Life can be very hard and crush you at times. Private issues, family, friends, watching the news, and for me reading about sustainability and realizing how much has got to change, can be very daunting. But yet here I am, more optimistic than ever, with a huge smile on my face.
I personally “blame” inspirational characters like Toby Morse, lead-singer of the hardcore punk band H2O. He lives the rock’n ‘roll dream. Tattooed from head to toe, literally, tours the world and screams into his mic in front of a huge crowd. But there is so much more to him, that you might never find out if you judged him only by his outward appearance. I had the pleasure of meeting him before his gig in Germany, during the EMP Persistence Tour through Europe. On the couch sat this sweet, polite and down to earth man that charmingly couldn’t stop gushing about his wife of 20 years and his son. Enthusiastically he talked to me about PMA, Positive Mental Attitude, and how he goes to schools in the US in his free time to talk about his attitude and how he has never touched alcohol or drugs in his life.
Hardcore, Melodic Hardcore, Punk, whatever you want to call the music I love – I know some of you wont understand how this can be considered good music let alone how you can dance to it. You might be prejudiced against hardcore fans, but they are not what you would assume. They wear black, have tattoos, scream angrily into their microphones or in the crowd on a concert, dance seemingly aggressively and act and stick out. I don’t fit the stereotype of a hardcore fan at all, but luckily the majority of fans are the most open minded, non-judgmental and sweetest people I know, so they accept me even though I look rather like a Taylor Swift fan. I have to be honest and say I prefer melodic hardcore, but being in a crowd at a concert or club, dancing to hardcore, makes me smile and when I leave I’m a happier person.
Hardcore, Punk and all its affiliated genres are not about being the best guitarist, how well you hit a note or how good you look on the cover of a magazine. It’s about the message you want to scream out to the world, about emotions you have to get out – for both, those up on stage and those in the crowd.
Most of them raise their voice for something good: animal rights, human rights, the LGBT movement, progressive politics, gender equality or depression awareness. Toby Morse promotes PMA. To me, he embodies those involved in the music industry that do so much more than just sing about issues – as he said “don’t just complain, do something about it”.
He heard about PMA listening to the song “Attitude” by the hardcore punk band “Bad Brains”. They sing “we got that PMA” and it stuck in his head. Positive Mental Attitude is based on a series of books by Napoleon Hill. Hill was one of the first personal-success authors and his book “Think and Grow Rich” is one of the best-selling books of all time. It’s about the power of positive attitude. But instead of using his words to become successful and rich, the hardcores punk scene uses the message to become a better person. PMA has influenced Toby’s life and music ever since. You can listen to almost every song and find something about PMA.
The song “Use Your Voice” from his newest album with the same name reads: “I use my voice / For the tortured / For the weak / I use my voice / For the innocent who can’t speak / When the people look the other way / Try to inspire the youth of today”.
And he does what he preaches. He went out of his comfort zone to inspire the youth of today. Some kids of a school discovered his music and it had a huge impact on them. They asked him if they could send him a letter and he happily agreed. He received a bunch of letters that moved him, “I just started sobbing” he said running his fingers down his face mimicking tears. His wife had the idea of him going to the school and talking to the kids. His first reaction was “about what?”, but he was convinced to do it. “It was a gnarly school; I think they shut it down”. His wife seemed to be right. The experience inspired him to found the non-profit organization One Life One Chance and by now he has gone to speak to the kids in schools. He wants to continue doing it, but it’s hard being on tour. “We have this thing in the US called Red Ribbon Week in October that is an alcohol, tobacco, drugs and violence prevention awareness week. Some schools wanted me to come, but we were touring. I really want to do more this year”, he said thoughtfully.
On the One Life One Chance homepage you can see videos of him visting schools. Especially for those kids coming from a background of drug abuse and that haven’t developed a coping mechanism he is a huge inspiration. A police officer, originally from Washington DC who grew up with Toby and comes from the hardcore scene, said that he was a huge influence in his life “He told me we had to do more, we had to give back to our community. We can scream and yell and curse problems, but unless we are coming up with solutions we are just wasting everybody else’s time. We are just basically useless”, officer Jason Kooken said visibly moved. He invited Toby to come to a school in Amesbury, Massachusetts because he wanted to pass on to kids what the hardcore scene did for him.
