Dec 25, 2013

It is always the "season for giving"

Dear Ask A Punk -
I am writing this at 4am. It is about 18 degrees outside. There is snow everywhere. In about three hours my alarm is going to go off. In about four and a half hours I'll be at work. In about five hours I'll be wanting to slap nearly all of my fellow employees. I don't really hate my life but I hate hate hate my job and I can't see a way out of it. I like living where I am, but it is a small kind of place and there are not a lot of employment options for a person with my particular skill set, not if I hope to get paid the same kind of money I'm currently getting. There are always shitty jobs to be had anywhere. I want a change but I don't want that change to HAVE to be two or even three steps backward. I can't afford it mentally or financially. Maybe I shouldn't even complain. A lot of my friends are working worse jobs, for less money and they have to deal with real world things like husbands and kids and sick parents. I have a boyfriend, no kids and my parents are still pretty young-ish and healthy. I am just sick of the status quo and I'm not getting enough sleep. What are my options here? - Likely To Snap.

Dear LTS - 
Just so we're clear here - You don't want to move and you would rather not quit/switch jobs, but you want things to change. Sound about right? ... that doesn't give me a lot to work with, but I'll give it a shot. 

It doesn't sound like you really hate your job, more like you're bored with it and the annoying co-workers that go along with that particular gig, whatever it might be. You don't want to move, but clearly you're not enjoying winter weather. hmmm. Here are some options.

1) Take ALL of your vacation & personal days now, or at least as soon as you can. Book a trip, a REAL trip to some destination you've always wanted to see - a warmer one I'm guessing, and GO - for as long as possible.

2) Beyond even vacation time - Can you take a leave of absence or a sabbatical of some kind? Look into it. 

3) If you haven't accrued some serious time off and are more-or-less stuck with the grind, you could profoundly change how you spend your non-work hours. You're awake at 4am anyway, why not go to the gym instead of killing the pre-dawn hours online? If you have evenings or weekends free why not  pursue other interests? - Take some classes in something you've never done before. Engage in a new, serious and time-consuming hobby. Get a second, part-time gig doing something completely unrelated to your main job. 

...or better yet: 

4) Volunteer somewhere. Seriously. Nothing would make you feel better about yourself, your life and your day job than donating your time and perhaps even your expertise to people who need your help. -- I have no idea what it is you do, but I know for a fact that someone, or some group, out there needs you. 

Being just bored and/or vaguely annoyed with your current life/job means you've still got it better than most people these days. The best way to remind yourself of that, get over yourself a little bit and sleep a whole lot better is to go out there and figure out a way to help other people. 

Dec 18, 2013

Blank Flag

Dear AAP-
Another year is almost over. Last January I wrote down fourteen things I wanted to accomplish this year and now it looks like I only got ONE of them done, and that was the easiest one. I'm not going to bother writing down here what they were, the point is I feel like I just sqandered another year, wasted time and space and air doing none of the things I wanted to do. When I was younger (I'm 32) I could have blamed something else - my parents, or my family in general, or waiting to finish school or waiting to find a real job or anything else, but now I'm just someone who is taking up space and being useless. I hate it, and I'm starting to hate myself, or hate myself even more. I just want to give up, but I feel like I already have. I just know I don't want to bother going through a 2014 if it is going to be just like 2013. It wasn't supposed to be like this, I know that for sure. - Sick of It

Dear SoI -
The Holiday Season and the approach of the New Year can take on a much more negative vibe as we get older. The reality is that life can be more mundane at 30 than we expected it to be back when we were 17 and itching to be 'adult.' That realization can be a blast of cold water to the face and soul. It is called the human condition, and sometimes it blows, no question about it. We are tiny bits of animated matter, a consciousness encased in meat for a few years or decades and it is up to us to figure out why. 

I don't know why either, but I do know this: We're not here to be miserable. The point of existance isn't to suffer through it... The suffering will come to us all sooner or later, that is a certainty (sorry to sound so Buddhist) so believe me, no matter how bad things might seem, they could be much, muuuuch worse. Of the 7 Billion people on the planet, the mere fact that you can type a question and send it to me over the internet is proof that you're having a better time here on earth than at least 5 Billion of your fellow humans. 

...and I know none of this is going to make you feel any better because the simple truth is this: You sound like you're clinically depressed. Nothing bizarre or unique or exotic about that, just a plain drag. The pain you're feeling is real, on a deep psychological level - I'm not going to tell you to get over it. I'm not saying it is all "in your head." I am saying that there is no reason to suffer the whole downhill slide to it's likely end. Seek help. Pick up a phone, or search the internet or call your family and tell someone that you need some assistance. Now... seriously, right NOW. Don't even read the rest of this post/answer first... Go. Google 'depression' or 'local psychological services' or something.    ....I'm also guessing that I'm not telling you something you don't already, on some level, know, am I? Reach out. Immediately. You'll be stunned at how many people want to help you.

I know things are looking bleak (perhaps even dire) on levels from the personal to the global, but I also know this: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN... don't be so sure 2014 will suck as badly for you as 2013 did. Get some help and you might just be surprised. The Universe stretches out infinitely in both directions of time and space, but we're only here for a few hundred thousand heartbeats (if we're lucky.) ...meaning: We're all going to be dead for a long, looooooong time. No matter what might or might not come after this, odds are that THIS is the good part. Go. 


Dec 11, 2013

The Future is Unwritten, but...

Dear AAP-
I just recently discovered your site; I've read a few submissions and responses. You seem like a pretty intelligent guy. One of your recent one's was cringe worthy to say the least in the phrasing as well as lack of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and general lack of understanding from the poster. Which got me thinking, as a not that old of a female in the united states (a mere 25) I find I am more and more frustrated by people younger than me either by a few or more years. I am not saying I am perfect by any means, far from in fact. We seem so preoccupied with what's next, politics, technology, etc. we seem to have left our children in a lurch. When I was growing up there was music, art, sports a plenty in schools and affordable at that. However I also came from the "you" can be anything you want generation with little to no work, which led to a lot of well what the hell do I want to do for the rest of my life?" Which now has grown into what can I see myself enjoying forever and won't be obsolete in 15 years, while still being me? This is equally scary in this day and age. What I am getting at is our children's futures don't seem to matter like they once did. My question(s) is/are - Do you think we are missing the big picture by focusing too much on one small piece of it here and now or worse dwelling on what once was? Have we lost our will to rebel and fight back? Are we dooming ourselves by producing a less intelligent (not all) youth who aren't armed with knowledge in the struggle of it all? Thanks for reading ~ SW  ps: I apologize if this seems scattered it's 6:23am here and I am nearing the end of my shift at work. I am a bit tired.

Dear SW-
Thanks for the kind words. 

Your question is the sort that, a few years ago, would have sent me on a multi-thousand word rant about why and how (in my opinion) things have gotten to be so much more difficult for the vast majority of people who just want to have a decent quality of life. The rant starts with the election of everyone's favorite puppet/stooge - Ronald "Trickle Down" Reagan in 1980, then builds to include the increasing influence of money in the political process, the "corporate political donations count as free speech" insanity and the I-give-up madness of cable channels being allowed to call themselves "News" channels when their own program guides describe their shows as either "Opinion" or "Commentary."  ...then I start drifting into the demonization of facts, science and education, the clearly on-purpose destruction of the public education system and the rise of the defiantly ignorant, yet loud "true" American...

