What’s my age again?

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Where I’m at: Brazzaville, just back from a trip to the north of Congo (see subsequent posts – coming soon! – for a journey into my madness in the jungle!)

What I’m doing: renewing my inspiration

Why I’m posting: it’s birthday season


Though I was born on an October morn, the early part of the year is one of two major birthday seasons in my family. Between talking to my brother about his upcoming year following his 26th birthday and working through our friend Matty’s annual Top 10ish Albums of the Year (one of my favorite New Year’s events of every year), I’ve been inspired to share a birthday-related activity that I engage in every year.

First, I should note that this activity began when I was 18. For a number of reasons, I genuinely did not expect to live past 17, and it was with some shock that I celebrated my 18th birthday. From that year on, I’ve celebrated each subsequent birthday with thankfulness about my continued existence with a specially-chosen birthday song(s), usually which mentions that particular age. Looking back on these song choices, I’m reminded of my feelings at that time, my station in life, where I was living, who I was with, and what I imagined for my life going forward. It’s something I also enjoy doing – like many people – every New Year at midnight (thus, this post might be doubly relevant as it’s still technically January).

Having something like a song to remember that time helps. So I’ll share my songs and a little about my life at each of those years. If you’d like to comment on your own unique birthday or New Year’s celebrations, I’d love to hear it. Music deeply touches me, and that’s why this celebration is special to me. Without further ado, then, the list:

Age 18

What I listened to: “I’m 18” by Alice Cooper (though I first heard it as a remake by Creed. Don’t tell anyone I said that)

Where I was living: Middletown, Ohio

Why the song was relevant: Self-explanatory mostly. I wasn’t a big AC fan (except in Wayne’s World), but was very much into rock and felt like the song exemplified how I felt trapped between preparing to embark on what I thought would be my journey into adulthood (college…wrong there!).

Key lyric: “Lines form on my face and hands / Lines form from the ups and downs / I’m in the middle without any plans / I’m a boy and I’m a man / I’m eighteen / and I don’t know what I want”

Age 19

What I listened to: “Losing a Whole Year” by Third Eye Blind

Where I was living: South Bend, Indiana

Why the song was relevant: The singer finds a girl that loves him for his awesomeness and he feels used. For some reason, I thought I was awesome back then and that the song fit my life. But still, one of my favorite albums ever.

Key lyric: “Now you want to try your life of sin / You want to be down with the down and in / Always copping my truths / I kind of get the feeling like I’m being used….Losing a whole year”

Age 20

What I listened to: “Unwell” by Matchbox 20 [Years later, I pretended that I had, in fact, listened to the as-yet unreleased song “20 Years of Snow” by Regina Spektor, a song that ironically says the subject “lives in a matchbox”]

Where I was living: South Bend, Indiana

Why the song was relevant: The song had nothing to do with my age (just the band name), but at the time, I felt like I was losing my hard-fought identity in favor of an easier one. Still, I held onto who I was to make sure that it would still be who I would be.

Key lyric: (from “Unwell”) “I’m not crazy, I’m just a little impaired / I know right now you don’t care / But soon enough you’re gonna think of me / And how I used to be…me” (from “20 Years of Snow”) “I’m twenty years of clean / I never truly hated anyone or anything”

Age 21

What I listened to: “Guilty Conscience” by Eminem

Where I was living: South Bend, Indiana

Why the song was relevant: One of the song’s characters is a 21-yr old facing a moral dilemma at a party. That pretty much depicts college, doesn’t it?

Key lyric: (Just trust me that the lyrics say that. I wouldn’t suggest looking them up.)

Age 22

What I listened to: “Who do you love?” version by George Thorogood; “100 Years” by Five for Fighting

Where I was living: South Bend, Indiana

Why the song was relevant: Both singers mention being 22 and reflecting on their respective lives. The former was one of the songs that gave me the idea to start this tradition, so I had to listen to it, though I did, in fact, mind dying at the time! The latter is a sappy, maybe-embarrassing-to-mention song that reflected how I felt about my then-girlfriend, now-wife. Hopefully we’ll all get 100 years.

Key quote: (from “Who do you love?”) “I’m just 22 and I don’t mind dying”  (from “100 Years”) “I’m twenty-two for a moment / She feels better than ever / And we’re on fire / Making our way back from Mars”

Age 23

What I listened to: “What’s my age again?” by Blink-182; “Dancing Nancies” by Dave Matthews Band

Where I was living: San Diego, California

Why the song was relevant: Both songs were several years old by then, but I had mentally set them aside for this tradition. It was made better by my living with Irish and Romanian students at the time, thus giving them a flavor of some of the various types of “rock” music I had grown up listening to. PS: That DMB album nearly ruined my life at a younger age, so it was nice to look back on it with a more mature perspective.

