Illustration by Jay Insult @jayinsultart

Journey to the End of Daytona Beach by Will Kenneth

Dec 29, 2022

I pulled my Ford Explorer over to tank up before making a two-hour drive to Daytona Beach. Along for the ride were all the amps we needed to play our show and a passenger I had never spoken to before.

No one introduced us, but the day before he was stumbling around the middle of practice while blackout drunk, too wasted to say a word.

The rest of the band piled into another car, and I got stuck with the random.

“Have you ever been to jail before?” he asked me as an icebreaker when we stepped out of my car.

“No,” I said. I knew it was a leading question, and I felt obligated to return the question, even though I didn’t care. “You?”

“Yeah, manslaughter,” he said as he walked away, and went to the convenience store.

I’m not sure if he was trying to impress me or scare me, but either way, I had heard enough. I was already pissed about being stuck with him, and I didn’t care to ask him about what happened either.

When I finished tanking up, he came out with a six pack.

“What are your plans with that?” I asked him.

“I was going to finish it on the way there,” he said while walking up to my car.

“Not in my fucking car you’re not.”

“Oh,” he said with his voice trailing off while looking down at his feet. He put the six pack on the backseat floor before he got in.

I was prepared for a fight, so I was relieved he backed down, but I wasn’t prepared for the awkwardness of the rest of the drive, or the weirdness of my only stop in Daytona Beach.

Joining the Band

When I moved to Gainesville as a student, I didn’t care about my grades that much. I got Bs and Cs, and that was good enough. School was secondary to partying and starting a band, so when I overheard at a party that Jeremy and Roger needed a new bass player, I told them it had to be me.

“Do you play bass?” they asked.

“No, but I play guitar, and how hard could it be?”

They laughed, turned away from me for a moment to huddle, and quickly turned back around to tell me I was in. A few days later they let me borrow a bass, and I got a set of song tabs written out.

This was my first real band, and I didn’t know my instrument, or have enough time to learn the songs.

I didn’t know either of them that well. Roger was new to town, but he quickly earned the affectionate nickname of Whitesnake on account of his old Whitesnake shirt and long hair.

As a drummer, he was a natural talent with strong technical knowledge to back it up. He was also a sweetheart who everyone loved. I can’t say the same about Jeremy, and what I can say I’ll come back to later.

Jeremy grew impatient after my second week. “I feel like we’re stagnating,” he said to me more than once.

I told him from the start I needed time to learn the songs. School may have been the last thing on my mind, but going to class and doing schoolwork still made it hard for me to learn all seven or eight songs. Also, they were all too similar, and I had trouble keeping them straight.

By the third week, I pretty much had all the songs down except one, and Jeremy couldn’t explain the chord changes or strumming pattern for that one anyway.

Our singer drove in from Chiefland for band practice that week, and I’m assuming he brought with him that guy who was stumbling around drunk. Jeremy was also from Chiefland, and from what I gathered they’re all childhood friends.

At the end of practice, Jeremy mentioned he was going to turn down an offer to play a show the next day in Daytona Beach. He said the promoter guaranteed an audience of at least 150 people, but he didn’t think I was ready.

“Fuck it, let’s do it,” I said.

“Really?” Jeremy asked. “You’re ready?”

“Yeah!” I said, which was a lie. I didn’t feel ready, but I could wing it, and I didn’t want to cause us to miss playing to a big crowd. “If something goes wrong, fuck it. It’s punk rock.”

We had a laugh over that, but we couldn’t know how wrong things would go.

Road Trip

Before we even left the gas station, I was already in another argument with my new travel buddy.

“I’m going to get a ticket if you don’t put on your seatbelt,” I said to him after getting frustrated he wouldn’t buckle up.

“No, you won’t,” he said. “I’ll get a ticket.”

“That’s literally not how that works,” I said. “You can put on your seatbelt, or you can walk the rest of the way. I don’t care. I’m not moving this car until you put on your seatbelt or you get out.”

I’m not normally that confrontational, but I was already pissed I was stuck with this guy, and asking him to follow basic road safety made me feel like a cop. Also, I didn’t want his stupid corpse flying through my windshield if I got in an accident.

Fortunately, he caved and buckled up, and we went on our way. Before leaving town for Daytona Beach, we stopped to meet up with our friends The Boy And The Knife, a post hardcore trio who were also playing the show.

As a small caravan we drove south to Silver Springs, and then east, passing through the Ocala National Forest on State Road 40 to get to Daytona Beach.

I got to know these state roads pretty well over the years, and I found them a little terrifying.

They were mostly two-lane highways, so passing someone means moving into the oncoming traffic lane, gunning your engine, and hoping no other cars are going to surprise you around a bend.

You could also be an hour or more from the nearest hospital in case you wreck, and driving at night added an extra layer of danger since these roads almost never have lampposts to light the way.

Being in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dense tree canopy, and not seeing another car, house, or stoplight for miles would always make me paranoid. I was terrified of crashing, being lost, or worst of all: getting attacked and eaten by cannibals like in a Wrong Turn movie.

