Photo by Bastian Mendez

Rock, Punk, Noise, and Me

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Music has always been a driving force for me, from the smooth end to the rough edge. It’s impossible to pick a favorite genre—growing up my family played me alternative, hip-hop, and traditional Mexican music, but it seems rock and roll has influenced the course of my life the most. My first show was with my parents; I was just a baby at the time. The venue was Koos Cafe, an old house with all the furniture taken out, replaced with food and a feverish crowd. It was my birthday, I sat atop an amplifier with earplugs in my ears as Nightmare Syndicate played a set dedicated to me.

It didn’t start there though. Rock has been molding my family history for generations. During a 1975 visit to San Diego, my grandfather sat in the back row of a concert. To him, Led Zeppelin was smaller than his pinkie, but their music was larger than life itself. He knew then that he wanted to be a part of that culture, but back in Mexico the government had essentially banned it. He was convinced to move from his hometown of Puruandiro to Los Angeles. Today, during al-pastor filled parties, he still air-guitars to Jimmy Page’s handiwork and tells stories of the shows he saw: The Who, Boston, and Bad Company at The Forum, Supertramp at the Irvine Amphitheater, and his personal favorite: Van Halen “before they were big” at the Santa Ana Clubhouse.

In 1980 he had my father. A punk devotee, my dad sang garage rock with Sarah Abrams Attack Tank out of Orange County. The punk scene at the time was far-reaching but familiar; if one punk saw another in public they were friends within the hour. It’s through this strange and complex network that he met my mom. She had played guitar for Speed Red, part of a feminist subgenre of punk called riot grrrl. She had since moved on to playing bass with a noise band called Korova. My parents eventually went to college together at University of California Santa Cruz, where they had me.

Music, including rock and roll, helps me relate to people and wrap my head around situations. I transferred to San Gabriel before my freshman year, a difference in schedules between the two schools had cut my summer short. During my last week, I decided to go to a small free show in Echo Park. We pushed through the slowly swaying crowd at the late Origami Vinyl, just close enough to the door as to escape the storm drain smell and see the performance. It was pretty cramped, but Courtney Barnett’s awkward yet impassioned voice soothed me as it emanated from the doorway. As my notions of space and stench melted away, I had a moment of realization: the Los Angeles community was closer to me than ever. I knew that my high school years would be defined by the many events I hoped to take part in around the city.

I’ve used rock’s lessons not just at San Gabriel, but throughout my entire life. It’s a state of mind after all; one that is rebellious, unique, and communal. I try to stay in that state of mind: back in the days when I used to skip school to go to art museums, the moment when I learned to “ask forgiveness not permission” with my photography, and the time I joined a diverse group of 750,000 people for the women’s march on LA. I believe that the spirit of rock inhabits all art, which is why I hope that it continues to be the most influential of the genres that I love.

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