When I was nineteen, Mondays were the best day of the week. That was when, as music director of my college radio station, I would walk down to the mailroom of the student union, and receive a whole new basket of records sent to us by labels and promoters. I would spend the rest of the afternoon sorting through these, at my desk covered in band stickers in my otherwise whitewashed, windowless office. This is where I first heard Mister Loveless’s album, Grow Up.
I must have listened to hundreds of records during my tenure, must have spent countless afternoons loading and reloading the CD player in the corner behind my desk. Many of them, however, faded into each other, not unlike the empty afternoons themselves. Most of the music we received then was euphoric and dream-like, a lot of chillwave, lush production and meandering, hedonistic lyrics. But Grow Up was different. It was the first album I had heard in a while that felt like it was coming from the world as it felt, filled with confusion, longing, questioning, and occasionally beauty, and not some tropical, vapid dreamland. It was filled with tracks with titles like “Nineties Children” and “Vandalism Dreams” and “Old Friends”—finally, here was something for me.
Grow Up is a fantastic album, the first half filled with formidable punk jams, the second half is glazed with an eerie sheen. The songs are smart, the lyrics are tightly written—it’s a concept album that works. It’s not a hard album to like (as unfairly unknown as it is).
But I think to really get Grow Up—and I mean really feel it, let it seep into you, and become part of you—I think you might have to be alone in the radio station studio, late on a Friday night in the middle of autumn. You might have to be watching the oversized digital clock hanging over you tick away the hours, minutes, and seconds of your show, and consequently, your life. A little bit closer to the end of the semester. A little bit closer to graduation. A little bit closer to the rest of your life, which everyone tells you is all downhill from here. But here isn’t even that great. These golden years, precious and ephemeral, are falling in pieces at your feet everywhere you turn, and part of you thinks, let them. You almost wish, despite yourself, for this all to just go faster.
All those promises I never kept
Diaries full of regrets
People I wish I could be
We do the strangest things when lonely
I think you might have to be headed home for the weekend, on a dark highway in the car with your father, late at night, so he can drive as fast as he wants. You have to walk around town to all your old haunts, run past the old house of your former best friend who you don’t speak to anymore, go to the town carnival and wonder if you’re too old for these things now, walk through the halls of your high school on Alumni Day and suddenly notice how small it all feels now, find the picnic table in the senior courtyard where you carved “Sleep tight ya morons!” because you were surely destined for greater things. You’ll see the person you were in all these places, and you’ll wonder how you would have looked at the person you are now, gawky, leering, nostalgia-drunk. You’ll have to lay in your childhood bedroom that hasn’t been redecorated since you were seven, and recharge all your old phones, read the texts that have been preserved from all your past lives, stare at the names in the contacts until the letters looks like nonsense.
To be alone with these thoughts
To feel bad for being young
These meaningless problems
Still weigh a ton
I think you might have to be walking back to your dorm in the impenetrable darkness of five o’clock December in the Northeast, when it feels like it must be midnight, but no, the end of the night is still so far away. You might have to walk through campus, see all of those lighted windows, filled with people you could know, but don’t, lives you could live, but aren’t. Your life is just this: your breath forming in front of you.
For our own good we could not remain
Strange and futureless
Told by the world we didn’t fit in
We told the world we never wanted to
I think you have to be in a creative writing workshop with your favorite professor, the only other source of solace here besides the radio station, reading Denis Johnson’s “Emergency” for the first time. You have to read the lines, “That world! These days it’s all been erased and they’ve rolled it up like a scroll and put it away somewhere. Yes, I can touch it with my fingers. But where is it?” You have to run the words over and over again in your mind, memorize them, internalize them. They remind you of your high school life, the inside jokes, the four-hour phone calls, the short-cuts and the secrets, all of which now rest in abandoned coffee shops, vacant houses, and piles of ashes in patches of woods where the silence is deafening. You have to wonder, will anything feel like that again?
But it will.
A story will unfold. Your life will happen. You’ll walk to surprise parties on early spring nights. You’ll drive too fast around campus with your friends, screaming and laughing as they blow through stop signs on the empty roads. You’ll find dog-eared Salinger books on your new friends’ windowsills and know you’ve found your people. You’ll go see a band play and realize that you know and love everyone in the crowd around you. You’ll crawl back into bed, long past midnight, from nights of running from place to place, finally seeing how wide the world has unfolded in front of you. You’ll have new things to “remember when?” You’ll miss these moments, but also, somehow, you’ll miss the loneliness, its vividness, its endless expanse, the cold on your face, the way it felt just like the eerie sheen on Grow Up. It was all a part of the story.
I can hear it from the outside
I can feel it on the in
I’ve been waiting a long time
To hear this sound again