A Closer Listen: Are we growing up or just going down?

Carlo Javier // Columnist 

2019 was a long year for me. Much of it was spent surviving the decay of a personal relationship, and the rest was spent weathering the storms that particular trauma brought to other branches of my life 

Grief, as I have come to suspect, is best experienced in pseudo-isolation. It was just me, a very select number of people I know I can turn to, and as I recently realized, Spotify. My Spotify Wrapped (the annual data-based listening pattern breakdown) came not so much as a surprise, but more like a validation, with my top five most played artists turning out to be: Paramore, Bon Iver, John Mayer, Frank Ocean, and most curiously, Fall Out Boy. 

It felt a bit like Spotify was providing an affirmation I didn’t know I needed, saying: “Yes, you did have a long year.” 

The presence of Fall Out Boy in my most played artists was particularly interesting because I had once loved the band and had long since forgotten about that love. 

To be berated into getting a haircut by your Grade 8 basketball coach in front of the whole team is a level of public humiliation I wouldn’t wish on my worst nemesis. As the kids today might say, that shit hit different. In retrospect, I can’t really be mad at my Grade 8 basketball coach. I was the starting point guard, and in the most traditional schools of basketball thought, a point guard’s primary duty is to facilitate the ball to their teammates. You can’t really do this effectively if you’re brushing your emo fringe out of your eyes every few seconds. 

Here’s the thing: you can’t really blame me either. You can blame Pete Wentz. 

Like most emo and pop punk origin stories, my attachment to Fall Out Boy started during my early teenage days. I may not have been bitten by a radioactive spider, but I was struck by the near-inscrutable lyrics in the hook of “Sugar, We’re Goin Down.” Suddenly, my buzz cut grew into a fringe and I was wearing trucker hats and tight Adidas hoodies that I wore zipped all the way up. I hadn’t (and still don’t have) any ideas as to what “a loaded God complex, cock it and pull it,” meant, but I liked it. It sure sounded cool. It sure sounded like poetry to me. I remember seeing the Lost Boys and Blade-inspired music video for “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, A Little More ‘Touch Me’” and wondering why it wasn’t made into a full feature-length film. I remember Patrick Stump singing about “sitting out dances on the wall” in “7 Minutes in Heaven” and believing it to be the anthem to my own middle school dances.  

When Infinity On High came out in the winter of 2007, I bought not only the album, but also a cheap RCA MP3 player. I learned how to rip a CD and convert the songs to MP3 files that night. The following morning on my daily walk to school, I played “I’m Like a Lawyer…” on an endless loop. It’s one of the very few moments of tenderness in Fall Out Boy’s extensive discography. I loved that song then. I love that song more now. 

I was in my teens and maybe I just really didn’t know any better. Maybe I did. 

At some point in my high school years, I abruptly stopped listening to — or even liking — Fall Out Boy. There came a point that I can’t quite explain, where it felt a bit faux pas to still be listening to pop punk songs about teenage angst and heartbreak. I missed the wonderful Folie à Deux in its entirety. Although, I did peek back behind the curtains when Patrick released his excellent-but-commercial flop of a solo record, Soul Punk.  

It also didn’t help that it was around that time when I started to follow the masses when it came to music taste. If my friends were listening to The Weeknd, then I was listening to The Weeknd. If a crush was into J. Cole then I was into J. Cole, too. 

By the time I got to university, I was already far removed from Fall Out Boy and their contemporaries. Panic! At the Disco became a solo act, My Chemical Romance was gone, and Paramore had started their transition into making what I would only later recognize as some of the best pop music of its time. Fall Out Boy had broken up, gotten back together, and left pop punk for a more accessible, stadium-friendly sound. By this point, I’ve become far too indoctrinated with the Pitchfork zeitgeist, that I can no longer remember a time when I didn’t look to reviews to find the music that I will maybe love.  

As it turns out, sophistication comes with a cost. 

I am now fast approaching the other side of 25 and I find myself rediscovering my appreciation for Fall Out Boy. A friend suggested that taste is cyclical and that we tend to go back to the things that make us feel comfortable. There may be some truth to this theory. 

Grief, as I’ve come to experience, beckons a longing for comfort. Maybe, during moments of misery, what we truly need are the things that make us feel like ourselves again. After all, we do tend to look to songs to for an explanation for why the things happening around us are happening. 

I feel a sense of familiarity when I hear the banging drums and electric guitars coalesce in the opening seconds of “Sugar, We’re Goin Down”, or when I hear Patrick’s R&B-inclined voice navigate through the pop punk infrastructure of “Saturday”. There’s a feeling of home in the worlds and stories Pete writes about in From Under the Cork Tree and Infinity On High. It’s as if there’s a version of me in there somewhere. 

Maybe we do go back because of a desire for comfort. Maybe we go back because we remembered the things we had long forgotten.  

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