At these schools Toby shows a powerpoint presentation with stories from his life. “I represent this image. Tattoos, musician in a band, being on tour, I don’t wear a suit to work… but then I tell them that I have never taken any drugs in my life, I have never had alcohol in my life. Its about the choices you make. It helped me make better choices, in my life, for the environment, with my marriage and being a dad” he told me. In the video he says: “I am not here not to preach to you, not to judge you, but just to tell you my story”. Afterwards he walks around the audience with his mic, asking them about their stories and giving out hugs and taking as much time as he can to actually listen and leave a positive impact. And you can see the kids lighten up a bit more with every minute.
He shows them people that died because of drugs and celebrities they might know and admire that don’t do drugs and achieved something. “My dad died when I was three and my mom raised three boys all by herself, so, I never had a father figure. Actually my brothers shocked me out of doing drugs. I could have easily ended up like others complaining about my life”, he pointed out staring at the orange he was pealing. Instead he is spreading a positive attitude towards life. But he is realistic about it: “I don’t live PMA 100% of the time. I am human too. I have emotions, get angry, curse, wake-up on the wrong side of the bed – but then you gotta snap out of it. It’s about how you don’t let these things get to you and don’t just complain and not do anything about it”, he emphasized.
But it’s hard today to stay away from drugs. It is part of normal social behavior and seemingly more excessive than ever, even at a young age. Supporters of his One Life One Chance organization are celebrities like Travis Barker, Hayley Williams of Paramore and Moby. In a video Moby said that, “the benefit of alcohol is you feel interesting for the next six hours”. But the downside outweighs this temporary high by far. Moby has been struggling with addiction and now sober realised that, “if you lead a healthy lifestyle you live longer, you live happier, you have better relationships, you have better creativity, you have a better work life, you are of better service to your family”. I for example have been trying to drink less, but people react with incomprehension and keep pressuring me and think you will drag the mood down. But a few hours in, they realize that one can be fun and sober. “I know, most people don’t realize you have a personality too” Toby agreed laughingly. “And some you only know from partying and then when you meet them without alcohol and they are totally different”, he went on.
“Its about finding your outlet and what motivates you. It could be exercising, music, anything. For me my outlet is skating, that’s all I ever wanted to do. I always wanted to be a professional skater”, Toby said.
From my experience though, skate parks are a hot spot for drinking and drugs. Toby agreed ,“it’s harder, yeah. Now skating, partying and drugs go hand in hand”. He admitted he was very lucky with the timing and his life. He had hard times, but most of the kids he talks to have more experience than him, especially when it comes to using drugs. I found that optimistic people generally talk down the bad times they went through, since they focus on the good times. That’s why I think in his opinion he was lucky and blessed. Even during bad times it all comes down to the choices you make and how you deal with them.
In the hardcore scene, with these supposedly “hard” guys, he found a family. “We are perceived as negative, but hardcore people are actually the most sensitive and caring people I know. We do something and don’t just complain on the internet. Those that don’t understand it are missing out”, he added nodding his head. “Positive hardcore is this niche, this community, that actually does and changes things” he went on, “It influenced me and a lot of people around me and I’m happy I found it and that I can have the life I have”.
My final words after talking to this charismatic, reflective, incredibly likeable man: if you are going through bad times, try to be aware of how you deal with them. Have a positive mental attitude. Find your outlet. Look for your inspiration. Advice from my own experience: the hardest thing of all, if you know you can’t handle it alone, is to reach out and accept help. Maybe even listen to a few H2O songs, they might surprise you.
At the end I had to smile remembering how Toby said that with 18 years he moved to New York all by himself. Here I am, starting over in my mid-30s, on my way to New York for two months where I don’t know squat and anybody. And besides researching about different sustainable concepts and companies that make change happen, I can’t wait to explore the famous New York Hardcore scene and going to concerts and clubs.
PMA All Day – “One life, one chance, gotta do it right.”