The ongoing restrictions thanks to COVID still suck, and yes, I know you’re probably as tired of hearing about it as I am. But it has led to some interesting things for a lot of people, myself included.
More introspection. Digging into old hobbies and interests. Discovering new ones.
One of the things it’s done for me is to go back and listen to music that I stopped listening to a long time ago. Thanks to daily walks and free time on weekends, I’ve been reaching into the vault of what I’d locked away to make room for all the new things over the years.
Very recently, I started listening to 311 again. Say what you will about them, but I had been a huge fan of theirs for a very, very long time.
Yep, that’s me with the lead singer, Nick Hexum, circa 2000.
I’ve seen them in concert 13 times. Theirs was my first concert ever. I even performed one of their songs for my senior year talent show. Some close friends had a band, and because they were also big fans, they wanted to do one of their songs but couldn’t perform the rap verses. I could, so they asked me if I would perform with them. How could I say no?
Unfortunately, (or luckily!), there’s no video of me rapping and dancing on stage, but I was told it was pretty impressive.
Anyway, obviously, I was a really big fan.
But then I met Melissa in 2003, and she had this huge, eclectic taste in music that helped influence me to broaden my musical horizons, and I started listening to them less and less. By 2008 or 2009, I’d moved on almost completely.
I never stopped enjoying their music, I just wasn’t listening to it much or following them anymore. Until one day when I was just itching to listen to it again.
On the same day I was reigniting my passion for their music, I decided to look them up and see what they’d been doing over the last 10+ years. And I immediately discovered a live concert stream that was happening the very next day.
Talk about a crazy coincidence!
Needless to say, I quickly shelled out $20 for the concert, not knowing what it would be like, how enjoyable it could actually be. They were playing a specific album front to back, so it wasn’t a typical concert even in the sense of what they were playing. Even less so since it was being performed in a room without an audience over a live stream. But they were doing it to support their crew that isn’t making enough money due COVID, so even though I was skeptical, it was an easy expenditure.
One of the things I always loved about 311 shows was how positive and happy their fans are.
Seriously, the audience literally exudes what the band’s message has always been: positivity and love.
So when I sat down to watch the show, I didn’t expect to love it the way I once loved being part of that crowd.
I was wrong, but more on that in a minute.
Due to all of the introspection, self-awareness, and analysis I’ve been going through in the last 12 months, my love for 311 bore its own scrutiny.
On top of everything else going, this year began with a necessary refocus on race relations. As a white man, I try to be as aware and sympathetic as I can be, but let’s face it, if you haven’t lived it, it’s hard to understand what POC deal with and see around them, especially when they still have comparatively little representation in TV, movies, music, and fashion.
The closest I can get, oddly enough, is 311.
I grew up loving hip hop and rap music, much to the dismay of my parents and older brother. At the time, my parents had some very unkind comments about my music choices because my parents were not as racially open back then. It didn’t help that rap music at the time was constantly in the media for the violence of the rap itself and the violence that was happening within the community. Think 2Pac/Biggie era, and if you were there, you probably remember.
Point is, I was only grudgingly allowed to own a rap CD.
Then a group of mostly white guys came along who were mixing rock and rap together, and suddenly they didn’t care so much. Even though there were marijuana references throughout their music and band artwork, and despite the fact that it was still rap (although they’re kind of a rap/alternative hybrid), they had no problems with it.
And it wasn’t just them. People at school teased me for being a skinny, white kid who loved rap. But 311 was perfectly acceptable. As a kid who was able to recite and rap along with dozens (maybe hundreds?) of rap songs, I felt like I’d found my niche. I finally felt like, if I ever wanted to become a rapper, now I could.
Believe me, I know this does not compare to what people of color deal with in terms of lack of representation, but my experience of loving traditionally black music as a white kid helps me understand it better.
And none of this even clicked until this concert.
Representation matters, a lot more than most white people will ever know.
Another thing that I wasn’t nearly aware enough of when I was a teenager was how positive and supportive their music and message really was.
311 is a band that you love or hate. I’ve caught a lot of crap for being a fan of theirs over the years. While they’re not as hated as Nickelback or Creed, they still have that distinction of getting super popular, and then they almost immediately became this thing that you weren’t supposed to like.
The thing is, they are actually good. And most people don’t know that because they’ve only heard one or two songs, and then there was The Cure cover that played constantly. (I get it, I got tired of hearing that one too.)
