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Addicted to You

In a small suburban town in Massachusetts, an eleven-year-old boy hears a song on the radio. He’s never heard it before, but his ears prick up in an instant. It’s fast, whiny, catchy. For the first time in forever, he feels seen in a way no other song ever has before. He doesn’t know who is singing, but he wants more. Little does he realize that this will begin a lifelong obsession.

I don’t know where it came from, but all the sudden I had the impulse to listen to Simple Plan. Anyone who knows me this isn’t a complete surprise. Punk, especially pop punk, is very much my thing. I am a compact ball of aggressive anxiety and I like my music to reflect as such. My love of punk has evolved over the years from your typical Green Day and My Chemical Romance to the modern stylings of the DIY scene embodied by Bomb! The Music Industry, Modern Baseball, and Bad Moves. However, there was one band that truly madly deeply started it all for me, even if it is embarrassing to admit. Simple Plan, for those that don’t know (or were trying to forget), are a pop punk outfit coming from the hardscrabble streets of Montreal. The nasally whine that is seared into the brains of many Millenials to this day belong to frontman Pierre Bouvier, the punkest of punk names in all of punkdom. They formed in 1999, but didn’t hit the cultural scene until the release of their debut album No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls in 2002. What followed was three years of pure super stardom where they rode the wave with bands like Good Charlotte (who they did a joint tour with in 2005 that was one of my first concerts), Bowling for Soup, and Fallout Boy. They even wrote the theme song to What’s New Scooby Doo, which, in case you don’t remember, is a certified banger.

Catch me in the pitWhat’s New, Scooby Doo return to Netflix must have been what sparked my renewed interest in Simple Plan. Mostly because we just rewatched the theme song over and over because again, it’s a banger. But I realized that I didn’t have ANY Simple Plan in my iTunes, as I listened to them pre-iPod and somehow they didn’t make the transition. Like some sort of musical erasure of my past. Nevertheless, I resolved to amend that mistake and found No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls on Bullmoose (best fucking store ever) for $2.97. It was three almost dollars well spent.

Listening to the album again brought on a litany of questions and revelations. Why have I all the sudden come back to this album, over a decade later? Why is it that the lyrics are seared into my memory? To the point that there were songs I hadn’t heard in at least 15 years and I still knew the words to? Prior to the 18 year anniversary of its release, I sought to explore why this is such a part of my musical formation. Prior to No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls, my music taste was fairly limited. I grew up in the mid-90’s, early-00’s to boomer parents. We were a household emblazoned with classic rock, The Beatles being the biggest early musical influence on me. Pop music at the time was mostly boy bands and Britney, which I enjoyed, but never seemed too connected to. I loved rock, but had no idea who any of the bands of the time were.

I also had an interest in girls from a very early age, to the surprise of almost no one. I remember having crushes in preschool. Declaring my love and affection to disgusted girls not nearly as interested in love and kissing because, cooties. Naturally this grew wilder as I got older and by the time I had gone through elementary school, I had enough “ones who got away” to count on one hand. It makes me cringe to think about it.

I was often rejected. That is mostly because I was young and romantic. Which is just another way of saying I was weird. And if I’m saying that as an adult, imagine me as a child with no filter and no sense of decorum. So I was often frustrated, desperate, and in need of something to express myself. I felt stuck in an existence that I so badly needed to break free from. Enter Simple Plan.

I can’t remember the exact moment I first heard “I’d Do Anything,” but it hit me like a Molotov at a protest. I couldn’t believe what I had heard. For the first time, I felt like someone was saying what I was feeling. I had found my voice. I didn’t catch the name of the song or the band, but I kept an ear out, ready to remember. It didn’t take long.

I remember being in a Target and finding No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls. I begged my parents to get it. They were skeptical because of the album title. Which if anyone knows my parents knows this is wildly out of character for them. They’re not those parents. They’re the kind of parents that when I said I wanted to go to school for writing and directing, they asked if I was sure I didn’t want to be an actor instead. So them barring me from anything was a shock to all involved. But that seed of potential rebellion only made me want it more. I convinced them and soon enough I was listening obsessively.

Listening to the album now, one cannot help but notice the explicit generality the lyrics revel in. The punk part may be all about self-expression in the face of angst, but the pop part is all about mass appeal and, let’s face it, making money. The blatant commercialism of these songs can be cringe-inducing at times, but that’s also part of its charm. It’s adolescent anger at its most base. Each song essentially is “I’m sad and upset because I’m young and that sucks!” It’s a perfect start for a young kid who grew up in the suburbs who had no cause to feel like they needed to rebel feel like they were rebellious. My generation grew up in a time of seeing footage from the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq war night after night. That left an indelible impression on the youth of America. We were anxious and frustrated, but still not fully able to comprehend why or at what. That had to go somewhere. So a lot of people retreated to the angry, but upbeat world of pop punk. Eventually the genre would really hit its peak with the release of American Idiot and The Black Parade, truly catapulting the genre into the zeitgeist and would ultimately lead to its undoing. But this is still right in that sweet spot. Where bands like Blink-182, Good Charlotte, and Simple Plan were in the right place at the right time.

Listening to the album now, I can’t help but get sucked back into the joy it was to listen to it when I was eleven. It so perfectly captures how I felt at the time and still feel to this day, for better or for worse. Bouvier and company were never exactly the subtlest of lyricists. There’s an unbridled joy that shines throughout the album, which was torn to shreds critically on its release, but now feels like what makes the album feel so special. The songs on No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls are ever so sweetly broad to make sure that everyone feels seen. In a sense, they’re the perfect band for preteens who are unsure about who they are and need something as an outlet to express themselves.