...but I won't subject you to all that today

When I was about 25 I too was working a "3rd Shift" job from 11pm to 7am, five nights a week. I was working in a blood lab, doing medical tests... a job I had ZERO qualifications for, but since it was mostly just running machines and inputting numbers into spreadsheets, I didn't exactly need any prior experience. At first the gig was exciting because it was my first post-college full time employment and my first regular job since moving to the big city (Boston.)  ...but it quickly grew tiresome. The vampire hours disconnected me from my friends (this was all way pre-internet), my (admittedly shitty) band broke up and I obviously had to leave shows early (and sober) to get to work.

After about a year and a half, I knew I had had enough. Working in a blood lab was definitely not why I moved to Boston. One night, I just told my supervisor that I couldn't do it anymore and I quit. No "two week notice," I just finished my shift and then walked out the door, knowing that something better had to be in store for me, and there was. 

Flash forward to late 2013 -The way things are now, if I was 25 years old again and in that same position, I don't know if I would (or could) quit that job - I wouldn't have the same optimism that there has to be "something better" out there. ...and that is where we're all at, as a culture, after 33 years of The Rich getting Richer and the Poor getting fucked.

...and you can't even say that sort of thing these days without some ignorant douchebag calling you a socialist and a communist. Somehow people have gotten the idea that "Capitalism" and "Democracy" are the same thing. They're not. 

Anyway. dammit. I was ranting again. Sorry. Let's focus on you and your questions. 

First of all, yes, I do think we're all missing the big picture as a country (and, with a few exceptions, as a species) but I often think it is because while we might 'dwell on what once was' we mostly completely fail to learn from our past mistakes - and again, I'm talking about us as individuals and as a species. Each new generation hits the ground running, thinking they're going to live forever and worried that they're not going to "get their share" so greed and avarice takes over their thinking and then, after decades of "me" oriented life, they finally, usually on their deathbeds, figure out that they got it all wrong and should have pointed their focus outward, been more empathetic and thought more about the negative consequences of their actions - on their fellow man and on the planet.  --- egods. I sound like an old hippie now, don't I? ... I'm just coming to the realization that, after (approx) 40,000 years or so, our species might be coming to the end of it's run - mostly because we haven't figured out a way to really tap into our collective unconscious. 

Secondly, yes... the "will to rebel" is weakening in the new generation. ...and I'm not saying that in a "kids these days!" way. Studies are already showing that the Millennial kids (which almost includes you) generally assume that authority-figures DO have their best interests in mind and at heart... this is probably because they grew up in an environment of involved and evolved parenting - The shit is going to hit the fan as they get older and find themselves baffled by the petty tyrants, unhinged cops and equally faceless AND ridiculous bureaucracy/authority that will have real control over their lives. It'll be ugly for sure - but once the penny drops and they (you) as a generational group realize that they're getting fucked over, maybe THEN some fundamental things will change... unless it is too late - and given the surveillance state that is being created around us, it might be. What I'm saying is - maybe "the kids" aren't as prepared as we were to "Question Authority" ...but we were so negatively primed, we weren't  surprised by it all... They are going to be shocked, and hopefully shocked into action -they'll also (hopefully) have the technology that we lacked and might actually make something good happen. I'm hopeful. 

Basically, I'm saying you're right: As bad as I thought my generation had it, today's kids are going to face challenges (economic, spiritual etc) that'll be much tougher to surmount. Sometimes, like when my hip, shoulder and/or knee seize up for no apparent reason and stop working correctly, I wish  I was 25 again... but then I'm struck with the terror that I would then probably have to live until 2070 or something... and I'm not sure that would be a good time. 

There isn't much you can do to prevent your possible obsolescence in 15 years either. Industries change, shift and crumble at the drop of a hat these days. Even if you're one of the gold-rush types who learn a coding language and flock to some high-tech hotbed... in a few years, you'll spend as much time keeping up learning NEW coding etc as you'll spend working (or sleeping, or trying to 'have a life') ... The truth is: you could graduate #1 from the top engineering school on the planet and you'll still be behind the curve within five years, ten tops. The helping professions are always an option - nursing, doctoring, that sort of thing... until the robots start filling in those positions... and even THAT social contract got voided just this week: The old trade-off was: Work these hard, largely low-paid and thankless, but ESSENTIAL jobs and you'll at least have a decent retirement pension... but just last week a court ruled that Federal bankruptcy laws over-rule state pension laws meaning: After rich corporate interests have sucked the blood from a city (through tax breaks and other concessions) and then skated off with bags of money, the cities (or even the states) will now be able to raid pension funds when they go bankrupt...and that pension money will go where? .... to the same people who helped cause the bankruptcy in the first place. Say it with me: USA !  USA !  USA !

So, it looks like I'm ranting after all. I sound pretty negative don't I? ... not quite full of youthful hope and vigor. I realize this, but the truth is, I do have some hope, even if it feels feeble at times. The pendulum swings one way, then the other... as bad as things seem, times HAVE been darker, but that isn't much consolation when you're young and experiencing the dark for the first time. 

So how do you manage to navigate all this stuff and "still stay you" ?? The best you can do at the moment is to not buy in to the current system, don't acquire a pile of debt by buying a bunch of crap that you've been (falsely) convinced you need. Don't buy into the bullshit. Keep things simple and inexpensive. Once you start incurring debt, you'll be wearing their collar for a long time. We all have to face the fact that whatever we're doing now we likely won't be doing in 15 years, no matter how solid we think the ground beneath our feet might be. you've got to stay flexible and adaptable. You have to keep an open mind and, even more importantly (and more difficult) you have to keep an open heart. 

Good luck.

Dec 4, 2013

Lunch, Actually.

dear Ask A Punk
I'm working a day job and a weekend job and trying to keep a band together, which lately feels like trying to GET a band together. When I'm not at work or not working on band stuff, I like to go out and see shows and be part of my small city's music scene. The main thing is that I'm busy, ALL the time. I don't mind it and really staying busy keeps me more or less out of trouble, mostly. It also means I don't have much time for dating. I see plenty of guys out at clubs but, as a "girl in a band" I have to be careful who I date or even hook up with. There is still a definite double-standard when it comes to that kind of thing here. So I don't have a lot of time to meet guys. I know there is always online and dating sites. Done plenty of that and I don't care what people say, they don't really save all that much time, you just get to make mistakes quicker and with more people. I do miss good "company" though. So a guy at work, that I only deal with occasionally, because he is in another department, asked me out to lunch. I'm not 100% sure why, unless he IS into me, because he doesn't seem like much of a music-type. I'm tempted because he seems like he might be interesting, but a loud voice in my head is telling me not to go along with this. My girlfriends are no help on this, because they're mostly scenesters like me, but moreso because they aren't in bands, so they can hook-up with whoever they want. I know there are pros and cons to this. I'm usually pretty decisive about things like this, but this time I don't know. What's the best course? - Singer. Not a Torch Singer.

Dear SNaTS -
Go to lunch. You know you want to, otherwise you would be "decisive" about this. ...and it is just "lunch" as they say. 

There are always potential issues when/if we get involved in office romances, but you didn't really sound specifically worried about that sort of thing. It sounded more like you were worried he wouldn't be your type or you would have trouble explaining him to your scenester friends if you were to progress past a lunch date. 

