The Redemptive Power of Music (2014 Remix)

I’ve been thinking of digging this article up for some months now and editing and adding to it.  There’s a few things the editors changed that I was unhappy with back in the day that I’ve put back in.  At the end of the original I also wrote Amerika, meaning AmeriKKKa, which I guess because they were Canadian they changed to America… which is one of the reasons I pretty much always write U$ now instead.

Anyways, I finally dug this up after reading the Greyscale: A fanzine for POC in the Punk Scene call for submissions the other day.  I orignially wrote this after watching the Integrity video above with the token Latina at Twin Oaks, Diana, and she compared it to some sort of pentecostal church service.  It appeared in the Christian Radical 3.9, November 2008.

Upon reflection I got where she was coming from, and she inspired me to finally write about why I quit making music, and how I started listening to it again with at least some passion.  A great deal has happened since then, so I’ve got a lot to add about dropping out of the largely Latin Punk scene I was a part of in Chi, and becoming a part of largely indigenous and Latin scenes in Arizona.  I’m posting this here because it’s old material, though edited and added to.  I still consider myself to be in kind of a huge state of transition that I can’t really articulate now, but I will probably make one more post of here of an old article of mine I’ve been thinking of editing and adding to.  This version was written for The Inner Condition.

The Redemptive Power of Music
I am a recovering musician. I got my first guitar when I was 12, and played on and off until I was 17 and bought a four string electric bass. The failed guitarist turned bassist, I knew the vacuum all to well of that avoided position in a band, after singing for a metalcore and a death metal band.I first got into hardcore and metal as an outlet of frustrations. I was also initially mostly into bands from northeast Ohio where I lived at the time, such as the Spudmonsters, Ringworm and Integrity, excited by the fact that they were just as good if not better than the national and international acts that were so much more popular. Plus I had a step cousin who played guitar in Face Value.My first metal show was Rollins Band, Helmet and Sausage, in Seattle, Washington in 1994. I was 14 years old, and pretty much sold on the genre by then. I went to my first local show in January the next year, at a bowling alley called the Redeye Rock Club, in North Royalton, Ohio. I went to see a hardcore band, Procrustus, and caught a death metal act, Infested. I actually had a foot print on me from falling in the pit during Infested, and this set the tone for years of dancing to vent frustrations at shows.

My first band was a metalcore band called Rancor. No, not the hardcore band from Pennsylvania nor the noise outfit from Germany. We started as a garage band in Parma, Ohio in 1995, cut two demos, only one of which was released, “No Time For Religion” in 1995, and played a couple Sweet 16 parties that year and one bar show in Cleveland’s Flats at the old Peabody’s Downunder in May 1996. We also appeared on a Gogmagod Records compilation, Gogmacomp II, under the name Baptized in Excrement, with a song from our second demo, “Evil Thoughts.”

My other bands were never much more successful, but I used to think if it wasn’t for having the hardcore, punk and metal scenes to vent my frustrations, I’m not exactly sure if I’d be alive right now.  Though on further reflection, participation in the scene caused me just us much pain as life did in general.  It was a very racist and xenophobic scene, and I am a person of color.  It was also a very homophobic scene and some people seemed to think I was gay as if there’s something wrong with that.  Interestingly at least three of them have come out since then, though they very much put my life at risk on occasion.  From January 1995-January 2000, for all intents and purposes, the scene was my life. Things came crashing to an end for me the day I quit my last metal band, Netherborn.  And I wouldn’t do any of it over again.

I’d reached a point in my life where I felt it was no longer acceptable to complain about alienation, misery and the state of the world, things had to change. I tried to shift the band’s message, making all of the songs I wrote lyrics for about things like how it can be fatal to drink and drive, and about how pollution was killing the earth. I started talking at our first show about the School of the Americas (SOA) and got into a shouting match with a number of people in the crowd. Later a band-mate and out guitar tech confronted me about it, and it was the beginning of the end. I started a ‘zine, “Outlet,” and instead of talking about the SOA, I distributed it at our next two shows.

