In less than a week, I will be a college graduate. But before that happens, I’d like to flash back a few years. My first full month of college, the only music I listened to was Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends. No matter if the September weather was still caught in summer or finally advancing into fall, it was always playing from my iPod. No matter if I was stressed with my first wave of exams or bored with a dead week, I still heard the lyrics and sang along in my head.
When I was 18, that record was the world to me. The band came to Lawrence, Kan., where I attend college, to play it in full a month later, and my deep indulgence in the 10-track emo/punk classic acted as part preparation, but also part instinct. For the first time I could remember, a piece of music stuck to my bones, and it shocked my skeleton as if it was a new listen every time I turned on “Bike Scene” and “Ghost Man on Third”. It’s funny, now that I’m 21, I have to really reach into my memory to recall my experiences with that record. This was only four years ago, but college has affected me — like it does to so many others — in a way that has opened me up and changed how I think about the world.
Some of this big-picture thinking may come from the Peace and Conflict Studies course I’m currently taking. It’s given me a lens to see outside myself — not just outside my privilege as a middle class white male who won’t have to pay college loans (I’m blessed, right?), but also as someone experiencing the world in his own individual way. Right now, I’m putting off my final essay, which I’ve chosen to write on sexism in the U.S. punk scene and methods of achieving equality through positive change. I’m somewhat antsy to finish it, but at the same time, it’s as if I’m trying to relish all I have left in my final week of college before I move on to the real world for good. Writing my final essay on one of my biggest passions, punk music, has reminded me of the essay I wrote about Taking Back Sunday my freshman year. For my 100-level English class, I wrote an ethnography on the authenticity of emo music that attracted so many teenagers — myself included. If that isn’t enough to bring things full circle, it’s worth noting I was awarded a $100 stipend for that essay from my university, which I turned around and spent on some records and concert tickets.
Though I don’t remember a ton from that first semester of college (and no, it’s not because of alcohol), that Taking Back Sunday show flashes before my eyes as one of my favorite moments over the past four years. It’s still one of the best shows I’ve ever been to — not because the band was spot-on or anything, but because the crowd went absolutely bananas. The way that show made me feel, similar to how Tell All Your Friends made me feel, still lingers. I can practically feel the fans bumping into me, the entire crowd moving like a wave as they screamed out every lyric like it was the world to them. But again, at that time, that album was the world to me, so it made perfect sense.
That was before the summer after my freshman year hit, and I discovered Third Eye Blind’s self-titled album. Before finals week that May, I gave it a full listen in my room with the windows open. The thing was, it had just warmed up after an incredibly cold winter, and my residence had played a game with mother nature that spring called “When Is It Safe to Turn on the Air Conditioning for Good?” Once I went home for the summer, I continued to play it, and it became the next Tell All Your Friends to me. I spent so many nights blasting it in the car, feeling only the late night breeze and the dark, thick emotions of the last three songs — a combination that still manages to hit me like a freight train. “I felt you long after we were through” is an apt way to describe my relationship with the album at this point. It doesn’t affect me exactly like it used to, but that’s the beauty of it; you move on with your life, but — just like an old friend you don’t talk to much anymore — it’s still always a part of you. Even when not physically there, it’s still there.
The next fall, it was Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The following spring, it was Jawbreaker’s Dear You. This past fall, it was Oasis’ (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? And so far this spring, it’s been Ride’s Nowhere. Yeah, these records are far from where I began, a sappy teenager who listened to angsty punk music in order to get acclimated to life on a college campus. But I’d like to think that it reflects who I’ve become as a person more than anything else. I see a much bigger picture than I used to, and the shoegaze sounds of Ride bring a whirlwind of emotions beyond the constraints of a singular emotion or experience. Whereas Taking Back Sunday played mainly to the confusion of adolescence, Ride accepts this confusion as a natural part of life. A senior about to graduate and have the whole world in front of him, “Vapour Trail” means so much at this point in time. That’s because it accepts forward movement by describing the “vapour trails” we leave for others to pick up on.
I’ve picked up on some vapour trails lately. A little over a month ago, I saw one of my all-time favorite artists, Underoath, live for the first time. My first semester of college, they broke up. Two days after the Underoath show, I saw MUTEMATH live for the second time since I’ve been at my university. The first time I saw them? That same fall. Sometimes things come full circle. Some of the trails these bands left for me, and some I left for others, none of us knowing if we — or anyone else — would ever pick up on them again. My brother picked up one of those trails when he came with me to the recent MUTEMATH show. In the years to come, I’m sure the intersection of paths and recapturing of trails will lead me into places I’d never imagine. Four years ago, I never imagined I’d be where I am now. During that time, I’ve created a trail that I hope inspires others, and I’ve done the same during my time writing about punk music for Mind Equals Blown.
As I keep saying “punk”, I hope you see the trend: being punk is about being yourself. If there’s any advice I could give to an incoming college freshman, it’s to be as authentic and true as possible. You’ll be rewarded for it not only when others take notice, but when you wring every drop of joy from life by doing what you love and what means the most to you. I’ve had plenty of lonely days and sleepless nights throughout college, but it’s all been worth it because of the person I’ve become in the process. More than anything, I hope that’s the trail I leave behind once I graduate.
Every time I experience a “last”, my roommate keeps asking me if I’m going to cry. I continually answer “no”, as these little moments don’t hit me hard, especially since I feel ready to move on. But, as I write this editorial, the weight of my entire college experience is hitting me at once. While the freshman me would have fallen apart like a Taking Back Sunday song, I’m quite content with things now. If I cry, it’s not because I’m sad, it’s because I’m content. I used to think contentedness was wrong, that it meant I was complacent and thus, not doing anything. But now I realize the beauty of being content. It’s a peaceful feeling. My Peace and Conflict Studies class has taught me that conflict is inevitable, but achieving peace as much as possible is much better than destroying ourselves over every mistake and disagreement.
A few weeks after I graduate, The Hotelier’s Goodness will come out. I’ve been talking to a friend of mine about the vibe of that record so far in comparison to the desolation of Home, Like Noplace Is There, the two of us continually finding interviews with frontman Christian Holden about his forward movement from “sad” music into contentedness — or what could be considered, like the album title, “goodness”. By the time the record is released and the summer progresses, I’d like to think it will have a profound effect on me just like the albums I’ve previously mentioned. These bands and these records have become so meaningful to me because they’ve found me where I am in my life, and they’ve accepted me — and more than that, the sonic impressions they’ve had on me have led me to accept myself. It’s a beautiful thing when a piece of art can make you comfortable in your own skin. That’s the kind of motivation we all need. It can make us better people, and in turn, it can make the world a more livable place.
This whole time, I’ve been playing Third Eye Blind from beginning to end, and now “God of Wine” is hitting its final chorus. It used to make me tear up, but now it just comforts me. I have nothing to be afraid of in life, as I have music at my arsenal. It’s helped make me the person I am today, and will continue making me the person I will be in the future. In a little over a week, I’ll put on that cap and gown and prepare myself for the next — and biggest — step of my life as I begin my career. Before I do that, though I need to finish my essay. Oh, and listen to some more music, but that’s just routine by now. The song ended, and now I’m searching for another one to listen to. The limits are endless.
Photo Credit: Jeff Guidry