The Biggest Memories Are Always Chaos

Time

First of all, thank you to everyone for the massive feedback from last week’s article about dealing with the collapsing ad market due to the pandemic. All of the kind words made a time of uncertainty a little more bearable, and it was the best week of membership signups we’ve had since the first week I launched the website. Everything is still very much up in the air, but the last week gave me a feeling of comfort I haven’t had in a few months, so thank you for that.

While I was putting together the “Back to” and “My Nostalgia” series, I tried to capture as many of the significant memories as I could about the years and, specifically, the music. However, as I finished, I realized something was missing. While I felt good about documenting the music and what was going on behind the scenes of running the website, I couldn’t pull in as many of the other random anecdotes or bigger things that were happening around the website and our community through those years. Various moments stand out to me, usually related to a dramatic event, that felt almost as memorable as the music itself. This week I’d like to reminisce about five of them. I don’t always remember the specifics of the years and timing, but I’ll try and pull in what I can track down.

The Midtown Interview (2002)

Sometime before the release of Midtown’s Living Well is the Best Revenge, probably early 2002,1 I interviewed Midtown out in front of a venue in southern California. Maybe The Glasshouse? I could be wrong, but I think it was the first in-person interview I ever did. I had this little mini-tape recorder thing and some questions about the band’s recent jump from Drive-Thru Records to MCA Records for their upcoming release. I had no idea what to expect, and of course, I was nervous and unsure of myself. The band made it easy to relax and get into the flow of just talking about the basics, so I started with the standard questions I had printed out.

And then I asked about their relationship with Drive-Thru Records.

And they unloaded.

And I mean they went full scorched earth, salt the ground, piss on the ashes. They just laid into the label and all of the issues they had over the years and how songs on the new album were related to their frustration and how incredibly happy they were to be off the label and no longer dealing with them.

I quickly put the notecard of questions I had in my pocket and let them talk. Little prods here or there about various things, but mostly I was sitting on the curb, wide-eyed, and thinking, “holy shit, this is going to be massive.” It was full of so much news, gossip, and drama that I don’t think my nineteen-year-old brain could even comprehend the magnitude. I’m also sitting there realizing for the first time that things behind the scenes in the music industry are nowhere near what I expected. It was messy. It was backstabby, and not all bleach blonde hair and jump kicks on stage.2

It looks like I published it sometime in April of 2002, and it was the first time I can remember knowing I had a pretty big scoop and that lots of people were linking to my website. And oh boy, did I get a lot of email from various stakeholders. As you can see in that PunkNews post, Drive-Thru demanded they remove comments associated with the interview. If memory serves, both Drive-Thru and MCA Records told me to take the interview down. I am pretty sure legal threats were made. All of that is pretty fuzzy now. I remember quite a few harshly worded emails, and I remember sitting in my dorm room with my roommate, debating what to do. I’m 19, a freshman in college, and a label I practically worship is emailing me, CC’ing lawyers in on their emails, and I felt impossibly in over my head. It’s the first time I remember not knowing what to do with an exploding comments section either. Fights are happening; sides are being taken, lines being drawn, Drive-Thru Records responded. It was madness. I remember thinking about how maybe I was on to something about other people liking this kind of music too and wanting a place to discuss it and have breaking news, but also that I was going to have to learn very quickly how to navigate the politics of the music industry if I wanted to have any chance of survival.

Curious about the interview that, in some ways, I kind of credit with putting AbsolutePunk on the map? I found it. Wild stuff.

John Nolan Leaves Taking Back Sunday (2003)

The next big event I remember sending shockwaves through the community was when John Nolan left Taking Back Sunday and started Straylight Run. This was sometime in early 2003, and, to me, it felt like it came out of nowhere. As I wrote about when reflecting on 2002, Tell All Your Friends was a massive album for our community and was quickly one of my favorite albums of that year. The band felt like they were on the precipice of taking over the world, and their shows were just getting bigger and bigger, and then all of a sudden … drama.

