May 11, 2020 4 min read

Written by: Tony Rettman (Author and Host of Sandpaper Lullaby Podcast)

Trying to corral all the things I dislike about myself into one convenient pile can be a tough task. Even tougher is trying to snake back and figure out where all this self-loathing began. Small blips come in on my mental radar when I find the time to dwell on such matters; which seems like all the time. During adolescence, there was a rapidly enveloping pressure to either adapt or succeed. The thing is, no one explained how to do either one to me. Instead, I was labeled ‘difficult’ by teachers and other authority figures who were more than willing to let me slip through the cracks. My parents weren’t pushing me to go to Harvard or anything, but they likely yearned for a youngest child who wasn’t such a pain in the ass and that added strain onto our relationship. After a while, all they hoped for was I’d follow in their footsteps by eking out a living at a soul-destroying, low-paying job. And I did just that! Look at me! A chip off the ole block! 

This feeling of being lost deepened when I witnessed more and more kids supposedly on the same maturity level maneuvering the world of SAT’s and college admissions as high school moved on. How were they figuring out their future? I lived right across the street from our school and couldn’t even make it there on time (It’s true) My grades were horrible and the act of anything athletic was pointless as it seemed I was perpetually getting hit in the nuts with a softball in gym class. The act of merely existing seemed like such a burden to me that any idea of floating down the assembly line with everyone else was simply abandoned. 

My discovery of Hardcore Punk a few years prior did help relieve some of this anxiety, but by the time I landed in that scene during the mid-’80s, the pioneering bands had either broken up or moved onto experiment with other musical forms while sneering at the simplistic style they played with just a few years ago. Although I found solace in this music, I felt as lost in it as I did in school due to this. Somewhere in the middle of those gnarly times, Can’t Close My Eyes, the debut seven-inch EP by Youth Of Today was released. Prior to hearing them, pictures of the band in fanzines intrigued me as they looked like they studied the same photos on the back covers of Boston Hardcore records like SS Decontrol’s Get It Away and DYS’ Brotherhood as much I did with their Nike hi-tops, checkered Bermuda shorts, and bald heads. Thankfully, their music perfectly synched with their look and for many kids, Youth of Today was the antidote to the infiltration on the Hardcore scene of protracted guitar solos, inwardly looking lyrical content and the much-loathed maturity. 

In my younger days, opening up the lyric sheet of a Hardcore record to follow along was a ritual equivalent to a burnout ripping a bong hit before gazing into the guts of a gatefold cover adorned with Roger Dean artwork. Looking at the pictures, check out what bands were thanked and reading the lyrics were all part and parcel to the experience. The crunch of John Porcell’s guitar on the opening track of the EP, “Expectations” lured me in as did Ray Cappo’s opening, blood-curdling yell, yet it was when I began to read the lyrics to the song that the experience began to congeal perfectly. Ray pleaded: “Please don’t expect too much from me” because “I might not turn out how you want me to be”. Exactly! How the fuck was I supposed to turn out the way you want when I don’t even know what I want? When he capped off the song with the line, “I wish you could really be happy with the real me” I practically jumped off my bed, pointed at the stereo and exclaimed, “Yeah! What that guy said!” I needed to figure everything out organically and in my own time. And no guidance counselor or parent pushing me into some situation I didn’t understand was going to change my mind. 

Looking back, they were all right. My parents just wanted the best for me and all my peers who I laughed at for buying a one-way ticket to the adult crash can now buy and sell me. Currently at an age that’s older than being old enough to know better, when I blurt along to the chorus of “Expectations” (OFF MY BACK!) it’s not done as an act of nostalgia. I scream it with the same amount of unfocused spite as I did as a sixteen-year-old. It seems the quest for true happiness I thought would rush upon me in an act of solipsism never happened; or at least didn’t happen in the monumental way I thought it would. For now, all I can be thankful for is the neverending soundtrack I’ve accumulated that’ll eventually lead to either enlightenment...or a good sandwich.