by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

So many cultural artifacts have had an influence on my over the years, though if I had to pick the one that ties everything together and sums me up rather nicely it would have to be Big Black’s "Songs About Fucking".

The CD came out in when I was three, but I bought it when I was 15 and it’s been with me ever since. It started out as a band I came upon trying to navigate my way through a punk clique that thought me too weird to tolerate (Asperger Syndrome was a new thing then and I went undiagnosed for ten more years), leaving me to develop my tastes on my own. Big Black didn’t sound like anything the people I wanted to fit in with were listening to. Punk to suburban kids was and is about three things: drinking, women and a nostalgia for drinking and women that borders on the conservative. Big Black was not conservative by any means, nor were they communal; they were about violence and aggressionand lots of noise. More importantly they were about individual expression and against institutions (in their case major labels).

In addition to being an awesome band with some of the best guitar sounds ever conceived, Big Black influenced how I would make the best of my idiosyncrasies and the temperament they produced. It’s a temperament of hatred, braininess and plain bad manners, particularly when directed at what is generally considered the “status quo,” though I do this through writing rather than music. The band challenged me psychologically and creatively, influencing me to put my skills to good use and to seek out new ways of expressing my displeasure of things that don’t include punching people and burning down churches.

The influence that Big Black had on me can be connected to the influence that the writing of Jonathan Swift, Ambrose Bierce, HL Mencken, Auberon Waugh, Arthur Schopenhauer, Gore Vidal and even Willmoore Kendall have had on me. From them I can somehow make sense of and express with some coherence my hatred of institutions (political, cultural and educational) and their irredeemable influence on intellect and expression, as well as my overall hatred of the American status quo of optimism, ignorance, nostalgia and material obsession; though more importantly they allowed me to appreciate both individual expression and populism, and freedom in general, and to make some modest attempts to better accentuate it for the ever changing nation. Whether I can exert a similar influence on some other random loser is out of my hands, but at least I can say that I didn’t end up entirely wasting my skills on service journalism (although I kind of did for a little bit). In short, Big Black has helped me rage super-hard while keeping it interesting, if only for myself.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.