I’m In Love With That Song

“I’m in love with that song.” –from “Alex Chilton”, The Replacements, lyrics by Paul Westerberg

I have been feeling utterly defeated by all the Pink this October, despite my earlier claim to Take October Back.  But a very welcome distraction arrived for me last week in the form of the 16 nominees for induction into 2014’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I pause here to acknowledge the absolute lameness of a former punk-alterna-girl being so invested in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rock in general is about rebellion, and the Hall of Fame is an institution, the sort of which rock should rebel against. And even if rock became “respectable” somewhere along the way, then things like early and classic rock belong in there, but the punks that came along later to rebel against the established stuff, and then the post-punks after that, I mean, wouldn’t they rebel against that former rebellion-turned-new institution/establishment? See the Sex Pistols’ infamous rejection of their induction in 2006.  Even worse, I have to pause and acknowledge that in the past few years I’ve seen a few of the bands that provided the soundtrack of my teen years creep in, which just really means, I’m getting old.

Yeah, yeah, this is a cancer blog, and that will come into play much later in this post. This blog is an indulgence for me; my view on cancer, my personal experience with it, and how I (don’t) function in an American social culture that surrounds cancer, which I find mostly distasteful. So I’m indulgently rambling about music, because it was the one respite I had once I found myself a bit lost upon exiting the treatment treadmill (“you’re all better now, see you in 6 months!”, ha ha). Proof of my allegiance to my method of beating cancer blues is everywhere; in the post Punk Rock (Breast) Cancer, my tattoo (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hall of Fame inductees in 2012), hell even my gravatar (The Ramones, Hall of Fame inductees in 2002).

I skip over the crap like “rap doesn’t belong” (yes it does, and I’d argue that until I’m blue in the face, and even if I lost the argument, I’d still argue it), “Yes/KISS should’ve been in there loooooong ago”, or “the world is doomed because more people like Nirvana than Link Wray”. Yada, yada, yada. I love watching the arguments unfold on various websites, and agree and disagree with so much of it. “We all come from the damn blues,” said Chuck D. (Public Enemy) in his acceptance speech last year. That should be made into a sign and posted above the door to the museum in Cleveland, or maybe noted in every article about this comparatively (to cancer, for me) silly topic, to remind everyone with an opinion how the whole mess called rock and roll got started.

My humble opinion is any person or band that is inducted, or heck even nominated, including the 16 this year, deserves to be there. I do have my favorites however, and this year I’m voting every day for Nirvana, The Replacements, N.W.A., LL Cool J, and the fifth option is a wild card for me every time. I could write forever extolling the qualities of my choices, but it is the first two I’ve listed that matter most to me now.

As a lonely punk-goth girl (weirdo) growing up in the 80s (remember in the 80s, there was no interwebs, so radio and magazines were the only exposure to music available) I hated what was on the radio; I lived in a rural area where there were no alternative stations—D.C.’s WHFS was an hour out of range. I loved the left of the dial stuff like The Cure (nominated once), The Pixies (never nominated, an outrage) and R.E.M. (inducted in 2007 and yeah, gonna be a snob and reveal I was fan well before they got played on regular radio, and got all famous). I used to stay up for those one or two hour programs of “college rock” on the radio or “120 Minutes” on MTV just so I could hear stuff to my liking. It was on one of these programs I first heard Nirvana’s  “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

People always like to talk about where they were when they heard the bad news of some horrible event, and lots of cancer patients remember all too well, and have written about, where, how, and when they first heard of their diagnosis. My own memory of that, still so sharp, I’d like to erase. But I always want to remember the feelings and thoughts when I heard first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I was beginning my junior year of college, tired from working my ass off all summer to pay for the privilege of extended education, but still unsure about my future (well, that turned out unexpected, what with all the cancer). I heard that song and knew it would change everything.

