The Origin of Angst

Sometimes I am still amazed at the way that a song can instantly transport you to a time in your life and a feeling that you thought was long gone. I find this kind of ironic, given that this sentiment is essentially the entire point of this blog. But none the less, there it is. This lesson recently was driven home for me (again) at work. I was innocently listening to satellite radio on my computer and had happened to choose the 90s grunge station. Lost in my task at hand, I hadn’t really been listening too closely to what was playing. That is, I wasn’t until a very familiar guitar riff came over my speakers. Suddenly, I was 14 years old again.

Now I was a very different person when I was 14 (who isn’t?). Aside from all the other obvious things (like  not being an adult, married, or working in the area of my chosen profession), I was barely starting to discover who I was and where I was at musically. Most friends at the time probably would have labeled me shy and innocent (although maybe not quiet… I didn’t learn volume control until years later). I was always the last one to get the simplest of dirty jokes and I never tried to take the spotlight. Romance was like a foreign country (one I’d have liked to visit, but couldn’t seem to get a Visa to) and boys had only recently begun to transition away from the role of playground torturer to that of plutonic companion or secret crush. But I was a pretty happy kid, for the most part. And yes, at 14 I was definitely still a kid (a.k.a. a late bloomer). I had a loving family, a stable home, good friends, and a very limited world view. Life was still pretty simple and my biggest problem in those days was getting through middle school in one piece (looking back that wasn’t a very big problem).

And then I discovered a little band called Soul Asylum…

Specifically, it was their 6th album that I discovered, entitled Grave Dancers Union. In 1993-94 their song Runaway Train was being played practically everywhere, even on my school bus. I had recently begun to make my first foray into the realm of alternative rock–the first time in my life where I actually picked the music I liked, not what I thought I was supposed to like–and had managed to save up my little allowance long enough to pick up the CD. I retreated to my bedroom, placed the disc in my CD boom box, and sat there in a daze while track 1 officially ushered me into my teenage years.

This was the first time I truly came face to face with that magical (and at times amusingly tragic) concept called teenage angst. The idea that you could be so lonely that you would accept any kind of attention, even negative attention, was a truly foreign notion to me. But in a strange way it appealed to me, just like it has appealed to practically every teenager produced by modern Western culture. I don’t know if it was my shyness and tendency to play supporting roles in social situations or if it was just hormones, but that jarring opening riff, Dave Pirner’s pleading/demanding lyrics, and the guitar-driven beat all resonated with thoughts and emotions I hadn’t been aware of until then. Little did I know the ride I was in for… but that’s another story.

Do you remember when you discovered your angst? What were you listening to then?

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