As I look out my window on the eve of my 24 ½ birthday, sucking the flavoring off of my Blue Diamond Habanero BBQ Almonds and spitting the soggy nuts into an empty beer can, I become aware that I’m approaching the end of the U.S. Census’ 18-24 age bracket. This is a milestone worthy of deep reflection, but I can only vividly remember the past 5 ½ years through certain songs I listened to during the bracket’s peaks and valleys, which I guess makes sense. Pop songs take whatever good or bad feeling and frame them in a context that’s beautiful and fantastical. They can take something like a messy and melodramatic break-up and add color and relatable meaning to it. The whole thing’s very empowering (and apparently memorable).
Anyway, the following are the most collectively representative songs of my time as an 18-24 year old per what’s left on my iTunes library:
“Misery” by The Beatles
Though I have no way of verifying this, I’m guessing one’s love life flounders around most dramatically between the ages 18 and 24. Teenage whimsy still applies, and there’s more freedom to have sex and make stupid decisions than when you still lived with your parents. So, a band full of catchy and hyperbolic love songs is a good resource to have. I didn’t grow up on the Beatles (my dad’s favorite artists are Jimmy Buffet and Meatloaf, and my mom’s favorite artists are talk radio) and I never really listened to them until a friend accidentally left Disc 1 of The Beatles in my ’98 Accord at some point during my senior year of high school. Since, I’ve developed similar feelings to the tween girls at the Shea Stadium concert, and dreamy, lovelorn 18-24-year-old me has listened to them endlessly.
That being said, I think “Misery” is the perfect pop song. It’s simple, and it coats heartbreak in a layer of Muppety, early-Beatles goofiness. I’m afraid of girls and am often rejected by them. Songs like “No Reply” make me feel worse. Songs like “Misery” make heartbreak seem fun. It’s the antithesis of the sad heartbreak song, and sheds a warm light onto a common, painful experience.
“To Ramona” by Bob Dylan
I’m amongst many 18-24-year-olds who left their laughably warm and pleasant home to go to college in a frigid, Godless northeastern city. North Carolina remains one of my favorite places on the planet, but it’s the kind of place where highschoolers who watch David Lynch movies and listen to Deerhoof can develop delusions of entitled uniqueness. So, sudden immersion into an environment of like-minded people delivers a mixed bag of emotions. It can be enlightening and exciting, but it can also be exhausting. I remember slowly coming to the realization that I’m not as clever as I once thought I was, and that a lot of the dudes in my high school who watched Adam Sandler movies and listened to O.A.R. did really well on their math SAT. Further, it becomes easy to idealize people, scenes, cities, etc. in this environment, which leads to unrealistic expectations and disappointment when they’re not met.
In this context, “To Ramona” nails it; the lyrics (which I won’t bother quoting on an internet article in a post-Google world) are ridiculously poignant to the situations of 19-year-olds everywhere. On nights when I felt socially overwhelmed, not good enough, or sick of navigating crowded streets lined with dirty snow banks, this song was a consolation. Tinny laptop speaker Bob Dylan is a good friend to have in these moments.
Any Song Off of That Unicorns Album – How About “Sea Ghost”?
One of the great things about the early 20s is that one finally starts to develop some semblance of self-assurance. The pressure to feel cool fades, and the liking-of-things-because-you-feel-that-you’re-supposed-to becomes a thing of the past. I don’t know what my definition of cool was early on in the age bracket, but it probably looked a lot like the Strokes. Unfortunately for me, I’ve always been a “goofy pussy” (as was pointed out to me by the kid I beat in a gym class ping pong tournament), and the Strokes don’t seem like goofy pussies at all.
The Unicorns album may have been the first “cool-to-be-lame” thing I was ever exposed to. It shattered the incredibly stubborn and misinformed teenaged conception that things have to look or sound a certain way to be worthwhile, which ultimately was relieving and inspiring. Suddenly, I felt better about Black Flag’s “TV Party” sounding like a legitimately fun night, and the incredibly high likelihood that Henry Rollins would hate me.
“Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” by Loverboy
The latter part of the 18-24 age bracket generally comes with full time employment, which generally delivers soul sucking 40-hour weeks at jobs that aren’t nearly as interesting as they initially sounded. Further, entering the workforce can put a new type of strain on old friendships. What once was a level playing field becomes disrupted by differing salaries and the like, if one can find employment at all (in this economy, am I right?!). It’s hard to maintain a common ground with someone living a ritzier lifestyle when you’re still unwilling to spend more than $7 on a meal, and the 40-hour workweek leaves less energy to try.
Still, weekends are fun, and that’s what “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend” is all about. I would elaborate, but I’m too tired from having worked all day. So is everyone. That’s why they’re working for the weekend.
So, the problems of the typical middle class 18-24-year-old are trite and insignificant. But, so are typical pop songs. I think this is precisely why a song like “Misery” can ease the pain over a girl I made out with once getting a boyfriend before we had a chance to talk about it, while listening to a song like “We Are the World” probably won’t do much for a community battling an AIDS outbreak. The songs and problems are on a similar plane, so they go hand in hand. More importantly, they make the problems seem important, which can be pretty validating. Pop songs are the sort of thing that can make my getting Blue Diamond Habanero BBQ Almond dust all over my MacBook seem like a necessary and important hurdle in my endeavors to become someone worthwhile. In reality, it’s only doing damage to my logic board, and will probably cost me a lot of money later.