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  • RYAN RUSSELL
The love affair began on May 17, 2003, in a Tacoma basement. It was the first time I had ever been in the same room with Against Me!, a still fairly unknown punk band from Gainesville, Florida, who had just started making waves with their raucous full-length debut, Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose.

During the band's set, I stood on the outskirts of the small mob that was squished into the windowless room, partly because I was one of the few who didn't yet know all the words to the songs, and partly because the smell and heat in the basement—a culmination of dozens of sweaty strangers steaming up a space no bigger than a one-car garage—was too much to take without the negligible breeze wafting in from a half-open door in the back.

It was a mess, but it was magical. It was the precious moment when you discover the perfect band at the perfect time in your life.

An idiot was leading the country, and the nation was still tender from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Divided over whether we should go to war with Iraq, I, like everyone else, needed an outlet for the growing rage.

That night, Against Me! became my outlet. That show was an exercise in fervent unity, proving to me that people could still stand together and celebrate something that felt honest, as opposed to numbing their minds with meaningless pop culture in order to forget how fucked everything felt.

I saw them over and over again—every time they came to town. I burned their songs onto every mix CD I made for friends, and thanks to my position here at The Stranger, I even got to interview the band's singer (twice!) while tracking their progress as they literally went from playing basements to playing arenas.

Like nearly every relationship that started when I was in my early 20s, it would prove to crash and burn. I enjoyed their show at the 2008 Capitol Hill Block Party, just after the release of their major-label debut, New Wave, but it signaled the beginning of the end.

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