4216 Washington Ave
January 2004–In two hours this empty, dusty room will be filled with sweaty kids screaming lyrics that they love at the top of their lungs. No one will be concentrating on the peeling paint that’s seems to reach toward the ceiling like green fingers or the missing floor tiles that reveal the concrete slab underneath. No one will be concerned with the dust that is caked on every surface inside the building, or the two hundred-pound speakers hanging from the ceiling held by a single chain just waiting for a opportunity to fall on some unsuspecting show-goer. No one will care that this building is has a legal occupancy limit of half the number of people in the building. It is not so much the physical aspects of Mary Jane’s Fat Cat that make it a special place, it is what happens inside night after night.
Mary Jane’s is the only venue in Houston that regularly allows hardcore shows, it is because of them that hardcore has had a outlet to expand and to draw new kids to a genre of music that has been over looked by the mainstream since the early 80’s. Two times a month this club is filled with hardcore kids looking for a release from every hindrance of the real world, a chance to experience a catharsis, to let go of everything. When the music starts they forget about their jerk off boss, they forget about their homework load and they forget about any family problems they may have, they forget about everything. To people on the outside hardcore is seen as just another kind of music or noise, but to the kids who live for it, it is their salvation what they live for and what some are even willing to die for.
Hardcore holds a special place in the hearts of the few who have experienced it, and it is not embarrassing, ten years after a kid stops going to hardcore shows he will never look back on his experiences in hardcore with shame, the great times he had and all the friends that he made will remain dear to him and he will think of hardcore as his badge of honor. Everyone changes and when they look back on past phases or experiences most people chuckle or make a face of disgust , but that does not happen with the hardcore kids because hardcore goes beyond music, it actually gives back to the people that put time into it. Hardcore kids are forever proud of what they have been involved in, because the feelings brought on by it are so strong that they cannot be denied, the benefits are so strong that they are impossible to refuse. What other kind of music can a person listen to and take away life lessons that pertain to everyone, not just abused children, not just kids raised by one parent but everyone, including the rich kids? There is absolutely no other music like that, because there is no music that raw. Some might try to compare gangsta rap to hardcore, by saying it is just as real, but how can a middle class white kid relate to songs about police abuse and gang violence? They can’t. There are certain things that all people deal with in life one of them is betrayal, if you haven’t ever felt betrayed than you are most likely devoid of feelings. Maybe the point is that the central themes and emotions within hardcore are generic and that makes easy to relate to.
There is a amazing sense of brotherhood within the so-called hardcore “scene”, it is where people meet their best friends or spouse. Hardcore is a genre of music, or a lifestyle for those that see purpose, for those that are concerned with making the best out of what you are given, and taking what you have to in order to get where you want. Hardcore is for the kids who want substance and purpose, the ones that are not concerned with a uneducated person in clothes that are 10 sizes to big rapping about how much “ice” or “bling” he has. Hardcore is for the real people, the ones with heart and without Mary Jane’s it would not be able to flourish.
Sometimes it is not the place that is special but the feelings you get when you are there, because without hardcore and friends Mary Jane’s would just be four walls, a dingy building with horrible plumbing and peeling paint. To you it is a eyesore in the ghetto crammed in-between a liquor store and a used car lot, but to the two hundred people that show up twice a month it is more than that it is where they get their salvation, a church for the kids that are lost , confused or jaded by the “real world”. The bands speak volumes to the kids involved in this scene, to most they are more than just a untouchable being on a stage that tower above the crowd, to most they are friends and even deeper than that they are their friends.
One of the most sincere bands in hardcore today is Will To Live, they originated in 1997 in Houston, Texas. Robert Galdamez or Rob To Live as some call him is an amazing person with passion for what he does that cant be matched by anyone. Fortunately for me Rob is more than the singer for will to live, he is my friend and my boss. I work at Best Buy under Rob selling appliances and the reason I have my job is because of Robert, because he does not have a superiority complex, because he is a normal person. Would the singer from Three Doors Down give you a job if you needed it, would he put money in your pocket? No, he would host a contest on VH1 to give you a chance to meet him, and watch his band play. He would act as if he were god, as if his presence and time was so valuable that you had to compete for it. I love to listen to kids on the radio or TV say “Yeah I met so and so and they were so nice and so genuine”, to that I always have the same response. Did you shake their hand and ask for a autograph or did you sit down with them and discuss politics, religion or the meaning of life. I can almost guarantee that you will get the same answer from everyone who has met these “rock and roll heroes”, they’d say “well he shook my hand and signed my 35 dollar t shirt for free”.
