Over the past ten weeks, I’ve been looking at the old AbsolutePunk best-of lists and reevaluating my end of the year lists from some of the prime years in our music scene. But what happened before 2005? Over the next few weeks, I’d like to explore the very early years of AbsolutePunk and the music that helped shape my life.
It’s 1998. I’m 15. Every school dance is playing “Gettin Jiggy Wit It,” and boy bands are just beginning their reign. My clothes are too big. My musical taste is mostly made up of whatever my friends have been listening to. There was a grunge phase in middle school. I listened to a lot of Nirvana. A friend’s brother showed us Dookie. There was a Snoop Dog, Boyz II Men, and Salt-N-Peppa thing that happened in elementary school. I don’t remember it that much, but I remember a friend sharing some cassettes with me. And I was a child of the ’80s. I liked Michael Jackson. I had the Batman soundtrack by Prince. I listened to the music my dad would play on the record player every Sunday morning: The Beatles, Elvis, Simon & Garfunkel, John Denver. But my musical identity? The music that I called my own? The obsession with needing to listen to something every single second of the day? At this point in time, it didn’t exist. My closest friends were listening to Metallica and Pantera. I liked it well enough, but it never quite connected with me. It felt like the Nautica shirts I was wearing at the time, a costume I wore because everyone else was. This period, between 1997 and 1998, is where everything changed.
Trying to remember the exact order of events or precise timing is practically impossible after all these years. But this is what I do know: At some point, my best friend left his CD case over at my house by accident. That night I decided to go through his case and see if I liked anything. This was pre-CD burner, way before mp3s; if I liked something, I’d be turning it into a tape for my Walkman. My best guess is this happened between late 1997 and mid-1998 because I remember Deftone’s Around the Fur (released in October) and Everclear’s So Much for the Afterglow (also released in October) both being in there.
And I remember seeing bull balls.
And that’s the album that changed everything.
I’d never heard of Blink-182 up until that moment. And within thirty seconds of the first song, I knew they were my new favorite band. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. Back and forth vocals, fast drums, lyrics about being an immature disillusioned kid? I didn’t know music like this existed. And I wanted all of it. Looking through the liner notes, I see these three dudes who don’t look that much older than me—goofing around, looking cool—looking like they don’t care about anything besides skateboarding and having fun with their friends. I’m not saying it was overnight that I needed Billabong t-shirts, but it was overnight that I needed Billabong t-shirts.
My friend’s copy of Dude Ranch became a tape. And it was virtually the only thing I listened to for months. For the first time that I can remember, I had found something that felt like it was mine. Something that felt like a musical extension of my stupid teenage brain.
I think what’s the funniest to me about these early years is that without the internet to look anything up, everything I knew about music and these bands came from the couple of friends I had that had older brothers. My next memory is an argument in the locker room because a friend of a friend said there was actually a “rare” first album from Blink-182 that his brother had, and none of us believed him. This probably led to name-calling. It also led to him bringing me a tape of Cheshire Cat. This then became the second album that didn’t leave my Walkman for months. Somewhere in 1998, I got my first portable CD player, it was black, giant, and it kind of looked like the Millennium Falcon. It did not have skip protection. I also remember begging for Blink-182 CDs for Christmas. And then I remember being utterly shocked that my mom was able to find Cheshire Cat and that I now had my very own copy. In fact, this is captured on video. Hilariously grainy 1998 video. We really do take for granted that these little devices in our pockets can shoot 4K while everything from my childhood looks like it was filmed with the lenses soaked in soap.
The other albums I opened up that morning were, of course, a copy of Dude Ranch, and Pennywise’s About Time. I don’t remember why I asked for Pennywise, but my best guess is I saw the name in the liner notes, or someone told me they sounded like Blink. And it’s right about here that my obsession begins. It’s now that I want everything that sounds even remotely like these bands. And soon after, I hear “I’m OK, You’re OK” by MxPx and immediately spend my lunch money on Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo. This then became the second band I was obsessed with. It felt as though the music was plucking from me emotions and feelings I had inside but didn’t think anyone else was going through. It’s weird to think about now, but I guess it makes a little more sense pre-internet, pre-instant messaging, and only talking to friends at specific times each day via a phone with a goddamn cord on the end of it. The entry into this musical world was sort of the only communication I had to know others felt the way I did. And, from there it snowballed: Goldfinger, Millencolin, Unwritten Law, Lagwagon, NOFX, Less Than Jake, Bad Religion, Dance Hall Crashers, Home Grown, anything that was even slightly associated with this kind of music I wanted to hear.
