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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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Notebook: Reminiscing on records of teenage nostalgia

By Jake Offenhartz, For the Daily
Published April 8, 2013

Today is one of those days when I’m 15 again, ignoring a beautiful day and a mountain of work while listening to the seminal records of my early teenage years. These are the albums that I pretend to have outgrown, to have traded in for the superior musicianship of Radiohead or Arcade Fire.

These are the albums that inspire a simplistic angst that, for reasons unclear, I sometimes yearn for. They are albums written by melodramatic pretty boys who evoke within me a slightly embarrassing adulation, a form of hero worship that I, for better or worse, can no longer summon. And oddly enough, a surprising amount of these albums turn 10 in 2013. So, as I am in a perpetual state of sentimentality, allow me the indulgence of some semi-fabricated nostalgia.

The year 2003 saw the release of Fall Out Boy’s Take This to Your Grave, Brand New’s Deja Entendu, The Format’s Interventions and Lullabies, Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism and Bright Eyes’s Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil. While I was struggling to multiply improper fractions and heavily immersed in a surprisingly raunchy rap phase, America’s tender-souled youth were having a pretty remarkable year.

I was an aspiring thug at 11 years old, hiding my Naughty By Nature tapes in a hollowed out “Harry Potter” book, stealing candy bars from the local pharmacy and dreaming about escaping my upper-middle class suburb for the ghetto — to up my street cred, naturally. This delinquent infatuation continued more or less for the next two years, until one day in seventh grade when, without warning, I quit the rap game altogether.

This transformation may have happened overnight — though I admit I have little memory of the exact circumstances involved. What I do know is that, against all odds, Take This to Your Grave found its way into my boom box, and it didn’t ever leave. At the age of 14, I traded in my Ja Rule CDs for the new Dashboard Confessional album; I tore down my Ludacris pin-up pictures for a Conor Oberst poster and I declared to my mom that, from then on, I would only wear band shirts from Hot Topic.

The underlying forces at work here were powerful — I had an adorably broken heart from a girl that may not have known we were dating and an insatiable desire for melancholy. There was something alluring about boys wearing skinny jeans and hearts on their sleeves and something more alluring about the girls who idolized them. Most important though, in this radical metamorphosis from wannabe thug to pop-punk kid — emo, if you insist — was the element of wistful longing.

I can remember my first of many bouts with musical nostalgia. Sitting on a park bench, sharing a headphone with a best friend while listening to Fall Out Boy’s second studio album, From Under a Cork Tree, we’d say things like, “This album lacks the unrefined truth of their previous,” or, “Man, don’t you wish it was 2003?” Even at the age of 15, I harbored illusions of a grander time and delusions of what that time actually meant. I moved backward as I grew older, eventually immersing myself in the work of ’90s emo pioneers like Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate, but I could never feign generational ownership of these records. The first year in music that I could truly — if not accurately — reminisce upon was 2003, and for that reason alone 2003 is a tremendously important year.

Now it’s 2013 and I’m — technically — an adult. These days, my anxieties just aren’t as poetic as they once were and even Jesse Lacey would have trouble writing a heart-tugging song about hunting for an internship or choosing a major. In bed listening to Deja Entendu, I’m yearning for a time when angst was simpler and prettier, but I’m also, I realize, having nostalgia about having nostalgia.

As I spend the day revisiting the dusty MP3s of old, reflecting upon the glory days of pop-sensible woe and obnoxiously long song names, I am yet again struck by the sheer awesomeness of 2003. I remember remembering it like it was yesterday.


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