And did he use the words "date" or "take you out" ?? Or did he half-ass it and say something like "We should grab lunch sometime" ? ... You might be overthinking this whole thing. Maybe he likes you, maybe he just wants to learn more about your department for reasons you couldn't even guess at. I'm saying it all sounds pretty low-stakes to me. He didn't ask you out for a Friday night or suggest "getting some drinks" or coming over to his place to play videogames or whatever. He just asked you to join him for lunch... He might not even buy your sandwich. 

What you really have to figure out are the reasons for your own ambivalence... Since you're usually so "decisive" about these things. Are you afraid he will be into you, or are you afraid he won't be? I know that being in that 'not knowing for sure' grey area can be the toughest part. Did he ask for your email (either personal or intra-office)? Did he suggest a specific day? Or was it a vague invitation? Either way, he doesn't sound especially smooth so, it sounds like the ball is definitely in your court now. Next time you see him, it'll be up to you to say "hey, how about that lunch?" It is an even money bet that he was trying to gauge your general interest in him. Don't think for a second that you're powerless in this duet. 

Maybe he is into you, maybe he isn't. Maybe you'll dig him, maybe you won't. Only one way to find out for sure - Go to lunch. 

Nov 27, 2013

What's the Rush ?

dear AAP-
I'm trapped in a nuthouse. My dad is one of those people who watches Fox News and then screams about how America is turning to shit and how it is liberal's fault and it just gets worse every week. I'm a junior in high school and I think pretty smart, but any time I object or disagree he just calls me an idiot "like all the rest of them." and calls me brainwashed AND braindead. When I point out that it is impossible to be both, he doesn't think that is funny. So he won't listen to anyone who disagrees with him, no matter what the facts are, and he thinks I'm stupid. But I don't take it personally because he thinks everyone is stupid, and he's a genius, which believe me, he isn't. That's what I don't get. We sure as hell aren't rich, but as far as I can tell, aren't Republicans all about being rich? I can't understand why he is on their side.  I guess my question is, what can I do to make my point or at least keep things from getting even worse -- Politically Confused.

Dear PC -
As regular readers know, I go to pretty great lengths to avoid political partisanship here on AAP, but this isn't really a political question as much as it is a family survival question.

Some families are great, nurturing places where everyone is encouraged to participate, learn and grow, where opinions are respected and spirited debate is embraced. Other families are more like a penal colony, run by one (or two) power-crazed dipshits who think their words and opinions carry the weight of holy law.

Guess which one you're living in.

Yes, it sucks. In the short term, you can forget about making your points or changing your dad's mind. Your best course is to keep your head down, try not to engage him in debates or incur any more wrath than is necessary. I'm not saying you have to back down, or (worse yet) agree with him. I'm saying: Live your life as best as you can. Try to keep a cool head, and the facts on your side. Say as little as possible to him at all times. ...and, like inmates everywhere, start counting down the days to freedom. I know that might be a long way off if you're planning on college etc, but try to keep the long game in mind.

How long a game? ... depends on how patient (and angry) you might be. Once you're no longer a minor and also no longer financially dependent on him, you will be better able to set your own terms of engagement. It might seem like a long way off, but believe me when I tell you that time does fly. You'll be on your own and free to decide how you spend your time, which relatives you want to visit, and who you'll allow under your roof. 

And hey, sooner or later there might be grand-kids he'll want to see, or even beyond that, there will likely come a day when he suddenly finds himself dependent on you, financially and even physically. It always stuns me how bad parents never think that far ahead. So on those especially dark days, just (quietly) remember this: It is likely that you'll be deciding what old age home to shove him in...

When time is on your side like that, you (eventually) have more power than you might imagine. In the meantime remember that punk, at it's best, is also capable of making political statements. Pick up a guitar and start writing songs about the things that (and people who) piss you off. You'll feel better and you'll probably find more than a few fans.

Good Luck.

Nov 20, 2013

Write back again in ten years, or maybe five.

Dear ask a punk-
ot whatever. I just reead yhour story about molly and you are so totally wrong. I hate when ppeople talka bout things they don't know about especially old people who don't know what i going on. Molly is safe if youu respect it and stay hydrates and take care of eachother like humans are supoosed to anyway. People don't get that. We shouud all care more about aeach other and dance togethera nd be together and tue people like you who say bad things apbut it don't know what their taling about and are just tryin to scare people. You don't knw anything abpnut it and shou'dnt talk about things ypou don't know about. I bet if you went to an EDM show you wourd have ana mazing time and not stop talking about it to your rfriends. and the peo9ple ther would except you even if you are old and stuff. you pdon't know about it. (unsigned) 

Dear (unsigned) -
Please tell me that you wrote that message on your phone, in the dark, without your glasses and while wearing mittens. If not, I hope to god you didn't have to drive anywhere any time soon after you hit "send." I'm not sure why I'm even answering this - it isn't really a question. OK, maybe I do know: The mailbag has been slow lately. 

If you (ever) sober up and decide to actually READ my earlier post about EDM and molly that you referred to, I think you will see that my response wasn't chock-full of draconian anti-drug language. I pretty much said that anything chemical that a person decides to put into his or her body is going to come with trade-offs. Only a misinformed fool, or an "immortal" teenager would argue otherwise. 

I hope you do stay safe and that nothing terrible happens to you, or your brain in the coming years. That is your choice to make... just don't say that no one warned you there could be consequences. 

Good luck. Seriously.

Nov 13, 2013

Imaginary Fiend

Dear AAP
I had a rough childhood and didn't make things any easier on myself by being the only punk girl in my fairly small town. That was years ago and I know all the psychology behind it now. I was protecting myself and my feelings by preemptively rejecting "them" whoever "them" might be at any given time; my parents, teachers, the kids at school, the lady at the donut shop, whoever. It was a classic case of "acting out" and I know that any kid doing the same way today, some counselor at school, or someone would notice the "cry for help" and would maybe do something constructive to help. 

I'm not angry about that. I know we live in different and better times when it comes to identifying troubled kids. The thing that bothers me is that this understanding doesn't appear to be retroactive. When I go back home, the same new parents - people my age - who are so clued into this stuff NOW, still look at me and see see the angry weirdo bitch I was in middle school and high school. There is no understanding of what things might have been like for me then, even though they're now so understanding about "troubled kids." I know I was a jerk and maybe even a little bit scary, but I wasn't a criminal or a druggie, I was just an angry, mixed-up kid who dyed her hair too many different colors, made a spectacle of herself and then yelled at people when they dared to notice or comment on my attire, behaviors or attitude. 

But it was a long time ago. I didn't make peace with my family, but I did declare a truce. I went off to school. I have a decent enough job and, although I still don't dress in wal-mart clothes, my personal style would probably be considered just a little modern and edgy, not crazy or scary. But every time I go home and run into people I know, I mean KNEW, they still have that same image of me. And yes, it does bother me that their opinions of me DO seem to still matter. How can I convince them I'm different or do I just let this stuff go? - Former Pariah.

Dear FP-
If you've read even just a few of my previous posts, you'll know that my answer is: yeah, you have to let this stuff go. Unless you become nationally famous for rescuing babies from a burning orphanage, or discover the final cure for cancer, people who knew you as a kid aren't going to change their general opinion of you.

