Standing in the front of the audience at The Jinx nightclub in Savannah recently, I watched as longtime road warriors The Slackers took the listener on a journey of funky horns and sentimental wordplay.
A legendary ska act (a blend of reggae and punk), the band brought me back — way back — to the beginning, that era when I was discovering not only new music, but also myself in the process. Popular in the mid/late 1990s, ska was (is) a safe haven for those of us who didn’t fit in anywhere else. It was a collage of wallflowers, skaters, shoe gazers, potheads, rebels and whoever else that was in search of a scene with open arms — an escapism of sound and attitude.
And I remembered that guy. Me. That middle school kid who wore Coke bottle glasses, parted his hair with too much gel, whose outfits were a decade out of style (only to come back into fashion a decade later) and finding a date to the Friday night dance was as tough a quest as summiting Mount Everest. I was an outcast, even though I may have been the last to get that memo.
Thus, with so much free time on my hands, I found a kinship with music, especially when performed live. I was a weird kid (still am, proudly), and going to a show opened up a whole new world to me. All the “weird” kids seemed to have one thing in common — we’re music freaks. And when I would go to concerts, my life was a clean slate. Nobody knew me, and I could be whoever I wanted to be, which was all over the map.
After all the doom and gloom of the grunge era, ska was such a breath of fresh air on the airwaves and in my headphones. Groups like The Slackers, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Save Ferris, No Doubt, Sublime, Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger and Bim Skala Blim, they provided a soundtrack to my adolescence, and, in the process, bestowed me with the confidence to dance like no one is watching, that everyone around you is filled with unlimited possibility, that we’re all in this together — the more, the merrier, the weirder, the better.
One of the most important traits of the ska scene is the mere fact there is no one set personality that partakes in it. The genre itself is a melting pot of styles, and with that, so are the people in the crowd and onstage. And that notion alone proved a huge turning point in my life. I didn’t fit in anywhere, and thought something must be wrong with me because of that. But, when ska came around, it hit me — you don’t have to be anybody else except for being yourself.
Entering high school, I took that ball of energy within me and ran with it. I zigzagged between social circles. I wanted to be (and liked being) friends with everyone. Nerds. Jocks. Goths. Loners. Cheerleaders. Smelly kids. Snobs. I wanted to immerse myself in their lives, to try and make sense about why they are like they are, and what it said about our society in general. I didn’t know it then, but that endless curiosity and fascination ultimately led me to becoming a journalist, one who writes about you and me, nothing and everything, for good or ill.
Even now as an adult, I still bounce around social circles. Teachers. Politicians. Farmers. Musicians. Blue collar. White Collar. Bring it on, all of it. If you’re a character, I want to talk to you. And with that, it also brings up the biggest thing I’ve come to realize about myself — being a moving target.
I don’t like to be pinned down, whether it’s by labels, friends, family, or girlfriends. I want to constantly be evolving. Some look at me as stubborn, but it’s a fine line between being stubborn and being independent in your endeavors. I don’t want to be known as “one thing,” I want to pursue and do many things.
As my beloved Jack Kerouac once wrote, “They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’”
It’s a tone and view of the universe that was set within the stone of my soul years ago, back when saving enough money for a concert ticket or gas to get there meant something, that chance to discover something bigger than yourself, something transcendent and magical. It’s a feeling I chase everyday. That person I remembered from high school, that blonde mohawk sporting, Chuck Taylor sneaking squeaking, handheld CD player holding, corduroy pants wearing, studded belt strapping, plaid long sleeve adorning, “rock on” hand signal shaking kid.
I remember that guy. I’m still that guy.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 Ruth’s Chris Steak House will host a dinner consisting of a custom-created five-course menu paired with champagne at 6:30 p.m. March 30-31 at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.
2 Lazy Hiker Brewing (Franklin) will host Porch 40 (funk/rock) as part of their Appalachian Trail “Thru-Hiker Celebration” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 9.
3 The 14th annual Spring Literary Festival will be held from April 4-7 at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.
4 The Ugly Dog Pub (Highlands) will host Joe Lasher Jr. (country/rock) at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, April 2.
5 A car show for “Operation Christmas Child” will be at 8 a.m. Saturday, April 2, at Franklin High School.