one of the absolute worst things about being on the downward slope towards adulthood is that you’re constantly slapped by the insulting presence of things that make you feel old. if you grew up listening to music with any degree of real intensity, you are a particularly easy target.
when i was in my late teens and early twenties, i spent eight hours in a car every month driving back and forth from california to arizona to visit my family. as is custom with idiots that age, i spent most of that time obsessing over things that held no actual relevance to anything at all and wondering what the hell would become of me as a human being. at the time, i was particularly emotionally invested in a band called the format from tempe, arizona - the city my parents had moved to. making that unnecessary cosmic connection, i felt strangely understood by the band’s singer, nate ruess (a curiously optimistic and incredibly self-loathing matt damon doppleganger). the content of his songs were pretty transparent - he wrote about hating himself, hating his friends, hating the town he grew up in and fearing that he would waste away, irrelevant and unfulfilled, until he eventually died young somewhere in the sunshine belt (undoubtedly alone). all of this anger was offset by a disarming, jangly sound and a few anthemic songs that felt hopeful despite being laced with completely self-indulgent early-twenties angst. in other words, it was two decades of my existence as a human being backed by 45 minutes of summery pop - the soundtrack to my slow death from indecision.
eventually, i grew older and lost my intense love for that band. i moved away and fell in love with the sonic minimalism of the midwest and the format eventually broke up. later, i discovered a deeply hidden love for bad radio hip hop and became a person who knows very little about music unless it is played on a radio station that has its own jingle.
a few days ago, while driving home from work, i was half-listening to one such station when i heard it - that familiar, unmistakable, somehow-sunny-yet-miserable voice i had spent years melting down to. nate ruess had come back with a vengeance - only this time, he brought janelle monae with him and wrote a song that my mom knows the words to because she watches glee.
the reality is i may be a grown woman, but the sound of this guy’s voice still hits all my cry buttons. like one of pavlov’s dogs, each time i hear that weird timbre of his voice, i internally crumple into a heap of early-twenties terror and am suddenly back in arizona, driving in circles in the middle of the sonoran desert, feeling completely unprepared and lost in every fiber of my being.
i discovered some nights while listening to the “popular” list on spotify (this is sadly and truthfully the type of person i have become) and found a little smirky solace when i listened the words. nate started a band called “fun.”, moved back east, wrote bigger songs, cut off his signature security-blanket-slash-fashion-mullet and started showing his face - but his songs remain the same. he still questions most facets of his life and defames the western half of the united states in every other track, but now he’s also carrying an emotional dictionary and a has a decade of shaking it off under his belt. a surprisingly awesome benefit of getting older is that you learn to fine tune your crazy and are more well equipped to give less fucks. as i counted back the years on my hands, i felt a little wave of relief and joy at the time that now sat between me and that southwestern struggle. sometimes on an off day, i get derailed by how old i have suddenly become - but then, like nate, i’m not that mad.