Please Don’t Hate Me: I’m A Non-Drinker At A Punk Show
Posted on February 18, 2015
February 18, 2015 | by Jordan Reisman
Please Don’t Hate Me is a new series of essays in which people tell their unique stories of being at shows and interacting with others. For more, click here.
In December, I went to the record release show of a hyped pop-punk band with my roommates. I wasn’t exactly there for the headliner, but I figured I’d stay for their set, and check out how they had changed since I last saw them. They had gotten significantly tighter over the past few months and were visibly thrilled that they were able to share their newest creation with their friends and new fans.
However, I couldn’t get past what some of their friends standing behind them were doing. In celebration of the night, the band had bought champagne (or at least a close rip-off) to share with the crowd, but a few of their friends kept spraying it all over everyone standing in the front, as well as throwing beer cans at the band’s drummer during every song for laughs. I understand the “coolest guy in the room” mentality that comes with merely being friends with a popular band; standing to the side or behind them, shouting out requests for old songs they’ve long since retired. This went beyond that, as the fans looked like they were treating the champagne shower as the price of admission in order to have a good time or something they had to “get through.” I wasn’t even in the thick of the crowd to be doused by their “celebration liquids” but much like George Costanza, I can sense the slightest human suffering. As everyone crowded around the exit of the apartment to make their way onto the streets of Brooklyn and my friends were talking about the night’s events, I was starting my sentence with, “Yeah, but…” My entire life is that sentence and that is because I am the non-drinking killjoy at shows.
Now, let’s get this out of the way. I do call myself straight edge, albeit reticently. BUT, it’s out of convenience because it requires more semantical discussion than I’d like to say that I don’t drink alcohol, do drugs, or smoke cigarettes. It’s like how I’d rather say I’m a drummer than, “Well, I make non-melodic music by hitting sticks against metal percussion instruments, you’re right, but I wouldn’t say I’m a drummer.” I know about FSU and I know about the implications of saying I’m straight edge to a cop but at this point, I’d rather just work with the vernacular than against it. Also, the word “edge” is still kind of cool.
When I first started going to punk and ska shows (we didn’t really do hardcore) in Westchester County in 2004, I really did feel like the kids attending these shows were punks. That is, they had spotty relationships with their parents, wore Docs with red laces, and got completely trashed before going to shows held at Jewish community centers. I always wanted to be more like them but trouble was, I still got along with my folks; snowboarding trips upstate were my jam, and had already made the life choice that I didn’t want to get involved with drinking or drugs, yet I still wanted to belong. So my initial punk upbringing always felt a bit like faking it to these kids. I would effect my sentences by tripping over my words, skank recklessly and without regard, and stand around the smoking kids outside in their tight clusters so it would look like the smoke was coming from me too. After playing my first band’s first show ever at my high school’s Battle of the Bands, I wrote in my LiveJournal later that night apologizing for our sloppy performance saying that we were “completely fucked up.” I think I was hoping girls would read it.
When I got to college and started going to basement shows there, I had somehow cultivated a group of friends who also didn’t drink and so we had our own little crew of party poopers. No one really gave us any problems at shows but at the same time, we knew most of the people there. My non-drinking guy at the show status was sort-of “my thing” at that point. It even became a running joke where friends would ask me to hold their beer, take a picture, and then send it out to everyone with the caption “Edge Watch.” I don’t know how I kept falling for it. The worst of it was only when I’d have to explain why I had an Arnold Palmer in my hand instead of a beer where I’d inevitably hear, “That’s awesome. I wish I could do that.” The conversation had around a three-minute shelf life after that where either I or the other person would walk away out of sheer boredom. My college experience going to DIY shows was incredible but contextual. I relished in its insularity but could only go on living in a bubble for so long.
When I turned 21, I went to The Fest for the first time. It was always something that was on my punk bucket list and I finally made it happen in 2011. Fest 10 was the one everyone pretty much had to go to. Everyone was playing. For most people in punk, finally being 21 and going to Fest would be pure insanity. For me, I was just going for the music. I had a few Fest moments that probably could’ve ended up on Fest Bummer, like getting food poisoning from Five Star Pizza and throwing up on the curb outside of 8 Seconds. However, it always came with the ever-present concern that I wasn’t enjoying the weekend the right way. I realized that even in the highly niche world of Fest, there is still a norm that exists. It comes in the form of a fat, sweaty drunk dude screaming Hot Water Music songs in your ear. It’s funny and unique, but also alienating in the sense that he probably expects you to be on the same level as him. People say it’s totally cool if you don’t drink there (or anywhere, for that matter), but I never got that sense. If it was, why would that even need to be said?
It’s one of those weekends that runs on such high intensity that you have to take it all in. Because of that, Gainesville, Florida in October is where I’ve annually seen the best of punk alongside some of the absolute worst. The best being meeting punks from across the globe, reuniting with friends from past years, and seeing your favorite bands on one street in a college town. The worst being a beer shower during almost every set there, the supremely backwards and unfortunately lax Florida smoking laws, and people lined up outside of venues only talking about how much they drank the night before.
Really, the best and worst part about being a conscious straight edger at shows is that you’re aware of everything. You can see people trying to have a good time but getting crushed by the too-big stagediver, you get a drop of beer on your tongue from someone throwing their Pabst around and you start to have a mini freak-out, and your recap of the night often is “Yeah, but…” instead of just “Yeah!” A lot of these things that intoxicated punks can shrug off as just part of the show’s chaos, I actively process. It’s like having a sixth sense for finding the flaws in the things you love, which is both a blessing and a curse. So to anyone I’ll ever be in the audience with, please don’t hate me. I don’t mean to be a buzzkill, I’m just taking it all in. I don’t know how to do it any other way.
Let Jordan know how much of a bummer he is on Twitter: @BizarroJordan