But what I love about them is the 90% of songs that nobody has ever heard unless they bought their albums or went to their shows.
Sure, Down is catchy (and peak 90’s!).
But their music goes A LOT deeper than that.
One line that everybody loves to sing as loudly as possible during shows is, “fuck the naysayers.” Staying true to yourself and not worrying about what others think has always been one of their most important messages, and even though I sang along, I didn’t even think about how to apply it to my own life.
My teenage years and young adulthood would’ve been a lot different if I had.
Obviously, I didn’t know it at the time, but that mindset is a major part of Stoicism. In Stoic philosophy, you allow room for the thoughts of others, but you do not let others’ thoughts control your own thoughts or actions. Only focus on what you CAN control, and the thoughts of others can’t be controlled.
On top of that, they’re just positive people with positive messages in most of their songs.
They want people to “stay positive and love your life.” And that mentality is echoed by their strong and ongoing fan base. All these years after first gaining popularity, and they’re still selling out shows, cruises, and events.
That means something.
Back to the concert I just watched.
As I said, they were playing an album front to back. The album was Grassroots, their second studio album, originally released in 1994. At that point, I hadn’t even heard of them yet. I wouldn’t discover them until their next album in 1995. The one that made them famous.
But Grassroots is hugely popular with some of their most iconic tracks. So they’ve been playing most, if not all, of these songs for almost 27 years now. They’ve probably played them hundreds, maybe thousands of times!
That alone is crazy to think about.
But dig deeper. How excited are you to do something that you’ve done hundreds of times, that you know you’ll have to keep doing hundreds more? How focused on that thing are you?
I kept thinking about this before the show started. Without their cheering and clapping fans, how fun is it to perform songs that they could do in their sleep? And how good would it be?
There’s a well-known story from their early days where, on their way to a show, their RV caught fire. All of their possessions, instruments, and gear burned to the ground with the RV. But they made it to their show on time, borrowed everything they needed, and put on an amazing show.
Why? For their fans. And because they were doing what they loved.
When I talk about “the why” being important in your career and life, that’s what I’m talking about. When all else fails, if your why is strong enough, you’ll keep going and keep loving it.
This concert proved no different. It didn’t matter how many times they’d played the songs, or that their wasn’t a stadium full of people cheering them on. They knew they were out there watching, and the band was doing what they loved.
It was honestly a great experience! The production and all that was excellent, but more than that, they just put on a helluva show.
But before it even started, there was a little pre-show event that allowed viewers to watch them warm up and chat for a bit. While that would’ve been a neat experience by itself, I couldn’t stop watching the drummer, Chad Sexton.
Again, he’s played these songs more than I’ll ever know. On top of that, he’s an extremely accomplished and talented drummer who marched in the drum and bugle corps way before he joined 311.
In case you’re unaware, drumline is literally the most dedicated and difficult drumming you can do. It takes the best of the best. (Here’s one video where he visits a rehearsal of the Blue Devils, and here’s another on a late night talk show promoting the movie Drumline with some other well-known drummers.)
Being a band nerd and drumline enthusiast myself, that was one of the first things that caught my attention about them. His precision far exceeded what I was used to seeing in any other rock bands that I’d heard.
Despite all of the times he’s played, and despite his incredible talent, he was in the corner practicing rudiments and drumming patterns for the show.
Yeah, he was practicing.
Because that’s what mastery is all about, continued practice and improvement and never taking your talent or abilities for granted.
For many years, I loved their music, I loved their passion, and I loved their mastery of the art. But the details of everything I loved about them didn’t really hit me until watching this show, 25 years later. And that love seems justified in how much they still enjoy what they’re doing.
Over the course of my life, I’ve had over 40 jobs. I can’t imagine doing any of them for 30 years, not until I started focusing on helping others in sales and improvement, that is. It’s my thing, my why. Just like theirs is music.
And if 311’s blend of reggae, rock, and rap isn’t for you, that’s okay. But you have to respect that dedication and devotion to doing what they love. Wouldn’t everybody be in a better place if they found that in their lives?
While I may be a bit biased due to the length of time I’ve enjoyed them and the nostalgia and memories behind all of their songs, I don’t think they get the credit they deserve. I’m loving listening to them again, and I cannot wait until the next live stream!