The Best Time I Got Kicked Out of My Punk Band
by Isabel Slone
In high school, I desperately wanted to be a punk because it seemed akin to being dangerous. I was convinced one cold stare from a blue Mohawk-ed dissident could send a jock running away in terror; that was the kind of social power I was interested in. I tried valiantly to increase my intimidation factor as a thirteen-year-old-girl by listening to a lot of Good Charlotte and wearing excess amounts of pyramid-stud jewelry. It was probably not the most authentic way to announce my arrival into a subculture, but it was the best impression that I, a scared-straight rural nerd, could muster.
By noting my use of the term “jock” and “punk” to differentiate types of people, you would be correct to assume that most of the social cues I understood at age thirteen came from teen movies like She’s All That — mainly that you were just supposed to stick with people who looked similar to you. To ensure I found my tribe of weirdos, I made sure to wear a lot of heavy black eyeliner, bondage pants, and fake band t-shirts (I didn’t know about any good ones yet).
Based on my cheap and ill-fitting — yet totally hardcore — wardrobe, I managed to find my fellow ragtag bunch of Good Charlotte-loving misfits in gym class, where we earned the wrath of our butch teacher by slacking off endlessly. There was Laura, a slender friend who hid their dynamite bod in men’s XL t-shirts (years later an unfamiliar Facebook request made me realize they were transgender); Alyssa, a fairheaded goth pixie straight out of a Tim Burton movie; and Frances, a Spongebob Squarepants enthusiast with the social skills of a misfiring Dalek. We all wanted to date a different member of Good Charlotte (except Frances, who maybe wanted to date SpongeBob) and thought that Tim Armstrong from Rancid and Brody Dalle from The Distillers were the cutest couple in the world.
We countered our adolescent ennui through dumb playful activities like putting my hair in liberty spikes or commandeering the cafeteria jukebox with Nirvana and Ozzy Osbourne. I vaguely remember someone throwing pudding at us because of our musical choices. We were the losers, but that was okay; we already hated everyone to begin with.
When my friends announced we would be starting a band, I was stoked beyond all recognition. Obviously the first part of starting a high school band is figuring out the name, and we decided on “Legal Suicide,” replacing the dots in the i’s with menacing x’s. I was the drummer despite a total unfamiliarity with banging sticks. We held practices in Alyssa’s carpeted basement and I was tasked with playing her sister’s drum kit, but our practices always involved more restless giggling than actual music. Whenever I was ready to get down to business, my drumming attempts were literally muted; Alyssa told me not to drum so loud because her mom would hear and break up the practice. For a punk band, it wasn’t exactly the raucous affair I had imagined.
During our third-ever band practice, Alyssa isolated me in a corner of the basement and told me, while avoiding eye contact, that they’d had a discussion and I could no longer be in the band. “Ok,” I managed to squeak out. All air had seemingly escaped my chest cavity, and I could hardly breathe except for intermittent gasps. I didn’t ask questions or defend myself as the familiar nausea of rejection creeped up my numbing body. I pretended I was okay for the remaining two hours I had to spend at her house before my mom came to pick me up, pretended I was okay to my mom on the car ride home, and have pretended to be okay every single day of my life since.
The suckiest part of this experience was not getting kicked out of a band that never even learned how to play a cover song. It was realizing that just because I didn’t fit in with the popular kids, it didn’t mean I fit in that well with the misfits either. I assumed my interest in punk rock earned me a place at the smoker’s table in the cafeteria alongside all the other Rancid fans, but it turns out you don’t just claim an identity by default. I failed to notice that beyond a shared interest in punk rock, we actually had very little in common. I was a sheltered kid more interested in good grades than smoking pot and skipping class.
Perhaps if my former friends and I had spent all of high school together, we might have drifted apart naturally. But shortly after my unceremonious dismissal from Legal Suicide, both Alyssa and Laura switched over to the local Catholic school. Getting kicked out the band compounded my already alarming teen angst and made me susceptible to some extremely questionable belief systems. But over time I found new friends, paid more attention to old friends, and nobody threw pudding at me anymore. I decided it was better to spend time with people who could hold a conversation on topics other than the adorable flip in Joel Madden’s hair. I joined a competitive trivia team. I stopped calling myself a punk.
Belonging is a tricky business. For me, it’s become more about finding the individual people who affirm your identity rather than trying to latch onto a group. It was trite to think that molding yourself into an archetype — albeit one who is fond of saying “labels are for soup cans, not people” — holds the answers to social satisfaction. My desperate craving to fit in wasn’t satiated by poser punkdom, nor was it by feigning an interest in hummus and natural fibres years later in university. However much I craved the security and comfort of fitting into a box, there was just no box cozy enough for me to settle down and stay there the rest of my life.
Recovering from viewing people as stereotypes has been a lifelong process. I think I’m probably still guilty of it to be honest, but at least now I know I’m being an asshole instead of believing I’m the Joan of Arc of the socially persecuted. I never did figure out why I was kicked out of the band. I contacted Alyssa during the writing of this article in hopes of finding some closure, but instead found that she remembered me as the violinist of the band, not the drummer because we were “trying to do a Yellowcard thing,” then offered a cursory apology.
If I could go back to that time as an omniscient voice bearing well-meaning advice to my misplaced teen self it would be: Fuck Good Charlotte, find some people who like Big Black.
Isabel Slone is a Toronto-based writer and ex-fashion blogger. Her work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Hazlitt, WORN Fashion Journal and more.