Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown
I remember the first time I listened to Los Campesinos. It was on the suggestion of a girl (of course) that I had a crush on (obviously). It was November of 2007 in New Paltz. I was 19. I pirated a copy of Sticking Fingers Into Sockets on my dorm room internet connection and I let it wash over me. It was cheeky and ebullient. It was twee but still punk as fuck, as if to say “yeah, I’ve got this heart on my sleeve and I dare you to ask me about it.” I listened to “You, Me Dancing!” on repeat. I played it for anyone who would stop to listen.
I’d been given a gift.
And maybe in the most Los Campesinos! fashion, I’d never come close to kissing that girl but now I’d never forget her.
I began to mark out time with Los Campesinos! as my meter.
Hold On Now, Youngster would come out as I began my fourth semester and it almost never left my headphones. I had been out of my two year high school relationship for almost a year. I was a martyr for love. Woe was me. And every note and lyric on that album revved up my still raw heart like a final, fatal Livejournal entry. Sure, I was over it but I could sure as hell be cleverly bitter about it. So the fact that LC! had a show just a few days after her birthday in May and she wanted to hang out seemed like some sort of poetic justice. (It wasn’t) This would be the final nail in the coffin that held all my feelings for her. (Again, it wasn’t)
She had a good time. I was crushed. Didn’t she realize I was singing all those lyrics at her?
And this sentimental movie marathon has taught us one thing:
It’s the opposite of true love is as follows: Reality!
I was an ass.
I started dating someone that summer. LC! would release We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed that Fall. Suddenly, these were my heart’s songs. I was having a hard time trying to fall in love and Gareth’s lyrics spoke more to me now than ever before.: Oh we kid ourselves, there’s future in the fucking but there is no fucking future…
I wanted to fall in love but what was the point? They always ended up the same. In my last year of being a teenager I didn’t understand why. Almost a decade later, I’m starting to understand why. I don’t really do things in half measures. But my all or nothing approach to relationships remains unsustainable. And while it’s definitely informed by my own mental instability, there’s really no excuse. You can’t hold back hoping not to get hurt then pour out everything onto the table and expect people to be okay with that. If I was paying attention, I would have realized that acting like a character in an LC! song never really works out for that person. But there’s that old myth: you’ve gotta be tortured to make good art. So I’d find ways to wound myself and more ways to blame someone else.
Charming. I know. But I was 20… and 21…. and 24…. and 27. Well, you get the idea.
Hilariously, I didn’t make great art. I barely made any. I wrote 6 songs, rode a wave small college town idol worship then graduated and wondered why nobody loved me anymore.
Fact is that they didn’t love me. They loved having somewhere to drink and make out and feel like they were part of something. I wanted to believe I was starting a movement. Meanwhile, my own bandmates didn’t know the words to our songs or what they were about.
The good old days weren’t even really that good. They’re just memories polished with sweat and stinking of malt liquor.
And all I wanted to do at that point was try to reach “heights of artistry” that LC! was. Before the release of Romance is Boring, I obsessively listened to “The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future.” I tried to write a similar missive with my band. We ended up accidentally ripping off Broken Social Scene.
Weirdly, LC! album titles have almost worked as chapter headings for my own life. Around the time of Romance is Boring, I was feeling similarly. The end of college loomed. I was surely on to bigger and better things. Hello Sadness marked my return home and the realization that there was no bigger and better.
I was the general manager of a Johnny Rockets. I drank every night because I was so bored. I started sleepwalking more. I tried to fight my Dad once (while drunk and asleep). Over the next year, I watched a four year relationship unravel because I made myself unavailable, because I expected other people to fill in my shortcomings. I treated other people like a safety net. I blamed them when it felt like they had pulled the chair out from under me.
I wanted to have a reason to to be sad and I wanted those reasons to be important. You see, I am a An Artist burdened by the weight of all this Great Art that I keep not making.
I’m Full of Shit.
And I think I didn’t like Hello Sadness because Gareth makes fun of himself and I took it personally. Take this bit from “Straight in at 101”
I phone my friends and family to gather round the television;
The talking heads count down the most heart-wrenching break ups of all time.
Imagine the great sense of waste, The indignity, the embarrassment,
When not a single one of that whole century was mine.
But he’d been doing that the whole time! I wasn’t any sort of hero. I was the obnoxious faux-romantic that LC! kept sending up. I just kept ignoring the signs.
No Blues came out as I found myself on an upswing. Or at least that’s what I thought. There was some hope in its songs of longing. I felt connected to Gareth’s ennui. It was still cheeky and clever but it felt heavier somehow. I had only just started to peel layers back from gender identity struggles that were mounting. While Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues provided me a very direct outlet for that, LC! hung in the background for those days when the existential dread really crept in. There was only one band that could soundtrack my lonely.
And in the 3+ years since that record’s release, I’ve seen my same old cycles return. I am self-important. I am self-involved. I am selfish. And I keep looking for people to applaud me for it.
What the fuck?
I’m almost 30 now. That feels weird to type. But everyone feels that way.
That’s the thing about LC!, part of why they’re so good is because they’re shouting about all the ways that everyone feels. Everyone. I’m not special. Everyone feels terrible sometimes. Everyone gets their heart broken. Everyone wants to die sometimes.
This is no epiphany.
A new Los Campesinos! album is out today. It’s really good and it closes with this line:
but what, if this is it now, what if this is how we die?
And if this is it now, if I’ve crystallized, if this is how i die, if this is the person I am, then I am severely disappointed in myself.
My depression has gotten worse. My trichotillomania is back. There’s a certain futility present in my life lately. I’ve mentioned to people lately that I feel like a caricature, that I’m not myself, that everything I do feels like I’m watching myself on TV. I feel like I can’t connect to people. I feel fake.
And I think that’s because I have been. I’ve been self-serving and selfish and bad to people and I haven’t really tried to fix it.
It feels weird to essentially say “oh hey, I listened to this album and it made me want to die a little less.” But it’s true. I don’t feel better necessarily. I just know that I need to make a change.
And I think I’ve known that I need to make a change but listening to Sick Scenes made me want to take over the world again. It reminded me that yeah, it’s easy to cynical about stuff but you don’t have to be. That yeah, maybe those good old days weren’t all good but there’s no sense in making them worse in your memory.
Because the best parts of my life have always happened when I was good to other people, honestly and openly and expecting nothing in return. And the worst have always been when I expect others to do all the work.
I am wrong.
I am sorry.
This feels like it could be the last LC! album and I’m finally starting to feel okay about that. They’re important to me. They are necessary. They’ve been a foil for me. But it feels like I can let them go. I won’t enjoy them any less but there’s nothing left for them to teach me. I didn’t realize there was anything in the first place.
Thank you, Los Campesinos!