The good news is this: They don't spend much time thinking about you one way or another. Seriously. What is that old quote? from Ben Franklin or someone: "You would worry much less about what people think of you, if you realized how rarely they thought of you at all." ...maybe it was Oscar Wilde. I'm not sure, but you get the idea. Trust me, your old high school classmates and the people in your home town do not regularly gather to discuss what a weird bitch you once were. They're too busy driving their kids to soccer practice. On those rare occasions when you do "go home" you're the only one experiencing waves of nostalgia (good or bad.) To the rest of them, it is just another Tuesday. When they happen to run into you, unexpectedly, at the local big box department store, they have nothing else to orient themselves to you but your shared past, the past where you were the weirdo and maybe even were mean to them. Yes, they might have good reason to still be angry with you, don't forget that. Then, 15 minutes later, as they are loading their purchases into the mini-van, they're probably already thinking about something else. I'm not being a jerk here, this is a good thing.

If their opinions are that important to you, I guess you would have to move back to your town and go through the long, slow process of proving you're now different by being different, day-in and day-out where they can actually see it. ...and I'm guessing this issue isn't nearly important enough to you to bother doing that. It seems like you have the opposite of "survivor's guilt." You've survived a difficult start in life and now you have some "survivor's pride" about how far you've come, and you just wish these other yahoos would freakin' notice. Which, if you only make rare appearances on the home front, isn't going to happen.

So yeah, let it go. All of it. When you do go home, smile at people, and maybe even decide if a few apologies are in order - that could go a long way toward changing their opinions of you. You said yourself that you "acted out" a lot back then, you probably stepped on a lot of toes and wounded a lot of people's feelings. You have to take some responsibility for that too, even if they were the coping mechanisms of a wounded and damaged child. And then, heck, in 50 years (or less) none of it will really matter because, well, it never really did.

Nov 6, 2013

Stark Trek

Dear AAP -
I just turned 33 and just finished up another Summer and Fall driving around the country and playing with my band. In the wintertime we usually stick close to home, try to hold down steady jobs and just practice and play around town. The thing is, I'm not sure that the summer of 2014 will be, or should be, spent the same way. We've been doing this, with this configuration of the band, or over six years. Do we have "a following"? I guess so, in a few towns. If we post a new track on our website, it'll get maybe 2000 listens fairly quickly, then not much more. This is the problem. We might be getting better as a band, but we're not getting any bigger. We are no closer to really supporting ourselves with our music now than we were in 2009, and really, any band that plays together for as long as we have has to get a little better, even accidentally. I am wondering when or if it is time to stop all this. - JJx

Dear JJx -
It is time to stop when the hassles and indignities start to outweigh, in your mind, the payoffs you're receiving. ...and by payoffs, I don't mean the elusive "big break" or whatever it is called now. I mean the only payoff that really matters: the FEELING you get when you're playing your music for an appreciative audience, even if it is the same size as it was 2 or 4 years ago. 

There are a million rational reasons to stop any creative endeavor, most of them financial, especially when the ticking clock starts turning into entire calendar pages flying by. But when we're talking about creative endeavors we are almost always talking about something irrational - passion. I'm sure that, six years ago, you had a vision, or at least a hope, that you and your band would become more "successful" somehow... even though everyone told you what a long shot really "making it" as a band really is. Even though your own head told you the same thing... you pushed on in spite of the odds against you. Yes, you do get karmic points for that. Seriously, you do. ...but that might be all you ever get. Can you be happy with that?

You have to sit quietly and re-examine (or perhaps examine or the first time) exactly why you started down this path in the first place. Was the singular goal to sell a million records? Or was it to just see how far you could take it? Maybe this is as far as it could be taken. 

Ask yourself this: Are you talking about quitting this band, or are you talking about hanging up the whole attempt to be "a musician" first and foremost? There are a zillion great musicians in the world who've never made their living playing... just as there are a zillion writers, painters, sculptors, chefs, app designers etc etc etc who are great at what they do, but might never make that big score. Heck, I've been writing this blog every week for five years... and my audience is pretty much the same size as was 2 years ago, and the last time I checked, my "income" from google adsense is up to a whopping $8.00. total. for five years. clearly, I'm not doing this for the money or fame. I'm doing it because I like to do it which is pretty much the reason I do all of my other writing too. Do I hope for some pay-off from some of it, eventually? Yes, of course, but I also know that none of that is a given. The odds are long when it comes to solid financial success for any creative endeavor. ...but you can tell a 20 year old that fact until you're blue in the face, and all they'll be thinking is: "Well, I'm more talented than that old hack anyway" all you can do is shrug and wish them luck. 

The cliche is true: You had better enjoy the process because that alone might be your only payoff. But yeah, I get it - being in a real band requires a 100% commitment. You can't just do it "on the side" etc. You have to decide if you're "in" or "out" ...and it sounds like you haven't quite decided you're "out" yet, for the simple reason that you asked. Trust me on this: When you're really ready to quit, you'll know it and - no one will be able to talk you out of it.

Oct 30, 2013

There Will Be Thud

Dear Ask A Punk
Does a band have to have a bass player? I play guitar with my friend who drums and we like it just the way it is and I know a lot of bands I could name who only have 2 people in them but we practice at the drummers garage and his dad says we're not a real band. I think the bass part is boring anyway and we like the way we sound. - two only.

Dear Two Only
Some people think you can't have a "real" band without an accordion, or maybe a banjo, or clarinet, or, well, name any other instrument and someone, somewhere will think it is essential for a band to have one. 

So, yeah, your friend's dad is wrong, but I also think that, as you learn more about music and get a better handle on how you want to connect with your audience, you'll find that you'll want to add some more low-end. This might come in the form of you just playing more low notes on your guitar or, you might eventually realize that having a bass line running through one of your songs just might make the song even better. I'm not saying you have to have a bass player. I'm just saying that you should stay opened-minded and not rule anything out.

It is a lot of fun to blast distortion and screech out high-pitched riffs but, very often the people who aren't actually playing the music need to FEEL it in a way that only low frequencies can provide. The human ear can hear a wide range of audible frequencies... don't rule any of them out - but of course, don't let a lack of a bass player stop you from making the music that currently sounds so good to you. 

The world is full of people who are going to tell you things that they think are "facts" when they're really just opinions, and often not even well-informed opinions. The trick is to learn to tell the difference and be true to yourself. So, if some dad says "you need a bass player" feel free to ignore that free advice, but if you find your music isn't connecting with people the way you want it to, then you have to look at your own "opinions" about things like how boring a bass line might or might not be. In the meantime - keep playing they way you want to play.

Good luck.

Oct 23, 2013

The Agony of the Ecstacy

Dear AAP -
My friends have branched out from punk rock and are now getting more and more into going to EDM shows. I think they're doing it more for the drugs than for the music, because I don't see the endlessly repeating music as all that interesting and can't imagine that they would have found it interesting either before they started taking "Molly" and now that is all they talk about - going to the shows to get molly and trip out. I'm not unfamiliar with drugs of various kinds, but I don't see how this new drug suddenly makes music that they normally wouldn't have been able to tolerate, enjoyable. In fact it is the sort of music, and people, that we used to laugh at and it couldn't me more un-punk. What's the appeal? - Old School at 20.

