Saturday, May 21, 2016


Little did I know, coming across a random CD 20 years ago today would be a life-changing and defining moment.

May 21, 1996. It’s just another Tuesday toward the end of sixth grade, and I partake in an all-too-common after-school activity for 11-year-old me: going record shopping. (Until recently, new records were released on Tuesdays. Now Fridays are when new tunes hit the shelves.) Whenever I can, I pop into America's oldest independently owned record shop, the Exclusive Company in downtown Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

(Not just on Tuesdays, mind you. Since I was 9 or 10, I've spent far too much time—or perhaps not enough, depending on you look at it—at Exclusive. However, Tuesdays were kind of a big deal.)

I push past the old, heavy wooden door (of the previous Exclusive location) into the dark, catacomb-like musical haven and my feet are greeted with the warped, uneven hard wood floors, while my nose takes in the smell. It wasn't a bad smell—quite fantastic, actually. If you spent time in the old Exclusive, you know exactly what I'm talking about. I don't know how to describe it other than saying it smelled like a record shop. Fuck, I miss that scent.

This Tuesday, contrary to others, I did not have an agenda. I wasn't stopping in for anything specific, just casually looking. Another powerful characteristic of the store was the walls. Well, any flat surface for the matter. It seemed as if not a single inch was untouched. Layers and layers of posters, stickers, fliers, and who knows what else consumed the enclosure, record and vinyl bins, counter, windows—everything.

As I stroll through the narrow aisles, a promo piece plastered on the wall catches my eye. It's a black-and-white concert photo. There's a dude, presumably the singer—hinted at by an almost-obscured mic cable—caught in midair. His back is to the camera, and he’s sporting a two-row pyramid belt, wallet chain, and Vans on his feet. He’s on stage, another guy behind him jumping around, in front of an enthusiastic crowd. The words "The Suicide Machines" jump off the image, thanks to a bright red typeface outlined in white. Below the image, it says, "Destruction by Definition," accompanied by a silhouette of a guy holding a syringe that's almost a mixture of the Circle Jerks and Operation Ivy logos.

I’m not familiar with anything the image displays. I assume The Suicide Machines was the band, but hell if I know for sure. After a handful of moments, I approach one of the employees and ask if they had that CD as I point to the small poster. "Yeah, we do. It just came out today," the clerk informs me before retrieving it. He hands me the CD, which has the same image on the front cover. I flip the case over and reveal the back artwork, which looks like a somewhat rough photocopier collage, displaying song titles such as "S.O.S.," "No Face," and "Insecurities." I have no idea about any of this. Nothing sounds or looks familiar. I check with the employee; he also has no idea who they are or what they sound like. Well, shit.

The imagery grabs me, though. I have no idea what it is, but I want it to sound cool because it looks cool as hell. Track 11 is entitled "Punk Out," so I feel it’s safe to assume this is a punk band, or at least, I hope it is.

I make up my mind: I’m going to buy this CD, Destruction by Definition by The Suicide Machines, without knowing a goddamn thing about them.

To be fair, this is something I did often, blind-buying albums, and still do to this day. Although, I usually had some sort of inclination to what I was getting, whether it was recommended by a trusted source or the band was listed in the thank-you notes of a record I really liked. This time, though, I was going in completely oblivious.

And holy shit, was that one of the best decisions I ever made. Turns out I discovered what would eventually become my favorite band, The Suicide Machines.

The first track, "New Girl" (which would become "famous" three years later when included on the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater soundtrack) confirmed my suspicion of them being a punk band, but even more so, a punk ska band (or ska-core to be a little more precise). This could not have been a better surprise. And we aren't talking the radio-friendly, poppy ska of the time, either. Sure, there’s bits of that but this was raw, aggressive, and hard, much like a (then) present-day Operation Ivy. It felt like I hit a gold mine.

Sure, I could break down the entire record song by song, beat by beat, chord by chord, and try to explain all the reasons I fell in love with it that day, and why I still love it now, but I would probably fail terribly. "Go listen to it" seems like the best response, but even still, no one would hear the same record I hear. That's not to say no one else would like it or has discovered a band they're crazy for because of it—I know that's not true because I've met plenty of them.

4/17/15. Chicago. Destruction By Definition in its entirety.
13th time seeing them live.
As an adolescent who was still new to the world of punk rock, it's safe to say this album—the band's debut, by the way—came into my life at the right time. Of course, I was a fan of other punk and ska bands at the time, and Destruction contained anthems about self-identity, unity, and societal issues just like the records I already owned, but this just connected in a different, even stronger way. I believe a big part of it is because I was basically blindsided by the album. I took a chance and was rewarded greater than I ever imagined.

As ridiculous as it sounds, The Suicide Machines always felt like my band. That might be due to the fact that while my friends liked them, they weren't fanatical like I was. It kind of felt like I was on my own with my admiration of them (when in reality, I was just ridiculously fond of them), which made them even more special. To say that an obsession grew out of the 37:16 of Destruction by Definition would be a massive understatement. (And once their sophomore album Battle Hymns came out in '98, pfft—it was a done deal. Battle Hymns, for the record, is not just my favorite Suicide Machines record, but my favorite record period.)

"The Vans Song" talks about only wearing Vans and Chuck Taylors, so that's what I started doing. All these years later, those are still the only brands I put on my feet. I used a line from "Face Values" for my senior quote. I've seen them 13 times live, even followed them around the Midwest for a few shows in 2004. The last time I checked, I've owned 23 t-shirts and 4 sweatshirts of theirs. The second band I was in pretty much formed due to a mutual respect of a few bands, Suicide Machines being one of them (we even covered “Hating Hate”).

I got to use two songs of theirs in my first film. And while promoting and selling said film at Flashback Weekend 2007 in Chicago, a dude with a Suicide Machines tattoo on his leg walked by the table. I shouted at the stranger, "Suicide Machines let me use two songs in our film!" and he walked up immediately, starting a new friendship. I, myself, have two Suicide Machines tattoos, and it’s safe to say there will be a couple more to come. When I was a graphic design student, my projects often consisted of black, white, and red imagery, something one of my professors gave me shit about (and still does, in a playful way, of course). There is just something about that combination of colors, and the more I think about it, the more positive I am that the cover of Destruction by Definition (consciously or not) played a huge factor in my appeal to that aesthetic.

The amount of influence this band (and record) has had on me is unfathomable. As I've said before, Operation Ivy's Energy is the most influential record of my life, while The Suicide Machines are, without a doubt, the most influential band. I’m not sure that will make sense to everyone, but it makes sense to me. It's pretty fucking wild to discover your favorite band on a whim. And not just a band that I enjoy audibly, but one that also shaped my ideals and ethics, taught me about life, the world, and myself. I can’t even imagination who I would be if I didn’t discover The Suicide Machines that day. It doesn’t matter, though, because I did discover them and myself throughout the process.

To all the band members, past and present, thank you endlessly. I briefly tried here, but there's really no way I can ever express just how much your music means to me.


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