Editor’s Note: Read an interview with Andrew Martin about his writing process.
“Naw, you don’t have to worry about me,” Thomas said, after his mother had finished her characteristically perfunctory warning to us about drugs, alcohol, and rough-looking types. “Paul thinks he’s cool now, though.”
“Paul, when did this happen?” Mrs. Rickley said.
She wasn’t a hip mom, exactly, but she got points for not caring particularly about what her children or their friends got up to.
She was a physics professor at Princeton and had consistently made it clear that she did not need this shit.
“I just woke up one morning wearing Ray-Bans,” I said. “I guess it was for an album-cover shoot, and it kind of spiraled out from there.”
“He’s trying to impress girls now,” Thomas said.
“Oh, God forbid, Thomas,” his mom said. “Maybe you should try to impress a girl. After your hair grows back. And don’t be a smart-ass, Paul.”
Thomas had surprised me with a freshly Bic’d skull and a three-piece suit when I arrived at his house a few hours before the concert. His light-blond hair and pale skin had already rendered him a solid candidate for the Hitler Youth; now he looked like genuine trouble, or at least troubled. The new look was an homage to one of the bands we were going to see, Execution of Babyface, whose members each rocked the “shaved head/natty threads” combo. EOB fans were notoriously violent, even for hardcore kids, and Thomas and I, best friends and cultural comrades since we were 10 years old, had spent a lot of time on message boards reading (probably?) untrue rumors about coordinated windmill-fist phalanxes and secret seven-inches given only to “executioners” who could present the band with a tooth, or teeth, knocked free during a show. It was all a bit scary and conspiratorial for punk rock, and even at that early stage, it was much more Thomas’s scene than mine. But I did enjoy the music, or was at least fascinated by it. It was pulverizing and ultrafast and punctuated by terrifying screams. EOB’s lyrics were inspired by Guy Debord, John Ashbery poems, and Kevin Smith movies, though you generally couldn’t catch them in real time. It was a substantial leap from the Punk 101 I’d absorbed from a rudimentary website run by a Russian autodidact, which was filled with long paeans to the brilliance of London Calling, Zen Arcade, and the brief, collected works of Rites of Spring. I’d just turned 16.