Friday, August 11, 2017

You Gotta Keep 'em Separated

In August of 1997, I was fourteen years old and not really into music. There were songs I liked. I was even slowly building a compilation tape. But it was all stuff my parents listened to, such as Billy Joel, that I had grown up hearing. I had never had the thrill of discovering a band or a genre of music on my own. I had never purchased an album with my own money. That all changed when I went home with my copy of The Offspring's SMASH.

Though the album had been out for about three years, the first I heard of the Offspring was when I got into Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) in late 1996. Not only did Raven, their World Champion, use "Come Out and Play" as his entrance theme, they also played it over his t-shirt commercial, which was just clear enough to get it stuck in my head. The "You Gotta Keep 'em Separated" opening line resonated with me because it reminded me of when my sister and I used to fight like cats and dogs, leaving our poor mother to wonder why she had to "keep us separated" all the time.

Though I liked the song, I was inexperienced in the matter of music, and didn't know the song's name, the band's name, or even where to purchase it. A few months later, I was at a friend's house for a party when one of our classmates began messing with the CD player. It got my attention when I heard that familiar opening beat, and immediately asked him who sang this song. He told me it was the Offspring. Over the summer, I was at my cousin's house. He had gone out for the night, and I was flipping through his CD collection when I came across the SMASH album. Although I knew the Offspring name now, I couldn't remember what the album was called that contained my now favorite song. I put it in, and finally figured it out after skipping through the tracks.

Digression: An amusing story that came out of this occurred the next morning. As I listened to "Come out and Play" over and over, I kept the volume at a minimum because it was late at night and I didn't want to wake anyone. When morning came, my aunt had a difficult time getting my cousin out of bed. Thinking to help, I immediately went to the CD player and turned on music, as my parents had done to me many times when they had trouble waking me up. The problem was my assumption that the volume was still at the low volume I had left it at. At some point, my cousin had been listening to music before going to sleep at a moderate volume. Not knowing this, I immediately cranked up the volume so loud that the vibrations from the speakers blew a picture off the wall. My cousin DID wake up, though I was now the subject of his annoyance. 

So in August, I finally acquired a copy for my very own. Though I bought it on the strength of my love for one song, I soon discovered there was much more to this album than that. I couldn't have told you the difference between hard rock, soft rock, punk rock, or wuss rock. But this album opened me up to the punk style that the Offspring were so good at. There were rapid drum beats, buzzsaw guitar work, and a lot of cursing.

The themes of the songs on SMASH opened my eyes even more. I believe I was drawn to them because most of what I considered music to that point was solely about relationships. The themes of this album were much more distant, much more fantastical to a kid growing up in the outer rim of the suburbs in Ohio. Like the fantasy stories I liked to read, these themes were something that could be but were not part of my reality: drug addiction, mental illness, road rage, government mistrust, gang violence, generational blame... it opened my eyes to the fact that there was much more going on in the world than what was happening in my little corner of Sieber Trace.

I found things that were relatable as well, like the track "Gotta Get Away." I can't tell you how many times I felt like this during my early adolescence. Coming from a family that had no big issues, and therefore had to blow the little ones out of proportion, I spent many nights sitting on my bed like in the song, not sleeping, just worrying about things that turned out not to matter at all and wishing I could get out of my own head.

"Self Esteem" of course had that unforgettable hook of complete gibberish, but what followed was a a tale of abuse and neglect. Though it was one of those "relationship songs," this was not about love. It was about how a man's self-esteem was so low he wouldn't break up with his girlfriend even though he knew the relationship was slowly destroying him.

There were songs with powerful societal messages like "Genocide" and "Not the One." These songs were about the inevitability of cycles. Genocide's "And if in time / we could see the error of our ways / would anyone / change it anyhow?" stood out to me as a very powerful statement at the time. Likewise, Not the One was a statement against the establishment and railed against how they had fucked our world up, while conceding that we were doomed to make the same mistakes. "We're not the ones whose pollution blackened our skies and ruined our streams / We're not the ones who made the nuclear bombs that threaten our lives / We're not the ones who let the children starve in faraway lands / We're not the ones who made the streets unsafe to walk at night / And even if we try not to become too overwhelmed / and if we make some contribution to the plight we see / still our descendants will inherit all the mistakes we made / They'll suffer just the same as we and never wonder why!" closes out the song and still gives me chills when I listen to it.

Just about every song on the album is catchy, but those are some of my favorites. Over the next few years, I would go on to discover a real love for rock and metal, and discover acts like Metallica, AC/DC, Rob Zombie and others on my own. But it's hard to believe that all started twenty years ago with a band who never achieved massive mainstream success, but one who I'll still listen to any time even in this day and age. They became a symbol that bridged my childhood and adulthood and definitely influenced how I see the world. And SMASH in particular will always have significance to me.

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