You Love Me Mostly When I’m Leaving: Mothers and Adult Mom on Getting Hurt and Getting Better
I got his number in January. I got her number in January, via Twitter DM. The day before, she had tweeted a video of Adult Mom’s Momentary Lapse of Happily spinning on her turntable, to which I had replied “i’m coming over”, to which she had replied with the winking, kiss-blowing emoji. The week before, we had met at a show, where I was on a third and, as it turned out, final date with someone else, and where she had been crying over her ex moments before meeting up with me to smoke cigarettes in the alley. Here are my hands, reminding you of someone else’s hands. We had been following each other on Twitter for a few months, and I knew she was going through a break-up, that she was wanting to learn to be comfortable alone, to self-soothe, to hold her own hand at shows, as she put it, referencing the first track of the aforementioned record, which the first sentence of this essay also references; nonetheless I went ahead and got in the way of that goal, held her hand in crowds, for a short time.
“i’m never not listening to adult mom in the shower,” I tweeted recently, and indeed the album feels much like getting clean, like a hot bath, or tea when you’re sick and just got out of the rain. Mothers’ fantastic When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired feels rather more like being dragged through the muck, but gently, with the promise of ultimately being better, and better able to stand, for the dragging. I survive because I have died. I’ve been letting both records, well, mother me these past couple of months, as I struggle to stand on my own, let others do the same, and not think so much about the girl whose number I got in January.
Though sonically quite different — Adult Mom tempts one to use the word “twee” and recalls acts like Frankie Cosmos and Eskimeaux, while Mothers’ sound ranges from the sparse quiet of early Joanna Newsom to a full-band folk-rock rollick, frontwoman Kristine Leschper’s voice just as dynamic as the songs themselves — these two albums are strikingly similar in their shape and subject matter. Leschper and Adult Mom’s Steph Knipe each explore the rough terrain of an emotionally abusive relationship, describing feelings of worthlessness and moments of empathy with poignancy and color, and eventually emerging stronger, less dependent, and better equipped to give love, both to others and to themselves. Let me just straight-up give you a list of some of the parallel lyrics:
Mothers: “I want to apologize to everyone I see / I want to apologize to everyone I meet”
Adult Mom: “You hurt me the same every day, and I’ll apologize”; all of “Sorry I Was Sorry”
Mothers: “You say you need me now / Oh, shut your dirty mouth”
Adult Mom: “Bullshit, I’m not some fantasy / But you keep saying that you miss me”
Mothers: “You always made it easy / Reminding me not to bloom”
Adult Mom: “I just needed someone who would appreciate the growth”; “Realized then I was just trying to get green”
Mothers: “I woke up feeling mutilated / And I made my way as best I could to my place”
Adult Mom: “On my back again, I wanna fucking die / I wipe your sweat off my skin, it’s the same every time”
Mothers: “You love me mostly when I’m leaving / I was half gone when you met me”
Adult Mom: “He only loved me when I looked away / My neck hurts from keeping it the same way”
Mothers: “Keep those little hands / Right there in your pockets / I can’t say that I want them”
Adult Mom: “Now I hold my own hands in crowds of bands and my friends”
By the end of these records, some healing has happened. Knipe has rebuilt a sense of self that had been temporarily damaged by trauma: “I lost love, love does what it does / Thought I lost me, but there I was,” they affirm on album closer “Lose/Recover”. On the other album’s final track, when everything slows and swells and Leschper sings, “I think I could learn to love,” you believe her, and you believe in her.
The girl whose number I got in January didn’t treat me badly, much. In fact, one thing that makes these two albums so good, and so good for me at this particular moment, is that I find myself identifying not only with their Is but also with their yous. I do love you mostly when you’re leaving, and I’m sorry, and I will try to be better. You were half gone when I met you, and I knew that, and I should have known better. I read this week that those with anxious attachment styles (“clingy” types) and those with avoidant attachment styles (“distant” types) tend to be drawn to one another, because each type confirms the other’s beliefs about reality, each type validates the other’s worst fears, and boy is that sad, and boy do I hope we can all get better.
Out of the many shows I attended in the month of May, these two bands’ were the ones I looked forward to the most, and justifiably so, as it turned out. Mothers delivered the kind of big sound that you feel through your whole body, with Leschper’s voice nonetheless standing out in its brash vulnerability, baring wounds with blunt, brutal lines like “I hate my body” and “I don’t like myself when I’m awake” as well as the more subtle ones that keep you wondering — “I’ve imagined you one hundred pennies underneath my tongue” — her lyrics are poetry, and I don’t say that lightly. Leschper hardly waited to be asked to come back on for an encore, which she performed hushed and solo, heedless of the background bar chatter, because she’s the real deal and knows it.
Twenty days later I tried despite unfortunate footwear to honor Knipe’s request that their audience dance during bouncy stand-out number “What’s Another Lipstick Mark”, a song that reminds us to celebrate the little victories and forgive ourselves the little failures, too: “Success is finding a seat on a crowded subway / And not getting lipstick on my apple when I take a bite, say / I shouldn’t beat myself up over some added red pigment,” Knipe sang, kneeling to engage the folks in the front row before resuming hopping around on stage again. The whole thing was a lot of fun, for the fans singing along and evidently for the band members, whose chemistry was delightful to witness. And I teared up a little bit when Knipe introduced “Survival” as being “for the queers. Well, it’s for everyone, but mostly us.”