Turning 23 years old made my stomach gnarl up like a twisted tree trunk. I’m older, but I have nothing good to prove it. Not the house, or the good job, or the self-satisfied smirk at all the little victories I thought I would have achieved by now. I can’t even pay my own bills. I’m just a slightly more mature high schooler with slightly blacker lungs.
There are mixed signals when it comes to growing up nowadays. Twenty-somethings are expected to be more responsible, but in a journey rather than a destination type of way. They may have a more regular sleep schedule, thanks to Tylenol P.M. They may date college men but still play maniacal mind games. Maybe they go to the gym five days a week and return home, lungs pumping and bodies sweating, to chain smoke and cool down with lite beers. They eat vegetables because they want to. Then they eat Taco Bell because it’s 4-20. They graduate college, collect letters of recommendations and land their first adult jobs at Ben and Jerry’s.
Yet despite the convoluted lifestyles of the young adults of my generation, many people have managed to do more than accumulate tar stains on their teeth as proof that they are growing up. My birthday rolled around right as everyone on Facebook was posting about finishing med school, beginning a solid career, or how brilliantly everything in their lives shine, leaving me with that sickly feeling of re-evaluating my current position: still unaccomplished and only getting older. Soon I will be 30. By then, 30 will be the new 15, but then I will be 40 and 40 is the new menopause.
I did what any Taurus would do when faced with change and an uncomfortable truth: I dug my hooves in. I dug them so far into the ground that I went back to the ’90s. Chasing a surge of nostalgia for an easier age when “adult” was a four letter word, I saw Lit perform on Apr. 27 at State Theater.
The show was awful. An alternative rock band, Lit began in the 1990s and had several hits, which they played at the show: “Lipstick and Bruises,” “Miserable” and “My Own Worst Enemy,” arguably their most popular song and the only one rocked out to. A violent mosh pit, which I had no urge to join, kept up next to me, the whole effect being ironic because of the soft-core music. Before the show, I had no idea the band had persisted past the radio’s recognition and I wasn’t displeased to have been out of the loop — I realized quickly that I didn’t like most of their music. I just liked looking back, which tends to feel better than living presently, or as Buddhists call it, living.
Fearful about an uncertain future, I had tried to become again a me from too far back, someone well defined and complete and doing exactly what anyone her age ought to be doing, but I couldn’t connect with her anymore. The next night, I looked instead to the teenage me for comfort and went to a show at The Neptune Lounge in Tarpon Springs.
A small venue for local bands, Neptune is the place to be for the 13 to 18 age group, but this night, the scene was made up mostly of those in their 20s. Three Clearwater area bands were up for the night: project: SAVE c.a. Hircus, Chubby Tuff and Variety Workshop.
Project: SAVE, a hip-hop group with heavy rock influences, went up first. I knew the MC, Jon “Jon Ditty” Didier from high school and it was through him that I first heard Chubby Tuff and Variety Workshop. Music has a way of finding people at just the right the times, the way angels or godmothers do in fairy tales. In high school, I had been desperate for something fast-paced and riotous to vent out the confused anger within. Punk and ska music were the deities that aided me.
Ditty spat out rhymes like ticker-tape, fast and rhythmic without need for a breath. Derek “DJ D-Rok” Saballos is one of two DJs in the group, the other being Robbie “DJ One-Up” Pereira, who is also the guitarist of Variety Workshop (where he is known as Robbie-Rob). While D-Rok does the traditional scratches and DJing, One-Up additionally does live beat-making for the trio.
This was the first time I’d heard project: SAVE and I was impressed. Not usually one for hip-hop myself, the funky beats and intellectual lyrics sold me immediately.
“One of the main themes that drive a lot of what I write is the theme of free thought and thinking, because I personally believe … a lot of people are very quick to formulate very black and white opinions about everything,” Ditty said. “[The lyrics are] definitely some social commentary, but at the same time … I’ll contradict myself and acknowledge the fact that I’m contradicting myself because I think hypocrisy is something that a lot of people can’t necessarily avoid in their lives but … are hesitant to acknowledge and to cope with.”
Next up was Chubby Tuff and the reason I had a double limp for the next few days. Chubby Tuff is a ska band that formed in 2002, more or less through high school connections. The band is made up of Jeremy Catarelli on saxophone, Kevin “Kevin-Man” Magamoll on guitar, Roswell Mundwiler on trumpet, Josh “Alf” Perotto on drums, Douglas “Dougie Tuff” Tschirhart on bass and Steve Waidley on trombone, with Catarelli, Magamoll and Waidley all providing vocals.
Throughout their set, my body moved non-stop and everyone in the crowd looked beautiful, laughing and thrashing around. I was bathed in beer and ashes, which to my skin felt better than shea butter and at the time felt just as natural. This was what I had been looking for when the nagging thoughts of everything that comes with growing up overwhelmed me — a way to feel unbound, something to make this transition more tolerable. The magic of ska is in its energy, the life that wind instruments breathe into already up-beat punk music. Their vivacity and wonderfully buoyant music make Chubby Tuff hands down my favorite local band.
The final performance was by Variety Workshop, known as Vdub by their many fans. Evan Brenner performs vocals and auxiliary percussion, Ryan Reilly plays bass, Robbie Rob plays guitar and Brad “B-Rad” Whitsett plays drums. One of the first times I saw the band live was at a New Year’s party where they performed on the roof of someone’s house, a scene that, in my mind, defines the free spirit of this group.
“We’re kind of this crazy, all inclusive genre type band,” Brenner said. “We’re like reggae and punk and a little bit of progressive rock and hip-hop and … some of our songs are a little metal or even screamo too. … That’s why we called it Variety Workshop — we wanted to make sure that we could always play the type of music we wanted to play no matter what age we are or what we’re feeling at the time.”
Between almost every song, the crowd chanted “Vdub!” ever aching for more. By this point, Neptune had run out of beer other than Coronas, apparently unprepared for an older crowd than usual, but beer was the least of my concerns. I was keeping up with the pleasantly morphing sounds of Vdub.
In my earthly paradise of banging music, friends old and new, and remembering how it felt to know I was young and free, someone shoved an apple into my mouth: the show would be Chubby Tuff’s last. Kevin-Man was moving to Colorado and the rest of the band had other commitments to give their full attentions to.
“It’s jobs and, eventually, probably starting a family,” Dougie Tuff later explained to me. “It’s hard to be in a band and trying to do all those things at this point. We’re all growing up, we’re all going our own ways. We’re all getting to be almost 30 — a few of us are, at least — and just kind of moving on.”
And so came the crashing realization, again, that nothing good lasts forever. I had something beautiful, something to take me back — and it’s leaving me. I can only dig into the earth for so much longer before the soil is swept away and someone pours imported sand on top of me.
Against everything I know is right and true and exemplified in the Harry Potter series, I have been fighting change. My trouble has been in letting go and moving on, because that means saying goodbye to some friends, to some parts of me and, hardest of all, to knowing what comes next.
Being alive, we are always in the works and maybe we can never get it quite right. The older we get, there are fewer and fewer people who have the answers and suddenly our lives become our own. At the source of the anxiety about growing up is fear of the unknown and having to make something out of it. The uncertainty can be detested or embraced, but it can’t be avoided. We can only let it paralyze us — or jump into the darkness and start creating.