As I was digging through my now-legendary mountain of T-shirts, I stumbled upon one that made me stop and go, "Shut the front door." Now, I have many T-shirts from my youth. I have some going back as far as seventh grade, and my oldest I believe is my St. Demetrios Festival shirt I got when I was perhaps 9. It went down to my knees then, but today it maybe would be enough to cover my belly button.
Anyway, deep within my T-shirt mountain was a relic from my teen years, my well-spent youth, a symbol of the first burgeoning steps away from your parents and into freedom: my Tribune Chronicle Page One Rock Off T-shirt. The Page One Rock Off was an annual battle of the bands-type contest, where local bands would emerge from their parents' basement and show their stuff. It was usually held at Aulizio's on 422 in Warren, but in later years changed to whatever place underage kids could go and climb all over chairs and be kicked out at 11.
The first thing that took me back about the T-shirt was the date: April 18, 1998. Whoa. That's, like, 15 years ago. Back in the days of super-wide super-baggy Jnco jeans that left little frayed bits of denim all over the floor wherever you went. This was way before I was an adult, or had a car, or any of that good stuff. I still depended on my parents for food and shelter and impractical clothing.
Another sign of the times on the shirt was a graphic denoting the event's sponsor, the CD-106 radio station. Now, CD-106 and Oldies 93 WBBG switched frequencies long ago, so now 93.3 is the Wolf and 106.1 is what you hear at the dentist's office. So harkening back to the old days of Mahoning Valley radio is only the first time warp.
I remember my friends and I all piling into whoever's car was available that evening (either one friend's roomy Caprice, or another's microscopic Geo) and heading to whatever all-ages show there was that night. Aulizio's hosted the Rock Off, as well as other teen band nights, usually featuring kids we went to high school with at Warren G. Harding, and kids from schools as far away as Girard!
We would pile into the banquet center, all covered in quasi-offensive T-shirts and black makeup and goofy accessories, and proceed to work up a sweat moshing, running around in circles, chugging Dixie cups of pop, jumping off chairs and talking until the room was so musty the mirrors would fog up. For a few hours, it was total freedom, listening to your friends sing songs (sans swears) about being misunderstood or wanting the freedom to rock out without THE MAN bringing them down. Then everyone's moms lined up outside to whisk them back home and into a shower to hose off all the stink and black lipstick.
Usual all-ages shows included local favorites Explicit, Kitchen Knife Conspiracy, Sift, and Stone Def Insanity. Yeah, cute names. They would tune their guitars down to the crunchiest levels and growl about having to clean up the basement or how unfair it was to have to take social studies. Some of the bands only lasted a few Rock Off rounds, some are still around today. I find it nifty now that I'm still in touch with some of the guys from these bands, and some of them are teachers and other responsible types.
For a teenager, music is one of the first steps toward freedom and adulthood. It helps you find an identity, whether it's just listening to it or making music yourself. Expression through song, or just moshing, is important when you're first stretching your legs as a young adult. It's an outlet for the energy you store up sitting in class and listening to the rules. All kids should be allowed to have something like the Rock Off to socialize, experiment, express. I'm grateful I got to.
And if anyone from those days wants me to destroy all the photos of them in 40-inch wide Kikwears, candy necklaces, eyeliner and Limp Bizkit T-shirts, find me on Facebook and make me an offer. Nobody has to know.