Feely Tunes for an Existential Cocoon: Be the Main Character of My Teenage Angst
Listen to the songs that allowed me to emerge from my confusing, misunderstood chrysalis
I enjoy songs that are tangled with melancholy, nihilism, ire, and pain; I always have. When I listen to them now, I'm just going about my day with wonderfully mastered, beautifully sung background music, but adolescent me hung onto every word, lived in the acoustics, and embraced the emotions. I felt like they were speaking right to me; the music was narrating my life. I was never the social animal in high school, nor was I the bookworm or jock or artsy type. I was just a subtle blend of just a smidge of everything which seemed to amount to having many friends but none too close. It was basically being an un-lonely loner. Having everyone at arm's length was a bittersweet thing; it suited my weirdly borderline ambivert personality because no one else seemed to be like me (I know, I KNOW, how cliché), but it made me question whether I'd ever have a close circle of people around me. I was always very introspective, thinking about how my life as it is, a precursor to a young adult, is all I know, the most important thing to me, and yet there are also so many more years ahead of me that seemed to be an endless road with no direction in sight. My mind felt so unruly and unclear that it was like the static on an old box TV. I walked down the hallways of my high school, rode the bus to and fro, and perused the aisles of the grocery store and the library blasting my playlist and blocking out the world around me. From me, my oversized hoodie, skinny jeans, high-top sneakers, earbuds, and 4th gen iPod Touch to you - let's relive my teen angst.
This was the quintessential angsty song for 16 year old Arya. It described the situation I saw myself and everyone else around me in perfectly.
“We are the reckless, we are the wild youth
Chasing visions of our futures
One day, we’ll reveal the truth
That one will die before he gets there"
My head rested against the window of the TTC train, feeling the light vibration, watching the brick forests and wheeled road runners pass by as the bus drove down the bustling street at 8:30am. I look back at it now and realize just how true the lyrics rang. I never thought I'd end up where I am now, the major I completed, the goals for my future, the drive I have, hell, even the people I've met. That old vision I had of the seemingly idyllic path died before I got there. Having listened to this song basically every day in my penultimate year of high school, I realized that that was okay. Change and unexpected outcomes were okay.
Metallica: Nothing Else Matters
"Every day for us something new
Open mind for a different view
And nothing else matters"
Metallica reminds me of the days I was sitting at my small white corner desk in the nook of my bedroom late in the evening working on projects or exam review. The one soft yellow lamp lit above my head illuminated the hard covers and highlighted notes as I scrawled more and more practice problems and textbook summaries. In the midst of it all, I caught myself thinking if there was any real value to this after I turn it in or after I get my grade. Do I actually want to pursue this or is it the norm for everyone to commit to education and academia? The "will I actually need this (insert expletives here)?" made me feel both relieved about not having to stress so much but also harrowed a sense of futility in my efforts. Then the rabbit hole starts: what do I actually want to do? What will really matter to me in years down the line? Am I doing the right things? Does it even matter?
Three Days Grace: Misery Loves My Company
I like to think everyone had a liking for Three Days Grace, whether they said it or not. I loved the classic hard rock vibe and the "fuck this" attitude they had. This is what I would listen to as I was spending time in the hallways during my spare period, watching people pass by between classes or as I was packing up stuff from my locker at the end of the day before I left for home.
"I don't need your condescending
Words about me, looking lonely
I don't need your arms to hold me
'Cause misery is waiting on me"
Though I never felt as much misery as the song put out, per se, I did feel like the one solo person surrounded by groups of seemingly put-together, happy people. In a public school with no uniform regulations and a fairly lax dress code, there seemed to be a standard for the aesthetic that everyone had on and the way they conducted themselves. The way I say this may put the image that I was a victim of ostracism which is not the case, but I always thought to myself about whether anyone else was feeling and thinking what I was thinking. I was the girl who didn't have the long hair or wore makeup or kept up with the fashion trends; did people just do that because it was the status quo or is that what everyone independently wanted to do? Was me not doing all that a bad thing? Was it why I felt so different or was me actually being different why I didn't want to maintain the uniformity?
When I first got the prompt from Vocal for this piece, I had a flurry of thoughts that poured into my mind. The more thoughts that rained in, the more I thought, as the 22 year old I am now, about how teenagers are now. Despite the fact that it has only been five years, it has also been FIVE YEARS. Times have changed at an alarmingly exponential rate. While I was in secondary school, sex education didn't include LGBT education (which would have been pretty resourceful as someone who is bisexual as well as many others who fall under the rainbow), schools didn't emphasize things such as financial literacy and alternatives to university, and social medias, multiplying like bacteria, didn't seem to play as substantial a role. I feel like I would have benefitted from the high school education (minus the COVID-19 barriers) that kids are having now much more than I did the few years ago that I found myself there. I found myself figuring out so many things by myself that ended up being so critical to becoming an independent being aka an adult.
