Hardcore music is the stuff of adolescent aggression, the perfect heavy-metal soundtrack for its teenage fan base. But within that group of fans is a smaller crowd that takes its affinity for the music to a different level, adopting the principles of songs that rail against drugs, tobacco, alcohol and promiscuous sex.

It's a lifestyle they call “straight edge.”

“Straight Edge” was the title of a song by Minor Threat in the early 1980s, 45 seconds of hoarse vocals and shredding guitars that could have been ignored by punk rockers. But some took it to heart, its lyrics inspiring a counterculture to punk's infamous substance abuse: “I'm a person just like you, but I've got better things to do, than sit around and smoke dope, ‘cause I know I can cope ... I've got the straight edge.”

But where hard-core music and straight-edge ideas might flourish, they remain underground. Few clubs will book hardcore shows. The youthful crowds, dyed hair, tattoos, piercings, blaring music and brutal dancing are a hard sell to police and parents.

It has been labeled a gang by some police departments. The Salt Lake City Tribune called the group “terroristic” after it was linked to fire bombings at a McDonald's and a leather store and attacks at fur farms. The lifestyle got its first mainstream media attention in the late 1990s after the murder of a 15-year-old during a clash between about 30 Salt Lake City straight edgers and the teen's smaller group of friends.

Growing from the teenage straight-edge follower to a straight-edge adult is a dramatic evolution, says Jane Garton whose ideas about straight edge have changed over the years.

She adopted the straight-edge lifestyle at 17, fearful of a growing dependency on alcohol. She was already a fan of hard-core music, but in the scene, she found people who dressed like her and shared her ideas. But as abstinence came to define her life, she pulled away from her earliest friends in the hard-core scene, alienating many of them because their beliefs didn't match her own.

“People in the scene struggle to know who they are. I'm 21 and still struggling,” she says. “When you start, it's a way to relate ... but then it becomes more.... If you don't belong here, where do you belong?”

© 2006, Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.).

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.