That’s kind of the magic of Simple Plan. They know that “Life is a nightmare” and we’re all just children trying to figure it all out. We were (are) a confused generation that’s angry and scared and we need something to remind us that we’re gonna be okay. And not just some treatise on how the Bush administration is failing the nation’s youth or how we’re all just gonna die anyway, so why not join the black-clad procession in the sky. Just a basic, widespread declaration that life is tough, but it won’t always be.

That’s what I’ve always loved about punk music. For years I was ashamed of my music proclivities. The wave of popularity that pop punk had crashed quite quickly. Black Parade really swung what the genre was in a direction that turned people off. Suddenly emo became a pejorative term. An instant beacon of “wow, that’s lame,” towards anyone who dared declare they liked that music.

I have a distinct memory of being in music class and the assignment was to bring in a piece of music and talk about it. I did not bring in Simple Plan, but instead opted for the Raiders of the Lost Ark theme (which people mistook for the Superman theme, a fact that perplexes me to this day), because again I am a giant nerd. But one of the other students brought in “Welcome to My Life,” WRONGFULLY labeling it “R&B,” instead of what it truly was. Like, admit it Johnny McBride, you liked pop punk. It was as if admitting that you liked it was shameful.

I’m hard other members of my generation who totally liked that music non ironically but wouldn’t admit it, because I was one of them. I liked the music, but I didn’t want to be labeled or associated with “emo.” Even saying I liked Green Day was tenuous. That’s not who I was (that’s totally who I was), I was just a nerd who loved comic books and classic rock. So back to the Beatles, the Who, and Elton John for me. If I wanna feel sad and angsty, I’ll just stick to Pet Sounds. Or Weezer. I was, as I labeled myself later, a “closet punk.”

Even in college, when I had my friends turn me on to music from this decade, I still didn’t dive into the punk pool. I kept it to modern versions of the classic rock and folk artists I had grown up with. Your Tallest Men on Earth, your Black Keys, your Father John Mistys. I’d dabble with AJJ here or a Paul Baribeau there, but nothing further than that. Even those I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into admitting I liked. It wasn’t until the one two punch of seeing AJJ live AND listening to Christmas Island during my first true and blue break up that I really understood and embraced the magic of punk.

Still, I kept my pool very limited. Strictly Green Day and AJJ. It wasn’t until 2016 that things began to change. I was turned onto The Hotelier’s Goodness (thanks AV Club, cool big brother to music lovers everywhere) and it was over for me. What happened next was blur, but I was consumed with catching up to all these bands I had missed out on. Jeff Rosenstock, Martha, Dollar Signs. Emo and punk were making a comeback all this time. And instead of shunning me, they welcomed me back with open arms.

That’s what I love about the punk community. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such a blend of anxiety and joy in one place before. If all the punk band Facebook groups I’m a part of indicate, we are all hurting, angry, confused, afraid. All sorting it out. But this music is telling us that it’s okay to sit in our feelings. It’s okay to be angry (thanks for that lesson, PUP) or sad about finding connection (looking at you, Future Teens), or living in a society that treats its disenfranchised like garbage (Cough Jeff Rosenstock Cough cough). There’s a cleansing power to this music. It’s cathartic. Plug those headphones in and turn the volume all the way up.

What I realized is that I had liked this music all along. It was the perfect source of expression for me. And when I finally admitted that to myself, I felt lighter. I felt like I could embrace a part of myself I had locked away for a long time. I started going to more shows, but was still afraid to go into the pit. Then one day, I just dove in. And it was the best three minutes of my life. Until some crowd surfer landed on my head and pressed it like a ketchup dispenser. You gotta watch out for those guys.

Still, I had finally realized this is who I was and I was proud. It didn’t change everything about me. I didn’t start wearing patches, or shave my head, or get any tattoos. I still remain a massive nerd in all senses of the word. BUT, I became a devotee to the scene in an instant. However, I still never really gave credit where it was due. I owed my love of punk truly emerging with American Idiot. While American Idiot is a seminal album for me, it’s an easy one to laud praise onto. What’s significantly less cool is the whiniest, embarrassing pop punk from a bunch of Canadians.

Yet, No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls is the true ground zero for my love of punk. It’s a silly album, but one that made me feel so seen. It was the first time I felt that music was speaking for me. I turned my back on it, because that’s what you do on certain things you liked when you were young. You think you’ve grown past them. But in reality, they are always a part of you.

Simple Plan never really made an album as solid as No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls. Their follow up, Still Not Getting Any comes close. They have now hit the big time, but still have all these anxieties. The true highlight is of course “Welcome to My Life,” which is everything that people hate about the pop punk movement encapsulated into three minutes. Inspiring the definitive comedic take on an entire subgenre.

That’s Donald Glover singing, folksHowever after Still Not Getting Any, Simple Plan never really endured. They released an album a few years back, but the magic is gone. It happened to a lot of bands from that era, they hit hard and then vanished. ’Tis the nature of the business. However, their mark will always at least be imprinted on one eleven year old kid from Massachusetts, changing the way he saw music forever.

I relistened to No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls on a lonely Friday morning. The week leading up to it was absolute shit and it wasn’t because of anything particularly catastrophic. Just a general malaise hovering above me and the fact that it was a Valentine’s Day I was going to spend alone didn’t help either. But the arrival of that album was fortuitous. It was exactly what I needed. In it were the tunes that were all about being angry and sad for no reason whatsoever. I couldn’t help but smile, remembering that things were going to be okay. I walked out of work that day with my head held high. It was 30 degrees outside, but I strutted around like it was 70. I bounced with a joy in my step and a song in my heart. I felt like I could take on the world. I no longer felt shame for liking what I like, now or then. It was like accepting another part of myself all over again. And it felt good. Amongst the chaos that is existence, I had these angsty little ditties to keep me moving forward.

Some things never change.

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