsteps grew closer, now at the top of the staircase. Boom. Clink. Boom. Clink. Boom. Clink. And then she appeared . . .

          Tracey was now a punk rocker.

          With shiny Doc Marten boots, black bondage pants, an Anti-Pasti T-shirt, and a shaved head, she was a terrifying yet glorious vision of rebellion. Long gone were the tennis shorts and sneakers from last summer; Tracey had transformed into something I had only seen on prime-time TV shows like CHiPs or Quincy. But this was no cartoonish, spiky-haired villain terrorizing a silly sitcom with reckless anarchy and a clamorous soundtrack in the background. No. This was fucking real. I stood in awe, as if I were face-to-face with an alien sent from another civilization, examining every spike, every safety pin, and every leather strap with joyous bewilderment. But my shock and surprise were calmed the instant she greeted us with her usual sunny smile. It was still Tracey, just turned up to 11 like a postapocalyptic superhero. To say that I was excited would be one of my life’s greatest understatements. I was beside myself. Something had been awakened in me—I just wasn’t yet sure what that was.

          After the usual jolly catch-up, Tracey and I wandered upstairs to her bedroom, where she proceeded to show me the massive record collection next to her turntable stereo. Rows and rows of seven-inch singles and LPs, all neatly lined up and meticulously cared for, with band names that I had never heard of—the Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, Germs, Naked Raygun, Black Flag, Wire, Minor Threat, GBH, Discharge, the Effigies . . . too many to name here. This was a virtual treasure trove of underground, independent punk rock, something I had never known existed up until that point. We sat on her floor as she proceeded to play record after record with the enthusiasm of a professor instructing a hungry student ravenous for knowledge. “Listen to this one!” she would say, and carefully drop a disc onto the record player. “Now this!” she continued, playing one after another, blowing my mind into outer space with each track. I had questions. So many questions. How could I have not known that this existed? Does everybody know about this? Is this even legal? I examined the sleeve of each record, eyes wide, gazing at the crude artwork, photos, and credits, while Tracey blasted the loud, raw music filled with whiplash tempos and bloodcurdling screams. Hours flew by, and everything I knew about music up until that point went right out the window.

          This was the first day of the rest of my life.

          Upon closer inspection, I noticed one glaring difference from all the typical classic rock albums that I owned at home: none of these albums were from any record companies I had ever heard of. On the contrary, most of them practically looked homemade. They featured Xeroxed covers with dark, pixelated photos; handwritten lyrics and credits; silkscreened logos and graphics, all clumsily stuffed into plastic sleeves that sold for a mere three or four dollars. This underground network somehow existed entirely outside of the conventional, corporate structure and defied the ordinary manner of manufacturing and distributing music. These people were doing it THEMSELVES, Tracey explained. I was entranced, awakened, and inspired. I no longer considered music an unattainable act of wizardry, only possible for those who were blessed with the godlike ability of Jimi Hendrix or Paul McCartney. I now realized that all you needed was three chords, an open mind, and a microphone. And the passion and drive to make it happen yourself.

          That night, Tracey was planning on taking the L downtown to see local Chicago punk band Naked Raygun play at a dive bar just across the street from Wrigley Field called the Cubby Bear. Having just listened to their song “Surf Combat” that afternoon, I was dying to experience this radical lifestyle up close and in the flesh but couldn’t imagine Tracey would invite me along, as I looked like a square thirteen-year-old kid who’d just fallen off the back of a public school bus. More Opie Taylor than Sid Vicious, I could only imagine Tracey’s mortification if I were to walk with her through a room of Mohawks and spiked leather jackets. But, after a bit of cajoling from my aunt Sherry, Tracey graciously conceded and agreed to let me tag along. This was uncharted terrain, seriously foreign territory, and my stomach was in knots with nervous anticipation.

x700127.jpg
x700128.jpg

          Not to mention . . . I had never been to a live concert before.

          After all my years of watching MTV and staring at the Kiss and Led Zeppelin posters on my bedroom walls, I foolishly thought that bands only performed on giant stages with smoke machines and massive displays of lasers and pyrotechnics. To me, that was rock and roll. Little did I know that all you needed was four walls and a song.

          On the train ride into town, my mind was an electrical storm of dangerous premonitions, imagining the chaos and madness that awaited in that dingy hole-in-the-wall bar downtown. Just hours before, a truth had been unlocked in me that I couldn’t wait to live out. I now identified with something, and it wasn’t anything I had seen in my life back home. Those jagged record sleeves and distorted garage recordings that leapt out of Tracey’s speakers had forced open a window to my soul, and I had finally experienced a connection that made me feel understood. Having always felt slightly removed from the norm, I never had anywhere or anyone to turn to for understanding and reassurance among my peers. I was a kid from a broken home, a mama’s boy, an okay student at best. A ball of misplaced energy who was looking for his niche, his tribe. I was in desperate need of an existential makeover. I could feel it coming.

          When we arrived at the Cubby Bear, I noticed a few punks hanging out on the street outside the club door and was surprised at how young they were. Teenagers like me, they weren’t the menacing faces that I had seen on Tracey’s album covers. Most were just skinny skater types in jeans, T-shirts, and Converse Chucks, bouncing off the walls with adolescent, hyperactive energy, just like me. Instantly relieved, we walked up and Tracey introduced me to her gang of outsiders. I soon picked up that everyone there that night knew everyone else, and it was a tight community of friends, all drawn together by their love of subversive music and the celebration of personal expression. Sure, there were some spikes, and leather, and colorful hair, and piercings, but I didn’t see this as threatening. I felt like I was at home.

