I guess it’s all Jeremy Freeze’s fault. He was my little brother’s best friend who lived down the street. He came over after school one day with a mixed tape of Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Minor Threat, and The Ramones. He had older siblings who got him into punk because it was definitely not something readily available where I lived. I must have been 14.
I hear Straight Edge by Minor Threat and I ask what straight edge is. I was like, “I’m already straight edge!” so I continued down that path. Eventually when I had my own money, the first record I bought was Minor Threat’s. I became very involved in the straight edge lifestyle so much that I didn’t have a sip of alcohol til I was 31.
I grew up in a suburb of Memphis 30 minutes east of downtown. Going to shows was impossible except for the few times a friend’s dad would take us or I caught a ride with an older friend. Once I got a car at 16, I was breaking curfew and going to shows at the Antenna in Midtown.
At 17, I started dating a 23 year old crust punk who lived in a house with a bunch of punk kids in several different bands. That’s when I started going to shows pretty frequently. I worked at kinko’s after school and in the mornings on the weekends just to make sure I had every Friday and Saturday night off to go to shows.
Sometimes it was just local Memphis crust bands, but occasionally we’d get somebody from out of town to swing by and play at a show. Eventually, a couple of local bands got pretty big and started touring around, and that led to us getting bigger bands to come play for 50 punk kids who were grateful and respectful for the most part.
Our music scene was heavily influenced by the hardline scene. Before I started going to shows, Memphis was known as the hardline mecca. I guess a lot of kids either sold out or were in jail for protesting, so by the time I got involved, there were only a few key players left. Still, there were a bunch of straight edge vegans in our scene, and there was a bunch of peer pressure to stay pure. There was a certain point where I wasn’t interested in listening to any music that glorified drug usage or really even if they were a bunch of drunks on stage.
Eventually our little music scene gained some steam, but then the Antenna closed down. Whoever was throwing together shows scrambled for a while to find venues for us to have shows, so they got creative. I remember being above Dent Cleaners at a house show bouncing around and feeling the floor cave in because the moisture from the cleaners made it flexible. I think it caved in at some point. 😬😅
Our scene flourished with zines, bands, shows, and a tight knit community. His Hero Is Gone became pretty well known and soon we were getting hardcore bands from Japan playing shows in Memphis.
In 1995, in my first semester in college, obsessed with mIRC chat rooms, I met a boy and fell in love. I was a 19 year old virgin and he was a 20 year old virgin going to college an hour outside Philadelphia. We talked in chat rooms and on the phone every day until he came to visit me. Eventually we weighed our options and because he had a full scholarship at a fancy college and there were much better art schools in Philly vs Memphis, I decided to move to Philadelphia. We lived in a tiny house in Pottstown with his mom and sister. Every day I’d drive an hour or take the train to Center City to go to The Art Institute for Computer Animation.
Mark and I went to shows together and I eventually got used to the scene there, but I never seemed to make any punk friends in Philly. The bands that came to Philly were bigger and awesome and I wish my memory was better because I had some amazing experiences at a squat called Stalag 13 in West Philly.
The kind of punk I had been consistently up until that point was a tomboy, desexualized, either not wearing a bra or wearing a sports bra (I had tiny boobs), old man golf pants 4 sizes too big from Goodwill, environmental, animal rights, or band T-shirts, no makeup, a simple bob haircut, and sensible vegan/skate shoes. Heavily influenced by the crust scene, even though I bathed everyday, I was all about that anti-capitalistic, anti-materialistic, anti-fashion, in your face, punk lifestyle. I refused all fashion everything and didn’t care about surrounding myself with fancy decor. In a lot of ways, in my brain I’m still that kid.
Around 20 or 21, I decided to shave my head. Mark and I both shaved our heads one day as a symbolic gesture of shedding society’s expectations of what we’re supposed to look like. I liked the look and functionality of it, so I religiously shaved it every other Sunday for a year and a half. In hindsight, I don’t recommend keeping a shaved head through the Philly winter, but it sure was a fun social experiment. People assumed I was either a dyke, a skinhead, or a chemo patient. They didn’t know whether to hate me, fear me, or feel sorry for me.
I developed my own punk rock uniform which consisted of a thermal long sleeved shirt, a plain colored tee or band tee, a big black hoodie, oversized cargo pants from Old Navy, and sneaks. No makeup, shaved head, beanie if it was cold, glasses, and a watch. No unnecessary jewelry. I never got fucked with downtown or on the train, especially carrying hundreds of dollars of art supplies, so I guess the look served an important function.
One day Microsoft called Mark and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, to be a 3D Animator for Microsoft, so we up and moved to Seattle. I struggled to learn how to be a 3D animator while he was at work and I lost my drive and interest to create art in a computer. It felt as if it was Mark’s dream and not my own, so one day I decided to quit and return to kinko’s. It wasn’t long after that that I broke up with Mark.
I didn’t really have a plan at that point, but two weeks later, I met up with a mutual friend who had just moved to Seattle from Baltimore, and we clicked right away. I met Jim online when I was in Philly and he was in Baltimore, but every time I went to DC for a show, he never bothered to show up. So we met in person for the first time at an industrial club.
