We’ll forever be the young
There comes a point in life when birthdays cease to be useful tools for demarcating the passage of time. Maybe it has something to do with not being able to fit twenty-something candles on a cake. Years bleed into one another, landmarks increasingly untethered to numbers. Then it happens: you’re old, and possibly a grown up.
I didn’t notice my birthday this year. It washed over me, just another wave in a turbulent sea of personal crises. Nothing registered. Weeks later, I keep catching myself looking at Tinder profiles of 25 year olds and mumbling that we’re the same age before realizing that I would now be the (mildly) older man. That’s the only time age comes up; otherwise it’s really just a number.
The real sign of my aging came earlier in the summer, well before my birthday. In the span of a couple weeks, all the bands my 12-year-old self dreamed of seeing on the Warped Tour at Montreal’s hippodrome seemed to announce that they were getting back together and releasing new material. Or at least so it seemed. Good Charlotte was suddenly adding a new song to its set Alternative Press Music Awards. Sum 41, which had appeared long gone even within the relatively forgiving world of Canadian content, popped up in my YouTube feed with a new music video. The recommendations that followed included a link to Blink 182’s latest iteration. The band currently has about as many original members as The Who.
My musical life is not yet all in the past. There are still new bands and styles to be found, but with every passing year the corner of my iTunes library devoted to nostalgia grows. At some point when I wasn’t paying attention, however, I became a target for the nostalgia industry. The only thing more galling than this discovery is the realization that this musical phenomenon is meant to correspond with financial progress. The bands that characterized your adolescence are touring again because they assume you’re now at the point in your life where you can plunk down some disposable income on concert tickets. Oops?
The bands that characterized your adolescence are touring again because they assume you’re now at the point in your life where you can plunk down some disposable income on concert tickets.
Against this backdrop of revivals, Yellowcard announced that its tenth, final, and eponymous album would come out on September 30, 2016. While the acts Yellowcard shared the stage with at the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards inch towards the celebrity cruise circuit, the band with a violin is calling it quits. All things must end, but that does not change the incongruity of Yellowcard pulling the plug just as its peers commence their second or third acts.
Twelve years after the heyday of Ocean Avenue, it can be hard to remember that Yellowcard’s particular brand of pop-punk was all about beginnings. It imbued a lifetime of feelings into a couple minutes of lived experience. That, incidentally, is what it feels like to be 14. Every event in your life feels important because nothing has actually happened yet. Yellowcard’s biggest hits were never adolescent in the same way as Blink 182’s dick jokes, but they were spiritually adolescent. Every love was the greatest love; every loss was the biggest loss.
Then life happened. It would not be inaccurate to say that Yellowcard matured, but that claim also misses the point. The basic sense of what constituted a Yellowcard song remained largely intact on Lights and Sounds and Paper Walls, but the experiences behind them slowly grew: The band fell out of love with California; founding guitarist Ben Harper left acrimoniously; the ambient dissatisfaction of the late Bush years set in. All of this, I suppose, is a convoluted way of saying that Yellowcard grew more complicated and less popular after the summer of 2014. That, of course, is what a fan would say. It doesn’t excuse the indulgences of Lights and Sounds, but it helps to explain the band’s evolution.
Life continued to happen. The band took a hiatus and returned again in 2011 with When You’re Through Thinking Say Yes. It was still an album about beginnings, but now those beginnings involved starting over. “Sing for Me” and “See Me Smiling” contemplated life after a loss. “Be the Young” concluded the album by waving goodbye to youth as a salutary acknowledgement of adulthood’s start. This was, in its own way, a new beginning: The albums that followed, Southern Air and Lift a Sail, revisited the pop punk of Ocean Avenue but the lived experiences were now real. Frontman Ryan Key’s wife was paralyzed from the waist down; Violinist Sean Mackin battled cancer; “Ten” from Southern Air addressed the legacy of a pregnancy that didn’t come to term.
Yellowcard, beyond its mere place in the band’s oeuvre, is an album about endings. Most songs focus on saying goodbye or wanting to go home. Outros linger, like the end of a date when you know you have to go but maybe just one more minute. The effect is moving if a bit disorienting. In the context of Yellowcard’s discography, almost of every song on the album sounds like an outro. It is not a judgment of their quality to note that I frequently checked my phone to see if this was really the end of the album.
Most endings, of course, are also beginnings and in that sense Yellowcard is a classic Yellowcard album. “What Appears” is a propulsive reminder that the band will be okay once the final curtain falls. Musicians don’t actually die when their careers end, they just go on to other things. By pulling the plug with premeditation, Yellowcard offers itself one final beginning. This beginning, however, won’t be set to keys, guitar, and violin. This beginning will not be for public consumption.
What of the audience’s new beginnings? I feel weird about approaching Yellowcard because it is the band’s first album where my experiences aren’t purely theoretical. Since the release of Lift of Sail I have left an unhealthy workplace, lived through medical scares, been laid off, attended the first of my peers’ funerals, and almost got married. This is the first time since the weightless Ocean Avenue prompted me to be late to summer camp that a Yellowcard album has lined up with my lot in life. That, in its own right, is a beginning, albeit a melancholy one. Eventually feelings and lived emotion start to match up. Eventually spiritual adolescents are just adults. What now?