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The Used: Punk rock, backflips and gay rights

Genre-defying, record-breaking punk band The Used are a genuine rags-to-riches story from the heart of Utah County. After a history of drug use and alcohol abuse, frontman Bert McCracken led the band to superstardom as one of the most influential screamo, emo, punk rock bands in the scene. As the crowds at shows around the country grew, The Used sold more than 3 million records and reached the top of alternative charts.

Now, more than a half-dozen records later, and rebounding off a headlining spot on the Vans Warped Tour, The Used will be playing the local X96 Big Ass Show at the Gallivan Center on Sept. 29. Next year, The Used will take a lead spot on the Take Action Tour, which will donate proceeds to the It Gets Better Project, a cause McCracken said hits close to home.

“I’ve never really fit in, but that’s really defined who I am and how far I’ve come. It enabled me to embrace my individuality,” he said. “When they physically harmed me, when they mentally harmed me, when they spiritually harmed me, it became the building blocks for the things I wanted to accomplish. And when you look at the people who put me down and where they are now…  They’re not doing shit and I’m living my dreams.”

While McCracken doesn’t identify as gay, he is a strong ally to the community and knows what it’s like to be an outsider in a small conservative town in Utah. He was raised in a Mormon family, and while McCracken is proud of his roots, his eyeliner and makeup didn’t always sit well with his classmates.

“They called me the f-a-g word and spread rumors about me sucking the principal. It got really bad,” he said.

After dropping out of school when he was 16, McCracken was kicked out of his house and developed a drug habit. It wasn’t until he joined The Used that he was able to sober up. He still credits music with saving his life.

His chain-smoking, scratched voice and screaming, intense and poetic lyrics led his damaged esophagus to elicit vomit at many of his shows. The raw and guttural sounds of McCracken and The Used defined a punk-rock genre that was altogether new, especially in Utah.

As if providing a cosmic balance to Utah’s only other famous group – The Used’s music and style are the antithesis of Donny and Marie. His legendary vomiting and backflips on stage were dwarfed in publicity only by his penchant for kissing other men.

As part of a progress across albums, McCracken has taken his band independent and the album, Vulnerable, offers a message of hope for the outcasts and misfits.

“I think each record is a snapshot – a new chapter in our lives,” he said. “So many people associate vulnerability with weakness. But to accomplish anything truly amazing, you need to be vulnerable at some point. I think most people can identify with that message.”

McCracken is a poster child for pushing through the tough times and remaining true to creativity and individuality. And he said he hopes his young gay fans in Utah stick through the difficult times.

“It’s so rough growing up and when you’re different. Whether it’s because you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or you just don’t fit in. By staying true to yourself and being who you are you expose yourself to ridicule. But things do progress and get better. Just get a few years away from the situation and you’ll see what a difference it can make,” McCracken said. “I think the world is opening its arms up a little more – gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender — it doesn’t define who you are. Be honest with yourself and who you are.”

For tickets to the X96 Big Ass Show, go to smithstix.com.

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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