10 Songs About the Teenage Blues
At least 90 percent of the initial impetus for most musicians’ careers comes from one thing: the teenage blues. The world may be at war, the government on the verge of collapse and the environment deteriorating, but none of those things trump a teenager’s feelings of confusion and alienation. Some are lucky and have a little talent and access to an instrument, and that leads to tunes like these: 10 Songs About the Teenage Blues.
The worst part of being a teenager is the perpetual sense of not fitting in — that pubescent paranoia that everyone is looking at you because you stick out like a sore thumb. Few have captured the rage that results from feeling like the object of peer derision than Minor Threat’s Ian MacKaye. In a swift and effective minute’s time, he sums up the other kids’ assesment of him and his barely controlled feelings in response.
The Descendents’ ‘Milo Goes to College’ is one big rumination on the various pangs of the teenage blues. But the track ‘Parents’ bluntly tackles arguably the foremost source of oppression in any teenager’s life. Milo Aukerman, himself a senior in high school when the song was recorded, complains in a hoarse whine, “Parents, why won’t they shut up. Parents, they’re so f—ed up.” This is pretty much the subtext of every word every teenager has said throughout the history of man.
Rounding out our collection of ‘80s hardcore heroes on this list is Black Flag. Greg Ginn wasn’t a teenager when he wrote the band’s first single, and there’s nothing in the song to confirm definitively that its protagonist is a teenager. But with the aforementioned pressures of peers and parents, it’s easy to see why a kid might relate to “I’m crazy and I’m hurt / Head on my shoulders: It’s going berserk!” Besides, only a teen would respond to all this with the ending’s melodramatic “I’m so sick of everything! I just want to die!”
If teens are going to avoid succumbing the suicidal pressures surrounding them, it helps to grow a thick skin, develop a sarcastic wit and show withering contempt for oppressors. Violent Femmes leader Gordon Gano shows the way with this classic middle finger to his foes, tells them to “kiss off into the air.” As for the authority figures warning this will go down on his “permanent record?” Gano fires back, “Oh yeah? Well don’t get so distressed. Did I happen to mention I’m impressed?”
Another way to stave off the maelstrom of teen angst is by connecting with a love interest. But the powerlessness that often comes with teen infatuation can lead to a special kind of misery. In one of Big Star’s most gorgeous melodies, Alex Chilton pleads for a girl to let him walk her home from school. He also tries to romance her with the promise of a trip to the dance and the escape of rock ‘n’ roll. When he doesn’t get much of a response, he goes out on a limb and asks if she’ll be an “outlaw for [his] love” before sheepishly conceding, “If no, well I can go / I won’t make you.”
Once you’ve been rejected, you’re faced with the exquisite pain of unrequited love. In the teen mind, failed first love can lead to a particularly acute feeling of emptiness, like nothing makes sense. Jonathan Richman knows what could cure all that: a girlfriend. It’s just that simple and sweet. He’s got his heart in his hands, and that’s something he can understand.
One of the great albatrosses of maturing is the sense of self-awareness that permeates your consciousness as you trade childlike wonder for the jaded knowing of adulthood. As a result, Paul Westerberg notes, “You drive yourself right up the wall” because “everything drags and drags.” But you don’t want to admit how much all of this bothers you, so you “brag about things you don’t understand” and “tell [your] friends [you’re] doing fine.” After all, there’s nothing really left to do about it except take solace in an aching Bob Stinson guitar solo as the song fades.
Sometimes you’re not just down in the dumps, and your life just plain sucks. Mom and dad ignore you, and your classmates tease you. And rather than find help or an outlet for your pain, you decide leave a mark on your tormentors no one will ever forget. If for some bizarre reason you’ve never heard this song or seen its video, “Jeremy spoke in class today” is a metaphor, and it doesn’t end well for anybody. Sad how prescient this song has been in the past 20 years.
‘In the Garage’
Ideally, instead of going the ‘Jeremy’ route, troubled teen find refuge in geek passions that will one day turn them into very rich rock stars. Rivers Cuomo did just that in his garage, where he read X-Men comics, played Dungeons & Dragons, worshiped at the altar of Ace Frehely and found his musical identity. Because that’s where he feels safe, where no one “laughs about [his] ways or even “hears [him] sing this song.” Boy, that would change.
Eventually, if you survive high school, you turn 18 and get to leave behind teenage aches and pains once and for all. When that time comes, you’ll hopefully feel like you survived, and that gives you the confidence to make something of yourself. Because, as Hold Steady singer Craig Finn reminds us on this song, “we could all be something bigger.” It may seem like hell at the time, but the trial by fire of youth makes you who you are. It’s important not to forget, because “getting older makes it harder to remember we are our only saviors.”