I Skipped My Friend’s Wedding to Go to a Punk Show
A punk rock lifer ditches wedding cake for Modern Life Is War.
Photos courtesy of Deathwish, Inc.
Last weekend, my friend J Wade wed the love of his life in a beautiful celebration of their future. I was honored to be invited to join the festivities in sunny Florida. Instead, I chose to spend the day stewing in the collective stink of a hardcore punk show.
Quite a few of my friends are already married, and even more plan to be by the end of the year. Still, I've never even been to a wedding. J Wade, though, is a dapper Southern gentleman raised in Alabama. He enjoys tweed, handlebar moustaches and Jesus—without any irony. And an immaculate Southern party where everyone would be dressed like they worked at a Depression-era candy shop seemed like a perfect opportunity to pop my matrimonial cherry.
I was actually in the process of buying my plane ticket to Florida when I noticed the conflict in my calendar: J Wade's wedding was on the same day as a twelve dollar Modern Life Is War show I'd planned to go to. Specifically, the ten-year anniversary show during which the Marshalltown, Iowa hardcore punk quintet was slated to play their sophomore masterpiece, Witness, in its entirety.
A decade ago, Modern Life Is War was a phenomenon in the hardcore punk scene. Their songs were heavy and melodic at the same time, with lyrics were all too relatable for anyone under the age of 81. It was almost impossible to catch a ride to any show without someone blasting Witness in their car at full volume. My friends and I even changed our names to dumb things like "Modern Life Is Kaufman" during Myspace's sunset years. Yeah, they were that good.
Perhaps he thought I was having an issue with money, or getting the time off of work, but J Wade didn't fuss when I texted him told him I couldn't make it to the wedding. I knew he and his father-in-law had spent weeks handcrafting a wedding altar to be the foundation of the bridge and groom's dedication to love and family in the eyes of God. I didn't have the heart to tell him my real reasons for skipping: At age 27, I still just don't understand that sort of passion as much as I understand a mosh pit.
The Saturday of the show—and the wedding—I arrived at venue with a few friends. My shortest comrade, Stormy, stood next to me in front of the stage with her chin only a few inches above a speaker monitor. Although she had seen MLIW a few times before, she was as excited as ever. "It's going to be fine," she said in regard to the crowd. "Everyone stands close together and sings." That sounded more like a wedding than the chaos I was hoping for.
Upon the utterance of the first line of the first song, several tons of male meat fell over us—aptly, this line was "So what the fuck are you going to do now, kid?" Strangers screamed lyrics right into my ears. Monstrous men grabbed at my skin like it was a life raft. I swam my way up for air, but I was so close to the stage that singer, Jeffrey Eaton's sweat was dripping into my open mouth. I chose this over elaborate, towering cake and slow dances, and I couldn't have been any happier.
In some ways a wedding and an anniversary show for fan favorite band have a lot in common. They're both celebrations that honor love and commitment, albeit to different things... I guess you're generally discouraged from stealing the DJ's microphone during your favorite song and attempting to dogpile atop the guests at a wedding.
Hearing those old songs live and in order at the show, intercut with Eaton's sincere, Midwestern commentary about how they were about growing up didn't make me nostalgic for the past. It reminded me that I am still a fucking a child.
I could lie and tell you a whole bullshit story about how I didn't want to go to a wedding—even J Wade's fairytale escapade—because weddings are for adults and I'd have to admit I'm a grown up if I went. I could also tell you I don't buy into the suburban, TGIFriday's bullshit of "Get married, have kids, get old and die with no regrets, surrounded by loved ones in a stuffy hospital."But the thing is, that's not why I didn't go to this wedding. I did this song-and-dance because it was funny to me.
I am a giant baby, and I have to make things funny, or else they might get sad. Maybe, just maybe, if I make something a joke then anyone observing will realize that I am self-aware. The irony here is that my biggest fear—being oblivious—is actually my modus operandi. Even if I'm the only one who sees me eat $15 worth of Arby's, maybe I can lie to myself long enough to make it a joke, it feels less pathetic.
My life's mission has been to be a functioning punk-a-holic. I've found a way to balance my lifestyle with a good job and good relationships with my friends and my parents. Making things funny is a survival tactic I picked up to get through the bullying I endured during my teenage years, and I know a lot of people my age think it's stupid I still go to these shows. I'm still convinced that if I simultaneously admire and hate the things I love then maybe I can please all of the people all of the time. You can't laugh at me if I'm laughing with you, right?
You're not supposed to care about mosh pits when you're approaching your thirties; you're supposed to go to weddings. How funny is it that I chose to get the shit kicked out of me by strangers instead of going to celebrate my friend's most sincere love? I choose my love, my way—which also happens be the name of the first Modern Life is War album. Which is the band I am seeing. Which I went to instead of a wedding. Do you get it, yet? Do you get the joke?
Self-depreciation comes from insecurity, and it's hard to be secure when you know that what makes you happy has an expiration date. I've never seen the classical idea of growing up sold as positive, be it in music, film, or any other creative media. Regardless, I tried it on for size. I traded my band t-shirts for sweaters for a few years, but I didn't feel like myself. For lack of a better word, I felt like a poseur. Sure, the facial piercings can go, and maybe your (my) hairline recedes, but why do we feel like we need give up a piece of ourselves to mature?
Because we do. Everyone hits a point where they need to give up unnecessary rebellions. Maybe for some people that means leaving behind the music that made them feel comfortable during their most awkward years. For me, it was quitting smoking and weekday drinking. I don't need to show it on my face anymore (bye-bye moronic lip ring), but I will always be that shitty punk kid who doesn't want to play by your rules.
By the end of the show, I was left with a shoe-shaped hickey on my neck from where someone had used my head as a diving board. Stormy's right hand had swollen to twice the size of her left. On Instagram, I saw that there had been square dancing and gourmet food at the wedding reception. I probably would have had a great, safe time, but I don't regret my decision.
Eaton took a moment to address the crowd. "If you take nothing else from this record," he added "be honest to yourself and don't compromise." There's nothing more exciting than doing what you are not supposed to do. I'm going to my first wedding in October, and I don't plan on missing it no matter who decides to throw a reunion show—I just hope the couple doesn't mind when I show up in Frye boots and the denim vest I sewed a George Bush "Not My President" back patch on.
- Growing Up
- Hardcore punk
- modern life is war
- Do you want wedding cake or do you want the truth?