Musically, I became interested in industrial music in Philly since there was such a big scene there. At a certain point I took a break from going to punk shows because Jim lost interest in leaving the house. We went to a few shows when we heard about bands we knew coming through town, but I didn’t really connect with the punk scene in Seattle. When Jim turned into Howard Hughes, refused to leave the house, and started showing antisemitic tendencies, I started plotting my way out. That involved us moving to Portland into a house that cost half as much as the one in Seattle. After six months of trying to make it work and watching things get worse, I asked my friend, Crystal, if I could crash on her couch til I found a place.
At 29, I found myself single for the first time and I knew I was sexually incompatible with the two men I had been with, so that’s when I took a break from shows altogether to explore my sexuality. I was still punk in spirit, but I was no longer connected to the local punk scene. Eventually I got a job working at the MAC counter, so I explored a different side of punk, a more feminine side.
We could wear whatever we wanted as long as it was all black and covered our armpits. I started collecting cute girly clothes from Torrid and dressing like a fat goth girl. I played around with hair colors and hairstyles, and my makeup was intense, fierce, and dramatic every day, even when I had to open.
At this point, I started putting my own spin on what a punk looks like. Punk is being able to do makeup artistry everyday and having the freedom to wear whatever you want at work.
Punk is quitting the MAC counter when they refuse to promote you, probably because you’re fat. Punk is joining the fat community in Portland and not giving a fuck about what other people think about your body and appearance. Punk is starting a fat positive non-profit organization that nurtures a supportive fat community and throwing body positive pool parties that are trans and Black inclusive. Punk is refusing to get married to someone you don’t love or having kids you don’t want. Punk is about questioning everything, reading between the lines, and not succumbing to the capitalistic trap that does not serve you. Punk is resistance and persistence.
Moving from liberal hipster Portland Oregon to Republican Christian Florida was a mindfuck. It’s like living 10 years in the past, yet they won’t learn from other states who are taking much better care of their citizens. Willfully regressive.
I’ve gone from an apathetic liberal who lived in an echo chamber to a mad as hell, vocal, engaged, progressive voter and community member. I see how horrible things are here and I cannot sit by and let it continue. But I couldn’t do it alone. And I couldn’t find my people.
For a couple of years, I tried to make friends and date, but I couldn’t find anyone who thought like me. It was very isolating which didn’t help that I lived with my QAnon loving, Trump supporting mother. I developed a nasty anger problem which fueled me to return to my punk roots.
A couple of years ago, I met Gnarly and we immediately hit it off. We grew up listening to a lot of the same bands, going to the same shows, and coming to the same conclusions about life. Even though he was more of a metalhead, he was punk at heart. He’s gone to shows consistently throughout his whole life and he’s lived in Florida longer than I have, so we eventually started going to shows together. As someone who trembles in pain when standing longer than 15 minutes, I didn’t know how well I’d do going to punk and metal shows, but I’m usually able to find a safe place off to the side while Gnarly makes sure I don’t get hit.
Even though it hurts, I still love going to shows. No matter what city I live in, shows are the one thing I really look forward to. The experience is so fulfilling on emotional, intellectual, social, and psychological levels in ways I can’t articulate. It’s like going home.
I’m now 44, I’m crippled with pain, I’m living in a retirement community in Florida with my Boomer mother, and I’m a non-theistic Satanist. I won’t bore you with the details, but in my view, The Satanic Temple is punk as fuck. We’re all about enforcing the Separation of Church and State, religious reproductive rights, and believing in science. No literal Satan, no baby eating, no animal sacrifice, no woo, just building a supportive community without superstition or pseudoscience. Being good people for the sake of spreading compassion and empathy just because it makes good sense. Do no harm, but take no shit.
I started going to shows again in 2018 in Tampa. 2019 was full of good memories at punk and metal shows. 2020 was ramping up to be a great year for shows, but covid quickly made that impossible. Since I’m disabled and immunocompromised, I’ve lived in quarantine for over a year now. Mom has been stuck in Mississippi restoring our family home, so I’ve been alone in my apartment, going days without seeing another human in fleshspace. Luckily I had already invested in my Satanic community, and through The Satanic Temple Florida chapter, I made friends on zoom and helped create a virtual variety show. I’ve finally found my people and they’re a bunch of heathens, but they’re also some of the kindest, most rational people I’ve ever had the pleasure to call friends. We help each other out when it’s needed, but we also work together to correct unjust laws. As a punk kid at heart, I feel like I can affect the most amount of positive change in my community in the smallest amount of time through TST because their goals are so closely aligned with mine. My appearance has changed drastically over the years, but I’ve always had a punk mindset, which keeps me going.
My first punk gig was Chumbawamba, 1992, Memphis, at the world famous Antenna club. There was a pro-life riot that broke out with the hardliners and the band refused to go on stage until the fake bloody dead fetuses were removed from the venue. I was 15. In the past I worked as a professional makeup artist before becoming permanently disabled. These days I live in Florida.
(8.5″x11″ cold press watercolor paper, watercolor and india ink. SS 10/14/2021)