“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”
Each year I look forward to my trip back to my hometown for a number of reasons. Obviously, I love reconnecting with my family and hanging out with old friends, as well as that nice little respite from the madcat bustling of Buenos Aires… but also, I love that oddly intoxicating feeling of walking around old haunts and reminiscing. It’s a sensation that blends familiarity with total foreignness, that always leaves me feeling like I’ve been racking my brain, trying to conjure up details from some half-remembered movie I watched a decade ago.
Songs help me remember. As an angsty teenager living in a city that never quite felt like my home, I’d usually find comfort in my old trusty discman and my stack of CDs. Couple that with my teenage propensity to develop massive crushes on the girls I was friendly with at school, and what you get is a whole lot of emo. And just the other day as I was walking past the streets where as a young man I discovered the wonderfully destructive effects of alcohol as an uninhibiter, where I embarrassed myself with drunken sincerity blasts that would be contritely taken back in the morning, and peeking into the room in which I’d lock myself with nothing but my music to accompany me, I came to the sudden realization that I used to be a fucking wuss.
Even though these songs occupy a place in my heart and iTunes library, they don’t quite resonate the way they used to while I was scribbling attempts at poetry in my chemistry notebooks. To be young is to be sad, and these maudlin laments lost some of their powers after I grew out of teenage histrionics (but wait, have I?), melodramatic thumbsucking took a back seat to actually living life (but wait, has it?) and sex became a regular thing that I could get with minimal effort (but wait, did it?). Still, they help me remember, and remember I do.
Weezer- “El Scorcho”
Before Weezer morphed into the most confounding and out-of-touch-but-are-they-really act this side of post-reunion Smashing Pumpkins, they made a gloriously strange album called “Pinkerton”, containing songs exploring the topics of unrequited love, crippling insecurity and Asian schoolgirl fetish. It was a brilliant record, building on the promise of their self-titled debut and showcasing the sound of a band playing around with their own compositional limits; much like what you hear when you listen to Pavement’s “Wowee Zowee”, it’s a sound that, while tentative, is really exciting and fresh. This particular track is a rousing, fist-pumping and brilliantly off-kilter pop song that is also the musical equivalent to a schoolyard note reading “DO U LIKE ME? YES/NO”. I know the lyrics very well.
The Buzzcocks- “Why Can’t I Touch It?”
Perhaps the more obvious choice would’ve been the incredibly catchy and melodically genius “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)”, but this song always shook me to the core. Perhaps it’s because the stopstutter rhythm and sugary-sweet melody goes especially well with lyrics that are really about frustration and despondency. That horrible feeling of knowing exactly how things should be, but being completely powerless, under the crushing weight of your own self-doubt, to make it happen. Thus, “it” remains a pipe dream, the unobtainable, only because of a paralyzing fear of rejection. I am also pretty sure this song is about getting laid.
Frank Sinatra- “This Love of Mine”
This really is the ultimate torch song. The closer for “In The Wee Small Hours”, Frank Sinatra’s dimly-lit smokey-ballad concept record masterpiece, this is a glorious love song that manages to be morose as well as quixotically stouthearted. I discovered “In The Wee Small Hours” through my grandfather’s Sinatra fanaticism, and this was always one of my favorite songs– the melody is gorgeous, the arrangement dreamy. I’ve gone through several spurts of listening to this obsessively since I found it. One time in high school, a girl I was hopelessly crushing on asked me to make her a mix-CD of “upbeat rock songs”. I stacked it full of punk, indie rock and some ska, then left this song in as the closing track. I was trying to send a message. All she wanted to talk about was how much she liked the Save Ferris track preceding it.
Archers of Loaf- “Web in Front”
I first heard this song in the Mallrats soundtrack, of all places. I really don’t think there’s anything that captures the very essence of teen angst through the prism of unrequited love better than the lines “and there’s a chance that things will get weird, yeah that’s a possibility… though I didn’t do anything, I didn’t do anything” sung against power chords and reverb-laden guitar arpeggios. It really is a little nugget of pop-rock genius– even to this day, I can’t listen to the song just once.
Elliott Smith- “Alameda”
It starts with 15 year old Jorge Farah, angry at a world who just doesn’t understand him and a girl who is too goddamn dense to realize that he is the one, staying home on Friday night instead of going out and actively pursuing her. He’ll talk himself into believing it’s everybody else that’s the problem, not him. He’ll scoff at the notion that there’s any sort of responsibility on his end to actually take control of the direction things are going, and he’ll insist that if she’s just too stupid to realize what is so obvious to everyone else, she doesn’t even deserve to have him around in any capacity, platonic or otherwise. He’ll build himself up as a misunderstood loner who is so far past the vapid banality that comes with adolescence… and then he’ll find this song, with its bitter and unrelentingly truthful chorus, and his little world is completely shattered by it.
The Smiths- “I Don’t Owe You Anything”
Of course, you can’t have a list of this kind without including at least one song from The Smiths– and there are so many songs to choose from. “I Know It’s Over”, “Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me”, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”, all these songs served as beacons of self-pity to this despondent teenager. But “I Don’t Owe You Anything” is a special kind of woeful– a melodically understated song that sounds more resigned than over-the-top histrionic. “Did I really walk all this way just to hear you say ‘oh, I don’t want to go out tonight’?”
It’s fun to sit here and think about all these songs and judge my teenage self for being such a whiny goddamn loser. But, social and outgoing as I’ve grown, that is still me buried beneath layers of feigned gregariousness. There is no cutoff line between the person I was back then and the person I am now. There’s no definite moment of transformation. There’s no point from which I’m standing away. It all adds up. It’s all exponential. Every single experience from when I was fifteen and sixteen is still with me. Every moment of regret, every sudden feeling of inadequacy. And it’s like a chasm, or a well that can be tapped into, with the right combination of places, faces and music. There’s an unlimited potential for heartbreak and deception in that backwater reservoir inside all of us. In the angles and the sideways glances, in the little corners we know better than to peek into.
Well, some of us, anyway.