I don’t have a whole lot to say about the Offspring. They are the band equivalent of a high school girlfriend for me. They seemed so important to me at the time. I had a poster on my wall and everything. But by the time college rolls around, you try to stay in touch, but you find that you’re growing apart. Both of you are in denial about it, but it’s happening anyway. Then, you realize that they’ve come out with a new album, and you don’t actually try to care. They move on, you move on. Every now and again you may run into each other. You’ll talk nostalgically about the old days, but you know that you’re both very different people now. You part as friends, never discussing the way the relationship just atrophied and dissolved, and just going your separate ways. But they had a part to play in your larger narrative.
I came to the Offspring the same way most people did. Come Out and Play was getting a ton of airplay on my local rock/alternative station, and it was in steady rotation on MTV. Self Esteem followed shortly after, but I had already bought the album by then. It was my gateway into West Coast punk rock, and I quickly started consuming as much Rancid, Bad Religion, Pennywise and early Green Day as I could along with the Offspring. I got their debut album from a friend of mine who bought it but didn’t like it, and bought their third album on my own. By the time Americana came out, I had moved on. Plus, I didn’t like any of the singles off of it.
So my listening was restricted to their first three albums: Ignition (1992), Smash (1994) and Ixnay on the Hombre (1997). I am aware that Ignition is not technically their first album, but it wasn’t until years later that I found out about their self-titled debut, and by then I had no interest.
The most important thing about the Offspring in my life is that they helped me to get my first girlfriend. It was the summer of 1994. I was still working on the “who am I” project of adolescence, and not making a great deal of progress. High school was…let’s say difficult and stow the hyperbole on this one. High school was difficult. As mentioned earlier, freshman year was pretty much a loss. Discovering music by way of mix tape in the summer of 1993, combined with a trip to Denver for World Youth Day 1993 had helped quite a bit, and I entered sophomore year as a much different person. Additionally, a fluke of scheduling had taken me away from the classmates that I had suffered with (the unrealistically pretty and the far-too-popular to care) and put me in classes alongside people I could more easily talk to. Even girls. Especially girls. I didn’t have a lot in common with the guys in my class. They were almost all jocks or preps of some stripe, or at the other end of the spectrum the so-called burnouts. There wasn’t a lot of common ground with a nerdy artist wannabe like myself. But the girls in my classes seemed to like me a lot. Not romantically, just as a friend (in my opinion, the friendzone isn’t a thing. If you want to be more than friends with a girl, and she doesn’t want to, that’s not a special subclass of the oppressed. It’s just life.) In any case, I started to come out of my shell and actually be able to talk to people as myself and not as the construct of myself I had created in an attempt to be let into the group of popular kids.
Then came the summer of 1994, and with it, one of the top five weeks of my life. I spent a week in August at something called Christian Leadership Institute. I and about thirty other high school age Catholics were locked away at a remote camping facility by Skaneateles Lake. If you’ve never been, it’s a really beautiful lake. We had no TV or radio. The internet wasn’t really a thing at that time. So all we had was the workshops, our love of God and Jesus, and each other to entertain us. I was still a little shy, though it helped greatly to have Laura, my best friend, also there. Totally unplanned, but very fortuitous. Out of necessity, I started gaining a comfort level with the people I was “trapped” with. And so it was that one mid-morning, during a break between workshops, I struck up a conversation with a cute girl named Missy sitting on the concrete docks, smoking a cigarette. At that time, I didn’t smoke and thought it was both a filthy habit and something that kids cooler than me did (peer pressure and advertising are real!). I still think it’s a filthy habit, but I no longer think it’s cool people doing it. I mean, I do it, and I’m very not cool. We’ve discussed this.
In any case, I sat down next to her and tried to strike up a conversation. It didn’t work very well, because her hair was hiding the fact that she had headphones on. She was listening to her music a Sony Walkman. When she finally noticed me, we had a conversation about music. We liked a lot of the same bands, and her name will appear again in this countdown thanks to some of her contributions to my musical history. One of the bands we talked about was the Offspring, who had just released Come Out and Play. She had taped it off the radio (that was a thing back then) and we listened to it together. We talked a lot more, and hung out a lot more on subsequent days. When her batteries died to her Walkman on day three, we resorted to singing Come Out and Play instead of listening to it. By then, another couple in the throws of summer love had joined us. The four of us were inseparable for the rest of the week, and spent a lot of time together during the next school year. But sitting on that dock, badly singing Come Out and Play is one of the best memories of that week, and that’s saying quite a bit. I could fill several posts with memories from CLI, and it will probably come up again before we’re done. But due to that song, I was able to talk to a girl who I liked (something I had not done before this. I liked other girls, but my reactions ranged from saying nothing to anonymous love letters to riding past their house on my bike).
Unfortunately, listening to the Offspring now doesn’t conjure that memory as much as it conjures memories of playing Crazy Taxi on Dreamcast or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 on Gamecube. I did marathon level sessions on both games, so the Offspring songs from them are permanently burned in with the visuals from those games. It’s bad enough that when I hear Way Down the Line while I’m driving, I keep looking for people with giant green arrows above their head that I can take to Pizza Hut or the Original Levi’s Store. But without the Offspring, I would never have explored Bad Religion or Rancid. I would have missed out on so much good punk rock!
And of course, one song will always be special. Pretty romantic, huh? A song about gang violence bringing two awkward teenagers together.
And Bad Habit is still a great song to drive to.