If I did run into cannibals on our drive to Daytona Beach, I could always kick out my passenger and use him as bait, and then I could get away while they’re distracted with him.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen so we were stuck making small talk. In an attempt to make a connection, I assumed this person from the Deep South would totally dig on some psychobilly, but playing the latest Reverend Horton Heat album just bummed him out. I had to check my biases about people from the South after that one.

The rest of the drive was unremarkable, except when my passenger threw a candy wrapper out the window when we were in middle of the Ocala National Forest. I had to once again tell him that no, you won’t get it a ticket, I will, and littering is for assholes.

I was surprised by how dreary Daytona looked on the way into town. I was expecting a city more like Fort Lauderdale with strip malls and palm trees, but instead all I remember seeing were rundown buildings, broken asphalt, and gray skies.

The beach and tourist district were almost empty. Everything was closed down. The only places that seemed to be open were the bar where our show was and a head shop nearby.

As a kid, my family would vacation in Marco Island on the west coast of Florida. During rainstorms, some tourists would still be playing on the beach and in the water, but Daytona Beach was practically abandoned.

The city felt apocalyptic like the news was reporting a zombie outbreak and we were the last to find out.

Nearby, a generator was chained to a light post, running loudly, and keeping the light going for only a handful of cars that were traveling down A1A, the state highway that ran along the beach.

When I arrived at the bar, I was told the promoter was nowhere to be seen. We were reminded that a hurricane was scheduled to scrape the East Coast, but turned away at the last minute, which would explain why we were standing in a ghost town.

Living inland in Gainesville inoculated us from worrying too much about the storm. Most Daytona Beach locals probably evacuated, and nearby airports probably canceled arriving flights.

Meanwhile the owner wouldn’t let us use his PA, which we were promised, and was currently being used as a karaoke machine at his outdoor bar. He was hoping to entice locals and stranded tourists to get a drink, and no amount of charm and friendly banter on my part would get him to part with it. I was empathetic that he was losing money after the hurricane scare, but also pissed we all got screwed over by a promoter.

A touring ska band showed up to play the show, too (sorry ska band, I don’t remember your name), which was my only evidence that a show was definitely scheduled for that night and wasn’t some mass hysteria event that we imagined in Gainesville. I didn’t see a single handbill or flyer in the inside bar or around town.

Also missing was our promised audience. We were a few hours early, so we held out hope they might show up along with the promoter, and if they didn’t, we decided to play without a PA.

We wandered around the district looking for anything to kill time. I found my travel buddy drinking his six pack in a corner, and doing a poor job of hiding that he was getting day drunk in public.

I walked into the head shop out of boredom. I’ve never in my life paid so much attention to Grateful Dead T-shirts and bongs. I never smoked weed, and I hated the Dead, but here I was inspecting their goods like I was in an art gallery.

“Oh, this one is in the shape of a knife, and this one looks like a skull,” I said to myself as I made mental notes about all the shapes and colors I couldn’t care less about.

I was halfway through their bong case, when I heard the clerk ask Jeremy, “Do you know where I can get some weed?”

I whipped my neck around to see this clerk wearing a neon transparent mesh shirt like he was an extra in Miami Vice, had a mustache, and was pushing fifty.

This guy looked out of place, compared to the clerk on the other side of the store who was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts. I thought to myself, “Why would a store in a town this dead need two clerks?”

The fashion disaster behind the counter was a cop, and we all walked into a drug sting.

That’s when I put together the fashion disaster behind the counter was a cop, and we all walked into a drug sting.

I could have stopped Jeremy, but I wanted to wait first to see if he knew what to do.

“Umm, no,” he said with a friendly laugh. “I don’t know you, and also I don’t know anyone here.”

I let my guard down and went back to browsing bongs once I knew he wasn’t about to get ensnared.

Jeremy said to me later he was confused why the clerk asked for weed, but when I explained he was talking with a cop, the whole exchange clicked for him.

After a few hours of waiting with no crowd or promoter in sight, I rallied folks to start playing the show. I cram studied my guitar tabs before we went on stage, and I winged it with only one major mishap.

Will Kenneth courtesy of Will Kenneth

I played my first show in my first punk band without ceremony, while holding an instrument I didn’t understand, in a city I didn’t know, promoted to no one.

I played my first show in my first punk band without ceremony, while holding an instrument I didn’t understand, in a city I didn’t know, promoted to no one, with no sound system, for no money, and nobody watching but the other bands. The show was perfect even if my playing was not.

Jumping off stage during a song and wrestling a friend in The Boy And The Knife made for a less awkward experience than me standing around being confused and embarrassed when I forgot a chunk of our song.

I was told a stranger opened up his wallet and handed us forty dollars when he heard what happened to us. That kind act made our whole night. Had we not made a stink about the PA or gone on stage, we may not have been able to pass that money onto the touring band.

