Clearing the smoke on 420

    As the calendar slowly creeps toward April 20, a date infamous for drug and alcohol binges, a certain group of people seem unaffected despite the “”high”” hysteria. Though mainstream society may prepare for something mind-altering on this mid-April day, many members of society feel only mildly impacted by such an event. Instead, they are reminded only of their often life-long commitment to abstinence from controlled substances. This commitment is called straight edge. Straight edge itself is a simple philosophy, encouraging critical thinking through sobriety.

    “”I’m a person, just like you, but I’ve got better things to do,”” said Ian MacKaye, ex-frontman for seminal hardcore band Minor Threat in the song “”Straight Edge.”” MacKaye, currently playing with indie-rock heroes Fugazi, is credited for coining the term, and often receives credit for the movement as a whole.

    The lyrics to the song, first released in the early ’80s, speak out the straight edge mission statement, commenting on the rejection of drug use and encourage alternatives to punk and independent thought — a type of thought stemming from aggressive music, promoting pro-active community involvement, self improvement and personal, independent decision-making.

    This life-long commitment to temperance is typically spawned by one of two reasons: People either develop an inherently bad opinion of drugs and alcohol through negative reinforcement throughout their life, or individual struggles with addiction lead someone to reject a lifestyle of reliance on substances, and instead resort to being free of addiction as a whole.

    “”It means everything to me,”” said Thomas Kosich, a 21-year-old who vowed to a life free of drugs or alcohol over four years ago.

    Kosich, currently playing drums for a straight edge hardcore band called In Your Face, said that a straight edge lifestyle is an idea that does need exposure in a society where drugs and alcohol are often accepted. In finding a place to express these ideas, Kosich turned to music, because music was the place that he found refuge from this societal trap.

    Playing music becomes a common type of expression for people trying to communicate a message about societal change as a whole; more specifically, punk music was a form of expression that not only promoted a message, but was easily accessible as well.

    Spencer Gooch, a long-time volunteer at the Che Cafe Collective, is a big advocate of the critical thinking and positive changes that punk music can encourage.

    “”After the initial decision [to become abstinent], a lot more thought went into it,”” he said. “”To me, straight edge is a way to subvert all the tactics that tobacco giants and alcohol moguls use to perpetuate a cycle of addiction. It may sound like rhetoric, but that’s what those companies do. Straight edge allows me to make an immediate difference in my community.””

    This type of proactive attitude helps maintain the strength and stability that the straight edge lifestyle represents. While punk music as a whole started as a rejection of mainstream culture, the punk movement still had ties to drug use and basic types of personal defiance.

    “”The straight edge hardcore movement really seems like a rejection of that initial rebellion. People continued to take things one step further … rejecting drug use became another form of rebellion,”” Kosich said.

    In a society with holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, ultimately devoted to inebriation, and the upcoming events of 420, it seems like the defiance found in a straight edge lifestyle couldn’t be any more valid.

    “”Live and let live,”” Kosich said, regarding the custom of inebriation in our culture around this time of the year. Like many straight edgers, Kosich is a firm believer that the decision of sobriety is a personal one; there’s no hidden agenda of converting those who aren’t straight edge.

    “”I don’t like being told to drink, so I’m not going to tell someone not to,”” Gooch said. “”To me, straight edge is a personal decision … focused not on denying yourself something, but on the fact that you don’t want it in the first place.””

    The abstinence embodied by the straight edge movement revolves more around staying positive than around the seemingly constant societal obsession with an altered state of mind.

    “”Few can argue that the philosophy is no longer valid. The drug-free lifestyle has left its positive impact on more than one wayward youth,”” said Straight-Edge.com, a site devoted to offering different types of information about the movement as a whole.

    “”They’re positive ideas that people need to hear,”” Kosich said. “”I’m saddened that people have to rely on [drugs and alcohol] … it just becomes a crutch.””

    Though the straight edge movement aims to be a social reform, in no way does it require conversion. The movement has no mission statement, and as a whole still maintains its title as a personal commitment; though to some this may mean just another side of sobriety, to others it can be a life-long expression of the most important part of their life.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal