10 Things Being in a Punk Band Taught Me
I launched SOP ("Shitload of Pain") with some friends in 1996. In retrospect, we weren't terrible, although I was sort of learning to play bass as I went along. On the really, really positive side, we had a lot of energy, and our lyrics and songwriting, although somewhat simplistic, weren't altogether bad at all. SOP only lasted a couple of years, and RASP was formed around 1998. Like SOP, RASP was ill-fated to only last a couple of years, but unlike SOP, the overall average of technical wizardry in the music playing was considerably higher (and I actually learned how to play bass much better, although I still more or less sucked).
I got to travel around a little with both bands, although never going further than a state or two away, and never for more than a couple of weeks at a time (once prolonged due to our van breaking down on the highway). Nevertheless, I learned a great deal simply by being in these bands.
Choosing the punk rock lifestyle in the dirty south
Growing up in ultra-conservative Columbia, South Carolina gave me lots of good reasons to want to become punk. Racism and sexism were rampant, and homophobia was utterly beyond question at my middle and high school. There were a very small handful of kids who went to my high school who seemed immune to this kind of behavior, and I was not one of them by any stretch. Of the kids who were somehow different, an even smaller handful of them had spiked hair and one or two even had a studded dog collar (I don't think spikes were allowed at my high school).
I was never a skater kid like some of these guys, so I gravitated to punk rock much, much later than most of these kids. I was 16 before even being exposed to any kind of punk music that I enjoyed (beyond the Dead Milkmen and "punk rock lite" as I like to think of the genre), and 17 before I saw my first live punk show. As a result, the punk lifestyle was a much more social and political one than just something a bunch of my friends were doing. In fact, none of my friends were doing it... yet.
I made the lifestyle switch and became interested in playing an instrument. I had all these ideas I wanted to share with everyone, and I also had musical compositions floating around in my head that I wanted to jot down. I did, but it took a few years (and a move to Richmond, VA in 1994) that helped me launch my first band.
The 10 lessons from the Church of Punk Rock
Without further ado, here are 10 of the things being in a punk band taught me:
- How to work for beer (or less)
This one may seem comical, and in many ways it was, but it is incalculably important to create things just for the sake of making them, not for the sake of money. In punk rock's doctrine-driven ethical atmosphere, being in a band to make money was a cardinal sin, and it's not something I was even remotely interested in. As a result, nowadays, I've chosen a career path (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor) wherein I don't make a great deal of money, to say the least, and I couldn't be happier with my choice.
- How to sing (or scream!) in front of a crowd
Public speaking is something that terrifies the vast majority of the population. I don't really share those fears, and haven't since being in a punk band and being up on stage, screaming out lyrics while pounding on bass. Granted, I was drunk most of the time, but it was a definite foot in the door, and speaking in front of a group seems like a very small deal now in comparison.
- Frugal (also called "punk") living
Being punk while in a band really showed me how important it was to save money on things you don't really need. I never owned a television because of the BS media bias and corporate dollars behind all the programming in the first place (although I was guilty of watching movies and "The Simpsons" and other slightly subversive TV), ate rice and beans and Ramen in order to scrape by, and even learned to sew (kinda) in order to patch up clothing as it began to fall apart.
- Being able to collaborate
This is one of the most important lessons I took away from both bands: working together with a team who has a similar goal, then accomplishing that goal, and meeting with consistency and regularity. If you don't practice, you don't get better (and don't learn new songs), so we met every Tuesday and Thursday at the same time (I planned our practice times around my early judo practice!). As a result, task management and getting projects done as a business owner is, in some ways, second nature for me.
- Creating websites
This one might sound like a stretch, but I was inspired to learn how to create my first website because I wanted to help promote our band. This was never about making money- again, can't stress that enough- but instead about getting this passionate message out to everyone possible, and the web (still in its infancy in 1998) was wide open for websites about bands. So I learned HTML.
- Creating DIY flyers!
This was one of my favorite things about being in a band: being able to start a DIY marketing campaign, usually centered around a flyer we would create, and then distributing said flyer throughout the college town area (and wherever else we could get away with it). This gave me some much needed early marketing experience that has proven invaluable with both of the businesses I run today.
- Becoming a peacemaker both inside and outside of the band
In order to get things done, everyone in the band actually had to get along and collaborate, and I was often the most level-headed person in the room during heated debates. Why? I was motivated to get better and get our message out there! Similarly, senseless violence permeated the punk community at the time, which seemed stupid and paradoxical to me, so I would often break up fights at shows (keep in mind that I was also doing judo and getting into BJJ at the time, so I wasn't afraid to get in the middle of situations). This diplomacy is a must-have in not only business life, but in life in general.
As a result of traveling and frequently booking our own shows outside of the RVA (Richmond) area, I got to meet a lot of interesting folks in other areas of the mid-Atlantic region, and I formed lasting friendships that paid big dividends down the road (in terms of collaborating on future projects, or simply in terms of emotional support). This skill needs little context in today's web 2.0 world, but without the experience of being in a punk band, I likely would be learning a lot of my networking skills from scratch.
- Being unafraid to take a risk
In today's business world, if you're afraid to reach out and try something new, you are going to be left behind in the dust in a rapidly changing world. With the punk rock lifestyle, and especially while in a band, we learned to pick up and move from place to place with little plan of getting back home. Once you've done that, quitting your day job if you're gainfully employed is really no big deal.
- Creation and articulation
The most important thing, though, was the idea that I could take some ideas that were stuck in my head, write them down, sing about them, and other people might find out what I was thinking, or at least experience the same feelings I was experiencing. I use this concept every single day, as I teach, blog, and communicate all over the place. No matter how unpopular or crazy your ideas are, when you put them out there, there will be other people who will connect with you! Being in a punk band gave me the confidence to use this concept to talk about the technological singularity, running a BJJ gym, and countless other ideas over the years.
Early becoming-a-punk days
What have you learned?
Being in a punk band showed me so many things, many of which I have been unable to articulate properly with this article. Many of them seem to transcend words, but the feeling I got and experiences I had comprise something I can never exactly duplicate or experience again. The nostalgia I feel for the old days is only superseded by the elation and overwhelming gratefulness I feel for having gone through all of this stuff in the past.
What have you learned by being in a punk band, or by just being punk? Share it with me in the comments below, and I'll check it out!