I might have spent forty dollars in gas just for the privilege of playing to no one, and I would have loved to recoup some money, but making sure touring bands get gas and food is always the right thing to do. Taking care of each other is what makes us a community.

After saying our goodbyes to the touring band, we got in our cars and drove home. I got stuck with the random from Chiefland again.

His six pack was gone, but he was sober enough to carry a conversation.

“What’d you think of the show?” I asked, feeling a little proud.

“You wanna know what I think?” he said. “I think you’re a poser.”

I was a little miffed. Here I was giving him a free ride around the state, not asking him to pitch in for gas money, and he insults me? For a moment, I considered leaving him on the side of the road to fend for himself against the cannibals.

But then my mind wandered to that scene in There’s Something about Mary where Ben Stiller’s character picked up a hitchhiking serial killer, and he didn’t find out his travel buddy planned to kill him until later. Then I thought about how my travel buddy is the same guy who low-key bragged about maybe committing manslaughter, and I wondered if he thought about doing the same to me.

“Umm, thanks, for the feedback,” I said, brushing him off.

I don’t remember what prompted the next part of the conversation, but he probably continued to vent his frustration with me by telling me he didn’t like the music I was playing on my stereo, which was probably some combination of psychobilly records I got from BitTorrent and cheap record samplers.

“What kind of music do you listen to?” I probably asked.

“Crust punk,” he answered.

I was shocked this country bumpkin knew anything about crust when I spent years reading zines and had no idea where to start. I started doubting myself. What if he was right, and I am just posing? I didn’t even know what d-beat sounds like! Was I too dismissive of him? After all, getting wasted did seem like a crusty thing to do.

“Do you know who was the crustiest punk of them all?” he asked.

I turned down my stereo to listen. I couldn’t afford to not know the untold secrets of crust.

“Glenn Danzig,” he said with a straight face. “Danzig is the greatest crust punk of all. Have you ever heard of The Misfits?”

“Yeah,” I said while turning my stereo back up. “I have.”

I was so disappointed. Not only did I not have the heart to tell him The Misfits and Danzig were pretty far from crust, but I also couldn’t believe I expected something more. I avoided talking to him for the rest of the way home. Silence was better than anything he had to contribute to a conversation.

Reckoning

We scheduled another show the following night in downtown Gainesville at Eddie C’s, which was my last with the band. I didn’t have the time to review my crib notes before the show, and I fucked up a few more songs. My friends who came out were encouraging, and they said despite my mistakes I was fun to watch on stage. No one in the audience cared, but Jeremy was shooting me dirty looks throughout.

I went to apologize to Jeremy afterwards and said I’d have all the songs down by next week, but he didn’t want to hear it. He voiced his frustration with me, and I got the sense he was going to kick me out, but he never had the decency to tell me.

A few days later I got a message saying next band practice would be over the weekend, but when I arrived the house was empty, their car wasn’t in the driveway, and the lights were off in the house. I called Jeremy, but I got no answer.

As I stood in his driveway, I realized I was manipulated into wasting my time, and any guilt I had about fucking up was replaced with disgust. I resolved to keep my distance, despite knowing I’d be running into him at shows and parties.

Years later, I was with friends when one of them got word Jeremy was convicted on charges related to revenge porn involving multiple victims.

His behavior and treatment of women here was heinous, and if I’m being honest, I wasn’t too surprised. Stories of people mistreating others are less shocking when you expect to hear them, and red flags are easier to spot when you’ve trained yourself to look for them.

I didn’t always know what red flags looked like, and the loudest red flag I missed here was the band’s name, Pissing On Susie. I’m embarrassed to admit this, which is why I neglected to mention our name until now.

When I joined the band, they were talking about changing the name from Something In The Absence (I suggested Something In The Absinthe, which was a trendy drink for a brief moment, but no one entertained my topical pun). They settled on Pissing On Susie after a joke at a party. I wasn’t there for the joke’s genesis, but I was too naïve (and maybe too privileged) to realize the joke hinged on misogyny and was not just a reference to fetish play.

I don’t want to draw equivalence, but band names that devalue others can be a tell. If a band name uses something like Cheap Girls, or they have album names like Love Songs for the Retarded. Those are tells.

I want to be part of a community that values each other and lifts each other up, and I have to own my part in making others feel unwelcome by working to fix that.

I’m encouraged by my friends who have said they realize bands they used to love aged like shit. They want to do better and be more inclusive with both their attitudes and choices.

But I also see fan chatter online from people who are less interested in reflection and more interested in preserving the cis-het, boys-club status quo. I’m still seeing bands write explicitly misogynistic lyrics, and I’m still seeing bands with abuse allegations get touring packages.

I don’t expect our culture to change overnight, and I don’t expect legacy acts to change their shtick even if a few have wised up. But at minimum I can hold the people near me to a higher standard, do the same for myself, and confront venues near me that host bands with alleged abusers and rapists.

Will Kenneth lives in New York City. ALL > Descendents. (Facebook | Instagram | w o l f m a n w i l l [@] g m a i l)

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