Music Monday: Riot Nrrrd by 2 Skinnee J’s

Music is a huge part of my life. I spend at least half of my day listening to tunes on Spotify, and I’m constantly finding myself slipping song lyrics into conversation. I’m that person who can’t help but start singing the song you just inadvertently quoted, completely destroying whatever serious point you were just trying to make. Heaven help you if you say anything that even remotely sounds like a lyric from an oldies song – I just cannot help myself. Hope you like to sing along, because it will be the only way you can make it out of this relationship with sanity intact. In fact, I knew my boyfriend was absolutely perfect when I started unconsciously humming a song to myself during a stressful moment at a card party and he joined in automatically (well, that, and the night he purposely sang a dorky Peter Cetera song for karaoke night in front of all of his friends just because he knew how much I love Chicago).

I thought it would be fun to start a Monday tradition of talking about songs that are important to me in some way, whether it’s because of a great lyric, an important memory, or just because it happens to be something I’m obsessed with that minute. I’m calling it Music Monday, because I’m not trendy enough to come up with something more clever. Or clever enough to come up with something more trendy? Meh, whatever. Today we’re going to talk about “Riot Nrrrd” by an American band called 2 Skinnee J’s.

My favorite 2SJ’s song at the moment is “Girl With The World In Her Eyes“, but “Riot Nrrrd” will always hold a special place in my heart. I was listening to it again for the millionth time the other day, and instead of using it as comforting background noise, I found myself really falling into the lyrics. One part always got me when I was a teenager, and it still gets me today:

I’m lookin’ for intelligent life.
I’m lookin’ for a blip on the screen.
So I can reach out and touch somebody –
Anybody!
Everybody!

If that doesn’t sound profound to you, imagine being the only geek/goth/pagan in a town of 2,000 born again Christians, just biding your time to GTFO and meet other people who want to talk to you about Star Wars and The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Congrats, you’ve just met me at 17. I’m slightly less intense now. Thank goodness for New Orleans.

If you’ve never heard of 2 Skinnee J’s, don’t worry. They’re a tad obscure, it turns out. Not obscure in that “gee, I’m so cool for knowing this” way, though. (Though I am, because they’re amazing.) More like “shit, I wish they hadn’t gotten screwed by record companies and fallen off the map” way. I first heard them in 1998, as a junior in high school, when “Riot Nrrrd” started getting steady play on my local alt-rock station, 99x. I have this very specific memory of being in my car at a stoplight in Washington, NC, about 30 minutes down the road from my tiny hometown of Belhaven, and hearing a commercial for an upcoming concert come on the radio. They were playing in Virginia. I had a single moment of elation, followed by a 30 minute ride back home of complete depression, since I knew that my parents would never let me drive all the way to another state just to hear some rock band play. Maybe missing that concert is why I now find it completely acceptable to drive to Austin or Atlanta (or fly to Chicago) to hear a band play whenever the mood strikes. Hmmm…

Note: I just took a 10 minute break to go and play around on the band’s Facebook page, and found this gem in their “About” section:

Underground New-Wave/Hip-Hop icons with a zealous cult following, 2SJ has more friends than fans – the divide between band and audience is destroyed on the stage at the the most fundamental level. Grassroots following combined with road-dog work ethic has carved out a niche in the annals of rock iconography as Selfless Leaders of the Peoples Movement of Rock! Organic social messages that make Occupy Wall Street/99%ers blush, combined with Party Rock over-the-top extravagance make 2SJ THE FUNNEST BAND OF ALL TIME!

I fucking love them.

Anyway, so I missed the concert my junior year, but wonder of wonders, I moved to New Orleans after graduating from high school in 1999, and not long after that, they came here to play a concert! Finally, my chance had come. What’s even better is that I was working for my college newspaper at the time, and the editor tapped me to interview the band via phone and do a writeup on their album and the concert. (It wasn’t the only “celebrity” interview I was to do that year; I also ended up interviewing one of the members of Joydrop, who hit it big in the States with a song called “Beautiful”.)

The interview went…well, it went. I don’t remember what questions I asked, only that I was extremely unprepared. Luckily, I spoke to Special J, and he was really kind to me despite my idiocy. I was 18, and the internet was still pretty new back then, so it hadn’t occurred to me to try to find out more about the band via the web. Not sure that it would have helped, either, now that I’m thinking about it. I remember him identifying himself to me as “the white rapper” (useful for me, since I knew almost nothing about them), and telling me that their costumes for the upcoming concert were going to be amazing. He invited me to the concert and told me he’d put aside a couple of tickets for me at will call. I told him I’d be there in my velvet flame pants and white go-go boots (yes, these were both things that I wore on a semi-regular basis, without irony). I hung up the phone with this feeling that I had a date with destiny.

So exciting, right?

