Remember Who You Are
December 1996, just before my fifteenth birthday, visiting family in Ann Arbor. I escaped the familial tension by wandering Liberty Street, escaped the gray sky spitting snow by ducking into Schoolkids Records. I picked out a couple zines, then went looking for Team Dresch’s albums—Personal Best and Captain My Captain. At that point in my life I wanted every riot grrrl and queercore record I could get my grubby, gay little mitts on. I’d heard some Team Dresch tunes on comps and mix tapes, and adored them, but I hadn’t been able to track down their albums yet. I checked the punk and alternative section—where I assumed they’d be—but couldn’t find anything. So I approached the boy at the front counter, and said: “Um, do you have any Team Dresch albums?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said, “we have both of them.”
“I looked in the punk/alternative section, and didn’t see them.”
“That’s cuz they’re in the LGBT section.”
He pointed to a row of shelves near the back of the room. I was stunned—not only did they have an LGBT section, but the boy didn’t bat an eye when directing me toward it. I made my purchase, then stepped outside. As I stood there, deciding where to go next, wishing I had a clove cigarette, two girls walked by. One of them had a shaved head and a silver stud in her nose, the other had cat’s-eye glasses and chipped red nail polish, and they were holding hands. I was so fucking happy—queer zines and records in my hands and a grrl-couple holding hands in public—that I smiled. The girls returned my smile, and my baby-queer heart went boom-boom-bam, a bass drum in my chest.
Personal Best hurts to listen to. It takes me right back to those years, to the trapped feeling of being a queer teen in a midsize midwestern city—that feeling like I’d never get out, never find People Like Me. It takes me back to torturous crushes on unattainable girls. It takes me back to four years of not only questioning my sexual orientation, but tearing myself to shreds over it. “I love girls so much, I’m a lesbian. No, I think I’m really straight, I like boys so much. Fuck it, I like boys and girls, I’m bi. No, no, I’m really a lesbian. No, I’m more straight than queer, no I’m bi…” It hurts to listen to but it’s a good hurt. Team Dresch saved me, maybe more than any other band I listened to back in the day.
Personal Best is a raging punk album, made me wanna slam-dance in my room, all alone and gender/sexuality confused (hella short hair but I like to wear lipstick, am I a girl or a boy and do I wanna kiss girls or boys?). It made me wanna rip my queer heart out in rage and joy.
I could scream along when I was depressed, when I’d spent the last ten days of my life ripping off the Smiths. I could scream along when a straight girl crushed my mind, when F. shared a sleeping bag with me then left to go make out with some boy (or when she said: “I love you too, but I can’t handle it.”) Or after I fucked B., and she made me swear not to tell anyone cuz she didn’t want people thinking she was a dyke, I could sing: She’s not having a thought past thinking about why she was born this way.
When I tried to get over those girls, I sang along to the power pop jangle of “Freewheel”: I don’t need that girl to watch TV with. She’s just the same girl, over and over and over. And you can go back to your boyfriend. Freewheel!
Always, always there was “She’s Amazing,” which is a love song to women who write and sing, and I felt it all the time, I feel it all the time, about every girl and woman whose words have ever meant something to me, including Team Dresch themselves: She’s amazing, her words save me. She holds her head as if it’s truth.
“Fake Fight”—I cry out so my loneliness won’t get the best of me.
“#1 Chance Pirate TV,” an ode to Sinead O’Connor, another woman whose words saved me—Sometimes it feels alright, like when you rip up a picture of the Pope.
And “Growing Up In Springfield” was like growing up in Racine—I had the homophobic, born again friend (she said ‘you have a demon possession’), and my mother cried when I shaved my head.
Captain My Captain (dig the reference to Walt Whitman, queer (grand)daddy of American poetry) maybe didn’t hurt and heal me so frantically as Personal Best did, back in those days, but I have probably returned to it, related to it, more in the years since. It had, it has, so many anthems that sent small shreds of light into my darkest moments.
Like “Uncle Phranc”—My mom says she loves me, but I don’t think it’s love, cuz she only loves me when I act just like she does. And that’s emotional blackmail. But then there’s the complex, emotional, beautiful guitar work, and the hope that I might one day find an ‘Uncle Phranc’ of my own (and I did, from 2001-2003 I had my Uncle Phranc, but she is another story for another time).
Like “Don’t Try Suicide.” (She tells me I'm OK. I don't believe her, but it makes me feel better, anyway.)
“Take On Me,” well, it was less of an anthem in the aspirational sense, more of a feeling of “oh god it’s the story of my life.”—I’ve sat down in the middle of this mess I’ve made of letters & clothes. Wish I was anywhere with you. It seemed like all the girls I loved—at least the ones who loved me back—were across state lines, across the country, across an ocean.
“Yes I Am Too, But Who Am I Really?” is a heavy rocker, another one I danced to (alone in my room), all confused about who I loved and who I was—I’ll turn it around. I’m a contradiction. I don’t want to be a man.
“Musical Fanzine” is the anthem to end all anthems—Queer sex is great, it’s fun as shit. Don’t kill yourself cuz people can’t deal with your brilliance. (Sometimes I couldn’t remember why I wanted to live, then I thought of all the freaks and I didn’t want to miss this.)
Most of all, for me, Captain My Captain was and is about “Remember Who You Are.” When I wrote in my journal and played records, I sang along—I just want a public place where girls can meet each other’s stare. Sometimes that’s what it takes, to know you’re alive—to feel yourself burning just from some girl’s stare.
On May 31, both Personal Best and Captain My Captain (as well as a singles compilation), are being reissued by Jealous Butcher, and will be available for purchase and/or streaming across a variety of platforms. (https://lnk.to/teamdresch)
Jessie Lynn McMains is a poet, writer, zine-maker, and small press owner.
She’s also a queer womxn (she/her or they/them pronouns), a mama to two wild kiddos, and a witch who practices a blend of paganism and folk Catholicism. Aside from words, music is her favorite thing in the world. She’s also obsessed with tarot, the Midwest/Great Lakes/Rust Belt, ghosts, and the undying spirit of punk rock. Someone once referred to her as the Debbie Harry of poetry, and she still thinks that’s pretty rad.
You can find her website at recklesschants.net, or find her on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram @rustbeltjessie.