The one thing if nothing else, which sets hardcore apart from the mainstream, is the relationship between the bands and the audience. In hardcore they are on the same plane there is absolutely no need to label one group as the audience and the other group as the band because in hardcore they are viewed as people, one is no better than another is. Hardcore is a brotherhood, our scene is built on honesty and friendship, in the hardcore community if you do not have integrity you will not last, we will run you out. If you are to participate in this your word has to be worth your signature in blood. No frauds in our scene, that’s not to say that we havent had them in the past or that we don’t have any now but their flaws eventually come out because they cant hide behind a façade for too long, and when they come out they are run out.
The bands that make up our scene, the Houston scene, are among the best around, but first let me offer a brief history of hardcore music in general. The actual beginning of hardcore has been disputed for a long time, some say it started on the west coast with punk rock bands in the early eighties, but others will say that hardcore developed in the north east, in New York in CBGB’s to be exact. I cannot say that I know exactly where hardcore started because I wasn’t around in 1980 during the infancy of hardcore, but I do know that to me hardcore belongs to the NYC. In the mid- eighties there was an explosion of hardcore bands like Sick of it All and droves of positive youth hardcore bands. The so-called posi hardcore bands were bands that advocated a lifestyle in which alcohol, drugs and promiscuity were not involved. The whole idea of being “posi” was do keep your mind clear of any worldly distractions and make choices in your best interest. It was the mid to late 80s “posi” scene that really spread the gospel of straight edge, and in some cases even veganism or vegetarianism. In the late eighties and early nineties we saw the “posi” scene start to kind of die out while militant straight edge bands were gaining popularity. A lot of the bands of the late eighties and early nineties had more of a social commentary aspect to their lyrics, than the bands of the previous eras. The late eighties also saw the beginning of the “metalcore” sub genre with a band called Integrity.
In 1988 Integrity released their first 7” record, “In Contrast of Sin” on Chicago based Victory Records, from that point on hardcore was never the same. Integrity introduced metal into the primarily punk influenced scene, and coupled that with some of the most disturbing, yet poet lyrics in hardcore to date thus creating “metalcore”. Throughout the nineties more metal was added into the mix and hardcore became the perfect mix of punk rock and metal it was kind like metal but with a DIY punk rock attitude and hints of early eighties punk rock sound. Throughout the years hardcore bands were forced to tour relentlessly without the help from major labels because of their painfully real and raw sound. This relentless touring is what created a sort of brotherhood within the scene, because bands spent so much time on the road kids in different cities got to know the bands and started booking shows on their own.
The touring aspect of hardcore is world apart from that of major label bands, or even your typical indie band. A typical hardcore tour is set up without any help from people outside of the band, band members spend hours on the phone with kids they have met through playing out of town shows trying to get contacts for other kids out of town. Hardcore bands have to create a web of contacts to book a tour. Normally it will take calls to 200 different people to set up twenty shows for tour. The web kinds of works like this: I call my friend Loy in San Antonio and say “Loy we need a show in Boston do you know anyone from there?” and he says “No, but I know a kid who might know someone, his name is Steve, he lives in Jersey here is his number”. So then you call Steve and he says “I don’t book shows there but I have a ex girlfriend in Boston who may be able to help you out”. So then you call his Ex Girlfriend and she says “My current boyfriend plays in a band out here and he knows a kid who books shows out here.” So of course you call her boyfriend and then he tells you “I don’t know the kids name, but our drummer does”. Then you call the drummer and get the number to the guy who books shows in Boston. After you get his number you call him give him about 3 different dates that you can play and he will tell you if he can set up a show for your band on one of those dates.
As a rule you should expect about twenty percent of all your shows to fall through. The shows that do happen you play and you tell the kids watching you that you are on tour and you need a place to crash. Hopefully you will find someone who has extra space, if you do then you go sleep at a complete stranger house but you have a new friend when all is said and done. If you are playing to a bunch of weird kids and you cant find a place then you have to drive to the next city over night and sleep in the van. Touring in a hardcore band is difficult because as a whole the scene is very poor so you cant charge more than eight dollars for a show, and you cant ask for a high guarantee to play. All your money comes from CD’s and t-shirts. Its tough, but that tough lifestyle is my dream. Hardcore is more than just music, it is salvation.