I’m not going to attempt to rank any of the albums from this era in my life.1 But I do want to catalog the albums that I was listening to as my musical taste began to form, and I want to put together a playlist that walks through these early years as well. So, here’s what I remember most from 1998:
My Nostalgia (1998)
- Alkaline Trio – Goddammit! (1998)
- Bad Religion – Stranger Than Fiction (1994)
- Bad Religion – Suffer (1988)
- Blink-182 – Cheshire Cat (1995)
- Blink-182 – Dude Ranch (1997)
- Dance Hall Crashers – Honey, I’m Homely! (1997)
- Descendents – Everything Sucks (1996)
- Eve 6 – Eve 6 (1998)
- Face to Face – Face to Face (1996)
- Goldfinger – Hang-Ups (1998)
- Green Day – Nimrod (1997)
- Home Grown – Act Your Age (1998)
- Lagwagon – Double Plaidinum (1997)
- Lagwagon – Hoss (1995)
- Lagwagon – Let’s Talk About Feelings (1998)
- Less Than Jake – Hello Rockview (1998)
- Less Than Jake – Losing Streak (1996)
- Millencolin – For Monkeys (1997)
- MxPx – Life in General (1996)
- MxPx – Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo (1998)
- No Use for a Name – Making Friends (1997)
- NOFX – So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes (1997)
- Pennywise – About Time (1995)
- Pennywise – Full Circle (1997)
- Rancid – Life Won’t Wait (1998)
- Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come (1998)
- Saves the Day – Can’t Slow Down (1998)
- Slick Shoes – Burn Out (1998)
- Slick Shoes – Rusty (1997)
- Strung Out – Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues (1996)
- Strung Out – Twisted by Design (1998)
- The Ataris – Anywhere But Here (1997)
- The Living End – The Living End (1998)
- The Offspring – Americana (1998)
- Unwritten Law – Unwritten Law (1998)
The above list is alphabetical. I didn’t even want to try and put anything in any kind of order. It also includes stuff from the years prior by the artists I was starting to get into, specifically the ones I remember spending a lot of time with. I can’t pin down when, exactly, I found Bad Religion or Refused, and I am fairly certain I didn’t actually discover Saves the Day until next year, 1999. Still, all of this kind of bleeds together at this point, and the entire goal is to get a rough look at what my musical taste was doing around this time. All of these albums, and this three to four year period, blend in my head. There are specific, seminal, albums, and moments, but many are mixed together as just “high-school.” 2
Looking at all these albums now is like throwing me back in time. I couldn’t drive. The internet was barely a thing. Blink-182 and MxPx absolutely dominated my Discman, but I was also hungry for everything in this genre of music. I was pouring through every band’s liner notes to see who they thanked and making a note that the next time I could scrape together any money at all, I’d try and find that CD at the local Borders. I had a giant CD binder that I kept all of my CDs in, and a CD tower thing in my room for all of the cases. I finally felt like I got music, and I finally felt like music got me. This was the sound of my youth, of my dumbass-immature-suburbian-rebellion childhood. That stage where your problems aren’t really problems but they’re all you know so they mean everything at the time. The part where the breakups hurt a little more; the anger stung a little harder; the nights with friends felt like they’d go on forever. It’s here that my love for music is truly born, and it’s within the next few years that everything reaches a fever pitch. Because next year, in 1999, Enema of the State is released, and it’s sometime around then that I fire up my first Geocities, or Angelfire, or whatever it was account and start “writing” online.
I’ve put together a playlist that I think is most representative of my musical taste in 1998. The songs from the albums I remember the most. You can check it out on Spotify and Apple Music, and hopefully, it’ll either bring you back to your past, or you’ll find something you never knew you needed.