Written by Anberlin Contest Winner Lauren Guerrero
Anberlin was first given to me as a gift, and I will always remember them as that – the
gift that would eventually become one of the biggest parts of me. I could lie and say, like many already have said, that their music saved me. There are certainly times that it did. I could lie and say that they made me feel less alone. Many songs do in fact make me feel a camaraderie with the men who wrote them. There is nothing wrong with those feelings; they are legitimate relationships that many fans have with Anberlin. However, they are not my relationship with Anberlin. There were times when songs, like “The Haunting,” invoked in me such despondency, such loneliness, I wondered if I was the only human being for miles. “The Paperthin Hymn” dragged me so far into a mourning I thought I had left behind: Anberlin was the only thing not saving me. And looking back at it all, from 2003 until now, the end, I could not have asked for anything more meaningful. I am not eulogizing a white knight; I am not eulogizing a virtuous hero. I am eulogizing the most human of anything I have loved in the past twelve years – dark, selfish, kind, vulnerable, smart, and yearning, things that we all are.
What I am about to say about Anberlin, their music, their message, their artistry, is not
new. It’s not even a unique story, though maybe it’s not often told. That is what makes them unique: contained in their body of work is humanity’s mundane extraordinary. The thing is, I am Anberlin. And Anberlin is me: we are the desire to drive, to dream, to live, to spend our waning youth gallivanting up and down Haight Street, to stop time and spend forever with someone. We feel regret. We feel indignation, lust, love, lack, and the lack of love, sometimes all at once. All people do. So, my story, while with different faces and places, remains essentially the same as the songs on your iPod. As I said, this band is not the hero in my story, but the mirror – teaching me to see myself in ways I would not have if they never came along. In each stage of my growing up, they were there. For better or for worse.
In October of 2003, I had a birthday party at a small restaurant in town, just a few family members and a couple friends. I received Blueprints for the Black Market as a gift from my aunt, who dared me to dream beyond the confines of my sheltered (read: conservative) childhood. Ironically, I had asked for the album after hearing “Change the World” on a Christian radio station. Nevertheless, she bought it for me, and, unbeknownst to the both of us at the time, it planted the seed of critical thinking, of contemplation, of rebellion that she had hoped for.
In its infancy, it was a mild rebellion. I spent hours and hours with that record; it taught
me to yearn for something more than the status quo, the tepid life a middle-class protestant kid tends to lead when they’re 13. The calls to arms of “Change the World” and “Glass to the Arson” called me to something else, something I never really could say was my own before: passion. I still washed up for dinner on time and I did as I was told, but those songs showed me that there was something to truly get excited about. What all that was, I couldn’t tell you, but I had no use for the love songs on the album when I had the anthems, at least, not yet. I was too busy finding out that my soul could feel something.
As I matured, so did Anberlin, with Never Take Friendship Personal. I started to take a
second look at those songs that sounded a lot like infatuation. It was still a proxy type of love that I felt, being 15 and never really in love before. What had once been a save-the-world mentality in me, vague, abstract, and hardly my own, took a new, distinctive shape. With songs like “Time and Confusion” and “Audrey, Start the Revolution,” the raw, justice-hungry attitudes of Blueprints for the Black Market grounded themselves in flesh. A personal connection took center stage: the only thing more important than changing the world was changing the world with someone else.
Once I accepted that, the darker tendrils of intimacy took root. Again, the shift was quiet. However, I did not long for it all to work out, for marriage and the middle-class American dream. I wanted the breathlessness of “The Runaways,” escalating toward the anger of “The Feel Good Drag,” finally spiraling into an emotion as full as the discontentment in “(the symphony of) blasé.” Still, it was a longing for a love that I couldn’t yet quantify.
By the release of Cities, that love had come. It was everything I had expected and nothing
I had expected. There were moments that is was romantic; there were moments that it was not. She loved me and she hated me. The love fluctuated in her, thrashed about like the sea in me. I was 17. “Godspeed” blared to life in a car stereo in cold February and the empty revolution of years past gained a fleshy, rich anatomy. Visceral scenes (a couple overdosing in bed), guttural growls of rebellion (they lied when they said the good die young), and the prelude to all the songs that would follow, I finally understood. I understood why people fought injustice. For other people. But, people also fought with other people. With love inside, those fights exhilarate and exhaust. It was Anberlin that taught me to sing the words in such a fight that would ruin me for years to come. It was the best and the worst advice I had ever received, to be vulnerable with someone.
“You dismantle me,” I breathed into the person I loved.
By the release of New Surrender, that love had broken my heart. I graduated from high
school; Anberlin graduated to a major label, and though many view New Surrender as their weakest album, I can never be grateful enough for it. It entered my life at just the right time. I cried at the words of “Retrace,” and then I cried them out. I had whiplash from my sudden sense of one-ness, not feeling whole, but lacking the presence of someone. Photographs did haunt me. I retraced my steps so often that I wore grooves in my mind. I hated Anberlin for shattering my shock and planting nostalgia in its place. I was hurting, and they came to me, not to comfort me, but to stand in front of me and say, “we are one and the same. The gaping hole in you is the gaping hole in me.” The viper that lashes out when pain is the only things a person feels thrashes against anything that is a reflection of itself; it cannot look at what pain has made it. Pain is what feels for you, speaks for you, eats for you, and dresses you. As I writer I stopped writing. I let Anberlin embody my hurt; I let them speak words into the universe on my behalf. I wanted nothing but to be alone, but they refused, so begrudgingly I accepted the company, the dogged and depressing camaraderie. When 2010 rolled around, it would turn out that I needed that connection more than anything.
With the advent of Dark is the Way, Light Is a Place, I was me again. When a broken
bone is never properly set, its appearance is changed for good. I was healing, I was writing, and Anberlin was teaching me kindness that definitely was not a part of who I was before. They also taught me how to articulate loss. Because my anger and jagged pain had burned away into something softer; it also fashioned itself into something far more complex than the want I had felt years ago: it was now want tinged with the ache of something I had had before. The beauty of it all is that I could take Stephen Christian’s hand, and with no shame, no real ill will, with the fat of woundedness and hate stripped away, say “there are songs I’ll never write because of you walking out of my life.” I could not have done it alone, not without malice. I came to learn that this togetherness was the only way to do anything: not necessarily happily, not always successfully, but never alone. I went to sleep those nights cradling kindred spirits in my heart.
Vital moved me much the same way. It humbled me when my arrogance had just started to reappear. It reminded me that there is so much beyond us that we couldn’t pretend to grasp. But they are also inside us, truly near us. Death can be abstract, petrifying and unknown, but when a loved one dies, we feel death so intimately that we produce beauty like “Innocent.” Trusting others and convincing others to trust us may feel like personal work, born only in the context of a specific life, but it’s a need so universal that songs like “The Other Side” exist. In a time when I had only begun to encounter these things, to look away from my own self, Anberlin came again, providing a soundtrack uncomfortable in its accuracy.
I cannot know what Lowborn will have in store. Every time I have expected something from an Anberlin album, I have been partly right, but I have also been so short-sighted. I hear things I did not even know that I needed to, things sometimes I don’t want to. But it is always good. Not always happy, often jolting, but always good. And it will be good every time I revisit it. Therefore, I am eulogizing a concert and gathering of men, but I could never eulogize the music. The essence of it all will never leave me; the body dies, but human emotion marches on forever. Human experience has existed, and will continue to. Anberlin’s work is just a mouthpiece for that experience. It brings joy, it brings loneliness, nostalgia, and passion. It’s humanity set to music.