Dear OSa20
"Molly" isn't a new drug at all, it is just a new name / marketing angle for plain old Ecstasy, but in allegedly more pure powdered form... which is how, 20 years ago, Ecstacy was usually sold. I say "allegedly more pure" because of course any powdered drug can be cut with a similar-looking powder to increase profit margins. 

You can easily look up the science and debate over the merits and dangers of Ecstacy elsewhere on the web, you didn't ask me about that. You asked me about why your friends' tastes in music have shifted so much, and so suddenly, and why they're suddenly so rapturous about EDM. You're right about one thing, it is mostly about the drugs, that and the drug-induced feeling of "connection" that often happens when a lot of people are gathered in a confined place, listening to loud and repetitive music and fed a drug that opens the floodgates of dopamine production in their skulls. They get a euphoric feeling that "wow, we're all here and we're all connected. We're all thinking the same thing." .... which in a weird sort of way they are...but all they're thinking is "wow, we're all thinking the same thing."   ...see the circular logic at work there? Everyone feels connected because they feel connected, not because they actually ARE connected.  The vibe is that you feel like everyone would agree with you if you were to say pretty much anything - but no one really says anything to test that theory.  Individuals just smile at each other, and feel like the other person is completely empathetic with them... but the truth is that other person is looking at you, thinking you're completely on their page. 

...not the worst way for humans to interact with each other I suppose, but not a lot really gets accomplished aside from hopefully having a good time for a few hours and hopefully not dying of hyper-thermia (high body heat) or dehydration. Every drug comes with a downside - physical, emotional and/or chemical, and we have to decide for ourselves what risks we're willing to take with our bodies and our minds, and then accept whatever comes after those decisions are made.

Your friends are probably so far just experiencing and enjoying the upside of their "new" drug discovery, along with an enormous crowd of people that seems to like and accept them (because everyone is in such a drug-induced good mood) but sooner or later the down side will creep in to a greater or lesser degree. You can't mess with your brain chemistry indefinitely without some of those chickens coming home to roost. Hopefully your friends are aware of that. 

As for you, it doesn't sound like you were contemplating joining them any time soon. Keep making your own decisions on what you like to listen to and (more importantly) what you will and won't put into your own body. You can express your concerns to your friends, but be willing to accept the fact that they're probably not going to listen very closely to what you have to say. In the meantime, you can make some new friends in the moshpit.

Oct 16, 2013

Bad Romance or Bad Romeo?

Dear Ask A Punk -
My girlfriend and I broke up. We're in our late twenties, so this isn't some teenage highschool thing. We were together for six years and we lived together or almost two of them, but now it is over. It is devastatingly sad. It isn't either person's "fault" is is just one of those things where we seemed to go as far as we could and then we just didn't like each other as much anymore. It was her idea to move out and to officially break up. So why does everyone in our circle of friends act like it was either my fault or my idea to break up? And it is a pretty small scene here. I know that every bar or club I go to, I'm going to run into someone I and we know, and they're going to probably take her side. She moved out on me, am I supposed to now move out of town? - Single.

Dear Single -
Well, now we know your side of the story at least. If everyone in your circle of friends is looking at you with that "WTF?!" look in their eyes, perhaps you need to re-examine your role in the demise of your relationship.

Just because she's the one who chose to break-up and move out doesn't necessarily mean that it is also all her "fault." Maybe you're not the charming and selfless boyfriend you seem to think you were. Generally, sane people break up and move out when the other person's behavior becomes intolerable. You didn't describe your girlfriend as crazy or unstable, and even if you did, I would still be somewhat suspect of your version of how things went down.

The fact that you're so concerned about "fault" and what your friends are saying tells me that, even though you're in your 20s, the mentality still feels a bit high school to me. Sure, some friends might be more likely to take her side over yours, but if everyone seems to be on the same page about YOUR culpability in this...except you... maybe it is time to re-examine things more objectively. I am sure plenty of your mutual friends will have something to say, why don't you try just listening to them for a little while without interrupting.

That is - if you want to get back together... and I really don't assume that because aside from a brief mention of it being "devastatingly sad" it sounds like all you're really concerned about is what all your friends currently think of you. It doesn't sound like you're hoping to get back together with this girl, you're just worried about salvaging your reputation.

Oct 9, 2013

Punk Rock Babies.

Dear aap
I'm going to turn 33 in a few weeks. I've been playing in bands since high school, but also managed to get through college. Not a fancy college, but I do have a bachelor's degree. I have played more shows than I can count. I have had a lot of fun and some interesting adventures and made some long-term friends. I have loved it, but since I'm a girl and not a guy, I have other things on my mind too like wanting to have kids and have a real life too. I love my bandmates, but never dated any of them - they are all guys - and while I know they respect me, I don't think they understand how different this issue is for me than it is for them. Kids are something they are terrified will happen to them accidentally, while I'm starting to get terrified that I won't have any kids.

This pressure is all coming from me by the way. My parents are very supportive and cool and are not the kind who would be hassling me about supplying them with grandchildren. This is all internal. I guess I'm realizing that, no matter how much I DO still love playing music and doing shows, I'm never going to make enough of a living at it that it will be able to support a family. I think the guys in my band still think they're just a click or phonecall away from some big break, but I know that isn't going to happen for a band with members between 32 and 38. I don't want to quit necessarily, but I also do want to get on a more serious track jobwise I guess at least find something more serious and steady than the sorts of jobs we all have now, the sorts of jobs you can take a few weeks off from so that you can to a short road tour. 

How do you decide when it is time to make this switch and how do I tell my band? - Tick Tock

Dear TT -
You have the right to live your own life, but you do owe it to your bandmates to be honest and to give them as much advance warning as possible before you made any big changes. You didn't tell me what your role in the band is - If you're just playing an instrument in a band full of equals, then leaving probably won't derail the band if the other members want to keep it going. If you're the lead singer & front-person and/or the main songwriter, losing you could be a tough blow for a band to survive, and they would probably have to re-form as some other kind of band/entity. 

Clearly you've hit one of those moments in adulthood where you're realizing that "keeping all your options open" is no longer an option. Every decision to walk through one door or pursue one kind of life over another now means that those other options, those other doors not chosen, might then be closed for good. It can be scary. It is also pretty much a universal part of the human condition, so welcome to official adulthood... sucks sometimes, doesn't it?

I've hit that wall a time or two as well. I was 31 when I stopped playing in my last real(ish) band. I moved from Boston to California when I was 32. It was a hard decision to make. It opened some doors, but it also slammed shut some others. The move changed the direction of my life in every imaginable way (some good, some less so.) ...but I also felt, in a very deep way, that the decision had to be made at that time. If I had waited another ten, or even five years, it would have been to late to make the jump. Are there regrets and "what ifs" ...hell yes there are, but I think the regrets and especially the "what ifs" would be even heavier if I hadn't made the decisions I did, when I did. 

Life is long, if you're lucky. If the music is really in you, it will never leave, it just might have to take a back seat to a few years of diapers and carpooling to soccer practice. After her early trail-blazing rock/poetry career, Patti Smith spent nearly 20 years in Detroit quietly raising her kids and has now come back as strong as ever. It can be done. 

You DO need to bring this up with your full band as soon as possible. Do it all at once, don't corner the other members individually to feel them out on the subject, that'll just muddy the waters and likely start gossip etc. Just sit down with everyone and tell 'em what is on your mind. Their reaction, whether it is good or bad, will probably go a long way toward cementing in your mind the path you have to take next.  

