Why music changed my life

	Kevin VanAntwerpen
GVL Columnist

Kevin VanAntwerpen
GVL Columnist

Kevin VanAntwerpen

In many ways, I am an adopted child of the Grand Rapids punk rock music scene. An outsider, assimilated into a culture far from the one I’d known in my childhood.

When I was 16, I was a quiet, literary and slightly shy kid. I spent time with friends I’d made at the church my parents attended, read a lot of books, said polite things and never did anything too unexpected or dangerous. Most of my friends’ parents adored me for this. I lived in the safety of a middle class, suburban bubble.

My first experience with live music – and the world I’d soon come to call “home” – was when I joined two friends on a trip to see the electronic-synth-rock band Showbread at Skelletones in Grand Rapids. If you’re from the area, you know Skelletones as the quintessential punk rock club. Though it closed down in January 2009, it was once called the No. 1 all-ages venue in Mich. by the Detroit Free Press.

When we walked in, I was startled and amazed at the same time. There were girls with hair that pointed all directions, and guys with tattoos on every visible inch of skin. Signed posters of bands I’d never heard of lined the walls. Kids wearing denim vests with “The Misfits” patches on the back stood around the door smoking cigarettes they were definitely not old enough to buy. While some of the people there may have appeared hostile at first glance, there was an unspoken agreement radiating wall-to-wall in the room – “respect me and I’ll respect you.”

Skelletones wasn’t clean by any means – the floors were dirty, and the air was stained with the smell of stale smoke and kids who hadn’t showered in a few days. The coffee tasted exactly like you’d expect from any Division-area coffee shop.

It was a far cry from the $5 cups of coffee, bleached white floors, and orderly haircuts of the world I came from. Back in Suburbia, occasionally my friends would have arguments with their parents about what music they were allowed to listen to, or how late they were allowed to stay out. Here I met people who were just looking for time away from alcoholic foster parents, or turning to music to heal the wounds of a divorce.

Skelletones didn’t feel like a safe place – it felt like a real place. It wasn’t a place where people put up fences to keep the neighbors off the yard, it was a place where the orphans, the misfits, and the heartbroken went to find solidarity. People didn’t pretend to live perfect lives – instead they held each other through the pain.

That’s when I knew I belonged there. I have never regretted choosing real over safe.

Showbread was a large part of the reason I became a musician, and probably an even larger part of the reason I became a writer. While I enjoyed the combination of high-pitched screams and dancey electronic rhythms of the music, it was really the words of vocalist and lyricist Joshua Porter – now a novelist as well – that caught my attention.

Despite his devout Christian faith, Porter’s lyrics were raw and blunt – sometimes using graphic or grotesque imagery to effectively convey his social observances. He spoke of everything from hypocrisy in the Christian church to the misplaced views of fundamentalist patriotism. The music seemed to serve as a catalyst, giving his words the testosterone they needed to reach open ears. Until that day, I’d never heard someone speak of their beliefs with a conviction that real.

I spent the rest of my teenage years at Skelletones nearly every weekend, bathing myself in new music, and analyzing everything about every new band I found. Eventually I bought a guitar and learned to play myself. I sang along (awfully), but enjoyed it every step of the way. I started writing for a local magazine called Revue, interviewing local and unsigned bands – shortly after, I joined Chasing the Sky where I play bass and write lyrics.

Looking back now, I never regret having chosen real over safe.