I remember when I was in 8th grade, I started to become really into music. I was obsessed with post-hardcore bands like Taking Back Sunday, Thursday, Silverstein, and Story of the Year religiously. I was fairly intrigued by this specific scene but I was only like 13 years old: The most information I ever had about music was from my Alternative Press magazines I had a loyal appreciation to and looking up music on the internet on my family’s large box-of-a-computer whenever I had a chance. Everyone else I knew in my friend “circle” was just listening to whatever was on the radio. I grew up as a studio dancer and cheerleader and bands like MCR and The Used weren’t technically “cool” back then. I remember I would secretly download LimeWire on my Dad’s laptop, burn a hundred mix-tape CD’s, hurry and delete LimeWire as if only deleting it stopped the viruses, and listen to them full-blast in my room after school and dance practice on repeat.
I remember I had made a new friend that year (we will call her ‘Jane’) and she invited me over to her house one day after school. She had a poster on her wall of a band, all dressed in black, looking like they wanted to kill the camera-man. The person in the middle in the front was wearing black eyeliner and black lipstick, had a lip ring and long black hair. I immediately pointed and said, “Who’s she?” Sing the Sorrow had just come out that previous year and the ‘girl’ I was referring to was Davey Havok. My new friend nonchalantly told me this Davey character was “straight-edge”, as if I was supposed to know what that meant as a sheltered, dorky 8th grader. I instantly fell in love with AFI for obvious reasons, and that was the first time I ever heard of the term “straight edge” and what it meant. It was a crazy pivotal moment for me because this guy was someone who didn’t drink alcohol or do drugs not because they were “bad” for him or someone told him he shouldn’t: he just didn’t want to because he didn’t have an interest in it. And better yet there was a whole community of music-obsessed kids just like him to back it up. This crazy talented guy who I thought was a chick at first, who I was completely enamored with by and looked up to from that day forward, was someone who was just like me in a way: not having an interest in the things that are seemingly so important to the rest of the world. I immediately felt I belonged somewhere, even if that “somewhere” was only in an immediate, LimeWire-illegal download of Sing the Sorrow and every album before that as soon as I got home.
Being a teenager who was always interested in music, art, poetry and having a major love and hobby for finding new bands and interpreting the lyrics of the songs I listened to, the knowledge of a group of people who had the same thoughts as I propelled me into wanting to make an effort in finding friends who felt the same way about music that I did. It was actually really hard for me, especially in the culture I grew up in. I don’t know if it was the fact that I was a female stewing in the wrong “scene” (like I said, I was basically a cheerleader all throughout middle and high school), but it was hard. I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, a predominantly religious Latter-Day Saint community, and here, if you were to show your friend’s Mom Hawthorne Heights “Ohio Is for Lovers”, you would probably never be invited to your friend’s home again. At least for me in my experience, my music taste wasn’t welcomed or popular. There were a lot of years that went by through my teenage-hood where I didn’t know there were kids who were like me, and that although small, there was in fact a community of kids who loved and thrived off music, didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t do drugs. I felt pretty lonely in an aspect that way for some time, but I didn’t let it stop me from having fun in other areas of my life and sticking to my guns to peer pressure that I would experience numerous times after that. I just believe now, looking back, I wasn’t fulfilling myself in those weird, awkward, confidence-lacking teenage years like I felt I finally could once I hit my twenties.
I know now where Davey Havok’s stance comes from when he decided to become straight-edge in the 90’s when he started his first punk band, but for me, my aversion was coupled with two other things: 1) I biologically just did not have an interest in drinking alcohol and ingesting drugs and 2) I was raised with an alcoholic and drug addict in my extended family. I personally felt music was a coping mechanism, a saving grace for me, when I was surrounded by chaos all the time. The bands I listened to sang about depression, feeling low, and sadness; but then they also sang about pressing forward, healing, acceptance and the belief that life gets better. My family members chose drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms for their own demons of depression, anxiety and mental illness, and it broke my heart. I don’t ever remember having moments of saying to myself, “I will never do drugs or drink alcohol because of what I see everyday”, but I always had those feelings of wanting to choose different outlets for my own sorrows. I believe music was that for me and still is for me today, and as I grew up and discovered more music, I was solidified and fell in love with a whole new world of positive and sober-promoting-lifestyle music.
While also growing up in “Mormon” culture while simultaneously not being super orthodox myself, I was raised a Latter-Day Saint, another anomaly of a girl who wasn’t involved in a punk scene as a teenager yet loved punk, metal, hardcore and pop-punk music. People always labeled me that I didn’t drink or do drugs because my religion didn’t allow me to do so, but as I grew up and figured out my own personal religious and spiritual beliefs, I realized the important aspect of isolating the two. Yes, it was always in me to never want to participate in those things, especially with my personal experiences of addiction of my loved ones, but I also realized that if I wanted to do those things on the weekends, I could have had them in my hands within seconds without a struggle, even from – yep, you guessed it – those church-going kids across the street. If you think that religion alone merely stops kids from experimenting with alcohol and drugs, I will be the first to say, lovingly of course, that you are sorely mistaken and you need to come out from that rock you’ve been living underneath your whole life. I know that SLC (and I’m sure other cities, too) gets a weird rap for kids who consider themselves straightedge but who are also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints, but I think it’s so old-fashioned that some people just don’t know how to let people wave both of those flags, separate from each other, because in reality, no one knows people’s personal stories or struggles. The root of the straight-edge community is to accept all no matter what, regardless of religious belonging and regardless of mistakes made. I will be the first to say that I don’t have all the answers to life and I do admit I have struggles and questions with my own choice of religion, but don’t we all? Life is hard enough as it is, and everyone’s journey is different to self-acceptance, feeling like they belong somewhere and truly allowing themselves to be who they were always meant to be. Along with more kids being accepted into this subculture, specifically I think it would be cool to see more straightedge females who are proud to spread the word and participate in an inclusive, positive and uplifting subculture where kids who just want to indulge in their love of punk music and impartiality to alcohol and drugs are welcomed with positivity – inside and out. I wish for more awareness for kids to feel like they are not alone, weird or “uncool” for wanting or choosing to honor decisions they make about their own bodies, minds and hearts. My only inclination is that I wish I had allowed myself to dive into it when I first discovered it back when I was 13 years old. I want kids to be able to be proud of who they are and their differences from the world and to find the confidence in order to do those things.
The rest is history from there, and my love and appreciation for music keeps growing and teaches me something all the time. I find belonging and community when I go to shows with my husband, who also has similar tastes and interests in the types of music that I do. It’s been a hobby and passion of mine ever since that day back in 2003, and it’s led me a great life filled with sobriety, acceptance and education. As cheesy as it may sound, I owe my life to it.
And also to that girl Jane. You are the real MVP here, sis.
(email@example.com) and my Instagram name (@jaydall)