Words by Peter Tanski
Peter Tanski grew up in the small but thriving Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, fronting several bands and founding the music and literary fanzine, Exmortus. After a brief stint living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and writing for Legends Magazine, he returned to Pennsylvania where he began to work with web based music site NEPA Rocks. He currently fronts the melodic hardcore/punk band, Heart Out and hosts The Book of Very Very Bad Things PodZine.
“I wasn’t born so much as I fell out, Nobody seemed to notice me, We had a hedge back home in the suburbs, Over which I never could see…” (The Clash – Lost In The Supermarket)
The wistful recollections of youth can often become something akin to a hairline scratch across the grooves of your favorite record. Once you have begun to reflect, an unpleasant bit is recalled and YOU WILL RUMINATE. Over and over, you relive the trauma. Thankfully, there is an antithesis to this. There are moments that snap into sharp focus that are so definitive and intrinsic to your persona that one cannot, must not, go a week or month without harkening back to with affinity and reverence.
In the summer of 1983, I was 3 or 4 months shy of my seventh birthday. The school year had just concluded, and the entire Eastern Seaboard was about to become something meteorologically similar to a compote or au jus. That summer was to be in the top 10 hottest in recorded history, and when one considers that much of Eastern Pennsylvania is one massive wetland, it was a recipe for a wave of humidity so grand in scope that I’ve seen specials on The Weather Channel that site it. The weather was an apt metaphor for the emotional temperature of that time period, as I’d come to deduce years later.
A few years prior to this particular moment in time, my favorite Aunt had married and moved from our hometown to a suburb of Allentown, Bethlehem – which was 1.5 hours south on the Turnpike. If one were to ask me then, it could have been New Zealand or Ibiza for all I’d known. An entire world apart from my monochromatic existence. My aunt and I were vastly close and she was often allowed to come and take me for days at a time. That summer, it was to be weeks, and the anticipation was escalating with the heat index. By the time she had arrived to fetch me, I had visions of 7-11 Slurpees and Batman comics, movie theaters and a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure’s Safari to increase my sounding joy.
It was that car ride on 476 that set the tone. At that magical point on the Turnpike where they had bored tunnels into the Appalachians a miracle occurred. The radio stations here were like broadcasts from alien worlds, Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue’ ran into a stunning piece of post-punk via heartland rock with R.E.M.’s plaintive meditation “Radio Free Europe”, Grandmaster Flash delivered a stunning portrait of inner city strife with “The Message”, and we hadn’t driven for more than 15 minutes past the tunnels! Where the hell are we? What have I been deprived of?
Upon arriving at my beloved aunt’s apartment in a complex arranged in a panopticon around the park and basketball courts in its center, something like culture shock took hold. There were children everywhere, and they were all of differing ethnicities. Back home the span of diversity went from Irish, Italian, Polish, and little else. By the end of that first day, I’d acquired a group of new friends of every human shade imaginable. This stirred my young spirit so completely that the promise of blue raspberry flavored, frozen corn syrup and water was as far from my mind as my home was from my current proximity. Nonetheless, my Aunt’s husband, Dave, had arrived home from work, and he insisted that we engage in our routine 7-11 and comic book run.
The K Car ride withheld more of the new radio station I’d come to be fond of, a college “queerbait” channel that Dave bemoaned. The Cure’s bleak and detached “The Hanging Garden” sputtered to life, my Uncle informed me that I wasn’t to associate with the (expletive deleted) kids that haunted the neighborhood, even when he was at work. I sat in awe. This was the first time I’d heard the “N” word before. I sat, silenced by the sheer magnitude of his hate, and shuddered as Iggy Pop punctuated my predicament with “The Passenger “.
My uncle’s mood mellowed when we arrived back at the bungalow, and to my utter jubilation, they had cable. They had MTV! Again, Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue”, then The Madness “Our House”, New Order “Blue Monday”, and the Clash “Rock The Casbah”… the songs of the era tempered my already simmering angst regarding Dave. I had disliked family members before, but this was something all together different. At home I would bury my head in the stereo speakers to drown out my Vietnam Vet father’s drunken rants, here I had no space of my own. I was held captive, and my only means of escape was a mental one. This is where I truly learned the art of “sensory disassociation via song”. Scotty was beaming me up with “Rapper’s Delight” and “I Wanna Be Sedated “, “Boys Don’t Cry” and “The Cutter”. I perfected an art that I carry to this very day.
Regarding the music of the moment, I hope that it is providing a similar closet in which one can escape their respective maelstroms. Be it the wild and tongue in cheek Electri-Punk Rawk of Toilet Rats on their newest album IV (Steadfast Records), the Gothic bombshell that is Male Tears’ newest, Krypt (Avant! Records), the spacey dreamgaze anthems of Spaceships forthcoming Ruins (Friend Club Records), plus The Cure have teased us all with live versions of tracks from their forthcoming album with Songs of a Lost World! Depeche Mode have shared a new single with the moody, Industrial tinged My Cosmos is Mine (Venusnote Ltd), Palm Ghosts have taken to the abyss once more with the crucial Cold Spells (Ice Queen Records), which really brings me back to that bitter/sweet era. Yves Tumor splits the difference between my Grandmaster Flash, Funk, and Post-Punk affections with Praise A Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume (Warp Records). Lastly, heroes from that era, Killing Joke, have unleashed the single Full Spectrum Dominance (Spinefarm Recordings).
But retreating back into those original sonic escapes, what became of my favorite aunt and wayward uncle? That week sparked an immutable fuse, burning to a military weapons grade payload beneath their marriage. Apparently his alcohol and cocaine fueled temper had finally snuffed out the embers of love, and she moved back here. The most poetic aspect of their end? She married a man of color and had two children with him! The karmic retribution is dazzling and gorgeous.
Which is all a way to say that music is a force, it is tangible yet invisible, tactile yet ethereal. Most of all, music is of the spirit. It provides a salvation that no faith or creed can. Why? Because everyone has a favorite record and hairline scratched or not, it saved their fucking lives.