Have you ever tried to trace your life back to one single moment? One point in time which helped define you as the person you are today? It’s easy to get caught up in the past and pondering over “what ifs”, but sometimes I am fascinated by looking at the friends I shared certain experiences with and what became of them. Considering that I spend a large amount of time going to shows and I killed a lot of time at school writing up interviews with bands or trawling internet forums for the latest gig information, I would say that punk is a huge part of my life.
I probably wouldn’t have got into punk if my friend from primary school, Robbie, hadn’t been sitting in one of the classrooms at school playing Offpring’s Americana to try and impress a couple of girls from our class. I remember peering through the window and seeing them; legs crossed on the floor, laughing as ‘Pretty Fly for a White Guy’ blasted through the crackling school stereo speakers.
I was 13, jealous, and wanted a part of it. I went straight out to the shops and bought a copy of Dookie and came in the next day showing it off. The CD was my VIP pass to the world of punk rock, although it would be a year or two before I could tell the difference between what was ‘good’ and what was ‘bad’. (Incidentally, none of these people listen to punk anymore, but if it wasn’t for those days spent sitting on the floor or dancing like idiots in the music rooms at school, I wouldn’t write fanzines, I probably wouldn’t be vegetarian, I wouldn’t have moved to Austria… You get the idea.)
I had a really good girl friend at the time, let’s call her ‘Boo’. Boo was learning the guitar but after some months of practice the only song she could play was Kicking Pigeons by that terrible UK ska band called [Spunge]. Despite her complete lack of skill, we were convinced that we should enter the school battle of the bands competition, the logic behind this decision being that ‘bands’ never actually played at the band competition.
It was always nice girls singing ballads by Mariah Carey or the Korean kids, who had been released from the music school dungeon for the day, playing spectacularly long pieces of classical music. We were 14 and pissed off about everything. We were pissed off about that.
I was listening to a lot of Papa Roach at the time because I had just been on holiday in California with my parents and it was all the rage over there. Boo thought she could learn how to play the Papa Roach classic ‘Last Resort’ in time for the competition. I convinced myself that I would be able to sing it. We had a goofy friend in class, let’s call him Radley, who could play the bass and we convinced a seriously good drummer, Squeak, to join our cause.
Rather than putting any thought into practicing or learning the songs, we were mainly concerned with what we were going to call our musical act. Eventually we decided on the fantastic name – R.O.T – which stood for…wait for it… Reign of Toads. Once we had the name we went straight to the music director and asked him to put us on the list for the battle of the bands. We were really excited for about 24 hours and then we totally forgot about the whole thing.
A couple of days before the competition we noticed that our drummer had defected to another band, so we went to the music director and asked him what was going on. He explained that as R.O.T could not really play the song, had never been seen practicing the song and would not be able to learn it in time… We were booted off the bill. Most people would have given up at this point, but we were convinced we could play the song once, perfectly, and would be allowed back on. So this was how me, Radley and Boo came to be standing in the music hall in front of the director battling through a terribly slow and tuneless version of Papa Roach’s ‘Last Resort’. I remember looking up while mumbling “Cut my life into pieces / This is my last resort”. Boo was looking uncomfortably at Radley as she tried to make the right chord shapes while Radley had his mouth hanging open in this big toothy grin. Somewhere into the first verse the whole thing faded chaotically out and an awkward silence filled the room. We looked at each other and then at the director. We knew in our hearts that the dream was over. And so ended my musical career.
Nearly a decade later I was sitting in my bedroom in Graz, Austria. It was 4pm and I had only just woken up because the night before I had been at a party in Puntigam which had involved a lot of alcohol and a lot of fun. My head was pounding and sunlight was streaming in through my window. It was one of those days when it’s so hot that it doesn’t matter if the window is open or closed, if you are naked or dressed…It’s just hot. You sit and sweat.
I saw my phone had been ringing, but I guess I didn’t hear it through the banging in my ears. The number on the screen was a friend of mine from school who was not the type of person who would phone me under normal circumstances, especially not at international cost. This struck me as strange. I sent her a message saying “Hey, it’s me… Did you mean to call me?” just in case it was one of those things where she had called me in her pocket by accident.
She phoned me back immediately and her voice sounded really weird. “Radley is dead” she said “he went out, partied at a club in town and didn’t wake up in the morning.” My ears were still roaring and I couldn’t think of a single intelligent or comforting thing to say, so I said goodbye, hung up the phone, got into the shower and sat on the floor crying as the hot water splashed against my body.
It couldn’t wash away the strange guilt I felt that I had woken up feeling crappy from my hardcore night out and complaining about it, but Radley would never wake up from his. I hadn’t spoken to him in a few years, we only had a few mutual friends by this stage and I couldn’t say that I knew much about his life these days. The news of his death struck me hard because here I was, hundreds of miles away with blood rushing through my veins and music making me feel alive… These were things he would never experience again. The injustice of the world bubbled up inside of me like a volcanic eruption. I sat in my shower crying for Radley, for his family, for his friends and for all the people who stopped living way before their time.
Thinking about the days of Dookie and R.O.T and ‘Last Resort’ make me happy because they had a huge influence on the direction my life took. Since hearing about his death, these things have also taken on a new meaning because his memory lives on for me in the songs of our childhood. I often wonder if he ever managed to master Papa Roach’s bass riffs..?
*I changed the names in this story for personal reasons.