Every composer, musician or fan of music shares a common ground. The will never hear the greatest music they could have heard. Or rather, that no matter how great a best exists in their mind there will always somewhere be at some time before during or after their life a song, a note, a melody or some other such part of music that is a better.

This was the message that my eighth grade music teacher Mr. Cremonese embedded in my mind. Regrettably it wasn’t until after I had left his class that I was able to take for granted the weight of what he was imparting. I was a teenager. And an old man’s advice on music, and an old man who made us watch a movie on Mozart for that matter, was the last thing I needed. I had Nirvana. Eddie Vedder was unquestionably the greatest front man. And If “Undone” were to have been on Weezer’s Pinkerton then no albums would ever have need to of been written after that.

Then during the following summer my friend’s older sister started dating a guy who played in a band. He invited my friends and me to see a show. I’d never been to a local show, at 13 I’d won tickets on the radio to see The Offspring, but that was in Station Square. This show was happening at the Millvale Industrial Park. A promoter named Manny had managed to somehow acquire 4 houses that had been built together, smashed holes in the walls connecting them and entirely removed one wall to make a large stage area. He then dragged numerous decrepit pieces of furniture inside and declared it show worthy; though I don’t know of anyone who used the bathroom and made it back.

A local band named The Juliana Theory was playing one of their first shows to start a tour promoting a new album they had just released. Mike – the guy dating my friend’s sister was surprised I hadn’t heard of them. In fact, I had heard them, just not of them. They practiced in the drummer’s garage a block from my house. I played video games with his younger brother. And I had walked down that alley dozens of times and heard them playing. But now, I had snuck out a window and was an hour away in Pittsburgh, at the skuzziest venue ever. A venue where the doorman is 5’4” 115 lbs, wearing coke bottle glasses and sporting a long blond ponytail with a ball cap with an 8” lead pipe sticking out of his back pocket. Being fourteen years old was awesome.

And everyone looked like me. Every one of us grungier than Vedder, hair dyed, clothing torn and the more extreme the better. And there were no vendors selling garbage, or logos from various sponsors hanging and the merch table was an old card table and the guys in the bands were working it. Despite the extremities in appearance the crowd was and continues to be some of the friendliest and accepting people I have ever met. Looks meant nothing, there were no social classes or cliques and as long as you didn’t hurt anyone you were accepted - I was finally home.

Each band that played put more effort into the show than anything I’d ever seen before. Granted my experience was limited, but this transcended music. If somehow you were able to capture the intensity of Hulk Hogan, the charisma of Frank Sinatra and the fun from the best party you’ve ever been to and distill it into an energy drink the bands played like they had injected it straight into their veins.

I was bit by the proverbial bug. I took a chance; I bought an album from the merch booth. It was a compilation entitled The Emo Diaries - Chapter 1: What’s Mine Is Yours. Its first track was Jimmy Eat World. They became an instant favorite and Mr. Cremonese was right; I had never heard of any of this music before and it was amazing. Mentally, it was like clearing four lines in Tetris. No matter how hard I tried I would never hear all of the music that is out there and it was possible each and everyone one of those songs could do the exact same thing to me.

And it seemed like the rest of the world was developing tools that enabled me to dive in head first. The MP3 was gaining popularity and within a year Napster was invented. At first, I would stay up late into the night, downloading every song I could find. On a whim, I would browse from page to page sometimes taking entire lifetimes to load on the dial up modem. I worked out a system, I could download 2 songs every 15 minutes if I opened all the pages before and alt-tabbed back and forth between Diablo and my browser. After Napster it became simple, all the people’s music concentrated into one central spot and shared freely made browsing look like a joke.

It was so easy. But soon I noticed the majority of those around me had no interest in it the way I did. Everyone was downloading music they could hear on the radio – squandering it. Of course, my friends and I could relate, but it continues to be lost on me why, when it is so easy to scratch away the surface just the tiniest amount and no one willing to take a small chance. I had since let go of what I considered manufactured music, the cookie cutter and over produced sounds of radio. Everything in my collection was totally underground. Choice picks from math rock, punk, hardcore, emo, straight edge, spazcore, alt country, post hardcore, post punk, indie, skate punk, even Balkan gypsy dance music and an almost limitless number of other genres that exist just below the beyond the veil of radio or MTV filled my ears.

All my time was split, I either spent it in front of the computer digging deeper for new music, following bands to labels to genres, to bands other bands toured with, searching band names I overheard on Lycos, or at Club Laga. Laga sat on Forbes Ave. opposite Sennott Square. At the Drive-In, Jimmy Eat World, The Get Up Kids, Boysetsfire, AFI, The Deftones, Dashboard Confessional, Dillinger Escape Plan, Zao and countless other bands came through this small 4th floor venue. Each band that came was seemingly invisible to thousands of people who would later pay top dollar to see those same bands. Only when they are set to receive them they will seem a caricature of the band that I saw. These people are not made to experience music, and the concept is lost on them.

They are simply the consumers of music. For them, it is something to do to pass the time or to make last weekend different than this weekend. Those who see a band in the raw get an experience. When Jimmy Eat World packs up a van and goes on tour without any confirmed bookings, driving from bar to bar, you are seeing them at their most honest. Completely unrehearsed and inexperienced they were driven by their desire to play, they have no guarantees, no contracts, no record deals, they have to impress you to survive. You are no longer sitting in your room listening to music or watching a band that plays music verbatim from an album; you are a part of it. Years and albums later after achieving economic security, perhaps even after altering their sound to maintain that same security, the band has lost itself, and that is what the consumer sees in their stadium venues with expensive ticket prices.

All of this is driven by the fans. For people who are a part of this crowd this is a lifestyle, an experience to live. While we all started down this path out of an interest in new music, and regardless the personal backgrounds and despite numerous venue changes, even condemnations in some cases, and the serious lack of economic compensation for the bands these performances continue to happen. And those of us who stuck with it continued to do so because in addition to the music we had all found we now had a group to belong to. And to kids like us having a place with no parents, no teachers and no bullies where no one told you how to act, what you should like, what you should wear or who you should be when you grow up offered more than we could have imagined when we first simply started looking for a few new songs.

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