...and it doesn't have to be drastic. It sounds like the motherhood thing is still in the idea stage for you. It just no longer sounds completely outlandish to you that you could be a mom. It doesn't sound like you've picked out the father yet or have any set timetable in your head... you just know you have to start making some changes and preparations in your life so that you could hopefully include a baby in it. This tells me that you don't have to necessarily quit the band right away, or even soon... You just have to be honest with your guys and warn them that you could be opting out of their grand plans for world domination. 

Good Luck, and if it is a boy, I'll mention that "Thomas" is a good, strong and "classic" kind of name that doesn't get used much these days.

Oct 2, 2013

Cute d'etat! Cute d'etat! Cute d'etat!

Dear aap
I know everyone else probably complains about the start of school, but after a long, pretty boring Summer it is nice to get back to school, back to my friends - because we live really scattered around and don't see much of each other over the Summer. I'm not a big school geek or anything. I really really don't like getting up so early in the morning, but I don't mind being there. I have friends, most of the teachers are decent enough human beings and our teams suck so badly that the jocks more or less keep to themselves and can't get away with being douchebags like they can at other schools. I'm sure college will be better, but I just mean that school doesn't have to be a non-stop nightmare for most people, and it isn't for me. In fact things are going pretty good in unexpected ways. My girlfriend and I have been together for over a year, but even that is usually better during the school year, because at least we can see each other every day. The summer was tougher, even with texting and stuff. So it was great to see her and my friends and get everyone together. So the weird thing is that one of her friends, one of her best friends is now an enemy due to something that happened over the Summer, but I don't know what. So the weird thing is, her friend has always been ok with me but this year she is talking to me all the time. We are in 2 classes together and she wants to be lab partners and she goes out of her way to find me between classes and she is flirting with me pretty hard. I love my girlfriend, but it isn't like I've been with a lot of different girls and, if I was being objective, this other girl is really hot and has really gotten even hotter over the Summer, and it just seems like my girlfriend is getting mad at me for talking to her former friend, like I can help that. So the truth is that her friend is being nicer to me now anyway, and she is making it clear I think that she would want to date me. I'm not a jerk or anything, but if you could see what I'm in the middle of, you would probably say to go with the new girl. - Small Town Punk.

Dear STP -
I don't have to see anything to know you're in the middle of waaaaay more than you realize.

Sure, there is, statistically speaking, a verrrrrry slight chance that your read of the situation is on target: Your girlfriend has become an unappreciative harpy just as this other, hotter girl, who has known you for a while but never before expressed any interest in you, has suddenly, after having a completely-unrelated-to-this-situation fight with your girlfriend over the Summer, decided that you are the 2013 edition of Prince Charming.

Sure, that could be the whole story... but that isn't the way the smart money would bet. 

As a guy, you probably know exactly where you stand with your male friends 99% of the time, right? The guys you can count on, generally, stay that way, and the guys you don't trust or dislike probably feel the same way about you. If you piss off one of your good friends, accidentally or on purpose, he is probably going to let you know and call you on it, in very direct ways. He isn't going to weave some Machiavellian scheme to ruin your life that might also include innocent stooges who are unaware of the plan.

Girls often aren't so lucky. While your same-sex friendships are often based (and often only extend as far as) shared interests in activities, bands, sports, games etc., their friendships, especially at your age, while they might start in the same way as your guy/guy friendships do, often go a lot deeper and are often based more on emotional intimacy and 'trust' and the sharing and keeping of each other's secrets. That sort of sharing creates powerfully intense friendships. It can also breed very dangerous enemies. 

I hate to shoot you in the ego here, but if I had to bet, I would bet on this: This 'new' girl really doesn't care about you, or even if she does a little bit, what she REALLY cares about is sticking it to her ex-friend... your girlfriend. 

Come on, man. You said they had a fight over the Summer and now they're not friends anymore and you seriously think her new infatuation with you is just a coincidence? Timing? Have YOU changed that much this Summer that she would notice? Are you suddenly much taller? Better looking? Funnier? ...enough that she would suddenly notice you the way she now (allegedly) has? Highly unlikely. Look at it from the outside. This 'new' girl scores a win every time your girlfriend gets upset either at you, or in front of you... You start thinking badly of her, like "Why is she mad at me?" and "Why is she no fun anymore?" while this other girl seems so "into" you and so no-hassle... 

Can't you see this is a set-up? 

Granted, your girlfriend can't tell you who you're allowed or not allowed to talk to... just as you can't tell her who she's allowed to interact with, but I think you have to pay closer attention to the true motivations behind this new girl's attentions. You have to put aside the ego-inflating thought that "of course she's into me, she finally figured out how awesome I am... while, apparently my current girlfriend has forgotten how awesome I am."

Don't ask your girlfriend's other friends what their opinion is... talk about kicking a hornet's nest! There are probably six different sides to the story of whatever happened between them this Summer, so you won't find any clarity there. Talk to your current girlfriend about this. Directly. Ask her for details about what went down this Summer between her and the other girl. This is a chance for you to be both brave and honorable. I know that sounds like a tall order and that maybe I'm making a bigger deal out of this than I should, but the direct approach is always the best. Even if it ends up being painful, it doesn't cause any pain that wasn't going to happen sooner or later anyway (and likely be worse pain the later it occurs) and it saves everyone a lot of time.

If you break up with your current girlfriend so you can be with this new girl, I can almost promise you that the new girl will suddenly and shockingly lose interest in you very soon after that break-up occurs. You asked, so that is my advice. If I'm wrong, feel free to write back in a few months and tell me how it all shook out.  ...but I seriously doubt I'm wrong.

Sep 25, 2013

Gritty in Pink

Dear Ask A Punk
I like punk rock music. I listen to it all the time and I enjoy seeing shows when I can but we don't have a lot of all-ages shows here. The problem is that I don't 'look' punk enough I guess. When I go to shows the girls in their ripped fishnets and leather and stuff sort of sneer at me like I'm a poser, but I know as much, or probably more about it all than they do. I just don't look cool enough for them I guess. I never comment on what they're wearing. I can't help it if I just like nicer clothes, and I don't mean expensive clothes or anything. I'm not rich. In fact it is the opposite. I don't have the money to spend or waste on clothes that I can only wear to shows and not also wear to school or a job or out in the world. What should someone like me do? - Too Posh Punk

Dear TPP
The quick, easy and correct answer is: Ignore them all. Ignore 'em with a vengeance. Putting on clothes you don't really "feel" just to please or fit in with these anonymous girls would be the poser move, so screw that. 

I've said before that one of the most punk rock people I ever knew wore chinos, penny-loafers and an oxford shirt to every show, yet no one doubted his punk rock bonafides. It was always clear that he was sincere about his passionate love of the music, and that was all that mattered. That should be all that matters to everyone, but we know that just isn't the case. As soon as Punk Rock became "a thing" as much as we all might have tried to fight it, certain "standard" modes of dress and haircare crept in. This is normal for pretty much any human society or sub-group. Sooner or later an identifiable uniform is generally agreed upon and then our most tragic human tendency kicks in: The tendency to divide everyone into either "us" or "them." 

I don't even feel the need to make this one of my usual long-winded answers. You're right to stick to your guns, live your life and only hang the clothes that you want in your closet and on your body. Always. 

