Some songs are really young adult novels in disguise. Like Vampire Weekend’s “Oxford Comma” (which I love) will always evoke for me THIS LULLABY by Sarah Dessen. It’s the combination of his seeing, but not getting, her disdain for his inability to observe the social rules she does (in this case, the rules of grammar), along with his calling out her dishonesty. I mean, isn’t that just Dexter singing to Remy right there? All the things I love the most about the book are right there in that song, namely, the characters. Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma, indeed.
Broken Social Scene’s “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl,” on the other hand, is a book that I desperately wish existed, so that I could read it and love it just as much as it would deserve. It pains me with its tale of one misfit having been outgrown by the other misfit she loves. On my list of best songs of grief *, this ranks high, and the loss in it is not even a death, it just feels equally irrevocable and tragic.
Come to think of it, what is it about some bands — the Killers come to mind — that make them inescapably teenage? Is it the bombast? The ability to pull off unbearable cheesiness (“And the sky is full of dreams, but you don’t know how to fly”… really, now? Yet inexplicably, I like that song)? ** Whereas other bands might be equally poppy but somehow ring adult to me (the National, the Gin Blossoms maybe)?
Carl Wilson, in kind of a weird essay, complains about indie music’s “sexlessness”; is that what I’m picking up on? Because a sort of coyly passionless obsession with sex kind of does sum up a lot of teen fiction (this is what I think BITCH got right with its neologism “abstinence porn”). And the presence of passion and absence of coy may indeed be what makes the National seem like it exists on another life course plane; it’s the cleverness I love in indie rock without all the twee. You just feel like those guys have actually experienced something. (Plus, unlike practically every other band I can think of, they sing about friendships in as serious a way as they do romantic relationships, which I think is awesome.)
Which brings me back to YA books, because of course, these are books for and about people who haven’t actually experienced much. I don’t know what it says about me that I listen to the National and feel like it’s filling a void in my cultural life by expressing the real ambivalences of being an adult, and yet the books I feel drawn to are all intended for 14-year-olds.
Maybe just that I don’t think I should be forced to choose between, on the one hand, the intricacy of adulthood, where you have made and continue to make decisions that actually matter, and the weight of all the choices you’ve already made gives all this specificity to your own life, so that it’s not really interchangeable with all the old universal stories any more; and, on the other, the intensity of adolescence, where even the most generic sentiments seem like they have special meaning just for me right now.
And, of course, that I’m still enough of a teenager at heart to turn a blog post about music and books into a rumination about “what it says about me.”
** Since I earlier wrote a footnote about fairy tale songs, I will now use this footnote to rectify that I did not, at that time, mention the Killers’ “A Dustland Fairytale.” Like every Killers song, I don’t quite get it, but like surprisingly many of them, I love it. But I mean, if you set a very melancholy, yet nonetheless highly romantic, set of fairy tale images to music, my liking it is not so much in doubt. We’ve been over this before; I have a fairy tale thing. It’s a way of life.