Pop punk changed my life

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February 27, 2007

1:56 PM

I never listened to pop punk in high school. As a pseudo-intellectual elitist in my teens, I considered myself too good for songs with names like “I’m not okay (it’s all right)” or “Cute without the E.” But as I enter the twilight of my life — my twenties — I’ve embraced the music I hated then with open arms.

p. There’s a scene in the film Garden State that always makes me laugh. Zach Braff’s character, an emotional cipher, has just met Natalie Portman’s. “What are you listening to?” Zach Braff asks her. “The Shins,” she replies. Her slender lips pause, and then she says, “Listen to this song; it will change your life.”

p. Moments in movies that are meant to be taken seriously always make me want to laugh. But this scene in particular cracked me up because of what it asked Zach Braff, and the audience, to do. Take music seriously, Natalie Portman said, and define your life by the melodies that busy your iPod.

The person I was in high school thought that music defined him. In 11th grade, I listened strictly to jazz because I fancied myself a future writer. Joni Mitchell’s album, “Blue,” put a face on my many moments of heartbreak. And River Como’s voice lulled me to sleep on countless angst-filled nights. This was music I could openly tell people I listened to without fear of being ridiculed for my tastes.
No wonder I never touched a pop punk album all those years.

p. What would people have thought of me as a result? I preferred musician name dropping, bringing up obscure music in everyday conversations. I hoped that bringing up artists both hip and trendy would make me more popular. My plans normally backfired. “Hey I just started listening to this band; maybe you’ve heard of them? They’re called The Beatles.”

p. Evidently, by high school most people had heard of those four guys from Liverpool. The cold stares they gave me made this fact clear. Was it my fault that I was a late musical bloomer? I didn’t know how to define cool. I still don’t, but I knew that I wasn’t it. Music was my vain attempt to achieve it — to be recognized by the intellectuals at my school who read Kant for fun and talked about Greenwich Village. They did not listen to emotional pop punk.
College was a new chance, a place where I could redefine myself as a person with excellent tastes. I went to listening meetings for the radio station and took to blaring music I’d read about on the internet, hoping my hallmates would hear it and consider me complex.

p. Then, something happened. For the first weeks of freshman year I didn’t make many friends. By not many friends, I mean hardly any. What was the point of being trendy if I didn’t have anyone to appreciate my scene tastes? “College is going fine,” I’d say to my parents on a Friday night. “I mean I was going to go out tonight, but I decided I’d stay in, you know? Catch up on some sleep.” My father, a healthy drinker, would reprimand me saying, “Why don’t you go out tonight? Maybe drink a little bit?”

p. I didn’t have the courage to tell him that drinking usually requires friends, else the practice teeters on alcoholism. Instead of going out those first weeks I started listening to music for the first time. Whereas before I played music because I thought it reflected my persona, I now played music that I actually wanted to hear regardless of what others thought. Instead of putting on airs, I began taking them off. Coincidentally, I started making friends.

p. As much as I hate to admit it, I had my own Garden State moment last summer. I was driving up to Connecticut with my friend Virginia to visit our mutual friend Liz. Virginia made me a mix CD for the ride. She’d included songs for no reason other than that she liked them. When a pop punk tune came up, I was shocked. True, the lyrics were garbage, but there was something to it. It’s a genre of music that requires little thought, but man is it catchy.

p. “What are we listening to?” I asked her. “The Get Up Kids,” Virginia said. “Have you heard of them?” I hadn’t, but wished I had. As we continued driving, I desperately wanted to tell Virginia something, but I didn’t want to sound trite. Pop punk had changed my life.

p. __James Damon, a sophomore at the College, is a Staff Columnist. His columns appear every Tuesday.__

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