my first ideology

I grew up in a state of ambiguity, raised in an often misunderstood area locally referred to as “Central Jersey”. It’s the place where, during my childhood in the 90s, the suburbs of Philadelphia and New York met to wipe out the few remaining farms that earned New Jersey its nickname “The Garden State”. Economically, my family belonged to the middle-middle class. Religiously, we were Catholics, but not gifted for that. The church had long since lost its way of beating and blaming God-fear in children (as my parents experienced when they were kids), but it never really replaced that tactic with anything. else to retain younger parishioners, such as the emerging evangelical pop/cave churches at the time. I never knew the anger or passion of Christianity, and like many of my Catholic peers, I was accidentally brought up as an atheist.

Nonetheless, I was a fairly well-behaved child, though my lack of a spiritual core led to a dark shadow of existential anxiety when I hit puberty. I had lots of friends, played sports, and did well in elementary school, but when I was in eighth grade, most of the adults in my life thought I had abandoned my promising path in some sort of deep darkness. I let my hair grow. I quit my baseball and basketball teams. I lost my record of near-perfect grades since kindergarten and started getting Cs and Ds for the first time. From the outside, I felt like I was in grave danger.

Todd Schramke and his bandmates Tom and Zach meet the band members Rise Against after their set on a side stage during his second Warped Tour experience in 2004.

Some of my teachers thought it must be drugs, while my parents thought it was the influence of a new group of kids I had befriended. They were all wrong. I had no interest in drugs, and neither did any of these friends (at least at that time). The new clique was just a reflection of the changes that were already happening to me. The reality was that I had found a new reason to live: my faith, my people, my ideology. It was not a religion or a political movement that I had discovered, but something much more tangible and real. It was a subculture disguised as a musical genre. It was punk rock.

There wasn’t a single moment when I was converted to punk, largely because it was so ingrained in late pop culture. 90s. Bands like Green Day and The Offspring got as much airtime in the Top 40 as any pop group of the time. For me, around the age of nine, it was simply the fastest and most exciting music there was.

My brother, who was 13 years older than me, appreciated my penchant for aggressive music and introduced me to some of his favorite punk bands, which never quite touched the mainstream prominence of their peers. He made me mix CDs with bands like Pennywise, Fugazi and the Bouncing Souls.

Todd Schramke performs with his band in 2007.

My curiosity turned into devotion in the summer of 2003, when my brother and sister took me and my best friend, Tom, on the Vans Warped Tour as a 13th birthday present. It was the first time I had heard of the infamous traveling punk-rock festival that helped launch several bands of that era to fame, like No Doubt and Blink 182. The experience would change me on a fundamental level. .

I did my best to dress appropriately for the festival, which took place on a sandy, ramshackle fairground near the abandoned Asbury Park boardwalk. I wore a hand-drawn Suicide Machines t-shirt that I found in my sister’s high school memorabilia – even though I only knew one song from this band and the t-shirt fell halfway through on my short legs. That was all I had that seemed like a passable outfit.

I was nervous as hell after searching the internet for photos from previous years tour. The moshing and crowdsurfing piles of screaming adult-sized humans looked like they could potentially crush my little late-blooming frame. My sister assured me that everything would be fine and that if things got too intense, I could always watch from a distance. But deep down I knew that the danger and the intensity was what drew me to this music in the first place.

Todd Schramke on the microphone in 2008.

While there wasn’t a single moment that introduced me to my newfound faith, I would say it was during Rancid’s set that I was baptized. Screaming teenagers and aging punk veterans were the chorus, the deafening roars of a poorly mixed sound system were the church bells, and the collective sweat of thousands of members of this strange congregation was the holy water. I could barely breathe, couldn’t see the scene at all, and the experience was fleeting. But, for the first time since I was born, I felt something like a spiritual awakening. This was my first real conception of freedom.

I don’t remember ever having a conversation about it, but Tom and I both knew that after that experience we were going to start a punk band. He had been learning to play drums for about a year, and around that time he convinced me to learn to play bass. We gathered other disenchanted friends to play guitar and shout into the microphones. A major attraction of the genre at this novice level was the low barrier to entry. Songs could be as simple as we wanted, and our lack of musicality could be masked by speed and distortion. It was all I needed at the time and it helped me deal with my rapidly progressing social anxiety.

Not only did I give myself to the music, but I wanted to know where it came from. I dove deeper and deeper into the scene, bought all the CDs I could afford, watched the tour documentaries, and read countless memoirs from pioneers of the late 70s and early punk scene. of the 80s. It became clear that this social movement was bigger than the art that came out of it. The great chaotic stories of corrupt youth and the simplicity and accessibility of the music made me realize that punk was more than just a genre. By studying the backgrounds of my predecessors, I learned that we didn’t have to wait for permission or credentials to play shows or release records. So, through trial and error, we figured out how to record our songs and distribute our music. We have made friends with other groups to organize and promote our concerts. It was the ultimate escape from the stagnation, boredom and depression I felt in high school.

Todd Schramke in interview for his docuseries The anarchists.

While obsessively consuming punk culture between the ages of 13 and 16, I studied the politics of the scene. Throughout the lyrics, the album cover, and the often excessive in-between-song banter during the shows, there was a message of rebellion, questioning authority, and trusting your local community over the greats. ruling institutions. It was anti-state, anti-corporate and anti-authority. And there was one label that stuck with me, voiced only by the most politically radical punks: anarchist.

In the context of punk music, “anarchy” was mostly exploited in the mainstream for its commercial shock value by the Sex Pistols, but most “real” punks scoffed at this usage. Since the genesis of the genre, many of the mainstream punk bands have talked about anarchy not as synonymous with chaos, but as a powerful intellectual theory. Returning to the workers’ rights movement of the 19th century, where the term “anarchism” gained global prominence, early punk bands like Crass, the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag took influence from anachronistic anarchist intellectuals like Peter Kropotkin and Emma Goldman to forge a more powerfully simplistic message for the youth of the 1980s.

But I didn’t grow up in the 80s. It was the mid-2000s and the fact that a punk band signed to a major label and became a symbol of success for capitalism was no longer shocking at all. It was actually a bit trivial. As much as I liked radical ideas, I liked music more. If being “anarchist” meant no longer supporting my favorite bands because they became popular, then I didn’t really care to participate in that puritan side of the scene.

The “Anarchapulco” presentation in Todd Schramke’s The anarchists.

Looking back now, I think that might be why the phrase “anarcho-capitalism” caught my attention on an unconscious level when I was 18 and coming out of my punk phase. Even though it was only far removed from the ideals of punk rock and classic anarchists, it seemed like a way for me to embrace the responsibility of adulthood while clinging to the freedom of my youth, hanging on to those steamy, hopeful gasps of freedom. I felt like I was in my first Warped Tour mosh pit, as I fell in love with my first ideology.

Although I don’t call myself a punk or an anarchist, I appreciate what I have learned during my explorations of these subcultures and, more importantly, I appreciate all the people I have met. along the way. That’s why, more than anything, in my new HBO docu-series, The anarchists, we spend so much time looking at the individuals who have been drawn to this movement rather than dissecting the philosophy. Deeper than the esoteric ideals of the anarchist community was a search for community and hope among a group of misfits, which allowed me to connect with these people. It’s a story that I lived in my own way. That’s why the show is called The anarchistsnot Anarchy. It is not about ideology, but rather the story of a group of people. People who have gone to great lengths to find a new sense of freedom and community, a dream they have all finally achieved, but in the most unexpected and sometimes tragic way.

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