Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it. -Mary Shelley
Teen angst didn't end at nineteen.
Although my hormones have noticeably balanced out, and I don't take to crying for hours at a time anymore, I still get that angsty feeling on the bad days. When the melancholy and anxiety hit, I often turn to the solace of music as I have since I was a teen.
Music has always served as a crutch for what is missing in my life. Songs can be your mother or father, love when you have none, a companion in misery. And the songs never change. There when you need them, steady and stagnant. When you put on that go-to album you can be reassured in knowing what to expect, like a dependable friend that will never abandon you.
But don't forget the songs / That made you cry /And the songs that saved your life /Yes, you're older now / And you're a clever swine / But they were the only ones who ever stood by you.
- 'Rubber Ring' The Smiths
I'm attempting to trace a line in my mind, to map the points where music and angst intertwine the most. The earliest memory I can place is my obsession with Linkin Park.
I got into Linkin Park in 6th grade, an extremely tumultuous time in my life. My mom and step-dad split up and we moved into a tiny house far away from my childhood home and my half-sister. On top of that, middle school was one of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I was overweight with acne and got called everything from pizza face to Goodwill because of my cheap clothes.
I would cry every day after school and pretend that my tears were an elixir to cure my terrible skin. At that time music was really one of the only things that comforted me. I played out my Hybrid Theory CD on my walkmen and shitty boombox until the scratches made it unlistenable.
When things go wrong I pretend that the past isn't real/ Now I'm trapped in this memory/ And I'm left in the wake of the mistake, slow to react/ So even though you're close to me/ You're still so distant, and I can't bring you back
I remember I had a shrine to Linkin Park in my closet, I taped up a bunch of photos on the wall and would go in there to hide when I needed a safe space. Luckily things got better, my parents got back together, and I started to make friends in middle school who had the same taste in music as me. And in seventh grade, I started getting into radio punk, Blink-182 was my new favorite band.
I've probably listened to Dude Ranch more than any other album in my life. I still love it to this day, when I put it on it makes me feel energized and happy. I remember listening to Adam's Song on repeat, I felt like my world was spinning, the bittersweet emotion of pain you know others can relate to, so I didn't feel so alone.
Don't pull me down, this is where I belong/ I think I'm different but I'm the same and I'm wrong
The summer before high school I delved into a deep depression unlike ever before, this sadness had a weight to it, an awareness that was different from my middle school angst. I could feel my place in the world, my empathy was developing and I began to feel other's pain as well as my own. That summer I watched sad movies and rolled around on the floor crying. I journaled extensively, went to bed when the sun came up, and of course, listened to music.
That summer I discovered The Smiths. I saw the music video for 'Girlfriend in a Coma' on FUSE and instantly became obsessed.
My obsession with a band had never been more intense. I moped around the yard with flowers in my hands, wrote and sent letters that I knew would never be read. I befriended a barista that also loved The Smiths, he brought me an Mp3 CD with their entire discography. I begged my mom for t-shirts and CDs from eBay. During 9th grade, I got to see Morrissey live and I cried the entire time. Their music truly made me feel seen and understood, and I had a huge fanbase to share my love with.
I still love The Smiths to this day, Morrissey not so much. But I have "Am I Still Ill?" tattoed on my wrist as a reminder of that painful but blossoming time in my life. In the early years of high school, my friends and I spent a lot of time at the movie theatres. Movies have always been a gateway to music for me.
We frequented the local indie theater called Miracle 5, it's long since closed down, I think a Whole Foods is there now. I remember seeing American Hardcore, it completely changed my life. I started delving into the world of 70s and 80s punk, it drastically shaped the years that followed.
At that point, the depression transformed into something foreign to me. Anger. Anger towards my parents, towards society, towards bullies and politicians. My friends and I started going to punk shows and doing things we were far too young to be doing. Music took on a new depth. It was an activity I could experience with others by dancing, moving, shoving, screaming. And we all felt connected, tethered together by the anguish of life.
The first punk band that had my heart was Black Flag. I remember begging my grandma to take me to CD Warehouse after school so I could buy Damaged with my birthday money. I was no longer just obsessing over one band, but a whole subculture, a movement. Punk music spoke to how I felt at the time, and how I feel now. The music combines anger with sadness, peak teenage angst. Punk music speaks of injustices, fear & anxiety, and that classic feeling of being misunderstood.
Look what you've done to your arms/ I know you don't care to who you do harm/ I know you've never been the girl next door
But now you're worse than before/ Self-destruct/ Life's miseries, pain runs deep/ Does it matter that anybody cares?
In the midst of my high school punk phase, I began to curate close friendships that have lasted over a decade. I recall many sweet moments of tenderness and understanding that I never received in my home life. It's not as angsty as pain and suffering, but I want to take a moment to highlight some healing times in my teenage years that got me through the rough patches.
I am so thankful to have the friends that I do, especially my best friend Sunshine, who's been my ride or die since 9th grade. Amidst the teen angst, there are moments of beauty that shine through. Nighttime drives down canopy roads listening to Death Cab for Cutie.
Playing guitar on the front porch trying not to wake parents. Spending way too much time on the train tracks exploring our freedom and autonomy. Road trips, sinkholes, bike rides, countless sleepovers, and the North Florida Fair.
Thank god for sweet friends that help you through the hard times. I don't think I would have survived without them. The last notable phase of my music-laden teenage angst was the singer-songwriter intellectual depression of my late teens. At that time I was journaling more than ever.
Exploring who I was as a person, what the world was. Reading deep thinkers like Sartre and Kierkegaard, and dispelling old truths while forming new ones.
The singers in my life at that time like Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt, and Bob Dylan cradled me in my loneliness. Interchangeably they took the place of my father, lover, a friend when I was alone, a wiser older figure to speak to me about life and how to navigate it.
Lover, there will be another one/ Who'll hover over you beneath the sun/ Tomorrow, see the things that never come/ Today
It feels like the teen angst never ended. I'm still doing the same things I did back then, feeling the same emotions. There are days when things seem alright when you're excited about living. And other days where you listen to sad music on your front porch alone for hours, hoping that the meaningless days will add up to something.
Music has undoubtedly played many roles in my life and will continue to do so until I die. The songs are vessels for nostalgia, the singers are projections of intimacy that I often struggle to find with humans. The words are soothing when I feel the weight of the world, and the music is calming and always present when I need it.
I know that those out there reading can relate, music has always tied us together. Especially us outcasts and weirdos that struggle to find our place in this world. This playlist is for you.