Key lyric: (from “What’s my age again?”) “Nobody likes you when you’re 23 … My friends say that I should act my age / What’s my age again? What’s my age again?”   (from “Dancing Nancies”) “Twenty-three and so tired of life / Such a shame to throw it all away / The images grow darker still / Could I have been anyone other than me?”

Age 24

What I listened to: “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio

Where I was living: Chicago, Illinois

Why the song was relevant: A staple song for us as we were growing up, the song is a desperate and poetic introspection (seriously) by a trapped youth who sees his world dying around him. My birthday was only a couple months after my dad died, and I very much felt this way up until my birthday, when I finally realized that the rest of our lives somehow go on.

Key lyric: “Death ain’t nothin’ but a heartbeat away / I’m livin’ life, do or die, what can I say / I’m twenty-three now, but will I live to see twenty-four / The ways things are going I don’t know”

Age 25

What I listened to: “Soma” by The Strokes

Where I was living: Chicago, Illinois

Why the song was relevant: By this point, I was starting to feel like a somewhat settled adult. So the song reflects a certain resigned lightheartedness at the prospect of growing up. Though the song’s subject is theoretically talking about having taken a drug called soma for 25 years, some (myself included) interpret the “drug” here as life.

Key lyric: “Tried it once and they like it / Then tried to hide it / Says, ‘I’ve been doing this 25 years’”

Age 26

What I listened to: “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake

Where I was living: Chicago, Illinois

Why the song was relevant: Though the song doesn’t mention being 26, the artist died when he was 26. I had come to know Nick Drake’s music like many Americans…through a Volkswagen commercial. Since that time, I learned a lot more about a very talented musician who died far too young (apparently by 1 year – see Age 27). But the commercial, and subsequently the song, reminded me of an idealized picture of my relationships. Luckily, during this year of my life, I got to live out those relationships in very much that fashion.

Key lyric: (The music, not so much the lyrics, are what struck me about this song; I suggest checking out the link above)

Age 27

What I listened to: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana; the rock anthem for Generation Whatever

Where I was living: Chicago, Illinois

Why the song was relevant: Age 27 is either a great or terrible time to be a famous musician. A remarkable number of notable singers have died of various offenses at 27. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Robert Johnson, Kurt Cobain, and recently Amy Winehouse, just to name a very few. Some inevitably died of self-fulfilling prophesy. In any case, I was preparing to leave my beloved Chicago to join the Foreign Service, both of which were causes for introspection and a look back at one of the most formative musicians (for myself and for other musicians of the time) from my youth.

Key lyric: “With the lights outs, it’s less dangerous / Here we are now, entertain us / I feel stupid and contagious / Here we are now, entertain us”

Age 28

What I listened to: I might have listened to “By the river’s edge” by The Gaslight Anthem as I had planned to because it mentioned being 28, but I think I actually listened to “Muzzle” by The Smashing Pumpkins. Apparently this was the year I started to lose my memory.

Where I was living: Arlington, Virginia

Why the song was relevant: “Muzzle” was my favorite song from one of my very favorite albums growing up: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Those closely following that type of music frequently noted that the album had 28 songs. Moreover, “Muzzle” had significant meaning to me. I listened to it on repeat for about 10 hours when my first girlfriend broke up with me; gave a presentation on it at a retreat during senior year of high school as describing my life after I felt I had overcome some major issues; then secretly snuck it into my wedding reception’s playlist as a kind of capstone.

Key lyric: “I fear that I am ordinary, just like everyone / To lie hear and die among the sorrows / Adrift among the days / For everything I’ve ever said / And everything I’ve ever done is gone and dead / As all things must surely have to end / And great loves will one day have to part / I know that I am meant for this world.”

Age 29

What I listened to: “Slow Show” by The National

Where I was living: Brazzaville, Rep. of Congo (though I celebrated in Dayton, Ohio; appropriate since the band members are from southern Ohio, too)

Why the song was relevant: Definitely my favorite band right now and one that my wife, friends, some family, and I all share important memories and associations over. It was weird to be back visiting the U.S. after several months in the decidedly un-U.S.-like Congo, but listening to The National helped bring me home.

Key lyric: “You know I dreamed about you / for twenty-nine years before I saw you / You know I dreamed about you / I missed you for / twenty-nine years”


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