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Road Story: High school punk smoothie scene

Working on a long post about abstracting the fretboard, but the visual aspect is taking a while. In the meantime, here’s another road story.

Our friend Neil is an itinerant musician. He has friends all over the country, and travels around pretty much nonstop with some clothes and a laptop playing shows wherever they’ll have him. We have a night off on the way to Chicago, so when Neil invites us to play a show in nearby New Lenox, it’s perfect timing. When we arrive, I am skeptical. The show is in a smoothie shop, in the daytime, brightly lit with harsh fluorescent lights. It is very small, and there is no immediately obvious place for a band to set up. We find out it was put together by a bunch of high school students, and deliberately timed to begin after school and end in time for them to all get home and do their homework. My skepticism turns to admiration when I meet the promoter. He’s only 17 years old, and he puts on multiple shows per week at the smoothie place and elsewhere. He is the guy for booking DIY all-ages shows in New Lenox, at an age when I spent most of my time playing video games and writing just thoroughly awful poetry I never showed anyone. The smoothie shop is a popular venue for this crowd because the kids are all straight edge and the owner likes having a lot of people around at an otherwise slow time of day who might buy smoothies. Many do buy smoothies. Everybody wins.

It’s not the usual high school group with easily discernible cliques; preps and jocks and such speaking in clusters. It looks like this is where everyone in town who is nerdy or artsy or queer hangs out, and they are a single unit. Some guys are in drag like it’s not even a thing, and in this room it is not. One kid tries to make conversation with me about the make and model of our van, and other vans that came out around the same year, which would have been right around or just before when he was born. His demeanor and his extensive knowledge of this arcane topic suggest that he is somewhere on the autism spectrum, but I can see that he feels at home here, too. In fact, he is the emcee of the show. Shows like this never have emcees, which gives me the strong feeling that someone gave him this job to do so that he could have a role in the show and feel comfortable and important. This small and possibly imagined gesture of kindness touches me deeply. I want to hug all of these kids. We actually do all hug, because Neil’s songs are all about lovey stuff and his set is very interactive and he requests it. The whole room hugs.

The headlining act is called Punk Rock Pizza Party, and it’s the promoter’s band. They sound sort of like early Beastie Boys, and their exuberance carries the day. These kids are freaking out. I’m having a pretty good time just taking it in, but they really kick it up a notch when their penultimate song, a punk cover of the Olsen Twins’ “Gimme Pizza”, gets to a break. During the break, the singer calls Domino’s, holding the phone up to the mic so everyone can hear. The drummer keeps time. This is a break of a predetermined length, and it depends on the person on the other end of the line picking up in a timely manner. It rings a few times, and almost looks like it won’t work, but right in the nick of time Domino’s picks up. The band launches back into the song, in time, perfectly all together. Working a perfectly-executed crank call into a set is something my friends and I discussed back in our early musical ventures, but never did. The whole thing is so earnest and fun, it’s impossible not to be sucked in.

A few weeks later I hear that they broke up, and that was their last show. I feel genuinely lucky to have been there. I think about how much it sucked in high school, not having anywhere to just go and hang out, and how these kids just went out there and made it happen. I’m humbled, and hopeful.

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