Good luck.

Sep 18, 2013

The Song Remains Mundane

Dear Ask A Punk -
Oh my god. I have to stop going out to clubs because every band, and I mean every band, seems to sound the same these days. It is unbelievable. I am sick of everything being so predictable and it makes me want to scream. Don't tell me to form my own band. I'm not saying these bands are necessarily BAD and that I could do better, I'm saying that they're all the same. You always tell people to make their own music, but some of don't want to make it, we want to enjoy listening to it. We want to find a band or a couple of bands we really like so that we can listen to THEIR music and enjoy seeing them play. I know you always say that punk rock made it so anyone can be a musican. I get that, but that doesn't mean that everyone HAS to be a musician. Almost everyone in the world likes listening to some kind of music, but most people have no interest in spending their time learning how to make music. So What is a potential music fan to do? - In the Mosh Pit 

Dear ITMP -
OK, you're right, not everyone needs to, or wants to, be their own source of music. As for why every band in your town seems to be "the same," here are a couple of possible reasons.

An entrenched scene.
If there are established clubs for punk rock and alt music, even those places can become pretty rigid in their booking polices etc. because, like it or not, club owners, even if they do love the music, are really most concerned with packing their club with paying fans (and beer drinkers.) They tend then, to go with what they know will work. The bands then, either consciously or unconsciously, start conforming with the established "sound" because they know that is the best way to book gigs. 

Low Tide.
Even in the best music towns, sometimes a fallow period occurs between waves of interest. A few bands catch everyone's attention and interest, they get bigger and leave, or they implode, or any of a million other possibilities, and then, for a while, there is no new interesting band to take their place, but the venues still have bills to fill, and so bands that arent' all that interesting, or unique rush in to fill the void. No town or scene can expect to always be "amazing" and groundbreaking, sometimes the tide just goes out on the talent pool... but the good news is that, eventually, the tide always manages to come back in sooner or later.

In the meantime, while you're waiting - sure, maybe you can take a break from clubbing. Save your money and maybe try expanding your listening into new areas you've never considered before. On that score you've got no excuses... it has never been easier to find "something new" to listen to. Search randomly on Spotify or Pandora or Soundcloud. Explore the 'radio' button on iTunes - I have found some amazing stations there, like one that only plays music by unsigned bands in Norway... I mean come on, how cool is that? Listen to classic ragas from India (or punk rock from India) or awesome tapes from Africa. Put new sounds and beats in your head. 

You'll save money and you'll increase your understanding and enjoyment of music while you keep an eye on your local scene - waiting for that next awesome band to come along. 

Sep 11, 2013

My hometown was so small....

This week's reader question actually started out as a comment. Just when I was thinking of deactivating the entire "comments" set  up (because 90+% of the comments that we get here at AAP are either from pornbots, scammers or trolls) someone lobs in a legit point of view and a question. I decided then to bump it up to be an official 'question of the week.' Here it is. Obviously, I have added the "Dear AAP" part just for the sake of form.

Dear AAP -
I don't know where you live or used to live, but I have to call some bullshit on your answer from a few weeks ago. In theory anyone can and should be able to start their own scene in their own town, but if you're from a really small place it can be 100x harder to do. My friends and I live pretty much in the middle of nowhere in a town so small that it barely counts as a town. There is NOWHERE to go to do anything. No coffeeshops. No youth centers. No empty warehouses. There are bars, but none of us is "of age" and those bars are full of the shitkickers and jocks who all hate us anyway. Everyone knows everyone by name here. We are bussed to another town after elementary school because we don't even have our own high school and then, as soon as high school is done, most people LEAVE, unless their family owns land or a farm or something. I don't think you realize how bleak some places are. We would like to do it ourselves but there is nowhere to do it and no one to come and watch you do it either. Really there is nothing. The best we can do is listen to punk rock while we play videogames or skateboard, drink some beer and rarely find some weed, while we count down the years and days until we can get out of here. Clearly you don't get it. What would you tell someone in a town like this? [note: at this point the writer sent me the link to a google map of his/her town. I will admit it was pretty damn bleak.]

Dear Commentator
You make a valid point. After seeing where you're living (Google streetview never ceases to amaze me) I have a good idea of what you're up against. You are in the "middle of nowhere" in a lot of respects, and yeah, you don't have a lot of the options or infrastructure that most scene DIYers in other places are able to find and take advantage of. 

But you're not completely right. 

You said you and your friends have nothing with which to create a scene. Guess what? You and your friends are already "the scene" and you don't even know it. When I was a teen in a small town, I didn't HAVE punk rock friends. I had friends, but back then, even my good friends didn't quite "get" what I heard and felt in the music... but you have each other. Answer me this: Why aren't you and your friends already a BAND? You might not have a cool club to play, but you also don't have a lot of snobby scenesters deciding how good your band is (or would be) or how really 'punk rock' you are or are not. You, yes YOU, really get to define what punk rock means for yourselves.

You have $$ for skateboards, videogames, weed and beer, and the luxury of time to sit around and be bored / complain... so why not devote some of that money, time and energy to creating your own music? Buy some cheap instruments, hunker down in someone's basement or bedroom and start making some music of your own? - Learning the basics of "how to play" for our purposes anyway, only takes a few months. You can find free drum, bass and guitar lessons online, and then you're off to the races. You might not have an audience to play for (yet) but your splendid isolation means you do have something else: a distraction-free incubator.  ...and if you run into "creative differences" within the group you could all agree form more than one band together. I'm not kidding. Even if there are only three of you, you could make three different bands - each person could be the 'leader' of each one and write the songs for it. They could all be stylistically different from each other. Who knows? How funny would it be to stage your own "Battle of the Bands" and have every band be made up of the same people, but playing different songs/instruments etc?

Put together some songs, record them in your bedroom, put a website together for yourselves and then put your songs (and videos?) online. By the time you're old enough to drive, just maybe you'll have connected with SOMEone, within a few 100 miles who might want to put together a gig with your band(s.)

That is how it is done. Think about and work with what you DO have instead of focusing on what you don't have. From what I saw on Google, you could create some very dramatic visuals using just the cameras on your phones... maybe try doing that and then creating the kind of music that compliments the visuals, or visa versa... I'm trying to tell you that there is no wrong way to do this, do do it all, and I can almost promise you this: When you do graduate and move on to some bigger metropolis, or a college town, a part of you will miss the purity of sitting with your friends, making only the music you love, and dreaming about what's to come. 

Get going. 

Sep 4, 2013

Sonic-wanting Youth

Dear Ask A Punk -
I like music and I really like punk rock music. I would like to be in a band someday. What instrument should I play? - ADA

Dear ADA
Hello. Thank you for asking your question. I am glad that you like punk rock music very much. That makes me smile. 

It is fun to pick out what instrument you want to play. Most people sort of know what instrument they want to play even if they are not sure why, but many people are probably wondering which one to choose just like you are.

Since I do not know you, I can not just TELL you what instrument to choose, so I am going to ask you some questions that might help you decide, depending on what your anwers are.