I had actually been published in a poetry and artwork ‘zine during the beginning of my first freshman year of high school, over a year before I ever made my first recording with a band.  I have written almost continuously since then and wish I had kept that as my focus along with visual arts and crafts instead of pursuing music as I did for so long.

Anyways, it was too little too late. When a subculture does nothing but re-create the same forms of oppression and exploitation of the larger culture, it has negated its point. The fighting, racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and elitism in the scene all became too much for me, and I dropped out of musicianship. I had also converted to Christianity, and no one I knew for the scene was supporting me in the ways I was trying to change personally, except some straight edge youth who supported my abstaining from drugs, alcohol and sex. But that was a tiny minority.  I started to have some peripheral involvement in music as a fan in Ohio since then, even briefly playing in a contemporary worship band at a pentecostal church in the summer and fall of 2000, but musicianship could never mean much to me personally again.  I supported the few friends’ bands I maintained relationships with, but haven’t been to any shows in that area since early 2003, shortly after I moved to Chicago.
Just as I was completely dropping out of the underground music scene in northeastern Ohio For The Last Time, I was starting to get involved with a largely Latin and Anarchist Hardcore Punk Scene in Chicago.  The first couple of shows I went to in Chi are only noteworthy to me because a kid from the South Side Punk House played at one, and another was in the basement of the Autonomous Zone Infoshop (A-Zone) when it was in Bucktown.
Perhaps three’s the charm, since the next one I went to was the first time I saw Tras De Nada, which was in the backyard of a house in La Villita in April 2003.  It was the first time I’d ever been to a Punk Show where roughly half the crowd and most of the musicians were people of color.  With all the anger I felt about our inability to stop the recent invasion of Iraq, and my lost faith in God, I raged harder than I had in years.  This show set the stage for my next seven years of involvement with music in town, to the month, which ended with a Sin Orden show, also in a backyard in La Villita.
Initially what came to be was what I used to call my Pilsen Hardcore Summer.  Most of the shows I went to were either at the Swayze Compound, or a storefront next door to Radio Arte, both in Pilsen.  I saw Tras De Nada two more times, and many other bands such as Non-Fiktion Nois, Reaccion, Human Order, and Los PKDores.  Usually after the shows a bunch of us would go back to the South Side Punk House in West Lawn, or the Anarchist Skins and Punx Unity Crew (ASAP) House which was also in Pilsen.  We’d joke around, listen to music, and talk politics.  Most of us were street level militants continuing to take part in actions against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and U$ support of Israel.  Many of us were also involved with the A-Zone and/or other radical projects in town such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).  Up to that point, it was the best part of my life!
Tras De Nada, with songs such as Con Frente en Alto (With Head Held High) is a perfect example of how after being part of a scene in and around Clevo where I was considered only a good person in so far as I acted white, the Punk, Hardcore and Ska scene I got into in Chi was affirming and along with the radical politics I was involved with, especially the A-Zone then and much later the third Anarchist/Autonomist/Anti-Authoritarian People of Color (APOC) group, the scene gave me the confidence and self respect I was always denied living amongst white people.
As summer became fall and my living and work situations changed, I wasn’t able to go to many shows.  Eventually I began to see my membership in the IWW as pointless and the A-Zone closed both in December ’03.  I was asked to join the ASAP Crew and declined, then started to drift away from them after moving into the South Side Crew’s South Side Punk House.The South Side Punk House became one of my worst living situations ever, and I started to Travel around the Upper Midwest visiting a number of cooperatives and collectives in Minneapolis, Minnesota (MPLS) and and Anarchist Bookfair and Soccer Tournament called Pencils and Pandemonium in Madison, Wisconsin (Madcity).  I also started to do prairie restoration and organic farming.
I saw some great bands with right on politics such as Ass and Murder of Crows, but neither MPLS nor Madcity worked out for me, nor were any of the land projects an all year opportunity for me.