Reams have been written about the influence of Nirvana in rock music. To me it was much simpler: the weirdos won. Finally, I could hear music I liked on the radio—which was great because my car’s tape player was forever breaking. With the nomination and almost assured induction of Nirvana, the weirdos win again. And I cannot let this year or this post pass without expressing shock and joy at the nomination of The Replacements. Of all the precursor bands to the so-called alternative music revolution that happened after Nirvana got famous, those bands that faded back into obscurity after it was so quickly over, I thought that only Sonic Youth would get any eventual recognition, and I still find their lack of nomination scandalous. So I view this nomination of The Replacements as nothing short of triumph, even though I am sure lots of people heard their name last week and said, “who the hell is that?”

But here is the funny thing. I know it matters a great deal to me, but not much to most people.  All summer, I’ve worn my Nirvana t-shirt with the smiley face logo (see banner) on the front and the less offensive claim on the back that the band is “flower sniffin’, kitty pettin’, baby kissin’, corporate rock whores” (the other version is worse, look it up).  People I interact with saw my t-shirt front and asked about Buddhism!  Here’s this band that is still a great favorite of mine, that had this tremendous influence on my young 20 year old self, and on the music industry, and no one seems to know who they are/were anymore. Because I immerse myself in entertainment media, I’ve been barraged with details of the 22nd anniversary of the release of their album “Nevermind”, the 20th anniversary re-release of “In Utero”. I get a skewed view of the world, I think they mattered greatly.  And yet, I constantly interact with people who do not even remember them.

It mirrors how I experience cancer at times. As a breast cancer patient with a tiny blog, who tends to seek out info that reaffirms a notion that Pink is WRONG, I sometimes get the sense that Pink, ribbons, and cancer are bigger issues than they are to most people. I have to remind myself that most people are not as tuned in to the issues, the lies of Pink and that is why they ignorantly continue to buy into it. I have to calm myself down—most people do not deal with breast cancer every day and do not know or understand that some breast cancer patients hate Pink. I wanna scream, “why don’t they get it, there are a million articles about how pinkwashing is damaging.” Well, because not many seek out that info.

Sure, lots of people are “touched” by cancer via friends and relatives, but it is only a small (hopefully growing) segment of breast cancer patients that have done the homework behind what is really happening behind the Pink-party-charity explosion. Just like most people are aware of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but maybe, to paraphrase Nirvana’s “In Bloom”, likes the pretty songs, likes to sing along, but don’t know what it means.

To avoid being strangled by pink ribbons and all the surrounding bullshit, I’ve reveled in the news of the nominations. For the past several days I don’t think I’ve played a song on my phone that was not a Replacements song—yikes, better mix it up with songs by the other nominees! I’ll listen to “In Utero” for the millionth time, I’ll vote (maybe pointlessly) for my favorites on the Rock Hall website for the next several weeks; it is a great diversion. And when Nirvana’s living members accept their induction next April, I’ll try to remember that every once in a while, the outsider voice becomes the mainstream, and I’ll hope that the small segment pointing out all that is wrong with Pink can capture the attention of the world, without smashing any guitars.

“To truly love some silly piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts” from  “Almost Famous”, film by Cameron Crowe, 2000

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Punk Rock (Breast) Cancer

Author’s Note- Dave Grohl’s SXSW Festival Keynote Address took place a couple of weeks ago, but due to ongoing internet connectivity issues, and just the insanity of life, I only managed to hear it recently, on NPR’s Fresh Air, then I managed to watch it on YouTube. I’ve listened to it–numerous times–since then. Even if you aren’t a fan, it is still worth a listen, but be warned, he’s pretty foul-mouthed (kind of like my blog, but much much worse). There are many references in this post to the keynote address, and I basically modeled the post on his speech. But, you don’t HAVE to listen to his address to get my point. -anotheronewiththecancer aka cancer curmudgeon

"I hope I still look like a rock star," Dave Grohl gives the keynote address during the South By Southwest Music Festival at the Austin Convention Center on March 14, 2013 in Austin, Texas.pic by Gary Miller/FilmMagic
“I hope I still look like a rock star,” Dave Grohl gives the keynote address during the South By Southwest Music Festival at the Austin Convention Center on March 14, 2013 in Austin, Texas.pic by Gary Miller/FilmMagic

Dear Dave,

Your keynote address at the recent SXSW Music Festival was one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard. One of your main themes, finding your own voice, resonated with me, as I am sure it is doing with many others.

