My boyfriend can be kind of ornery. He’s one of those cranky artistic types that remain steadfast in their narcissism and are completely convinced that every overheard conversation on a city sidewalk just has to be about them.He’s like one part Johnny Depp (he accessorizes like nobody’s business), one part Woody Harrelson and two parts violent. I like him that way.
The first thing he said to me when we met at the subway station last Saturday was, “I’m pissed, man. I’ve been waiting outside for a fucking hour. I stole three bucks off a bum to get back in here to find you.” I nonchalantly reminded him that I had also just spent an hour sitting on a freezing cold concrete bench waiting for him.
Tit for tat, right? Not so much.
As we walked outside, past the overpriced grocery store at which I long to buy my oatmeal, I lit a cigarette and he ranted at me while I tuned out his words and instead chose to fantasize about HIM’s Ville Valo, as I usually do when my boyfriend decides to be an asshole. After he was done complaining (and I had been brought to a rather satisfying mental orgasm), I suggested we go downtown so I could spend the bulk of my grocery money on jeggings, dresses and books. After all, who needs food when there’s fashion and literature lurking about everywhere?
If you’ve ever put foot to pavement in this fair city of Toronto, you know there are practically THOUSANDS of bookstores. A couple of my favorites include Eliot’s, which reminds me of something you’d find in Diagon Alley and where I blow chunks of cash on vintage sailor-themed poetry books, and Doug Miller’s Books, where the sci-fi/fantasy books are stacked so high you’ll practically break your obviously cyborg neck looking up at them. I found Stephen King’s The Gunslinger there for the measly price of $4.20 and have been saying “Fuck you” to big box bookstores ever since.
Anyway, somewhere on Yonge there is a bookstore sandwiched between an appropriation of culture store (where white people go to buy tiny fake jade statuettes of Buddha and paper fans) and an empty storefront. They always have a display of discount books outside, often purchased from down-on-their-luck bibliophiles. I typically walk past the place and don’t bother stopping — usually because I’m inhaling my daily dose of nicotine and tar at that particular time.
Last Saturday, I stopped, and I found this gem:
The title had me, right off the bat. I’m fairly lusty, and I do love music. Not to mention my iTunes and iPod playlists have basically been repeating themselves for the better part of two years. I seriously need to change up my listening library. I’m also on a mission to “find my voice” as an artist this year. Yes, I am perfectly aware of how flighty and pretentious that phrase sounds, but it also happens to be true.
In my youth, as can be heard on my misguided, compressed debut EP, I aspired to sounding like some kind of pretty robot. Every note was perfect. Every breath had been cautiously edited out of the final product. The result is that I no longer sound like a normal human who breathes and misses notes and has real raw fucking emotional passion. This is not my musical mission in life. My mission is to sonically rip your guts out every time you hear me sing, because life is not pretty and bad things happen, but often the bad shit happens so you can get to the good shit after. (See? I’m not all about doom and gloom. I will rebuild you after you’ve been broken.)
Point is, I was down for some recommended listening instructions. Primed, if you will. And as I searched for and downloaded album after classic album I’d never taken the time to listen to, I was reminded of the music that shaped my youth and got me through the shitstorm that was my coming-of-age.
I remember a time when listening to an album was an experience. I was poor as shit, so I relied on my mother to purchase music for me. In my wayward youth, I begged her for weeks on end to buy me ‘N Sync’s Celebrity album, which I will never live down. Back in those days, I thought JT’s curly white-fro was the motherfucking shit and it made me tingle in new and interesting ways. But it wasn’t part of the collection of music that inspired me to create my own, and inspired me to keep going in spite of the depression that threatened to derail me without a moment’s notice.
This week, I’ve compiled a list of the top five albums that helped get me through the most difficult times in my life and reminded me that there’s a place in the world for music with true meaning and raw fucking emotional passion, even if that place isn’t at the top of the charts. In no particular order, I present to you Jen’s Musical Coming Of Age.
ALANIS MORISSETTE, JAGGED LITTLE PILL.