I started branching further and further out, checking out radical projects and bands as I went.  I visited some great spaces such as Laughing Horse Books in Portland, Oregon (PDX) where I saw Riot Cop a couple of times, and Millions of Dead Cops once.  Food Not Bombs was serving five days a week when I hit PDX in November of 2005, and I started cooking twice a week.  For the next year and a half that’s where I spent the most time.  But it never really clicked for me, and like many radicals roughly my age I went to New Orleans, Louisiana to volunteer a couple of times after Hurricane Katrina and continued to do seasonal farm labor in the midwest.
I had one last serious run with Punk in Chi which started with an Everything Is Ruined basement show at Ranchos Juevos in McKinley Park in the fall of ’09 and ended with the Sin Orden show already mentioned.  It was a very intense time in the radical community that largely revolved around the Lichen Lending Library/Biblioteca Popular, an Infoshop in Pilsen, and a number of collective houses largely in Pilsen and La Villita.  There was a lot of strife about the gentrification of those communities along with Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Bucktown, where there were a number of other collective houses and/or spaces.  There was also a lot of conflict around sexual assault and accountability, or lack there of.  Eventually I decided to leave since I felt like I had no real comrades in most of these situations.  Too much dishonesty, hypocrisy and entitlement and their natural outgrowths in misogyny, white supremacy, domestic violence , etc.I’ve only been back in the area once, though I was living and working in the southwest suburbs as part of a union organizing campaign only occasionally going to Chi.  I have kept in touch with a tiny handful of comrades and friends, but not many.  Again, when a subculture does nothing but re-create the same forms of oppression and exploitation of the larger culture, it has negated its point.
After farming for about five months in Iowa from April to September ’10 I came back to my home state of California.  I farmed, taught weaving workshops, gardened and connected with some radicals in the Bay Area that have gone on to become good comrades since then and started re-connecting with good comrades from Illinois.
I re-visited Tucson, Arizona in March and April 2011 for the first time in over five years and became in involved with No More Deaths doing food and water drops on the Migrants’ Trail from Mexico into the U$ and the Dry River Radical Resource Center, which was an Infoshop in the Dunbar Spring neighborhood.  Through Dry River I got re-involved with Punk Houses, my personal favorite having been the Vegan Straight Edge (XVX) Punk House.  I also started steadily writing political prisoners again, and caught some amazing shows.  The best of which was when I saw the indigenous metal bands Towardis and Let The World Die.  Marc from the Taala Hooghan Infoshop in Flagstaff is in both bands, and invited me to Flag to teach a weaving workshop!  I didn’t do it then, but after about another five months farming in Iowa I did.
Over my last farm season in Iowa, I steadily wrote political prisoners and prisoners of war, gaining new political insights and direction, and realized my bosses were terribly xenophobic from the their absolute refusal to allow me to invite Mexicans over to our city for a series of events we did about No More Deaths and immigration in general.  As soon as I could I left for Flagstaff and never looked back.

Since then I’ve been able to get very involved, not only attending Punk and Hardcore shows with many Latin and indigenous kids and musicians, I’ve been able to even book a couple shows and road trip to Prescott with Let the World Die for a house show with Windmill of Corpses and Requiem!  I’ve stayed in more Punk Houses, a couple squats, been involved with other land projects and struggles, participated in the Infoshop Movement, hitch hiked all over Arizona and the west coast, and hopped a couple freight trains.  I’ve continued to struggle against oppressive politics and exploitive economics, even participating in support work for a couple different tree sits and have continued to be a part of a number of street demonstrations and vigils.

Music has helped a great deal, though rather than being my life, it has improved it greatly and been a huge part of it.  The summer of 2012 which I spent in Flag was the first time since the summer of 2003 that I felt my life was getting consistently better, and as I write this in January 2014 at the Taala Hooghan Infoshop, I feel like my life in struggle for a better world, and to be a less fucked up person continues to improve because of the camaraderie in action, studies, reflection and art.

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