For the first nine years of my life, I had been conditioned to listen to what I was told. As a generally well-behaved kid, I was always taking what was given to me without question. This was the same for music. The music that was most easily accessible by radio became what I listened to. I listened to country and pop without ever considering if I ever truly enjoyed either; they were just the genres given to me as I grew up. Of course, my parents exposed me to all the eighties classics and sixties oldies, but I found that radio handed me Britney Spears and Toby Keith. I found that I was expected to like what everyone else did - until I heard Green Day.
I remember sitting quietly in the backseat of my family’s 2008 white GMC Yukon Denali, my legs still too short to reach the floor. I kicked back and forth as I listened to the radio through headphones that plugged into a rear stereo. I had been contently listening to 95.7, the popular music station. We were stalled in the Kroger parking lot, waiting to meet up with a relative. The song I had been tuned into ended, and another one began. Soft, yet building guitar notes passed back and forth, trailing my attention to either earphone, captivating my mind by the simple flicks of sound. It was quiet—so quiet I could hear my own breathing between the trading of calming notes—and my mind settled on the true content of the music for the first time in my life. The guitar fades traded in for a quiet, honest acoustic and the purest voice I had ever encountered; grasping my small attention with no effort at all. I had never heard such an honest and natural song before, void of all electronic taps and beats and auto tune. My little hands grasped the volume control on the center console and guided the notch as high as it would go—I had to hear every word, every syllable, as clearly as I could feel my heart pulsating. I pressed the enormous, plastic, black headphones to my ears until the noise seemed to be consuming my entire head, living within my own brain, and becoming the only thing I could possibly comprehend at the moment. And then, without any warning, the electric guitar and cymbals cut in, turning the soft indie ballad I had been expecting into a rock and roll anthem. I had never been exposed to such force, power, and deliberate emotion as I did in that moment; the frame of time from the first note until the click of the electric guitar had seemed to warp and bend by the hands of these musicians. The sudden onslaught of sharp rock guitar riffs brought me back to present time, where just as quickly I had been drawn in, I had been awakened to a new style of music called punk rock; I was hooked.
My parents turned around from their position at the helm of the truck and questioned why I had blasted my music to volumes that rivaled full concerts, but I didn’t hear them. My head as between my legs, my thoughts completely trained on the song which had dove straight into verse full of sheer vocal talent and lyrics that I couldn’t yet grasp. I had never heard a song before that I couldn’t understand with my fourth grade intelligence; the lyrics were built up by metaphors and allusions and pieces of political knowledge I hadn’t yet acquired. The song slowed down before blasting up again at full volume, and my senses had become newly circuited to this incredible song. I was awake, I was hearing, seeing, and understanding some broader form of the world.
The song came to a close, but I was left wanting more, more, more. The radio’s jockey announced that the song was a new single called “21 Guns” by Green Day. At a time before any fourth grader owned a cell phone, I immediately begged my parents to turn me home. Of course, I was still dragged into a family function, but the song replayed over and over and over again in my head. It was the occasional song you had stuck in your head but never wanted to let go. As soon as we pulled back into the driveway of my home, I sprinted inside and used my father’s computer to look up the song. I began by watching the music video for “21 Guns”, and then repeating it over and over. By the tenth rerun, I casted my attention to YouTube’s recommended video, which was a clip of the making of the music video. I watched that on repeat, before turning to another recommended video, this time another Green Day song. I slowly began to realize that this band already sang some of my favorite songs, such as “Good Riddance” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. I had never been so overcome by music before. I had been thrust straight into the world of punk rock, and I loved it. The lyrics weren’t about a party or a club or drinking or driving a tractor, they were about politics and youth problems and the complexities of growing up in the modern world.
By the end of the school year, I had an agenda covered in pictures of Green Day. I wore a Green Day shirt to school every day. I had full sized posters taped to the sides of my desk. I was, and still am, obsessed. I’ve now seen them live four times, and own every single song they’ve ever created. My music taste and personal beliefs have changed ever since that day. I dove deep into other rock bands that resembled them, from Blink-182 to SWMRS. I started becoming my own person, always questioning what I was expected to do and become. It was that moment, seven years ago in a truck, where I finally woke up.