Here’s a spoiler for you: I didn’t go. No one wanted to go with me, and I’d never left the campus before. In the end I was too chickenshit to go by myself, and I missed out on what would have been one of the most epic concerts of my life. Then they broke up in 2003. I’m still kicking myself.

Fast forward to today, 15 years later, and 2 Skinnee J’s still sees steady rotation in my playlist. Luckily, they haven’t dropped off the map entirely, so there’s still a chance for me to see them live at some point, if I’m lucky. They’ve done a few reunion shows over the years, typically in NYC (at least once it was on a party boat in the Hudson River), and they did a tour in the southern and mid-Atlantic states back in 2012. I’ve yet to have the resources to go see them, but if they do it again, and if I have enough time to save up, I’ll definitely be there. Who knows, maybe I’m the last major fan who’s never made it to one of their concerts.

What do you think my chances are that those two tickets are still waiting at will call?

Nerd Girl Meets Geek Boy – Take 1 (aka. Let Me Love You To Death)

When I was 15, I met a guy at summer camp. It wasn’t just any summer camp; at the time, I was enrolled in Air Force JROTC at my school, and during the summers I attended a special officer’s training camp at Fort Bragg. The week-long camp acted a little like a mini bootcamp. We slept in barracks, woke up at 5am to attend PT, slept/ate/drilled/etc. with our flights (groups of about 25 kids), and did all sorts of training exercises, like rappelling, doing a ropes course, crawling through the mud under barbed wire, running until we puked, that kind of thing. It was mostly pretty fun.

There were around 20 flights, named alphabetically; I was part of Bravo Flight. Weird to remember that, considering that it was almost 20 years ago. Even though there were teenage cadre who ostensibly held the reins for each flight, each group also had an adult advisor to make sure we didn’t go all Lord of the Flies out there in the summer heat. Ours was this really nice Senior Master Sergeant whose name I’ve long ago forgotten. Early on, he suggested that we all pick nicknames. There was Eggs, my best girlfriend at the camp. Before bed, she wore a beautiful red corduroy bath robe with a black velvet collar, and once she told us that she could squash a watermelon between her thighs. The SMSgt. started calling her Eggs after she puked during our post-breakfast drill exercise on the second morning of camp. Maverick was my camp crush – he even felt me up on the bus once. He had named himself after Top Gun, but I didn’t get the movie reference. At the time, I thought he’d named himself after the TV show character played by James Garner, and later I thought he might have been referencing that sweet early 70’s car, the Ford Maverick. I didn’t get the Top Gun thing until maybe five years ago. I used to be so blindly hopeful that other people I met might have imaginations.

My name was Flower Child. In early high school, I was really into everything 1960’s, but mostly mod/British invasion culture and fashion (you know, like Mary Quant, Twiggy, definitely crazy about anything Beatles-related and everything that Pattie Boyd wore during the Beatles’ stay in India…blah, blah, blah). But by the time I got to summer camp, I was also embracing Woodstock, Vietnam news coverage, the peace movement, anti-war protest art, everything Haight Ashbury, and of course, all things psychedelic. Almost all of my school outfits were deconstructed vintage 1960s and early 1970s fancy dress gowns – lots of floor length dresses in man-made fabrics, with flowing sleeves and floral motifs, which I then ripped up and sewed back together in weird ways. Still, I wouldn’t have voluntarily called myself a flower child, but the SMSgt. gave me my title, too.

He also named my other camp friend, Jody. Over the years, I’ve conveniently forgotten Jody’s real name, mostly because I was afraid that one day he’d turn into a stalker and kill me. (Which is still probably a possibility, and also a great reason to actually remember someone’s name, now that I’m thinking about it.) Jody had come to camp equipped with a book of marching songs called jody calls, and he took it upon himself to teach our flight a few of them to make running and marching easier. In particular, he taught us one that I still sing to myself when I’m running and feel like dying. It goes like this:

Call: “We like to party!”
Response: (We like to party!)
Call: “Party hearty!”
Response: (Party hearty!)
Call: “And when we like to party -”
Response: (And when we like to party -)
Call: “- we like to party all night long!”
Response: (- we like to party all night long!)
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Get on down!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Your left!”
Response: “Right!”
Call: “Get on down!”
Everyone: “Get on back, get out of our face, Bravo Flight’s gonna rock this place!”

Sounds complicated, but actually super easy and really fun to yell together. Anyway, Jody taught us a few jody calls to keep us going, and it really did help unite us as a group. I’m just now realizing that it might have been my first experience in seeing how instrumental teamwork is to making music with feeling – even if it is just a silly marching song. During camp, I got to make out with Maverick a couple of times, but Jody was the one I kept in touch with. He was a geeky little skater kid, rather anxious and seriously smart. I hadn’t ever met a guy I could geek out with about books and poetry, plus there’s something kind of romantic about meeting a boy at summer camp and exchanging letters for the rest of the summer. Unfortunately, over the next year, things got weird. (Seriously, did you not expect them to? Do you even KNOW me?)

