This picture was taken 18 years ago.
I don’t actually remember this day, but I recognize the setting as my aunt’s old apartment in Bogotá. That also explains the hideous sweater– wearing something like that in the sweltering heat of my hometown Barranquilla would have resulted in a heatstroke. I liked visiting Bogotá because of silly things, like getting to wear sweaters. I also enjoyed exploring a city that was completely foreign to me, getting lost in its enormity and being in a state of constant discovery. Barranquilla, by comparison, felt flat and unexciting; though it isn’t a small town by most definitions, I felt like I had already traveled every inch of it by the time I was 6 (in reality, my understanding of the city was limited to the well-off neighborhoods, which resulted in an enormous shock when I got to travel the more destitute areas later in life). I also never felt like I really belonged in Barranquilla. It’s not an environment suitable for a chubby little butterball who was more content in the comforting cool of our nation’s capital.
This picture makes me laugh because everything about it falls so perfectly into the “hipster kid” stereotype– from the Cosby sweater to the pose to the ridiculous lamp and the delightfully retro keyboard wall decoration. Of course, at the time I was as far from a hipster as anyone could be– I was just an awkward little boy trying to strike an intimidating pose for a photo (and yes, of course, one could say that is the very essence of hipsterdom). I didn’t even know what “hip” was. I didn’t know much of anything.
A couple of weeks ago, I turned 26 years old. Twenty-six. This feels like even more of a hallmark than 25 ever did, since 26 feels like the indisputable thrust into adulthood. I am, officially, out of the ever-important 18-to-25-year-old demographic. This tells me that surveyors, entertainment executives and advertisement campaigns have stopped targeting me, and my opinion is a mere sidenote– of course, I wonder if someone with my particular set of interests was ever much of a concern for them, but it feels somewhat odd to be pushed out of that age bracket. I am, as per the definition of any governing body who ever stated an opinion on it, no longer a “youth”. I should feel glad. I’ve gone through a graduation of sorts. At this point in my life, with my 30s materializing for the first time in my line of vision, I’m supposed to have shed the last vestiges of adolescent awkwardness. The societal construct of adulthood, this idea that has been systematically hammered into my brain from childhood is… finally… setting… in. I’m becoming one of them.
Truth be told, I’m in a bit of a panic. I am now as old as my father was when he and my mom manufactured me (which I choose to believe occurred in a laboratory, under sterile conditions). This is a sobering thought. I still feel very much like that awkward little kid in the picture at the top. I’m more aware of my age than ever before and yet I feel so pathetically unprepared to maneuver through even the smallest challenges that life tosses my way. And yes, I’ve somehow achieved a certain level of success, but I feel like I’m constantly winging it. Like this is all a big bluff, and at some point it’ll all come toppling down and my true nature as a bumbling manchild will be revealed to all those who made the horrible mistake of depositing their trust and confidence in me. How does that saying go? “You can fool all the people some of the time…”
Ten years ago, shortly after my 16th birthday, I made a discovery that would shake the foundations of what I understood music to be capable of on an emotional level: I listened to The Cure’s majestic 1989 album Disintegration. And I listened again. And again. And again. Up to the point where I had memorized every note six-string bass note, every echoed vocal, every chime. The songs spoke to me; these lush, sprawling pop songs that sounded like the orchestral backing to Puccini arias. Thick slabs of synthesizer over crashing drums and a positively liquid bass. This album dazzled me, and I connected with it emotionally in a way that I hadn’t really experienced before. It became a part of me.
When the announcement was made, a few months ago, that The Cure were returning to Argentina after 20+ years– and that they were playing the day after my 26th birthday– it felt like a no-brainer that it should be my birthday celebration. It felt poetic and apropos. It felt right.
I’ve seen my fair share of live shows over the years, but I never had an emotional reaction quite like what I experienced that night in River Plate stadium. I knew these songs like old friends, and since there were essentially no other Cure fans in my social circle in Barranquilla, they felt like secrets. Except for the obvious hits like “Just Like Heaven” and “Friday I’m in Love”, every song they played felt like the first time you actually say a secret out loud. All these years, those songs lived only in the confines of the space between my ears, and here I was listening to them being played for thousands of screaming fans. It felt like an affirmation. It felt like vindication. It felt like a triumph. A celebration, without the banality of one. A statement. We made it, and here we are.
The band played 42 songs– almost four hours worth of material. I was a wobbly mess at the end of it. An emotional wreck, but the good kind: the kind that can’t formulate sentences because he’s so overcome with love and joy and gratitude. I came home and I realized that my 26th birthday didn’t have to be a grim reminder of the passage of time. It didn’t have to be mortifying. It could serve to remind me of where I come from, where I am, what I’ve accomplished, and where I’m going. This new year finds me living a good life in a city I love, surrounded by a collection of wonderful friends that I use as pillars of strengths and shining beacons of life as I trudge, saltate, skip and march into the future. It finds me inspired, productive, ambitious. Not sated. Not tired. Not jaded. Alive.
In the last month I’ve been to a shitload of shows (The Hives, Hot Chip, Black Keys, Pearl Jam, Crystal Castles, Toro y Moi, Regina Spektor, The Cure), I saw 32 films from the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival (found several treasures I’ll be posting about soon) and I’ve laughed harder and more frequently than I ever have in my life. If this really is the death of my adolescence, I’m glad I gave it a proper send-off. If this really is the arrival of true adulthood, I’m glad I gave it a proper welcome. I’m ready for whatever life’s capricious whimsy decides to throw my way.
But first, let’s hear that glorious opening synthline again.