Becoming a Believer - How Rock Music Saved My Life
How Rock Music Saved My Life
I’m writing this from a van. A van driving (not by me...please don’t worry, mom) down a highway (or do they say motorway?) in England. My band is on our way to the first show of our month-long European tour. Our first time touring abroad. My first time overseas.
If you had asked me four years ago if I’d ever see myself playing music for people in Spain, France, England, Germany and more, I would have told you never. Nuh-uh. Nope. No way. It’ll never fucking happen. If you would have asked me if I could drive to the grocery store 10 minutes away to pick up some beer, I would have broken into a cold sweat and been convinced that I had forgotten how to breathe.
Anxiety is powerful. More powerful than anything I have ever experienced. It really hit me for the first time, almost out of nowhere, during an evening film studies class in college four years ago. After that it became a daily occurrence. I genuinely believed I was on the verge of a full-on mental breakdown. Or that I had cancer. One or the other. Yeah, no, it’s definitely cancer. Or both. Probably both.
At the height of my anxiety, I wouldn’t drive alone. Even when I wasn’t alone, it was still extremely hard to leave the house. I would avoid the mall, the grocery store, crowded shows, the interstate. And you can sure as fuck forget about getting me on an airplane. I’ve cried and panicked just trying to walk my dog more than four blocks from my home.
I felt weak and tired and scared pretty much all of the time. The fear of having a panic attack controlled me. It controlled my decisions and permeated every aspect of my life, every minute of every day.
Around this tumultuous time, my then-partner won tickets to the Seattle music festival Bumbershoot. I agreed to go even though just the thought of it made me feel like I was trying to dig myself out from underneath a pile of rocks. We went and I held it together but was anxious, which was not eased by the fact that every band we had seen that day sucked.
Then, as we walked through the crowded park we came across Ty Segall, performing to a medium-sized crowd outside at 3pm. I’ve talked about this moment in interviews but never brought up the context of what I was going through at the time. Seeing Ty and his band perform changed me. It lit a fire inside of me. I was awestruck by his uninhibited performance. The freedom they exuded. The noise, the excitement, and energy of the crowd. It was rough around the edges. It was tough but fun. It was youthful and joyous. I wanted to do that. No, I didn’t want to. I needed to.
It might sound dramatic (those who know me are thinking “surprise, surprise”), but I view this as somewhat of a religious moment for me. The set from this band I had never even heard of changed the entire course of my life. It made me go home and start soaking up any and every influential rock band I could find. (I recognize saying “rock” is a wide net to cast but, because so many different sub-genres exist under that umbrella, it applies in this case.) I fell in love with Black Sabbath and The Fall and the Stooges, I cried listening to The Wipers and got chills hearing Mudhoney for the first time. I dove headfirst into ‘90s and early ‘00s Northwest rock and studied the catalogs of Kill Rock Stars (now our current label), Sub Pop, and others. I was a sponge, soaking up everything I could find and never letting it go.
Then I started to write. I couldn’t stop. I finally had something to throw everything I had into. All of that anxiety, fear and loneliness. I found something that not only distracted me from my anxious thoughts, but also soothed them and loosened their hold over the limited space in my brain. I wrote and released a rock record that vented frustrations and explored a new side of myself, formed a band and never looked back. Now, four years later, after this tour is over, I’ll begin making my fourth album as Summer Cannibals.
There are people who grew up on rock music. They are lifers. They’ve collected the records and seen the shows. They’re cool and they’re dedicated. They have “cred.” They talk about the time they saw Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and Bikini Kill all on one bill that one time in the early 90s in Seattle. That’s not me. Like, not at all. I grew up listening to Britney Spears and NSYNC. When I got a little older, fuck, I’ll admit it, I saw Dave Matthews Band at New Orleans VooDoo Fest. That same year I got high and saw 311 and Alien Ant Farm at the Baton Rouge Centroplex.
I’m from Louisiana – not that that’s a good excuse – but my exposure to good rock music was limited and when you don’t know something exists it’s hard to seek it out. I had stumbled upon a few great rock records around the time I turned 16 (one of which was The Thermals’ The Body, The Blood, The Machine ...a band I would, 10 years after buying this album and four years after my rock revelation, go on to tour with as their guitarist), but once I moved out of my jam band phase, I just began listening to what my “cool” friends were listening to at the time Peter Bjorn and John, Bloc Party, Death Cab for Cutie, the Blow – ”indie” music, for lack of a better term. I had listened and liked rock music before, but suddenly it found me and I found it and I felt reborn. I connected to it in a way that I didn’t know was possible with music. One day I didn’t know what my life was missing. The next day I was a believer.
Our first shows were hard. My anxiety was stronger than ever. I agonized over the first couple of tours but forced myself to push through. Something inside of me knew it was worth it. With every show grew more confidence. Confidence in what I was doing, for the first time in my life. Confidence in my place in the world. Confidence in myself. Over the years that confidence only grew. I took on a stage persona that embodied everything I wished that I could be. She was strong and tough. She didn’t take shit from anybody. She screamed when she wanted. She played loud fuzzy guitar and she played it well. She looked people in the eyes when she sang, something that was incredibly hard for me to do when speaking to people in my daily life.
This wasn’t me. None of this could ever possibly describe me. And then one day, a couple years in, we were playing a show – not even sure which one it was (they all start to blur together a bit) but I had a moment, mid-set as I yelled and thrashed, that this was me. It always had been. It was just a part of me that I didn’t know I could access without music until that very moment. After that realization, I found that I stood taller. I talked a little louder. My anxiety slowly dissipated with each passing day.
Now, here I am. Three flights across the US and one across an ocean, I write this to you from a van in England, about to pull over to see Stonehenge. Soon I will be in Holland, and then Germany. I’ll play my rock music for audiences in seven different countries. When I return back to the States, I will make a new record and then move to a new city, something my anxiety would have never allowed when it had control over my life’s decisions.
I will be anxious sometimes. I’ve already had a couple panic attacks this tour but just as always, they ended and I am still alive and I am still happy to be here. I will be sad sometimes and tired a lot of times. I will miss my dog and my bed. But I will also be strong. I will have fun. I will see new things and meet new people and be grateful for every beautiful moment, every dull moment, and every stressful moment. And then I will put on the Stooges and send a telepathic thank you to every rock record that changed my life over the last four years and brought me to where I am now. I will say thank you to Ty Segall, Sleater-Kinney, Mudhoney, the Thermals and every other rock band that I love. I’ll say thank you for making me into a stronger, more whole person.
Ok, so maybe rock music didn’t save my life but it certainly changed it forever. I am a believer. Just know that it’s never too late to convert and everyone is welcome…even if you did pay actual money to see 311 that one time in 2005.
By Jessica Boudreaux, distributed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license.
Image by Jason Quigley, distributed under the CC-BY-NC-ND creative commons license.
If that’s how you’re listening to music—you’re only ripping yourself off.
I am consensually working these long-ass, impossible hours to be paid in less money, but more freedom.
This independent creative life has myriad simultaneous jobs, no days off, no assurance of security and requires extreme self-discipline.