Teen spirit ruled our lives and I lived for the weekends when we’d have jam sessions with our friends from junior high. Kečer introduced me to hardcore punk and bands with weird names that were borderline funny, and with that necessary dose of the rejection of society’s norms that perfectly matched my own rebellious spirit.
A chewed-up cassette was spitting out a refrain from “My God Rides a Skateboard” by German band Spermbirds. This was followed by the screaming vocals of “Americans are Cool—Fuck You!” a song that protested against the spread of American-style democracy all over the world. The Americans themselves didn’t give a damn about any of it.
The Gulf War was taking place at the time. The adults watched the unfolding events on TV as if they were part of an evening thriller, completely removed from the lives of the Iraqi people—who, by the way, weren’t dying at the hands of the dictator from whom the Americans wanted to liberate them, but from American bombs. But in reality something quite different was taking place, both globally and locally. Unrest began to stir in Yugoslavia. All of a sudden, the present turned from being precarious to completely uncertain, and no one was even contemplating the future.
“Why shouldn’t I wear this T-shirt?” I protested.
“Because it’s wrong,” said my mother.
“According to who?”
“Not to mention it’s dangerous.”
Our argument went on. In the end, I decided not to wear the Bad Religion T-shirt with a crossed-out cross printed on it. I’d borrowed it from Kečer for Easter “celebrations” at the main Cathedral. I decided against wearing it, not out of fear, but so my mom would quit worrying. But what did I know about religion? To me it was a sign of conformism and an inability for people to think for themselves. Besides which, religion could in no way be reconciled with science, the thing I really venerated.
“Big Bang” by Bad Religion was playing in the background. I was thinking about the origin of the world, the universe, and our place within it. Everything seemed perfectly fine to me, but at the same time completely meaningless. Science, with its laws and principles, provided some comfort, bringing order to the chaos we’d found ourselves in.
Religion found a place in my life, but only years later, when I realized that atheism is just another form of fanaticism. At the same time, I wasn’t interested in “isms”—neither religious nor political. Unlike me, our country was overrun by chauvinism; one wrong word, one bad look or even just having the wrong surname was enough to get you beaten up.
Snuff’s song “I Think We’re Alone Now”—a cover of Tiffany’s song from the happier and slightly more serious 80s—was a track that was often played on Maximumrocknroll, an alternative music program on Macedonian Radio 2. Standing by in readiness, I pressed “record” on the cassette player. Soon our small country would be alone too—but also sovereign and independent. And then our struggles would be just ours.
I played a few chords on the guitar and Fatty seemed to like them. Kečer tapped the cymbal suspended from the light fitting because, as in true DIY punk rock style, there was no stand. Then he tapped the single snare drum and the familiar hardcore “bupp-u-dupp-u-dupp” beat filled my bedroom. Fatty was recording us on an old cassette player. He plucked his acoustic guitar as if it were a bass, while we kept playing madly. We had no focus, no guiding message or vision, and our songs were made up on the spot. And in the spirit of parody and social consciousness that characterized the punk movement, we were called Social Imbecility. Like true punks, we had no idea how to play, but we loved it—more than anything else.
As a kid, I’d hated guitar lessons at the Sarajevo Music Academy. But later, as a teenager, I was glad that I’d learned to play an instrument. Soon, though, all I had left was my classical guitar. I had to return the electric guitar I’d borrowed—just when Kečer bought himself a great big drum kit, and just when a bass player joined our rehearsals. Those two kept on playing, and later formed the band Superhicks. They’re probably the only band in Macedonia today that dares to engage in any intelligent social criticism, while those who are the actual object of their critique bop along to their songs.
The thing that Kečer didn’t like was my soft spot for heavy metal. But what could I do when Metallica released their last good album that year, and the sound was heavy—heavy and slow—too slow for hardcore punks. In the end, the only thing that I have left from my punk period is a demo cassette tape of our songs with a homemade cover and the “SK-HC” (Skopje Hardcore) graffiti tag on my garage wall.
However, many years later, when I began to write seriously, that ideal of the perfect hardcore punk song came back to life in my writing—something fast, furious, short, as short as possible, that says everything and leaves nothing unsaid. I’m still chasing that ideal.
We were in the front rows at a concert being held outside the former Central Committee of the League of Communists of Macedonia, now the government building. Bobby lifted me onto his shoulders and I was right there—a few meters away from Goran Tanevski from the band Mizar. The sounds of “Svjat Dreams” floated over the sea of people around me and we were united by his heavy, serious voice and the heavy drums that echoed in our ears and that reverberated through our bodies, proud of “Macedonia, our motherland.”
Excerpt from the book “3 Minutes and 53 Seconds” (Goten, 2015)
Translated by Paul Filev
Copyright © Branko Prlja, 2015