As a kid, I was drawn to 80s pop music and Tiffany and Madonna were high up on my list of favorites. Then came the late 90s and Spice Girls made that list as well. But I’ll never forget my cousin Melissa sitting me down and forever altering my musical landscape when she played me songs from Morissette’s biggest-selling album. I was intrigued by her purposeful strange pronunciation of words and the strength of her voice. “Perfect” and “Not The Doctor” were my two favorites, and I find myself finding comfort in the latter to this very day, when my boyfriend gives me trouble. I remind myself that I don’t have to save anybody but myself and most of my relationship-related stress seems to melt away. She also taught me that lyrics don’t have to truly rhyme to be effective, as long as the melody and emotion give the song depth you’ll be ok.
According to Wikipedia, this album sold 3.7 million copies. I can see why. I originally borrowed it from the Uxbridge Public Library and from the first note of the first track, it had me hooked. I played it so much I eventually wore out my own copy. As a fat girl, I related to “Fat Boy” so much that it still makes my eyes well up with tears. I sang along with every song over and over, and it drove my metalhead sister crazy. “Barcelona” was basically played on repeat, and “Absence of Fear” was probably the most romantic song I’d ever heard, even though at that point in my life I had no real concept of romance to begin with.
ALICIA KEYS, SONGS IN A MINOR.
Can we just stop and talk for a minute about the majesty of this album? It’s basically a perfect debut. When I was 14, it was all I wanted for Christmas and when I received a copy that year, I flipped shit. I could hardly wait to pop it into my new CD walkman (I always called them “discmans”) and listen to it. I literally wore out my copy and asked for a new one the following year, THAT’S how much I loved it. Her lyrics, her voice, the piano… everything. I was active on her message board in those days and made a few online friends who loved her equally if not more. “The Life” was a great comfort to me because my pillowcase was wet from all my crying, too. I was in a bad spot at that age, my depression was rearing its ugly head all over the place and I was still carrying horrifying secrets from my childhood. Keys’ album made me feel less alone at a time when I was drowning in my solitude. (Wow, emo much?)
This was the lowest point of my life. I was at one of my many rock bottoms, and was systematically shutting out all the positive influences in my life. When I heard “Bring Me To Life”, I felt like I had found a musical kindred spirit. My mother bought “Fallen” for me after weeks of passionately telling her, “I NEED this album, I can’t even explain why,”. Sometimes I wonder if she made that purchase solely because she saw a spark of life come back into my eyes as I pleaded my case for purchase. Once the album was in my hands, I laid down on my bed with my headphones on and listened to every track all the way through. I even closed my eyes to let myself be completely absorbed into the music. There’s a lyric in “Hello” that goes, “Has no one told you she’s not sleeping?” and I burst into tears at that point and cried my way through the rest of the album. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but when I heard that lyric I was at a point in my life where I considered suicide a viable option. That line brought home what would happen to my family if I ever followed through, and it saved my life in that one instant. It’s still one of my favorite albums.
FIONA APPLE, EVERY ALBUM SHE’S EVER FUCKING MADE.
I am a huge Fiona Apple fan. I was first exposed to her music through the same cousin who introduced me to Alanis Morissette. It was a sunny day in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland, and Melissa had brought over a VHS tape of music videos. (Remember the days when you’d record your favorite vids on blank VHS tapes? And you’d have to wait all fucking day for your video to come on? Awesome.) Fiona’s video for “Sleep To Dream” was on it. In retrospect I think it might have been a ten second snippet from an award show or something. Anyway, I thought the beat was awesome and her voice was cool, but I didn’t truly discover her until years later. I was wandering through the public library when I came across “When The Pawn”. I remembered Fiona from my younger youth and borrowed it. What followed was my true musical coming of age. Her words were sometimes simple, sometimes complex and always gutsy as fuck. “Limp” made me feel better about the anger I was carrying in regards to being molested. “On The Bound” was fucking magic to me. She took the conventionality I was used to and used sonic TNT to blow it the fuck up. She is and always has been my musical and lyrical hero. If I can be half the lyricist she is, I can die satisfied.
Bottom line, although I continue to hunt down and be influenced by music on a regular basis, and I’m always on the lookout for new genres and artists to fill me up with artistic joy (here’s looking at you, AMANDA PALMER), these five albums are the ones that set the course for my journey and gave me a safe haven when the world was shitting on my head. I still listen to “Not The Doctor” when my boyfriend is an ass and I still listen to “Limp” when past experiences get me down. The music you listen to when you’re a teenager carries you through the rest of your life and I’m proud to list these albums as the ones that propped me up.