So this is what MY voice wants to say.

One two three four. **

Several years ago I made a poor professional choice that resulted in my being surrounded by a few people I wish I never met. I lost not only my voice, but my way, maybe even myself. I spent too much time trying to please others, changing myself, trying to fit in, something I have never done very well. It impacted me in terrible ways…I failed at the effort, and I was miserable. I was preparing to remove myself from these harmful influences when I got a breast cancer diagnosis.

I stupidly bought into what I call the “cancer is magic” way of thinking. I thought I would get a spiritual, emotional, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink awakening, and things would change. I would be better at everything, life would be awesome, when it was all over. Oh how quickly I learned that cancer does not change anything…a person with cancer, everyone they know, and all life situations, are still the same. One of my many mottoes is, cancer only makes it more so. Everything I was before, I am now, but more so. My tolerance and patience-already not my strong points-all but disappeared. All the problems I had before my special news were simply magnified.

Two of the most hurtful criticisms I took repeatedly in the past 7 or so years were 1) I am immature and 2) I am a bad writer. And there were many, many more criticisms–to the point I am not sure I will ever regain the level of confidence I once had. I was in a bad place, and cancer became an extra horrible obstacle in an already intolerable situation.

Barely a month after completing active treatment, I said “fuck it”. It was messy, walking away so abruptly, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I don’t regret it, not even a single second. Cancer didn’t give me a lesson that life is short, I already knew that (because cancer is NOT magic, it is not an awakening for everyone). But I knew my life might actually be or get shorter. Translation: don’t waste a single fucking second of time being miserable.

So what did I do, finally free of the voices whispering in my ear that I was not good enough? I got, what you in your keynote called religion. I turned a side project into a business that allowed me to spend lots of time driving. While driving, I sang (screamed) along to old songs I loved when I was in my teens, twenties, even my thirties, up to present day. “Sonic reducer, ain’t no loser” (“Sonic Reducer”-Dead Boys), “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” (“Killing In the Name Of”-Rage Against the Machine), “Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to goooo I wanna be sedated” (“I Wanna Be Sedated”-The Ramones), “We jumped up on the table and shouted anarchy,” (Punk Rock Girl”-Dead Milkmen) and of course, “No, I cannot forgive you yet” (I think you know that one). I all but hung my head out the window like a dog while screaming that shit at the top of my lungs. Like your first punk rock club experience, it was heaven.

All these songs were the ones that got me through my misguided youth. I was right back to being immature, or so I thought. Turns out, all that chipping away at me those people did, telling me I was immature, made me even more immature…in the company of these jerks I felt like was 11 or 12 again, and my emotional reactions reflected that. Unfortunately, this was my state of mind during diagnosis and treatment. I had to grow up all over again, to re-grow my confidence, and the best way to do that was to embrace that immaturity…to be a brat and regain my punky snot-nosed self that entered adulthood, and I did it through music. Eventually, I got a little confidence back. I realized there was nothing wrong with who I am–people calling me immature, well that is their opinion, and I no longer give a damn–because I know I am not immature, and my opinion is the one that matters here.

Obstacle 1: cleared

On to the next thing.

During diagnosis and treatment, I longed for guidance on how to “do cancer”, because I suspected I was doing it wrong. I could not deal with the Pinkness expected of breast cancer patients. I was far from the Livestrong “hero” shit. I screamed and cried and was scared, quite often. I looked and looked…to the point I once Googled the phrase “punks with cancer” or something like that, just because I wanted an alternate way of doing cancer. What is offered is “The Idiot’s Guide to Breast Cancer”, when what I needed was “The Asshole’s Guide to Cancer”, with chapters like “You Don’t Have to Wear Heels and a Pink Feather Boa to Infusion to Show Strength” or “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (Treatment Plan)”. What is prevalent is Komen and Livestrong–promoting a single ideal of how to behave if you have cancer, with shiny, happy celebrity patients. The only good thing I found to read during my final rounds of chemo was a biography of Joey Ramone written by his brother (which includes Joey’s final days with Lymphoma). I read and cherished it. I continued looking for ways to cope after treatment, as I slowly emerged from the drug and exhaustion induced haze over my brain. Of course, I was dealing with a nasty bout of post-treatment depression, which is common, but rarely spoken of in the cancer warrior culture.