  • Have you ever watched a real band play? If yes, do you remember paying more attention to one of the musicians than all of the others? If yes, then whatever that person was playing might be the instrument for you.
  • Do you like to snap your fingers to the beat and listen quietly to a song? If yes, you might want to play BASS GUITAR.
  • Do you mostly just want to look cool, make loud sounds and have everyone look at you? You might want to play REGULAR GUITAR.
  • Have you ever gotten in trouble for breaking things or running around the house like a maniac? If yes, then you might want to play DRUMS.
  • When you hum along to the music does it make you want to write your own songs with lots of other instruments playing along? If yes, then you might want to play PIANO.

I hope those help, but if you still can't really decide decide then the best guess is to start with the piano. This is because, if you really understand the piano then it will be way easier to learn to play all those other instruments later.

And maybe that is an even better idea: Learn to play them all !!


Aug 28, 2013

Enraged by the Bell

Dear Ask A Punk -
The Summer is over already and I can't believe in a few days I have to go back to school. It is just miserable. My school sucks. and not just in the usual ways that public schools suck. It is cold all winter - like theres no heat at all and the food is probably better in prison. The teachers most of them you can tell they don't want to be there either, just get their paychecks and no one gives a shit - unless you ANYthing even slightly out of the ordinary from the other sheep and then suddenly everyone gives a shit, about meaningless bullshit. I'm starting my junior year too, so there's TWO MORE YEARS of this shit I have to get through. I can't stand it. How does anyone with any integrity survive this stuff? - punk HS.

Dear pHS -
 I'm guessing that a transfer out of your current school and into a different one (public, private or 'charter') is not a possibility? If not, at least you have one light at the end of the tunnel: Graduation Day. I know that probably doesn't sound like much of a silver lining, but it is more than your teachers can say. 

Full Disclosure: Both of my parents were teachers in public elementary schools so, if I have a little bit more compassion for your teachers than you think is deserved, my apologies. I can tell you one thing I know for sure - No teacher, not even the most burned-out, apathetic, doesn't-give-a-shit teacher started out that way. We're told we are still, in spite of ourselves, the "richest country in the world" if that is really true, then the condition of our public school system is a national disgrace. I grew up in a small town with decent enough schools and even its own High School... I graduated a loooong time ago... when I go back to my hometown and see how far they've declined is breaks my heart and enrages me. 

And that's just the tangible stuff...  The perception that no one else cares, and that things aren't going to get any better, well that weighs on the people who are there year in and year out, in ways that you can't imagine. Your teachers probably all remember better times for your school system. I'm almost willing to bet that the angriest douchebag of a teacher in your school is probably the one who, at some point, long ago, cared the most. 

And yes, I know NONE of that is your fault. I'm just saying try to have a little empathy. In the meantime, since I'm still assuming that transferring to a new school isn't an option, I have some other possible options.

First of all, what is your plan for after High School. Are you thinking about college? Specialized training? Joining the military? Working in the family business? What? How you answer that question matters.

If you're dreaming of escaping to college, then you had better do everything you can to get the best grades possible and find a few ways to get "involved" in your school that will look good on your college application, whether you enjoy doing any of it or not. Is it cynical to think that way? Yes it is, but if you want to go that route, you'll have to play that game. 

If you have other things in mind for that long stretch of years after high school, why not look into getting your GED? I know the laws vary from state to state, but at some point, you should be allowed to try passing the GED and escaping your living nightmare ahead of schedule. 

In the meantime: Endure.

Sorry if this answer is a bit generic, but really, the question is pretty generic and didn't tell me much about your personal situation. 

Aug 21, 2013

This album isn't big enough for the three of us.

Dear AAP-
Here is a really specific situation. I'm in a band. There are four of us: Drums, Bass and two guitars. Not exactly unique I know but we do get the job done. Three of us write songs for the band - obviously the drummer doesn't. Now we think we're ready to do some recording and we all agree we want a tight little collection of eight or at the most ten songs. The problem is we currently have about 20 original songs and trying to figure out which songs to include is starting to cause a lot of bad blood between us, which is rare because we're all friends and get along just fine most of the time but in this case everyone thinks their songs are the best ones and when we try to "vote" on each song, everyone votes for their own songs first and the drummer is feeling like he is being forced to make the decisions, and even when he does he gets accused of picking the songs he has the best drum parts in. I'm sure every band runs into this sort of thing but we're out of ideas and it isn't like I'm saying the rest of the band is the problem. The truth is I think most of my songs are the best ones too, so I know I'm guilty of the same behavior. What should we do? -- Songwriter

Dear Songwriter -
Clearly, the easiest solution is to write better drum parts into your songs. 

I'm kidding.

You've got a high-class problem here because, contrary to what you say in your letter, most bands have the opposite problem, at least at first: Not enough song writing ideas and talent... then, later, when the rest of the band sees that the actual writer of the songs makes more money then they all suddenly decide they want to write some songs too (and thusly get some royalty checks.) ...but you do have a real issue here, because it sounds like, even though you (of course) think your songs are the best, you clearly think the other songs are pretty good too. 

Some bands actually get better - way better - thanks to this competitive dynamic. Having more than one person writing the songs for the band can push everyone involved to write better and better songs. The tricky part is that everyone involved has to then put their personal egos aside and just judge the songs on their own merits. Can you admit that at least some of the other songs are better than some of yours? Can they likewise see that some of yours are better? If not, if this has become a real battle of egos, then you've got some trouble on your hands. Also, you definitely have to take the pressure off your drummer. As I am sure you are aware, decent drummers are hard to come by so you don't want to lose him/her especially over these kinds of squabbles. 

Since no one actually IN the band is capable of enough objectivity, you'll have to let more people "vote" on this issue. I'm assuming that, since you think you're now "ready" to put out a recording, that you're an actual working band with at least semi-regular gigs, an online presence, and some real fans that go beyond the circle of friends you had before you were a band. Make a serious effort to see what songs work best, and get the strongest audience reaction when you play them LIVE for an audience. The songs that get the crowd on their feet the fastest should probably be the first songs you attempt to record, because you know that your fans like, and expect to hear them. You can also put it to your fans directly online "Which of our songs would you most like to see on our first album?" ...or list all of your original songs and have your fans rank their favorites.

Is this pandering? ... I don't think so. What you're doing is getting an objective opinion on what songs really "work" for other people - and really, isn't that the point? To reach an audience? Once you get an even slightly narrowed down list you can then fine tune it based on which of those songs you think best represents your band's sound, tone and overall "mission." One of the difficulties of having multiple songwriters in the same band can occur when they are writing in very different styles and/or from very different points-of-view. If one of you wants to write dance/pop party music and the other wants to do neo-protest political music, you're likely not going to remain in the same band for long. Best to find out now. 

So that is my answer: Play all of the songs live, a bunch of times, and see which ones really get the best response from your audience. Then you can do rough recordings of most (or all) of them - because I am assuming you are planning on doing your own recording and mixing on your own computer(s) - post them on your website and see which ones get the most plays and positive comments. 

And finally, think about this: IF you're really all songwriters and all concerned with getting equal credit for the work, why not just give everyone (including the drummer) official songwriting credit on EVERY song? I'm willing to bet that everyone didn't bring in each of their songs fully formed. Surely each individual added a riff here, a walking bass line there or a drum fill somewhere else to songs that weren't officially theirs. Why not share the credit on everything? That way no one is going to feel shortchanged, and the money - if there ever is any (and let's face it, there probably won't be) will get divided evenly. And finally, as a bonus - it really reinforces the idea that all four of you are equal partners in this battle for the hearts and minds of the listening public. 

Have at it.