I remember sitting there when the news broke, thinking, “holy shit, is this real?” And within minutes, it felt like everyone was picking sides. Now, this was a band that already had a mythos build between various dramas. From the famous dueling “There’s No ‘I’ In Team” and “Seventy Times 7” to the, at the time, rumored internal strife. But what stands out to me about these memories are how quickly sides formed, and it felt like you could either be for Taking Back Sunday or for Straylight Run and trying to walk the middle road was treated as an act of cowardice. I recall Straylight Run releasing their demos on their website as mp3s and the server not being able to handle it, so we hosted them on AbsolutePunk. (“Existentialism on Prom Night” is still a bop.) The idea of just posting up mp3s for download online was just starting to become more of a regular thing during this era. I remember when “A Decade Under the Influence” was first released and all of the polarizing views. This period of drama, to me, really felt like the origins of the musical hot take. Where everyone was playing in the extremes of “it’s so much better than their debut” to “it’s the worst album ever made,” and there was no time for anything in between.

When I think about this period, I think a lot about hunting down and posting ‘breaking’ news. I think about writing the posts, hitting publish, and then immediately refreshing the homepage to see the comments start to come in. I think about the drama between bands, labels, and chasing rumors. I remember various stories over the years that would have massive reactions within the community, but not many that rival the original split-up of Taking Back Sunday. That, and everything that came after, was on a whole different level.

The Sidekick Photos Leak (2006)

There were a couple of times throughout running AbsolutePunk where I felt utterly out over my skis. Moments where I legit didn’t know what to do about a particular situation and could feel things teetering on the edge of getting really out of control within the community.3 In 2006, when the infamous Pete Wentz photos were leaked on the internet, it was one of the times where I thought I was going to have to just shut the entire forum down. I may have even paused all posting capabilities on the website for a while. It was utter chaos.

My recollection of everything is somewhat hazy. But 2006 had Fall Out Boy at the peak of their popularity online; they felt like actual celebrities that had come from our little music scene. And I remember the tipping point into pandemonium being when people started creating fake accounts to post the photos in the forum. And then people started making it their avatars. Then that led to a cycle of having to ban accounts, getting yelled at about censorship, multiple new fake accounts being created every few minutes, and then people hiding the photos in links or trying to circumvent the system in one way or another. And then it started happening in waves where every single thread was being spammed, and we couldn’t get to the accounts quick enough. That was a tough few days.

Because we live in a hellworld, incidents surrounding a violation of privacy like this seem to have become depressingly familiar over the past 15 years. But this was the first one I remember dealing with on the internet. And I remember feeling completely unable to control what was happening. It wasn’t a good feeling. There were only a couple of times while running AP.net that I flipped the “turn off all posting” switch for a little bit, and I’m pretty sure this was one of them. It was one of those moments when I realized just how many people visited the website and posted regularly.

Remember Sidekicks though? I practically lived on mine.

Brand New Demos Leak (2006)

Trying to control rampant posts when things get moving in the forum has always been like herding cats. When hundreds of posts start flying at once, it can often get overwhelming. The other time I remember thinking, “there’s no way to put the toothpaste back in the bottle” was when those Brand New demos leaked back in 2006. One of the hardest things for me over the past few years has been coming to terms with how many of my memories are directly associated with this band. I’ve written before about how much I tied myself to the music, but beyond that, there are so many memories wrapped around little things and the website’s history. I can’t pull that apart; they remain intertwined.

I had graduated from college and was living in a small apartment in California. I remember getting a PM on the forums with something like, “Hey, I think I got some demos you may wanna hear,” so I downloaded them, hit play, and immediately recognized the voice. I emailed the band’s manager. He called. And I remember the next part vividly. I asked him if this was real, put the phone next to my speakers, and hit play.

Pause

”Yep, that’s ‘Brother’s Song.’ Fuck.”

I put him in contact with the user that had sent me the songs, and if memory serves, there were lawyers involved and agreements signed to not share the files, but it was too late. They’d been sent around enough already, and it spread unlike anything I had seen before. I don’t think we were really using the concept of “viral” back in 2006, but that’s the only way to explain the next 36 hours. The links were everywhere. Trying to moderate the forum was a mess. We were being asked by the label to police people even talking about the songs and I was like, “uh, I don’t know how to do that, that’s… not going to work.”

I think that’s one part of this early era of the internet I think about a lot, the album leaks and how big a deal it was. Now, with streaming music, the idea of an album leaking barely seems to register. I can’t even remember the last time I downloaded a leak. But back then, when labels were desperate to have people buy physical music, the idea of people even talking about music before it was out was frowned upon. I remember countless labels4 sending emails demanding I delete posts talking about their bands’ music that hadn’t been released yet. Of course, we’d always delete links to files, but I never understood the idea that deleting the biggest fans talking about a band’s new music was the best way to keep people from knowing an album had leaked. Big time Streisand Effect potential.

