As a CFer, I Found Community in Punk Rock Music

How 'outsider music' helped columnist William Ryan feel understood

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by William Ryan |

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There is power in finding a community where you belong. For example, many people love Marvel and bond with one another over their shared love of the iconic movies and comic books. I’ve always loved Batman because he’s an outsider who’s spent his life trying to fight corruption. He just wants people to feel safe and protected. Fun fact: My favorite Batman comics are called “The Long Halloween,” which inspired this year’s best movie, in my opinion, “The Batman.”

When I was in middle school and high school, I struggled to find a community to call my own. I couldn’t interact in person with other people who had cystic fibrosis (CF) because of the risk of cross-contamination, and social media was still in its infancy. So as a teenager, I had to look elsewhere to find a sense of community. I found it in punk rock music.

I can already see some of you chuckling or rolling your eyes at that, and I get it. Being earnest and vulnerable is kind of a social faux pas among us millennials. If I’m admitting that something deemed “underground” and “cool” made me feel like I wasn’t alone, then it’s no longer cool or underground.

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But that was thrown to the wind when I was 12 and Green Day’s “American Idiot” came out. Green Day is one of the more famous later generation punk bands, along with Blink-182, as were The Ramones in earlier times. I know it’s sacrilegious to cool punk kids to mention Green Day and Blink-182 along with The Ramones, but The Ramones’ music is quite similar to that of their offspring. (See what I did there?)

And I loved that “American Idiot” album. I was obsessed with it. Mom and Dad didn’t get it, but they weren’t meant to. A few months later, I saw My Chemical Romance on MTV and I was sold. They were punk rock-adjacent and, most importantly, they were from New Jersey, like me.

In fact, as I wrote in an earlier column, New Jersey has probably produced as many famous punk and punk-adjacent bands as California, New York, and England, including The Bouncing Souls, the Misfits, Lifetime, Thursday (who opened for My Chemical Romance in September), The Gaslight Anthem, The World/Inferno Friendship Society, Streetlight Manifesto, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Saves the Day, and many, many more.

I wanna live

I was in eighth grade when My Chemical Romance released their rock opera album, “The Black Parade.” It’s about a man dying of cancer and his journey in the afterlife. It’s morbid, but for a kid with CF trying to grasp my own mortality, it felt like my album. Yeah, you may love the aesthetics and the songs as much as I do, but the album’s story is very much my own.

The band and album served as launchpads to many other artists I grew to love, such as The Smiths, The Cure, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, AFI, Joy Division, and Jawbreaker.

When I went to an all-boys high school, I made friends with other guys who liked almost all of the bands I did, along with The Clash, the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Off With Their Heads, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü, and so many others.

So how does this tie in with cystic fibrosis and understanding myself?

Disabled people often feel like outsiders. It’s how society has operated since the beginning of time. If you can’t contribute to the world in the same way as others, then there isn’t a place for you. It wasn’t until the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 that disabled people could no longer be shoved to the side. However, the law didn’t erase the stigma of having a disability. We’re often still viewed as outsiders today.

And that’s what punk rock is. It’s outsider music. It’s not cool, and it’ll never be totally mainstream, despite coming close a few times. I’ve never been one of the cool kids, and I’ve never felt understood. Maybe that’s why punk rock music understood me.

When I saw My Chemical Romance for the first time in September with my wife and our friends, about a week before my 30th birthday, it was a full-circle moment. I’d spent my whole life looking for a community to belong to, and there I was, singing “Welcome to the Black Parade” with thousands of other people. We were all singing a song about a dying man, recalling a childhood memory that served as a metaphor for traveling into the afterlife. Sure, it’ll always be morbid. But the story was as much my own as it was everyone else’s.

How’s that for community?

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


Helen Palmiero avatar

Helen Palmiero

Yet another great column, Will - and relatable - even to a fossil like me, if you believe it. I'm familiar with The Cure, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen of course, and even The Clash. The rest of your article taught me even more, as all your articles do. So let's headbang or dance or whatever you guys do. I'm sure we'll have fun - because I love you!


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