Not many vegetarian straight-edgers hail from Green Bay, Wisconsin. And even fewer are founding members of bands that I’ve seen dozens of times and listened to for more than half my life. Erik Lee fits both these criteria. These facts make it strange, but true, that I didn’t formally meet Erik until late 2013. To be honest, he quit playing bass for local legends, Boris the Sprinkler, and moved out of Green Bay quite some time ago. Since meeting him and keeping in touch pretty regularly over the Interwebs, Erik has been my biggest source of moral support in the Drug Free Dad project. He also moderates (a more correct term would be instigates) an online group for folks who have been involved in the Green Bay hardcore punk scene. I feel very grateful that I met him at this point in my life. He has been a huge reminder of what a boost it is to have a sense of community when you’re a little out of step.
Name: Erik Lee
Number and ages of children: 1 child, son, age 6
Location: Madison, WI
Profession: Bicycle Industry Outside Rep
Tell me a little about your experience in music:
I’ve played in a great many bands but two are probably the most notable, those being Boris the Sprinkler and The Wesley Willis Fiasco. In Boris, I was both the original and the very last bass player and as such, I pretty much missed any heyday that the band enjoyed. It picked up after I left and was definitely past its peak when I rejoined. But no biggie. I played some great shows, traveled to some fun places and got to make an ass out of myself nearly every night while on stage. The end.
Playing with Wesley Willis was a bit more interesting as I got to play in his first ever “band” which was just me and two other guys who happened to already be in a band together, obliging Wes when he said he wanted to sing a rock song with us. I wrote some quick and easy music (ripped off from DEVILLOCK by the Misfits) and Wes pulled out a song he called POP THAT PUSSY [click here to see Erik and Wesley rocking Green Bay]. We played it once together minus Wes to get the arrangement down and then hit record on the 8-track and Wes just belted it out. We were floored. So there is a recording out there somewhere of that song and it’s literally the first time that Wes had ever sang with an actual band. By the way, the backing vocals in that song are a bit of a goof on Youth Of Today vocals. At any rate, I quit that band and eventually they went heavy metal and years later, Wes got really sick and he died. I cried at his funeral. He was a great friend and a truly amazing human being. I like telling Wesley stories. There are so many great ones.
What are your thoughts on the current state of Wisconsin politics?
I lean left in my beliefs but I can’t resist giving PC Liberals shit from time to time. I think I’d rather hang out with beer drinking Republicans. I fully endorse Mary Burke in her bid to oust Scott Walker from Wisconsin’s top seat. I know Mary personally and she is 100% the real deal. Smart as a whip but she’s never afraid to jump in and get her hands dirty. I hope she wins as she will do great things for this state.
What are your personal drug and alcohol-free recreational outlets? What are your favorite things to do with your son?
I’m an avid cyclist and have been for most of my life so working on and riding bikes of any kind is my favorite thing to do both alone and with my family. I love to travel and experience new things. I love deeply thoughtful conversations. I like to bang around on a guitar or drums once in a while. Outside of that I just like to be close with my son, talk to him and tell him how much I love him. I so look forward to our conversations together as he grows.
What pieces of art, music, literature, etc., inspire you at this stage in your life?
Musically, I make a joke of saying that I only listen to VOID but I still do very much love old hardcore. Conversely, it’s very difficult for me to look at newer HC bands with any objectivity but I do try and I have found some good bands out there in recent years. I’ve yet to find a newer Straight Edge band that doesn’t make me feel really old. But anyways, I do tend to listen to a wide variety of music. I still love to discover a band that immediately strikes me. That’s one of the greatest feelings. As of late I’m listening to a lot of GIUDA from Italy.
I’m an avowed Modernist and love modern and contemporary art and design. I can stare at a handcrafted bicycle for hours. I love the curves of old Vespa and Lambretta scooters. I love the design of 1960’s automobiles and I’m a total fan of Mid-Century Modern architecture. The concept of less is more has a place in punk rock and hardcore as the music itself is stripped of all unnecessary adornment. It’s short and to the point. Aside from that, anything that is well designed, beautiful and is also useful has meaning to me.
I do read quite a bit. Mostly non-fiction as of late. A bit of philosophy, books about mechanical stuff, biographies of interesting people… I dunno… I read a hell of a lot of books about bicycles and cycling.
What does being a good father mean to you?
It means making sure that my little guy feels 100% safe and 100% loved. It means spending quality time together and sharing things that only he and I share. It means allowing him to be the person that he is and not trying to steer him in one direction or another. It means trying to set a good example for him. Sometimes I succeed but many times I fail. But I keep trying.
How does your partner feel about your drug-free choices?