A lot of my favorite memories over the years has been the lead-up to a big album release. When a bunch of people in the forums are excited about a certain album, and there’s a feeling of hype brewing, rumors, speculation, hints, and then that culminates in everyone being able to hear the music and talk about it. What happened back in 2006 with the demo leak is unlike anything I’ve seen replicated since. It was chaos melded into a volcanic eruption of pent up demand and timing.

Paramore Chat

It’s funny how many of these memories are about me being completely overwhelmed. That’s the trend in looking back at the past twenty years and wanting to save for posterity some of my most vivid memories. What stands out is the utter chaos and stress! The Paramore chat we hosted on the website, that was subsequently taken over by what must have been the entirety of Brazil, is the only thing I’ve had close to looking at traffic numbers and literally not believing what I was seeing.

There were so many people hitting the website that we were just like, “yeah, there’s no way to keep these servers up” — that feeling of complete helplessness is a hilarious anecdote all these years later but in the moment? It’s terrifying!

In movies, there’s the trope of hitting a significant milestone and watching the numbers creep up on a big screen. I didn’t have a big screen, but I remember watching the numbers on Google Analytics and just laughing. I wish I had taken screenshots now. That’s one of the things I regret. I should have taken more screenshots over the years to save moments in time for history. Little things get lost to memory, and it’s things like this, how many people exactly were hitting the website, that I wish I could pull up.

Alas, at least we’ll always have the video meme.

Misc Memories

So, those are the five big ones that I remember. The times I remember thinking, “yeah, this whole website thing is getting bigger than I could ever have imagined.”

There have been other things over the years I think back on as well:

  • The Warped Tour tent and various signings.
  • Hawthorne Heights naming a song after a post in the forums.
  • Ice Nine putting my face on a t-shirt that says “Fuck Jason Tate.”
  • MC Lars name dropping AP.net in a song.
  • The various song premieres over the years that felt special. From My Chemical Romance having us “leak” a song from Three Cheers, to Fall Out Boy letting us post “Carpal Tunnel of Love.” To Yellowcard, All Time Low, The Wonder Years, and that first album stream of Cartel’s Chroma. I spent so much time figuring out how to build a streaming music player so we could do that exclusive stream.
  • Exclusively revealing the Daisy album title the day after the band announced something else at a live show.
  • The AbsolutePunk Tour.
  • The first time I saw our website on MTV, or heard it mentioned on the radio, or written about in publications like The New York Times.

This thread in the forum was a real trip back through memory lane. Most of it is looking at the bigger “events” that happened in our community back in the day, and yeah, the online world was a whole lot different than it is now.

After spending the past few months diving into the website’s history, my history, and the music and memories that helped shape who I am, I’ve been trying to put a bow on the entire experience. I’ve been trying to wrap it up in a way that lets me almost partition it off in my mind. I’m not looking for resolution; I think I’m trying to understand better the entire ride and how I got from point A to B. While in the middle of it, it was difficult to appreciate the great moments. When I think back now, I have a bird’s eye view of almost two decades of my life. And I look at it quite critically, and I remember the times I felt utterly trapped by the weight of it all. But there are all these little nuggets tucked between the peaks and valleys that I often ponder about as well.

Like probably many in their late thirties, I often wonder if my best days are behind me. It’s easy to do when burrowing through nostalgic tunnels. I think about the things I did in my youth, the journey, and the highs and lows. And I think that’s been a big part of why I’ve wanted to document some of it over the past few months, to work through my thoughts and feelings, and to better frame for myself what that period in my life was, looked like, and then let it be. By choice, I won’t ever work on or be the head of something as big as AbsolutePunk got probably ever again. But I don’t view the next phase of my life, whatever that may be, against the metrics of audience size, follower count, or fame and popularity. And so when I think about the days in my career, I do so through a lens of trying to learn a little bit more each day, trying to do what brings me joy, and letting the past be a part of my history, not something I need to define me.

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  1. This was definitely somewhere in the purple or black and red version of the website era.

  2. And this would be far from the last time I’d re-learn this lesson

  3. At least I never had massive conspiracy theory and disinformation problems that were ruining democracies, and lives, on the scale of Facebook.

  4. Specifically certain bulldog logo’d labels.

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