Finally, I found blogs, which you compare to the zines of our old days. I had regained a little confidence so, I decided to add MY dissenting voice to that realm.

You said, “It’s YOUR VOICE. Cherish it. Respect it. Nurture it. Challenge it. Stretch it and scream until it’s fucking gone. Because everyone is blessed with at least that, and who knows how long it will last . . .”
That is what I’m doing. Am I doing it well? Who knows. But it is, as you say, “MY VOICE.” I’m not internet famous, or blog famous, or whatever defines a popular, well read blog. But the readers who’ve reached out to me seem to like what I say…even tho’ I’m what Kurt called a negative creep. Hell, if it were not breast cancer I was bitching about, I assure you, I’d have found some other topic–I could name a few now–but this is what I have the bad luck to know best.

There is no right or wrong way to do my blog, because it is all mine…to paraphrase you.

Obstacle 2: diverted

***********************

I have conquered much in the past year. Reconnecting with who I was to get back to where I need to be, getting my first tattoo at 41 years old–a tattoo that is a band logo no less–to cover my surgical scar, rather than reconstruction. This would be considered immature by those I used to know, I would not have told them I was going to do it–hell, I probably wouldn’t do it all. My voice, my choice.

I did not have the good luck to be left to my own devices, I had to sever ties and declare my independence from the ones who would stifle my voice. But that didn’t mean I was totally alone. I had people giving me food, taking me places. But what was better was the emotional support system of another breast cancer patient and two ovarian cancer patients, who gave me all the courage I so desperately needed to have my own little Independence Day–they don’t stifle. They coaxed the voice out of hiding. For them I have nothing but love and gratitude.

***********************
In your speech you said, “I was possessed and empowered and inspired and enraged and so in love with life and so in love with music that it had the power to incite a fucking riot, or an emotion, or to start a revolution, or just to save a young boy’s life.”

I dislike the hyperbole in cancer warrior culture–the warrior-fight-battle language is a bit over dramatic; I prefer to only use hyperbole for sarcastic or comedic effect. “Hope”, “battling” and a positive attitude (which I lack anyway) did not save my life, better living through chemistry did that. So I’m not gonna say you or your music “saved my life”. Instead, you, your music from Nirvana to now, did something better. It helped me endure and thrive, and kept me sane. Your speech helped me see that all those nights listening to weird music my friends hated while I was in high school, created the inner strength I needed all along–to face all the suckage of cancer. I know this much is true when I’m in the MRI machine and instead of hearing the awful noises it makes, I hear Ministry and Public Enemy songs in all that clicking. I know this is true in those rare moments I reflect on my funky-tattoo-over-reconstruction decision, which flies right in the face of our boobies-obsessed culture.

***********************

You talk about having heroes, wanting to be a hero, hoping your daughters become heroes too. I don’t believe in having idols/heroes; celebrities, family members or otherwise. That is one little bit of the punk rock ethic that I will never shake off–look at who society sets up for worship–those suckers are NOT better than me. And on the flip side, I cannot imagine anyone would want the pressure and scrutiny of being a hero. So it is with some reluctance I dub thee my hero. And not because I think you are perfect, on the contrary, you’ve been fairly open and honest in showing your faults. When you wrote/sang, “There goes my hero, he’s ordinary,” you meant someone else, but for me, it is you–you are my Beatles, my Rock Against Reagan Concert, my Bad Brains, my Edgar Winter. So, in my eyes, according to your address, you’ve done what you set out to do all those decades ago.

These days, I still listen to the songs representative of my so-called immaturity, so I don’t lose my voice again. And I’m not always aggro-woman. I also sing along to Bob–“Oh my Little sister,don’t she’d no tears…ev’rything’s gonna be alright, ev’rything’s gonna be alright.” And whaddya know, I don’t not cry anymore, and it is alright now.

**All hail The Ramones