The first thing that I ever wanted to be when I was growing up was a Glass Blower. My mother has always been an artist, art lover, viewer and collector, so she was always taking me to any possible art exhibit/festival/fair/shop/performance that she could on our meager budget. I think I was somewhere in Grand Rapids, Michigan visiting my grandmother when I first started seeing glass installations. I must have been about 7 and we were walking through Meijer Gardens. Giant, glistening twisted bouquets of delicate, flowing pieces of glass that felt very much alive. I asked every question I could to learn about the craft. My mom took me to more galleries and installations and even got me small glass gifts.
I remember my second grade teacher asking us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I shook my head and grinned, “You’ll never guess.” Gaining the classes full attention, I deflected guesses of doctor, firefighter, burglar and teacher.
“I want to be a glass blowing artist.” Pretty ballsy kid, pretty dense first dream! There’s no way that anyone was going to let me near the materials or the temperatures that I needed to be around to create that line of work when I was 8, 9 and 10. I still get really excited when I see handblown pieces, and I don’t even smoke pot all that much.
The second thing that I ever wanted to be was a musician. I’m not sure where this one first took seed. Somewhere between my brother getting a bass, my mom acquiring a drum set from a garage sale on our street and learning how to read the tablature to the Inspector Gadget Theme (first song I ever learned), I really gained a passion for music. Diving headfirst into piles of my dads records and tinkering with the stereo that he kept hidden in our laundry room. I remember many summer days spent in a cool basement in an oversized t-shirt, freeze-pop wrapper hanging out of my mouth playing nintendo on mute while Abbey Road was spinning on the record player. Years later I would collapse in the same chair after swim meets and listen to Billy Talent’s first record and play Tony Hawk. The interest in music was there, and later when I began to play with people it really became something else entirely.
There’s something about creating music with people that is so untouchable. When you’re in that moment in that basement/bathroom/rehearsal space where two people just lock into a jam. It’s so intimate and overly sexual, it’s the best feeling that you can ever feel. Recreating that in a band is fun because you get to watch your own empire rise and fall. It’s creating a network and sharing your love with new people and learning from that. It’s honest and I think it’s really beautiful like that.
The third thing that I ever realized that I wanted to be was a working artist. I drew and made art through-out my life and got a lot of inspiration from my mother, but I never realized what I wanted to apply it to. In middle-school and high school I made a lot of flyers for my friends punk bands. Some of them were shitty, some of them were pretty awesome! But it was always made with love and and a complete will to make a flyer, no money was ever involved. There was something cool about inking a piece of paper and copying it and blasting it all over town that gave me this really powerful feeling. Creating stuff is cool like that! In high school me and my friends were in a couple of punk bands and when we would print out flyers we would use the school computers. We would set up each 8.5x11 page so that it had 4 small leaflet flyers on it. We’d hit print and set the number of copies to 500 or something absurd like that and just walk away for 20 minutes while 2000 of our shitty basement flyers printed out on the schools computers with their ink and paper. Piracy in the print lab! They were fucking. everywhere.
When I was about 15 I hopped the fence into Pitchfork Music Festival. There were only a couple of bands that I really wanted to see so I spent a lot of time acquiring the little freebies at the entertainment shops around the fest. This was the first time that I ever really understood that there was a print “community” or an artist community. I was familiar with music scenes but it had never really dawned on me that anyone outside of that ever stuck together. It was somewhat of a FlatStock type of thing, just a long row of tents each with a different printer or collaborative displaying and selling their work. I was familiar with Ryan Duggan and Drug Factory Press because of the work he had done with Ian’s Party and Maps & Atlases, so I was drooling all over his tent, and to the next tent and the next tent. Aesthetic Apparatus, DKNG, Delicious Design League, Screwball Press. All amazing artwork. I couldn’t believe that there was this much of a culture around Gig Posters, or dare I say even an appreciation for that artwork. I spent the rest of my free admission at the little flat stock learning everything that I could. I was unfamiliar with screen printing at this point. But I was so inspired, it felt epiphany-like that I wanted to make artwork like this. Bridging the music world and the art world in a way that was still very personal and very accessible. Everyone was friendly, everyone was knowledgable and willing to help me. I left with a bag full of prints and business cards with notes scribbled all over them, ready to begin my work as soon as I got home.
Sometimes dreams come slow. It’s easy to beat yourself into the ground over not being the person you want to be while you’re stuck being who you are. It’s a process and it takes such a long time. I’m nowhere near the goals that I’ve set for myself, but I must remind myself that I am trying. Surround yourself with what you want to become, set your path in it’s direction and work at it until you gain some ground. Stay inspired, stay steady, stay passionate and stay driven.
And drink coffee.
My forehead is pressed against the backseat passenger window of a black Dodge van as we make our way up I-55 towards Chicago. The other 6 of us in the van are in separate states of consciousness, lulled by the wheels humming against the asphalt. Kristen is focused on the road as Grace is wrapping up quietly over the van speakers. Ryan is teetering in the captains chair, polishing off a shoplifted bottle of Jameson Whiskey that Zack scored earlier that morning in Champaign, IL. The rest of the group is cradled in their respective seats, hunched over and dreaming with their foreheads pressed against the blue leather seats.
The last song on Grace fades and Ryan lunges drunkenly for the cassette adapter, plugging in his iPhone and nodding to me with the smirk of a sandbox troublemaker before passing out onto Kristen’s lap as she steers our ship. The pulsing snare drum of an early folk punk song cracks through the speaker wire and transports me to a different time. I am 12 years old, sitting in a computer chair in McHenry, IL in a sunlit living room with faded blue carpeting, my first home. My brother is teaching me how to pirate music using Napster. The example he uses is Pints of Guinness Make You Strong, a staple of any young punk rockers soundscape. This moment, though there were arguably many before it, is the moment in which I discovered punk rock music.
There is a monologue separate from this one in which I could describe to you what Against Me! has come to mean to me, how it has transformed me and the romantic riches that exist inside of me as a result of their music, but that is for another time. From that warm, summer day forward, I grew to admire a different lifestyle. An attitude above, around and in direct opposition to any that I may have come to know before. A moral compass that directed it’s beholder not to pay any mind to rules or instruction outside of the chambers of your own heart. As I grew deeper into the realm of this music, the people that existed in it, the lifestyles and the mentality, I fell more and more in love. I have continued to fall in love with something new every single day after that.
As we drove closer to the trivial safety of our homes in the Chicago area, I hummed along to this sacred hymn of mine. This is where is started for me, where my dreams began. And here I was, doing it. Though this small, 8 date tour may be just molehills in comparison to the mountainous months that friends or peers of mine have trekked through unknown landscapes, I had finally done it on my own. I had followed a dream that had smoldered in my soul since I was just a kid. And regardless of how bright, I nurtured it into flame and good fortune, friendship and romance. I had gone out on my own, at long last.
The familiar street signs and porch lights crept into my peripherals. Never again would dust collect on my shoes.
I don’t have very much, and I can often feel it. The very little that I do have is more than I need- I find that pretty eye-opening at times.
And I’m bad at holding onto excess. Today I paid too much for lunch and meekly ate it in a coffee shop window frame while a homeless man watched me. Looking at the wrap in my hands, it was far too much for me. could have fed two people easily, though I ate it anyways.
Sometimes being fed and being fucked doesn’t get you any closer to feeling good, ya know? It’s just filling a void. The food must be nutritious, and the lover must nourish the heart and soul instead of servicing the body.