The internet was still pretty new when I was a kid. AOL sent you CDs in the mail. Livejournal had just come out. Myspace hadn’t happened yet. In fact, when I was in junior high you had to have an invitation code for livejournal. That wasn’t the case for deadjournal. I had one of those for maybe a year, then livejournal opened up its gates. Sites like Pitchfork were also in their nascency, though in a few years indie music sites became a kind of cottage industry.
This is all to say that finding new music was a different experience. Maybe more direct than it is now. I don’t know if that’s bad or good. But there was something, looking back now, I cherished about the experience of discovering new stuff.
I spent a lot of time pouring through rock encyclopedias, pulling out weird looking CDs at Borders and used CD stores wedged into anonymous strip malls, and trying to find other kids who looked like they were into similar stuff. This third one was really important. If you looked normal, you probably were normal and into Top 40. But if you had plaid bondage pants and a mohawk, then like-minded people found you and you found them.
That’s how I found out about Rock Hard Video. I floated between the metalheads, the punks, and the indie/emo/posthardcore kids. I was hanging out with the metalheads, probably watching gore movies at this kid Dan’s place, when I heard about RHV. We’d pile into Dan’s basement and watch stuff like Black Christmas, Bad Taste, Dead Alive!, the silent film version of Nosferatu someone found in a bargain bin that had a bunch of Type O Negative tracks dubbed over it.
Rock Hard Video was hosted by a blue collar Chicago dude named Mark Mensching. He played metal videos, popular and obscure, foreign and domestic, for an hour or two on Saturday nights on Channel 18. In between, he’d run these goofy segments called Mark’s Stupid Death Files (which was later named Sucks To Be You), Word of the Day, and fake/real request phone calls.
He actually makes a Wayne’s World joke in that Stupid Death Files video.
I loved this show. I didn’t always like the music, but the fact that I got exposed to so much through it was enough. I first heard Danzig, Type O Negative, and Children of Bodom there. But I also liked how it was this secret thing no one else knew about. No other kids at school, since I went to Catholic school while most of my friends went to public school, watched it.
Though, at some point, I did stop watching. Maybe this was around when I got really into indie rock, and then underground hip-hop, and then hardcore punk. I don’t know, it’s all a hellish blur of shifting wardrobes and musical obsessions. I think Mark stopped airing the show during my first year of college–2008 maybe.
This show is still a secret in a lot of ways. Not only was it local, I’m not really in touch with anybody from that scene. Last year, when I moved out west, Dan reached out to me. He and I played in a shitty metal band called Grimoire. For a while, after high school, he was a men’s fashion model. Every once in a while I’d see photos of him from Korea or Germany floating around. Because he’d been one of my heavy metal reject friends, and because we all saw ourselves as broken weirdos, it had never occurred to me how handsome he is. Now, he lives over in Colorado Springs with his wife and kid. He works construction and still has that dry wit that I always loved.
A few years ago, during one of my college summers, I bumped into Tim and Janes. I think it was Janes that introduced me to all of them. Wilder Park had local bands play during the summer. I started talking to Janes because she looked punk and I immediately had a crush on her. And she knew everyone in the scene. This guy Ben Plott’s band played the night we met. That was how I first heard the song “Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath. I remember watching this kid with really long blond hair headbang his brains out to it. His name was Bryan and he ended up playing lead guitar in Grimoire.
Tim was really into shit like Nile and Cannibal Corpse. In eighth grade, I did a shadow day at the local public high school. I ended up ditching the person I was supposed to follow to hang out with Dan and Tim. In their computer class, Tim kept showing me brutal clips from European gore movies. He liked the look on my face. I remember some dude screaming as a woman cut his stomach open and scarfed down his bowels. Another clip of someone being held down by their neck while someone else plucked out his eyeballs with a No. 2 pencil. The clip that made me laugh was a compilation of people blowing up sheep with RPGs.
I think Tim was wearing a Nile shirt when I bumped into him and Janes at the Starbucks in downtown Elmhurst. They were smoking and shooting the breeze. I remember it was awkward. Tim was painting houses, Janes still lived at her parents.
“I live to get drunk,” she half-joked. Then she flipped open her pack of cigarettes, “Jesus, this might be another two pack day.”
“How’s college?” Tim wanted to know.
“In Vermont,” was about the best I could do.
I turned around and saw the Walgreen’s where we all used to hang out and get older kids to buy us smokes. One time, I saw kids pass out razor blades so they could start cutting themselves right then and there. That was on the other side of that Walgreen’s in this small alley.
Did I say anything else? Did they? I wonder where they are now. I wonder why it felt impossible to reach back across time and remember what it was like to spend almost every day of an aimless summer together.
That whole era is hermetically sealed, now, and eclipsed with what came–though it couldn’t have come fast enough for us then, and has inexplicably become simply how it is–hurtling towards us.
I don’t know anyone who has ever been prepared for that.
So long, see you tomorrow.