It is just after midnight on November 11, 1979 and I’m walking to the bus stop in the chilly night air. I’m fourteen years old, my ears are ringing, and my life has finally begun. Every thing that I have done in my young life has led up to this moment. So how did I get here?
A few months earlier I had just started 8th grade at Åkersvik Högstadium in my hometown of Sundsvall, Sweden. This school year promised to be very much like the previous seven. At home my parents fought with a bitter determination that defied all logic. School was a place I went to five days a week, seemingly only to get bullied and beaten up.
At what point do you finally admit defeat?
I had had plenty of time getting used to the idea that some people were meant to be happy while others were meant to be sad. It was simply my lot in life. Something to live with and to get used to. It was my normal.
After school, I would go home, put on my headphones and listen to records. The Sweet and Kiss had been my idols, but that all changed once I discovered punk rock. The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned lead me down a crooked path to The Velvet Underground and The Stooges.
I vividly remember buying two LP’s on the same day when I was thirteen: Status Quo’s “Rockin’ All Over the World” and Elvis Costello’s “This Year’s Model”. Status Quo, as the band name implied, was a safe bet: Reliable boogie rock. Elvis Costello I had only recently read about. After just one listen, I grabbed that Status Quo LP along with all of my Sweet and Kiss records and put them in a closet where I wouldn’t have to look at them anymore. In my mind, I had moved on, but there was no one there to notice.
Indeed, 8th grade was more of the same. I would daydream myself through all the classes I couldn’t get my head around. Chemistry, biology, physics and math. My mom and dad had every right to be worried about my lack of progress. My lack of friends.
Then, one day, this tall blonde kid comes up to me during recess. He was about to take a chemistry test, and could I help him prep for it by rattling off some questions? I had seen him around the hallways of school before. I knew he was in a band. A punk rock band. He was in the next grade up and in my eyes, he was impossibly cool. He was also impossibly friendly. I was not used to that. We talked for a bit and I told him I played the drums. “Really? There is a band that I have been filling in with that’s looking for a drummer. They are called Massmedia. Have you heard of them?”
The tall cool blonde kid gave me the phone number to Torulf, the guitar player in Massmedia, and urged me to call him. My mind was reeling. My future happiness was hanging in the balance.
When I got home that day, I took the piece of paper with the phone number on it and locked myself into my dad’s office in the basement. I carefully planned, word for word, what I would say if Torulf actually picked up the phone.
He did, and the conversation must have gone well enough because we made plans to meet at the bus station downtown the next day. “How do I know it’s you?” I asked. “Just look for someone with really short black hair.” he said.
The next day I left for our meeting way too early and with time to spare, I went record shopping. I bought a 45 with the band 999. Back at the bus station, Torulf was hard to miss. Black hair, black jeans, several years older than me and very, very cool.
“What’s in the bag?” He asked. I showed him the 45 hoping that this would somehow establish my punk rock credibility.
“That’s not the original pressing” he said.
We took the bus to his parent’s house where he showed me what had to have been hundreds of punk rock 45’s and LP’s. He compiled a stack of them, wrote down the number of records on a piece of paper and told me to go home and listen, absorb and learn. I did.
A short time later, I formally auditioned for the band. I was in! Many rehearsals were scheduled for the following weeks. There was a gig on the books:
November 10, 1979.
Magasinet was a nonprofit rock club that had recently been adopted as home base for the growing number of punk rock bands in town. I don’t think we played for longer than 30 minutes. It was loud, sweaty and when we ran out of songs, we simply repeated some that we had already played. The adrenalin rush I felt was nothing I had ever experienced. All my anger and frustration came out. I had spent the last seven years in hell and I was done feeling like shit.
I had finally been set free.
Standing at the bus stop after the show, I make plans to cut and dye my hair. The old Patrik Tanner is no more. I fully realize that I have been dead inside for seven long years. I feel as if a clock has started ticking inside of me. That life is gonna be worth living.
I may have been born at Sabbatsberg Hospital in Stockholm, but my life began at fourteen in a tiny, sweaty rock club called Magasinet in Sundsvall.
(Many thanks to Torulf and Mats Nilsson for taking a chance on a fourteen year old boy whose voice hadn’t even changed yet. The tall cool blonde kid is no other than Peter Jonsson. Still my friend, 37 years later.)