My high school punk-ska band playing some band shell in a random park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Playing punk rock taught me a lot about adulthood

If you weren’t around for the great pop punk boom of the early 2000’s, let me tell you this: It was glorious.

Spiky hair. Star tattoos. Wristbands. A reason to rebel from my relatively positive and not-at-all-difficult existence. Everything an upper-middle class white kid like me could dream of!

Also, whiny vocals about “leaving it all behind.”

But most importantly, playing in shitty punk rock bands — and that one metal band named Lifeblood (lol) and that Incubus-311 wannabe band (double lol) — taught me most of the basics about adulthood.

So put on your studded jean jacket, blast some Saves The Day and let’s get into it.

1. This isn’t the way we planned

Most of life doesn’t happen the way you want it to. When I was 16 and started doing shows with my bands around the Midwest, you’d drive three hours to Des Moines, expecting a sold out show at a club with the greatest sound system.

In actuality, if you were lucky you were playing at a dingy club that was next to a second-rate Chili’s rip-off, with a sound system most recently upgraded in 1982. You were probably one of five bands. And the audience was mostly the members of the other bands.

That’s what adulthood usually is: Worse than you expected. And that’s okay. Not getting what you planned for teaches you to be more self-reliant, and to just roll with anything and still try to have fun.

2. Sharing is caring

Because most $5 punk show line-ups had between seven and 19 bands, you didn’t always have time to load everyone’s new gear and do a sound-check.

So despite traveling hundreds of miles with your expensive amps and drum equipment, you were now using (most likely) the last band’s gear. You’d plug in your guitars. Sometimes their gear was worse than yours. Sometimes it was better. No matter what, you improvised and dealt with it.

It also meant you had to learn to be respectful of other people’s equipment. You couldn’t do a kick-flip off someone’s Marshall stack because, well, it wasn’t yours.

Most of adulthood is spent “sharing gear” with the rest of the world. We share roads. We share public spaces. We share in our society. Being respectful toward our shared spaces and things is what keeps us all moving forward.

3. We’re not in this for the money

Getting paid is always dope, but nobody got into punk rock thinking they were going to get paid a lot of money. In the early 2000’s, when gas was sometimes under a dollar a gallon, if you got paid $20 it more than covered your travel expenses, other than the fast food we ate and beers we illegally drank. (Sorry mom.)

We did those shows for $20 because we wanted to make music and share it with random people. We wanted to have a human connection with someone else who liked this funny art form we liked. We wanted to get better as performers, so maybe some day we could demand money for our time and art.

My bands never got to the point of getting paid much, but it taught me the value of doing things for free so you get good enough that eventually you ask for money. I’ve used that regularly in adulthood, knowing that my time is now valuable because I’ve spent a lot of time developing my talents.

I still do some things for free, to get better at it. But I know I’m working toward competency, where my skills should be valued, and I’ll expect to get paid for them if someone wants to use them.

4. You gotta get along with people

A band is made of people with different personalities. For my main band, the Varsity Dropouts, we all came from the same small Nebraska town, with similar backgrounds. But we had different personal ideologies. We liked different music. We had different temperaments. Some of us (me) were big controlling assholes about everything.

In the summer of 2004 I was touring with this awesome band from Sioux Falls, basically being their roadie for two weeks after I helped book their tour, a few months before I started college. It was six dudes under the age of 20 stuck in one van. Personalities clashed, especially when it came to picking music or deciding who would drive.

When you’re stuck in a confined space for two weeks with people, man, you really start to hate one another. Especially if you’re too young to learn how to cope properly with your differences. Now that I’m older, I know most of the problems just stemmed from our (my) immaturity in dealing with situations.

But most of adulthood is just getting along with people, even when you’re pissed at them. It’s all about stepping back, realizing you’re probably partially to blame for most things, and then figuring out how to fix things, including your attitude.

5. Most things fail

My high school punk rock band eventually broke up. I was a year older and heading off to college soon. Oh and some of the other members thought I was too controlling of an asshole (they were correct). They didn’t want to be in a band with me anymore, so we had a final show 12 years ago and that was that.

Bands fail, just like most things you try in life. Most of your friendships will fail. Most of your romantic relationships will fail. You’ll end up leaving jobs, stop watching your favorite TV shows, fall out of love with auteur film directors.

That’s totally normal. A lot of adulthood is about moving on, and realizing what you do and don’t like. But all those changes are generally positive, because they lead you to grow as a person. You get more talented, you meet new people, you make new connections. It all ends up for the best.

6. Thanks for the memories

I haven’t thought about being in a band for awhile. That time I toured with that band for two weeks, I mean, holy shit, we played shows at a bowling alley in a small town in South Dakota to like 100 people. We played a weird bar in Minneapolis for 15, and they forced us to do everything acoustically (lol).

We had to hide out in a gas station on the interstate in who-knows-where because tornadoes were dropping down all around us and we were afraid we were going to die. We had no place to sleep one night so we convinced our waitress at Perkin’s to let us sleep on the floor of her parents’ house near Council Bluffs, Iowa, after forcing us to drive through clown murder woods. In the morning, her parents let us drive four-wheelers and had breakfast for us.

We snuck into the Warped Tour in Kansas City pretending to be roadies and getting backstage passes, something I literally learned from an old episode of Nickelodeon’s “Doug.” I did my hair in the same bathroom mirror with Simple Plan.

My life is better because of these random memories. I’m happy to have experienced these strange moments. Because I think that’s what growing up is all about, collecting these wonderful experiences and knowing they’re not going away. I’ll always be able to look back on everything and think, “Wow, I did that. What fun.”

Hell yeah.


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Did you ever play in a terrible high school band? Let me know about it in the comments. Or yell at me on Twitter.

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