          Like a bomb ready to detonate, the room was ripe with anxious tension as Naked Raygun prepared to hit the stage. As the houselights went out, I was immediately struck by the intimacy of the gig. Unlike what I saw in those posters on my bedroom wall, I was shoulder to shoulder with everyone else, standing only feet from the small stage as the singer gripped the microphone, ready to count into the first number. And when he did, the small room ignited like a powder keg in a frenzy of limbs and deafening volume. People on top of people. Slam dancing, stage diving, the crowd chanting the words to each song with fists in the air like an army of loyal sonic soldiers. I was stepped on. I was shoved and punched. I was thrown about like a rag doll in the melee of the crowd, and I fucking loved it. The music and violent dancing released an energy within me that had been pent up for years, like an exorcism of all of my childhood traumas. This was a feeling of freedom that I had waited for my entire life, and now that I’d been baptized by spit and sweat and broken glass, there was no turning back. Song after thunderous song, I kept close to the small stage, bathed in the distorted glory of the music. Naked Raygun is considered by some to be the most important band in the history of Chicago punk, and their style almost resembled a hardcore Dick Dale type of surf rock. Of course, I didn’t understand their relevance then. I just knew that this music was filling my head and my soul with something I needed more of. With no song longer than about three and a half minutes, each stuttered blast was met with a riotous response, and the pauses between songs seemed like an eternity as I waited for the chaos to resume. It was all over much too soon, and as the houselights came up, I walked over to the merchandise table and bought my first punk rock record: Naked Raygun’s “Flammable Solid” seven-inch single. One of only a thousand made.

          After the gig, we boarded the train and returned to Evanston with ears ringing and hearts made anew. In one summer day, I was forever changed, and now understood that I didn’t need the pyrotechnics, lasers, or impossible proficiency of a virtuoso instrumentalist to become a musician. The most important element of rock and roll had been revealed to me in Naked Raygun’s performance: the raw and imperfect sound of human beings purging their innermost voice for all to hear. This was now available to me, and I couldn’t wait to return home to Virginia and spread the gospel to all of my friends, hoping that they would see the light, too.

          Turns out, Tracey herself was the singer of a punk rock band named Verboten, and they had already recorded some original songs and played live gigs around Chicago. With an average age of about thirteen years old, the four-piece was just kids doing it all themselves, writing and practicing in Tracey’s basement, booking their own shows, and making their own T-shirts to sell at their gigs. Guitarist Jason Narducy couldn’t have been more than eleven years old at the time, and his Gibson SG dwarfed his tiny body as he banged out power chords to songs like “My Opinion” and “He’s a Panther.” This inspired me even more, seeing a kid even younger than myself stepping out and following his dreams. I knew that my guitar at home was in for a right banging once I got my hands on it again. Hell, if these kids could do it, I could too.

          The days of our vacation flew by as I immersed myself in Tracey’s library of music, studying each album, even discovering a few bands from my hometown in her collection: Minor Threat, Faith, Void, and my personal favorite, a group named Scream whose Bailey’s Crossroads PO box address was just miles from my neighborhood! Mind. Fucking. Blown. Scream were a bit different from the other, less polished groups, though. With strong melodies and hints of classic rock and roll here and there, their fast, aggressive songs seemed a bit more crafted than everything else I had heard on that trip. And they didn’t necessarily look like the punks I had seen on those other album sleeves and in those fanzine pages in Tracey’s room. Dressed in jeans and flannels and with scruffy hair, they looked like they were . . . from Virginia. I joyously played their album on repeat with a sense of hometown pride, memorizing every word—and every drumbeat.

The rest of our vacation was spent going to shows, buying albums at Wax Trax! records, and hanging out with other punks, as I slowly learned this new language of records and tapes that circulated among them. I witnessed that this underground scene was a grassroots network of young music lovers like me, blissfully removed from the mainstream idea of a “career” in music. Like the Three Belles many years before, there were hardly any professional aspirations in this crew, but rather a heartfelt passion to share the love of music with friends. The reward? Usually nothing more than a sense of accomplishment from doing something you loved entirely on your own. And it was worth every drop of blood, sweat, and tears. There were no rock stars here. Only real people.

          The long drive back to Virginia was like a metaphorical journey from my past to my future. I had left something behind in Chicago. Long gone was the little boy who could never imagine his songs, his words, or his passions someday residing deep within the grooves of a dirty black slab of vinyl. Long gone was the little boy afraid of being ostracized for seeming different from all of the cool kids. Armed with a Germs record, a Killing Joke T-shirt, and the “Flammable Solid” single I had purchased at the Naked Raygun gig, I was now determined to begin my new life as a punk rocker. I had finally shed that outer layer of fragile adolescent insecurity and begun to grow a new skin, one that would form into my true self, and I couldn’t wait to show it to the world.

They’ll rip your skin off

They’ll flay you alive

You try to keep breathing

On this ride of your life

I got gear

I got gear

I got gear

I can use it