Aside from about a two year period of my life when I was in my early thirties, I’ve always been drug and alcohol free. Everyone that knows me understands that this is just a part of who I am. My wife and I are both drug and alcohol free but our reasons behind this differ. For the most part, my choices are tolerated by others.
Why did you decide to be drug and alcohol-free as a father (or beforehand)? Are there other major life choices that complement your decision?
I was a square peg from the day my family moved away from Alexandria, VA and settled in small, blue-collar, Green Bay, Wisconsin. At just six years old, I’d moved from one of the more progressive areas of the United States to one of the most conservative and my outspoken nature got me in trouble very early on. At first I was absolutely bewildered as to why I was getting in trouble so frequently when I thought I was a pretty good kid. My teachers and a lot of the other students just thought I was a smart-ass. Dealing with that on a daily basis taught me that a lot of life was playing a game to please the right people at the right time and I structured things to fit in as best as I could but it never seemed genuine and that bothered me. By my junior high/middle school years, I was truly an outcast so finding punk rock was a revelation that could not have come at a better time. It was through the hardcore scene and my newly found friends that I truly found myself. Straight Edge, as an extension of that scene, made immediate sense to me. I felt at such opposite ends of the normal world and I was so disgusted by the kids at my school bragging about their drunken escapades that Straight Edge allowed me an avenue that was the exact opposite of that. It was a big fuck you to them and for the first time in my life I felt proud of myself. This was definitely the right decision for me and I stuck to it like glue.
I’ve also been a vegetarian for 25 years or so. I never was much of a meat eater so the transition was easy. My son is mostly vegetarian although my wife insists on feeding him fish and turkey on occasion. I grapple with that on moral grounds but it’s a battle that I have lost.
How do your experiences as a son influence your choices as a father when it comes to drugs and alcohol?
Well, both of my parents smoked cigarettes as I was growing up and that left a hugely negative impression on me. My memories of sitting in the back seat of the family car as my parents puffed away, not allowing me to open my window as noxious smoke hung in the air… It makes me angry even today. Of course back then, smoking inside was accepted practice and smoking itself wasn’t vilified as it is today. But it still really sucked. My disdain for alcohol and drugs is definitely rooted in this.
As a son, what is something you would you like your dad (or mom) to know?
Nothing that they don’t already know.
How do/will you talk to your son about drugs and alcohol? How have/will you address drug and alcohol use among the friends of your son?
Being that my son is only six, that conversation has yet to happen in earnest but you can bet that I will approach the topic with great care when the time is right. I think that the best thing I can teach him is to have common sense and to value himself enough to not be afraid to stand up for himself if what he believes differs from his group.
How do religion, political ideology, or other philosophies play a part in your choices as a father?
I’m not a religious person but believe that I am on a path that will eventually lead me there in one way or another. I am excited by the prospect and I am always inspired by and love to have the opportunity to talk with people who have faith and strong beliefs. On a certain level, I’m a sarcastic and cynical old codger and to be quite honest, I would love for my son to grow up to be a troublemaker. Not a bad kid by any means, but someone who can shed a different light on accepted norms. The hopeful and optimistic side of me thinks that by doing this, he might be helping to lead people out of their own darkness.
In my own experience I’ve found the many folks within the Straight Edge world as a whole tend to take themselves a bit too seriously and that always makes me feel somewhat alienated. Keep in mind that my experiences go well back into the ‘80’s and that I haven’t had much contact at all with the Straight Edge World of today so this may have changed (and if so, I welcome it). I can recall the time where I once wore a baseball cap with a big green pot leaf embroidered on the front of it as I worked the door at a Fugazi show and I got such a kick out of all the dirty looks kids gave me as I took their money. Not one of them made any sort of a comment for or against it, though, and that was such a letdown. I want my son to be the one who doesn’t keep his mouth shut, but challenges people in a way that promotes thoughtful discourse and enlightened thinking, if that makes sense, which it probably doesn’t.
Believe with all your heart but please don’t take yourself too damn seriously. You miss out of a lot that way.
If you drank/used drugs, how will you address your past with your son?
Deep down, I fear that my antipathy toward drugs and alcohol will only fuel any curiosity that my son may have as he reaches that age where those things become so important in a young person’s life. I must try to be mindful in my approach.
What pitfalls exist for drug-free fathers? How successful have you felt at overcoming them?
I’m bad at making small-talk with the dads of my son’s friends. But then again, I’m bad at making small-talk with anyone, I suppose.
What are your greatest hopes for your child(ren)?
I really just hope that my son is able to feel fulfilled and content with life. I hope that he is never without a new and creative thought and always has love and kindness in his heart.
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