when i was growing up in the tiny farming community of vandalia mo [pop. 3,170 and shrinking] there was the usual prevailing “nothing to do” attitude amongst kids of all ages. my problem was that my four siblings and i didn’t really know that it was acceptable to just sit around and complain. probably due to our large numbers, we usually ended up engaging in all manner of shenanigans, from making a band with painted cardboard instruments to conning my younger siblings into digging dirt jumps in the back pasture for my bmx track, and many things in between.
as middle school approached, i became interested in skateboarding which led to an interest in punk rock. both of my older brothers played guitar so i figured bass players had a better chance of getting in a band. probably not six months after getting my brother getting me my first cheap-o bass and amp, he and i started a band with a couple of other local guys. keeping in mind the above mentioned population, the chances of anything approaching a valid punk band (if there is such a thing) were slim to none. regardless, we wrote ridiculous songs and practiced on a regular basis. the only basis we had for anything was the music we each listened to at the time, which ranged from minor threat to rush to r.e.m. to accept (no kidding). we had no idea on proper procedure for recording songs, playing shows or anything of the sort – there were only a couple of trashy local bars in town and we were in high school, so that was out of the question.
through the course of the band’s life, we managed to write a bunch of pretty terrible songs, record and self-release two different cassettes, and do a good amount of silly promotional stuff like have band photos taken, make stickers, flyers for shows. i designed our band logo as well as casette art, which we photocopied, hand cut, and inserted into each tape. we played a handful of shows for a handful of local kids – in a shed, on a hayframe in my parent’s backyard, in the local health club.
the ridiculousness and futility of all of this was totally lost on us. we really had no idea about d.i.y. because it was the late ’80s and we were in rural missouri. d.i.y, in punk terms, was still mostly on the coasts and larger cities. but none of that really mattered because we were having fun and doing something creative. we just did what seemed natural as we emulated “real” bands on a budget and scale that was manageable for us.
what i now realize we did was put in a lot of love and work in creating our own culture; a culture that affected those around us. occasionally people still mention that band to me or say that they still have the cassette. while a little bit embarrassing, it is still a testament that we at least made something for ourselves that impacted other people’s lives a bit, and that’s a pretty great thing if you ask me. i just re-read the intro to “the design of dissent” and discovered a great quote from tony kushner: “art can’t change anything except people – but art changes people, and people can make everything change.”
looking back, i’m really glad we did what we did, because i realize that sort of action and expression is precisely what constitutes true culture, as opposed to something that is marketed to us as such. it can only come from people who choose to create something out nothing but passion, from people who are motivated to create regardless of a support structure. i believe that in time, those who keep creating will eventually find it necessary to build their own support structure, their own methods for being heard, and will thus create their own culture, or at least begin tapping into an existing one. in this age, there are so many tools to assist a person in small-scale creative endeavors it’s almost impossible to find an excuse not to do someting. so what are you waiting for?