External Influence by Glen Binger
One time in high school my brother made his own Fugazi t-shirt, and I always thought it came out pretty rad. We were mere padawans of punk rock back then, unaware of life’s true purposelessness.
I remember him spray-painting it on top of a bench in our backyard. I also remember my dad beating his ass purple that following weekend for getting black and white on his brand-new patio furnishing.
He whooped mine too once. Years prior, when I had to break a window to get in after school. I forgot my key at home because I was too excited to bring in and show off my first CD. I’d be the coolest kid in 7th grade with Smash Mouth’s Astro Lounge. “All Star” made me feel good about myself and I liked that. I wanted to share it with everyone.
The world was a different place. AIM away messages weren’t a thing yet and lyrics were still printed on the CD booklets! Kids could also be disciplined in public with good reason.
I thought about this just the other day. While cleaning out an old dresser, I stumbled upon a raggedy ticket stub from an RX Bandits show back in the early 2000s. It was still greasy from the french fries we ate after their set. TJ, my brother, wore that Fugazi shirt and we listened to Fush Yu Mang on the drive home.
But this story isn’t about Fugazi or the RX Bandits. It took me awhile to get to that level.
No, when I brought in Smash Mouth to show my 12-year-old friends, my Language Arts teacher pushed me off my soapbox by 3rd period.
At lunch, my best bud, Will, couldn’t even wait till we got back to the table. “Way to go, nerd,” he said. “You and Mrs. C listen to the same shit.”
“Hey!” yelled the lunch line monitor. “Watch your mouth, William!”
“Sorry, Mrs. Weinstein.” He rolled his eyes at me.
“At least I have my own CDs. And not the hand-me-downs from your cousin.”
“I don’t even know what a Wu-Tang is.”
“It’s what they’re serving for lunch today.” I pointed at the meat-like sandwich on my tray.
“Man,” said Will, “I wish it was pizza Friday.”
Mrs. Clarizio (who I’ve since realized has destroyed my storytelling abilities) also brought in Astro Lounge the exact same day to have our class listen to “All Star” and analyze the line ‘all that glitters is gold / only shooting stars break the mold.’
I was deflated.
It was the only song I skipped on the bus ride home. My Discman skipped whenever we hit a pothole and I used about a hundred bandaids trying to stop the bleeding.
One day, I thought, sweeping up bits of glass, One day I’ll be able to buy my own music and get out of this lame neighborhood. Little did I know I’d be downloading Napster, Limewire, and BearShare by 10th grade.
“I thought you hated Smash Mouth,” my brother said, turning down the volume on my 1st-gen iPod.
I laughed, sweaty and full of french fries. “Yeah… at one point. But they grew on me.”
“Dude, ‘Walkin On The Sun’ is awesome.”
“Yeah, I know.” He scrolled through my library, each click of the wheel chirping the speakers in my hand-me-down ‘96 Jeep Cherokee. “But not as good as the Bandits were tonight.”
“You’re right about that,” I said. “They killed it on that ‘Never Slept So Soundly’ encore.”
“I’m gonna get that tattooed when I’m old enough.” He gave up searching and left Smash Mouth running.
“Want to know why I hated them?”
Shock split his eyes. As if he were about to learn one of my deepest secrets. “Why?”
I told him the story from middle school, 7 years prior.
“Dude, lame!” He laughed. “Your first CD was Astro Lounge?!” He laughed some more.
“Yep. I know, I know.”
“Mine was Americana!”
“The Offspring?! Fuck off!” I bellowed. “Mom really went easy on you.”
I could smell that greasy, sweaty, Fugazi shirt when I found the ticket stub. Funny how the brain can replay inceptual memories, peppered with layers of cognitive processing and insightful reflection whenever it feels like it. All triggered and linked together by a song that may or may not enter your spiritual timeline.
Just an external influence.
Anytime I catch a riff of “All Star” or watch Shrek with my niece, this is all I can think about. The only difference now is that my keys are always in my pocket and I have to hide my inner punk when I go to work. That way I don’t have to break any windows.
About the Author:
Glen Binger writes books and helps people learn how to learn. He’s the author of eNJoy: Stories by the Sea and Figment. His other work can be found via Google, along with the answers to the questions burning your guts. Check out his blog ONLY HUMAN for more info.