As pictured above: Mike, Matt, Myself, & Shawn
In my daily life, i’m something of an extrovert — I am not shy about going up and introducing myself to people, I’m usually not shy to contribute to a conversation, and I will usually try to make people around me at ease. If you hadn’t met me before I developed this aspect of myself, you’d never know that I was a very anxious, shy kid for most of my school-age life. I couldn’t go to the store without teetering on an anxious episode, new people made me uneasy, and public speaking absolutely terrified me.
People ask me what changed, often with a challenging tone (as if they are going to catch me fabricating such a feat), and the best answer that I can give is: I was in a band. We were called “PRYM” (pronounced “prime”). It wasn’t just the act of being in a band, but the first show I’d ever played.
It was a night in late August (maybe the last Saturday before my senior year of high school) and we had booked at a show at Palcher Park in Ramey, Pennsylvania. The building had a plywood interior and it was perfect! We had spent the summer learning a lot of songs (if I’m not mistaken, we learned seventeen covers in a week) and we were ready to play. People came out, made signs, t-shirts, and were very supportive. I want you to picture an anxious kid who had no idea who he really was — he’s defensive, constantly aware of which people are looking at him, constantly worried about what they say and think about him. Tell that kid, who has barely been playing his instrument for eight months, that he’s going to be in a crowded room full of people looking at him. I would have swore I was going to poop myself.
The lights went down. The first stabbing chords of “Welcome to Paradise” by Green Day. I was off. I played without incident and I had changed forever. Anxiety doesn’t just go away like that, I still struggled with it a lot (still do), but I had made a super-important first leap at coming out of a very thick shell.
The details on exactly how the band started are kind of fuzzy to me — Matt (the drummer) had been very good friends since first grade; I’ve always remembered Mike as someone who was always into good music and good literature, he played in the marching band with Matt. To this day, Shawn ranks in my top five funniest people I’ve ever met, in addition to being a very skilled guitarist. I’m not sure if I kind of heard them talking about a band and said that I’d like to learn to play an instrument, or whatever other anxious bullshit a mind like mine was capable of producing — regardless, I got a bass for Christmas that year and I loved it. It’s amazing what the ADD brain is capable of — I couldn’t concentrate on Geography, but I sure as hell could sit in front of my computer with my bass on my lap and spend hours looking up tabs. I was always at a little bit of a disadvantage: Matt and Mike were trained musicians, Shawn had such an incredible talent on guitar, and I’m trying to figure out rudimentary “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”stuff. I learned a lot about playing the bass in a short amount of time because of how much I would sit and try to learn new songs and push myself to learn more difficult lines.To their credit, they always took time to help me figure out where the music theory was going and helped me fake it if I couldn’t pull it off.
The real magic of that band were the experiences between songs — that’s really where you get to know people. That summer between my junior and senior years of high school were filled with punk rock, burned CD’s, sleeping in the practice space (the most magnificent barn I’ve ever seen to date), watching movies, and taking walks down the street to go smoke cigarettes at an abandoned car wash (unless Matt’s mom is reading — I just made that up to make the story sound better. We were really going to go do good deeds for the neighborhood and reading from the Bible. Would I lie to you?). Those years shaped the lion’s share of my adult life — my taste in music, the books I read, the theories I subscribe to — it can all be traced to that barn in the middle of Central Pennsylvania.
From the day that we picked up instruments together to the time when we put them down for the last time, we had the complete band experience. We traveled to compete in a battle of the bands, we had t-shirts made, we played shows with other bands in the next town over, we went to concerts together — Shawn even wrote songs and we went into a studio to record them. Those recordings are somewhere, but technical difficulties never allowed for the album to come together. It didn’t matter, we were still having a great time doing what we loved to do.
For me, the most amazing part was how I’d changed as a person. I was less anxious by the day, more comfortable in my skin by the moment, and more confident. A personality transformation had been put in motion and it couldn’t be stopped. I played bass on a live performance of the class song at my high school graduation, spent the next summer playing songs, and made memories that would last a lifetime.
Eventually, it had to end, as all good things do. The point of adolescence is that everyone changes. There was life to live and adventures to be had — what kind of people would we be today if we hadn’t fundamentally changed? We’d be 35 years old, still living in a barn, and forgoing a shower for the third day because there was still enough Axe Body Spray to go around for the four of us. The brighter a star is, the shorter its life becomes. We did a lot of living in those two years and it had run its course. I still listen to the songs we covered, listen to the comedian that made us laugh, and I’ll even go back and watch the movies that we watched in the barn. The nostalgia is powerful and it’s a great way to smile when I’m feeling down. I can’t speak for the others, but I know that I’ll never be who I was before the band, and I’m happy with who I am after.
Matt was in a few different bands after PRYM, really exploring his musical tastes. He moved to Harrisburg, PA has a daughter, and started his own jerky company — it’s delicious! The last I’d heard, Mike was in State College, PA; he’d earned a degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and he’s most likely doing something very interesting for a living. Shawn is in a very serious relationship with a friend from high school; from what I can tell, he’s been a very positive paternal-like figure to her children and they all look very happy. I’m happy for them, for all of them.
You may be asking yourself: if its a story about a band, where is the sex, drugs, and rock and roll? If I’d learned anything from Mr. Cervenak’s Civics class, I have protection and privelege of the Fifth Amendment. Besides, you saw what I said to Matt’s mom: we were out doing good deeds and sharing our favorite passages from the good book. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise doesn’t have the proof — oh God, I hope not.
I’ll see you on the next trip across the Millerverse!