27 years ago, at the age of 15, I discovered something that dramatically changed my life: punk rock. The genre was 10 years old at the time. I had missed out on The Clash and The Sex Pistols, although their legacy lived on just as it does today. It was much more than just the music - it was a fraternity of sorts, and because of it, I still have life-long friends (and even my wife). What we did, what we looked like, and what we listened to back then was not popular and was absolutely not accepted as anything legitimate. It was pre-internet and pre-cell phone - an extremely isolated existence when compared to today's standards.
Being a punk kid in small town America in the 1980s was self-defeating at best. There was little to do outside of the self-made local punk bands and self-made punk shows at any place that would allow 50 - 100 kids all dressed like bums to run around in circles and hit each other (that's how I imagine the uninitiated would have interpreted it).
When there was no show to attend, the evening activity usually involved a desolate wooded area and cheap Lucky Lager, while during the day we found ourselves at the local mall. The mall offered all sorts of people of all ages and every walk of life, but we could pick out our friends from great distances through the mass of shoppers. The taller the mohawk, the further away they could be identified. Even if we had never met them before, we knew they were one of us and a friend. The funny haircut and clothes were like a secret handshake or a special ring. Upon meeting up with friends, we would proceed to have a peaceful sit-in in the middle of the mall floor. Shoppers would have to walk around us and scowled as they walked by; security would shoo us away time and again. The sit-ins always made me uncomfortable and, to this day, I have no idea why they were necessary.
As the decades have passed, I find myself no longer playing in a band and despising the very thought of walking into a mall.Â I have found solace in my family, friends, and homebrewing. Homebrewing has the camaraderie element via other members of the local homebrew club, and I have found that sharing my beer with friends or winning awards at competitions offers the same gratification and recognition that performing music in front of a live audience once did. The made-from-scratch and anything-goes nature of homebrewing is very much like what I remember of the punk rock scene. The people involved are obsessive, focused, love to share ideas, and are typically very warm and inviting to newcomers.
Today I was browsing my friends on Facebook and I realized something - there are 50 or more friends whom I have never met or talked to before. Their profile photos do not sport fan mohawks or Billy Idol-esque sneers. Instead, their photos feature a pint of homebrewed stout in their hand, or hops harvested from their backyards. They write interesting posts and money saving tips, all related to beer and brewing. I have realized that Facebook is the mall, and homebrewing is just like punk rock - but with fewer piercings, and much better beer.