"I'm never alone
I'm alone all the time"
While there is always the party of people saying things like "Kids should be more independent." or "Not everything can be spoon-fed to you, take initiative.", it was like we were learning some really inane, niche things at the cost of being able to acquire life skills that everyone can apply. What also felt especially odd to me was that as a teenager, while society pressures us to do well in school and excel at everything for the sake of the ever-growing expectation of young (and I mean YOUNG) graduates heading into the real world, there was never any opinion taken from the actual students as to what they needed to better prepare them for said world. How does that work?
"I needed you more
You wanted us less"
Disturbed: The Sound of Silence
This song and this man's rendition of it makes me question why I'm not still angsty as a young adult. The soul-shredding gravitas of his voice, the way it creates a tension and release with its gut-wrenching build-up to the softest of finales basically embodied my strained relationship with myself as a teen.
"Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words, like silent raindrops, fell
And echoed in the wells of silence"
I was always introverted but fed off the social energy of other people, always made sure I did things as "normally" as possible to not have people notice me (whatever that meant) but liked to succeed and exceed, and always kept a lot of my life to myself because I enjoyed the privacy and didn't feel like people cared to know but liked to have deep conversations and share opinions. It was confusing for me to determine what kind of person I was and the more I kept up this weird dichotomy, the more it felt like I was falling deeper in a existential abyss.
If it isn't already obvious, I struggled with my personal identity throughout high school. It felt like I knew who I was on the inside, I just didn't know how to convey it on the outside. In tandem to that, I didn't want to appear "weird" for being the way I am despite the fact that contradictory to the thoughts and behaviours that I write about here, I didn't think I was weird. I remember one early morning at the age of 17, in my final year of high school, facing myself in front of the vanity mirror listening to Paralyzed by the profound, poetic rapper NF, and as he spoke the lyrics:
"Where is the real me?
I'm lost and it kills me inside
I couldn't help but resonate so hard. I think it was at this moment that I truly understood that I was in a phase of teenage angst. Before, it just felt like I didn't understand anything or that I was nowhere near where I should be in life. I took an extra long time standing in the bathroom, hands gripping the edge of the sink, my mind draining of all thoughts and just letting the song fill my mind. An hour passed by in 4 minutes and 31 seconds as the end of the song came to a soft close. All I could do is just pack my backpack and head to school as a shell of myself.
Mazzy Star: Into Dust
"I could possibly be fading
Or have something more to gain
I could feel myself growing colder"
This song is so soft-spoken but speaks volumes. I first heard this song watching a TV show on Netflix in my bed and I immediately Shazam'ed it and played it on repeat well after I turned out my lights.
Around this time, I could feel myself letting go of some of the worries I held onto earlier. Maybe it was because I was getting closer to graduating and leaving high school, maybe it was because I started to actually figure some things out. At the same time, I also felt myself getting a little less emotional, not just for negative emotions, but also for positive ones. I began to focus more on just me, myself and I and had a sort of "fuck everyone else" mentality. With a playlist heavy in rock and metal music, this song was a stark difference but I couldn't stop listening to it. I recall spending hours walking around the city aimlessly in the middle of the day with the world blurred out by this song in my playlist. I became a little numb, a little colder.
Johnny Cash: Hurt
The four years between the ages of 14 to 18 were transformative years. It took me two more years after that to truly appreciate just how important my teenage angst was. There is this notion that seems to run true for many young people that you need to be part of a group and gain approval and acceptance from others in order to achieve something. I spent most of my teenage years quite reserved and took a lot of time to myself and by myself. It wasn't until the end of my teenage years, however, that that loneliness was a blessing to me as opposed to a point of contention with myself.
"What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end"
I listen to Johnny Cash's imposing, bass-baritone voice sing about the transience of life in his cover of the NIN song, I can't help but take a very positive light to it. While everyone else around me was living their own lives, I spent time focusing of them instead of myself. I looked at others as examples as opposed to just individuals navigating the same world as I am in their own ways. Instead of learning to adjust to the groups, I took time to start loving my own company and being by myself, being my sweetest friend. To this day, this song can reduce me to tears, some of happiness and some of sadness. A relic of my teenage angst. I've become a butterfly.