Jody lived in a small city about two hours away from me. For much of the next year, I sent him poetry and letters, and he wrote me back in short stories and plans for the future. We were both in JROTC for the sole purpose of having the military eventually pay for college. We both hated high school, wanted to see the world, wished people could understand us. But where my yearning to be heard expressed itself through 60s pop music and fantasy novels, his was darker, more primal, possibly just more male. I was yearning to open like a flower (and looking forward to the day when I’d subsequently be deflowered), and he was looking to jump into the ring swinging. When he found me, that frustration and anger underwent a softening and was redirected at me as a form of near-obsession. Pretty much every guy I’ve met since then who was hopelessly nerdy and ignored in high school went through something like this phase (whether the girl was real or not), so now it doesn’t freak me out so much. Then, though…eek. What really put it over the edge for me, however, was a mix tape.

During high school, “normal” for me was a mix of too many overlapping activities with which I still somehow managed to be bored and under stimulated. In the Fall, this meant performing in the color guard team at every home football game and attending every drill team competition within a 200 mile radius from my home town. In the Winter, there were color guard and drill performances during basketball games. Every weekend that I wasn’t attending a Quiz Bowl competition, I could be found doing something drill or color guard related with my other Air Force wannabe buddies. Eventually, at the end of my Junior year, my school hosted our own drill competition. Jody showed up with his school’s team. I was pleased to see him, if shy. He brought his skateboard, so he could show me some tricks he was learning. He also brought me a pair of green corduroy JNCOs that he’d outgrown and knew I’d dig, and the mix tape. I gave him one of my prom pictures, and at the end of the day, a kiss.

Once home, I put the tape into my tape deck, expecting music I’d heard before, or maybe even music that I hadn’t heard before but that I’d still find a way to like. Out of the speakers came this creepy gothic sound that built with intensity until it turned into harsh, wailing guitars and throbbing base. The lyrics were insane. It was obviously demonic in nature. The lead singer was talking about sweaty breasts, candlelight, sex, death. I listened to the song again, my trepidation building. My penpal was a psychopath, out for blood. He wanted to kill me, and just today I’d kissed him! What was I thinking?

Things did not go well from there. I wrote to tell him that we couldn’t be friends anymore, and through a series of letters and phone calls, eventually he came to terms with the fact that I was scared of him. We didn’t talk again for years, until he found me on MySpace when I was just finishing up with undergrad, and he was coming to the end of his first enlistment period in the Air Force. Conversation remained scarily obsessive on his part, and eventually I gracefully retreated.

But surprise! This post isn’t how a hippie nerd girl meets a goth geek boy and breaks his heart. It’s about how a hippie nerd girl finds out that she’s actually a witchy nerd girl, then goes on to fall in love with Type O Negative. Oh, and later find out that the goth geek boy she thought might kill her in high school turned into a legitimately creepy 20-something guy.

After ending my weird friendship with Jody the first time, I went on to have a pretty normal summer. I’d totalled my car in May, so from June through August, I rebuilt it from the ground up, with my grandfather and uncles overseeing my progress. In July, I met a boy and got kinda serious. In October, my grandfather died and I got drunk for the first time. In the following months, my family dynamic shifted considerably, I decided I definitely wouldn’t be going into the Air Force, and, oh yeah, I went full fledged skater goth. No skateboard, though – there weren’t any paved roads for me to practice on near my house. No, I’m not shitting you. Sometime in that transition to black lipstick and combat boots, that mix tape resurfaced and started to make sense. I suddenly understood that the words “let me love you to death” are about a deeply sensual moment, not about being ripped apart by a vampire during sex. Which still sounds kind of interesting. But not really. But maybe. I dunno. As I was saying…

Over the years, I eventually started adore Type O Negative. As I’ve gotten older, their lyrics have made more and more sense to me, and have grown to encompass layered meanings – for me, the sign of truly powerful songwriting, even if it is kind of cheesy in its own way. Today, when I hear Love You To Death, I see the story of a man who’s fallen in love with a powerful woman. He loves that power, and is drawn to it, but not weakened by it. He finds comfort in how well he knows her body, and how confidently she inhabits her skin. But he also wants to build on to what they’ve achieved together, to strengthen their emotional bond through physical action. He’s not saying that he literally wants to fuck her until she dies. He’s talking about the joining of life forces, dying together and rising anew. It’s gorgeous. It’s seriously romantic, and by that I mean romantic in a very serious way. Definitely not something you put on a mix tape for your long distance crush at 16, though what 16 year old could possibly come to terms with their first love not being as real as it seems at that precise moment?

Wherever he is, I hope Jody’s found his dream nerd girl. I’ve been through a few more geek boys, myself, but you know what they say: You’ve got to kiss a lot of geeks before you get to love one to death. Or something like that 🙂