Vito Pagano is 45 years old. He has four children aging from 9 to 17 and from the outside world would seem like your average middle-aged family-man just trying to make a living in New York. But Vito Pagano is not your average working-class dad. Pop-punk has taken over the Pagano family as Vito’s realization of the benefits of being influenced by the genre has spread from his son to his wife and even down to his younger daughters. “My kids are all involved in the scene,” Pagano said when prompted about his involvement in the pop-punk scene. “Even my youngest at age 9 probably goes harder than some teenagers!”
So what is it about this pop-punk community that has the Pagano family so excited and so tightly knit? What is it about this genre that steps out of the boundaries of simple musical enjoyment and crosses over into a broader influence of those who find some great white hope in the form of gang vocals and stage diving? Is pop-punk just a genre, or is it something much more than that? I took the time to talk to some people who may have the answers to those questions.
“Without the pop-punk community, I would probably be as boring as that fuck in the office next to me,” Pagano explains. “Pop-punk has changed the dynamic of my household! Being married and a father of four children, not a day or weekend goes by without the mad scramble of ‘Where is the show?!’ and ‘How do we get the family all there?!’”
But why? Why is this man making such a drastic attempt to spread the morals that go hand in hand with this genre?
“Unlike basically every other genre of music, the drama and competitiveness in the pop-punk community is kept to a minimum,” explains Renaissance man Thomas Nassiff.
Known to the world as the resident pop-punk specialist on Absolutepunk.net, while also juggling duties as the label manager at Paper + Plastic Records, maintaining his own PR and marketing firm 384 Media and his running of INTO/IT Clothing, Nassiff has more connections and insights into those whose lives revolve around pop-punk than the average kid on the street. “Every [pop-punk band] who goes on tour are friends with each other, or become friends quickly,” Nassiff continues. “Each band does their own thing but has a very ‘correct’ mindset about how they go about whatever they’re doing. Whether it’s the work ethic or how they treat their fans, I believe the scene is burgeoning at the moment and it’s because of the team-centric attitude that surrounds the bands. What’s good for The Wonder Years is good for Man Overboard and This Time Next Year, etc.”
So the bands in the pop-punk scene form friendships that allow them to simultaneously coincide with each other. As fans witness the camaraderie and fellowship of these bands, it is evident that the specific attitude will rub off on them and allow kids to connect with each other in a way that would be impossible without pop-punk music.
“We try and support as much going on as possible,” Pagano elaborates. “Letting bands sleep over while passing through town is just our small way of trying to give back something to the community.”
Justin Graci, a high-schooler in suburban Ohio, has lived this phenomenon first hand. “The pop-punk community is easily the biggest part of my life,” Graci said. “Once you get into High School, you and your friends who were your friends your whole life kind of start dispersing and it’s time to move on. It wasn’t until I found my pop-punk bands that I felt I belonged.”
Allowing kids such as Graci to attain a sense of supreme belonging has become one of the main draws to the pop-punk genre. “Every time I hang out with my ex-girlfriend she says ‘All you do is go to shows,’ and that’s true,” Graci stated. “I don’t like to party, I don’t like to go to school spirit events. I like all my show friends and I like all my music friends.”
Likewise, Ami Boughter shares a similar, yet different, connection to the genre. “I love the pop-punk community,” Boughter said. “For the most part, kids are nice, they’re respectful, and they’re generally pretty friendly and good kids. It’s refreshing to be around a group of solid kids who aren’t a bunch of little jerks.” Boughter even goes as far as saying she owes her life to the genre. “The Wonder Years gave me a reason not to kill myself when I was going through an incredibly rough patch of depression,” she said. “In respect for [The Wonder Years], I get everyone I can into their music. I got both my brother and my twin sister into pop-punk so it’s like a bonding thing between the three of us, and it helps keep us close.”
It is no secret that Philly-based group The Wonder Years are the leading force behind this new-found sense of community in the pop-punk world. No doubt due to how straightforward and real vocalist Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s lyrics are, The Wonder Years paved the way with their optimism backed behind the celebrated phrase of “I’m not sad anymore.”
Fans connect with Campbell’s lyrics in a way that is rather difficult to describe. “The Wonder Years [mean so much to me because of] their lyrics,” said Brandon Wall-Fudge of Ontario, Canada. “The Upsides just hit so hard, because it felt like what Dan [Campbell] was singing was what I didn’t have the nerve to say. It just felt like he knew what was going on in my life, and the lives of others like me, and he was finally giving us a place to fit in.”
Many kids find a place to belong when it comes to this genre. Pop-punk elicits that very response more often than not when people are asked why they are attracted to the genre. This, along with how pop-punk lyricists tend to share similar lives to their fans, is what brings the musicians and the fans together. It is no coincidence that kids are surrendering themselves to this genre without a thought.
“My father died this past November and the first thing I did was listen to “One Step At A Time” by Four Year Strong,” said Craig Ismaili. “The line ‘Every year November gets closer, and every year it gets a little bit colder’ perfectly expresses everything I was feeling at that minute, but then they offered hope in the chorus with ‘No matter how far the view, I still always look up to you.'” Ismaili says that he may owe his life to Four Year Strong, which is a heavy statement to hold.
So all of these views and all of these remarks and stories pose a simple question: is pop-punk merely a genre, or is it a lifestyle?
Most kids are earnest to say that pop-punk is in fact a way of life, more so than just a genre to entertain. But Brandon Pagano, son of Vito Pagano, disagrees. “Pop-punk is a genre. Plain and simple,” he said. “People are not ‘pop-punk.’”
This point is valid. When it comes to pop-punk, it would be wrong to label a person’s life as “pop-punk.” The bands do not promote pop-punk lifestyles. Instead, they promote respecting one another, accepting people no matter who they are, and living your own life for yourself.
“It’s definitely more than a genre, but it’s not like I wake up in the morning and I’m like, ‘AWE FUCK YEAH I LOVE POP-PUNK LOL,’” notes Nassiff. “I do enjoy the sense of community more than just about anything, but it’s not like I’m on tour all the time. I think if you’re on tour and you go out and spend literally your whole life ingrained in this, it’s a lifestyle. Considering the magnitude of AP.net in pop-punk, I like to think that I contribute a little to the scene, but calling it a lifestyle for me would be a stretch. I still have to buy Chipotle and take midterms. It is an enormous part of my life, though.”
So is pop-punk a lifestyle? Well, who am I to tell people it’s not? Pop-punk (and music as a whole) is open to an individual’s interpretation. One may view pop-punk as the reason to wake up in the morning, while others may see it as a pivotal part of his or her life, but don’t live each day for it. What is clear is that the sense of community and passion displayed in the bands and fans that the genre is based around is unparalleled to any other genre.
“I like going to see bands and screaming every word along with everybody in the room. That’s what I like to do, and I can’t see that ever changing,” Graci says. “I can’t think of a time where music can’t help a situation.”