A story of…
Let me back up. It was around 2000 when I got my hands on a copy of The Making of a Conversation that my boyfriend at the time had given to me. The cover, a painting of a man and woman trying to listen through a wall, said something new to me in my teenage angst. I think it was a feeling of “this is on a local level, made by people from similar backgrounds.” The liner notes of the CD displayed four photos of the band members as children, which spoke entirely to my reminiscent self. At the heart of it, we’re kids just fucking around, feeling free, now that we’re older, to do whatever we want. There were no lyrics inside, just a simple message: “thanks xoxo.”. And the recording, I’ll be honest, was not all that great, but that’s something else that drew me in because it was a raw, unique sound. Prior to this I was obsessed with the untouchable mainstream pop alternatives – Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Nirvana, etc. The Making of a Conversation was my first taste of DIY music, something I didn’t know was possible at the age of 16. The album alone opened up a new world for me in this respect. In another, the gut-wrenching emotions that were present in the layered vocals, screaming guitars and syncopated beats proved that there was so much more out there to be created and discovered.
This one night in particular was a definitive night for me, as it was my first time at The Mod Center. The Mod Center was a community center on Route 347 (at the top of 87/North Ocean Rd.) that reserved time every other Friday night for local bands to come out and play. I’m not sure who organized it (please contact me if you know more), but there were usually three bands on the bill. Everyone was there, no matter the music you were into, and I believe that places like this were a safe-haven for most of us. School was alienating. Home was unbearable. This was a place we knew we could go, at least for one night.
The members of the band equally surprised me with their extreme kindness and unusually soft-spoken demeanor, namely because their music often sounded enraging. When I first shook their hands that night, it was before I had ever seen any of them play. My boyfriend at the time, Greg, introduced me to Tom, his older brother, and I don’t think I could yet picture this feverish bass player everyone had been telling me about. I could barely catch a word he said, but his smile was genuine. Chris was still young, might have been only 18 or 19, and when I was introduced to him, he seemed so incredibly nervous that he was about to play, most likely because the band had an already established local fan base with a different drummer (Nicole Keiper). Prior to this introduction I had heard rumors that he was one of the best up-and-coming drummers in the scene. I was confused: on CD, they presented this powerful force but in person they were so humble and so…quiet. The pop stars I had looked up to were arrogant, full of ego because they believed they had the right; their music was that amazing. Here were these four guys who were making even more powerful music and seemed to not grasp the impact they were having on the community.
About fifty kids, ranging from the ages of 13 to 24 all crowded around The Princes as they set up, tuned and bantered a little with each other. Jason, the skinniest frontman I had ever seen, introduced them and they launched into At Half Mast. Every person in the room knew the words; some crowded around Jason, fiercely screaming with him. Tom played with his eyes closed, clearly losing himself in the momentum and Chris, Chris transformed into an animal. For what it was worth, no one could have known he was nervous or made any mistakes. Lou was red and sweaty, looking extremely serious as he screamed a few backing vocals and Jason looked as though he were in pain half the time, then stopping to smile between songs at friends.
That set, and all the ones to follow, taught me more about what it is to be a band, even with a new member. Just trusting each other with everything you have, committing to continue, to labor, to fit together and to grow for yourselves and for the few who understand was completely evident in their stage presence. Their music resonated with us, partially because of the welcoming aura they presented and partially because their music was more emotional and sonically intense than few other bands at the time. Sunny Day Real Estate was a close second for me, but OTMOP, because they were so close to home, drew me in effortlessly. There is something more gripping in music the closer it comes to where you grew up. It nestles into your experience because it feels spatially familiar. And, to have been there when it all started, is more memorable than anything.
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