My Celebrity Crush Got Older, A Little Jaded, And A Lot More Human
There are only so many things you can expect from eating fried rice out of a marinara-stained Tupperware in the semi-renovated kitchen of your lackluster office. The list of reasonable expectations begins with small talk, the smell of other people's food, and a bit of sawdust in your mouth. Meeting your favorite celebrity from your punk-rock childhood lingers down near the bottom, alongside getting a raise, and discovering a cure for cancer.
It’s a moment you wish to have at thirteen, and by the time you reach twenty-two, you’re more preoccupied with the fact that you work in insurance despite a four-year degree than you are with reconciling the person in front of you with the memories in your head.
For the first few moments, I wasn’t even sure I could believe my own eyes. Tall, slim, black stretchers in both ears and familiar sleeve tattoos created a cacophony of images in my head. I’d seen hours of footage; interviews, acoustic covers, music videos. I’d waited in the freezing rain of a Canadian winter simply to catch a glimpse of him heading back to the tour bus. And there he was — clad in paint-splattered Dickies and holding the hospital-pale pink paint that would soon cover the walls.
In middle school, my friends and I were untouchable.
We were: two children of divorce whose homes provided us with overworked mothers and lax rules; one pastor’s daughter who gave us access to empty church rec rooms and burnt CDs; and me, the wannabe rebel with strict parents and no cell phone. Our time was ours entirely. Our rebellion was music.
Lunch hours were spent hunched over an iPod touch on the grassy field, embracing My Chemical Romance and All Time Low, reveling in the knowledge that our peers were blasting Bieber while we played real music. The lead singer of one of our favorite bands co-wrote for Carly Rae Jepsen and we knew her songs months before they played over the gym speakers. We were the original hipsters. We were revolutionaries. Our family computers would play fan-made lyric videos of Panic! At the Disco and Fall Out Boy at the lowest volume setting, sneaking the risque lyrics past the ears of parents; we’d burn mix CDs and hope the carpool parent-of-the-week would let us play them; we’d sing off-key acapella alongside Marianas Trench in the St. Saviors choir room and imagine we were right on stage with them.
The early-twenty-something men of the mid-2010 punk-rock era were our idols. If my friends and I were untouchable, they were God-like. Perfection in our eyes, nothing else mattered; evasive in their mild fame and the irrational joy of being part of something not everyone knew. Larger than life, fantastical in their persona, a step above anything I could ever be. One friend didn’t wash the sweater she wore when she hugged Alex Gaskarth because she claimed it still smelt like his cologne. Others drove for hours to be stand-ins in the background of music videos. We wore heavy eyeliner and plaid pants in an era of Ugg boots and skinny jeans, untouched by the jeers of the other girls because we had something special with these punk-rock bands. They sang to the underdogs, and we hollered back. Sometimes during P.E. Often, we were the only ones hollering.
If my friends and I were untouchable, they were God-like.
The idea of real-life never touched them. At times, we’d discussed the ethics of bands performing drunk at Warped Tour: “It’s an insult to their fans”, but we never went any further. Maybe there wasn’t more to say. Maybe we were too young to know about it, or too naive to even imagine it.
I was waiting for a flight when my mom texted me the news. It was hard to be shocked— 2018 was a heavy-hitter for sexual assault news — but it felt like a punch in the stomach. There are some parts of your childhood you hope the real world never taints.
The airport was full of university students heading home for fall break, and at least five other women scouted out and then watched the silent television alongside me; the banner at the bottom repeating the lead singer’s name, the band’s name, and his charges. I remember exchanging a glance with the girl next to me, and unspoken understanding passing between us: disappointed, but not surprised. While I felt no sympathy for the frontman, I let a brief thought pass by about the other band members: Did they know? And what were they going to do now?
And so there was the guitarist, a man whose autograph adorned the faded concert ticket pinned to a bulletin board in my parents' basement, wearing the baseball cap of a restoration company in a town so remote there’s only one boat that can take you there.
He said a perfunctory hello to me, then set down the paint and began setting up a drop sheet. I gawked for a solid 30 seconds, and then slowly kept eating. That night, I triple-checked the sign-in sheet to be sure; his signature on the page the same as the one I once waited in line for. I am at once a young girl obsessed, and a woman in awe. Most of my friends had a thing for the lead — I’d always crushed on him.
Over the next two weeks, we’d interact in the back room with the smell of microwave lunches and fresh paint. Sometimes he’d be adjusting baseboards or drywall, sometimes adding coats of pale baby pink. We’d talk.
He asked me how I like the coast — I’d just moved — and how I liked insurance — I didn’t. We bonded over painting: his newfound career and my summer stint as a house painter for wealthy families. We both enjoyed the simplicity of it. The closest we got to his past life was when I responded to his query of why I moved to the coast with a similar question of my own.
“We wanted to be in a place where nobody knew us.” He said it with a tired tone, as if he’d been asked one too many times.
I didn’t pry. He didn’t explain.
Wentz. Webb. Wilson. Way. At thirteen, these men were my idols. At twenty-two, they are people. It’s easier to say when you can see the change in front of you; when the last time you saw the nearly 40-year-old who’s painting your office building, you’d paid to see him perform on stage. No one expects to grow up and work jobs you hate. No one expects a friend to make a mistake that ruins your life. There are some things you learn only with time.
I listened to the band for the first time in years as I walked home from work that first day. There was a moment of anxiety before I pressed play — would I still like the music? Can you appreciate music without absolving the crimes of a lead singer? Would the guitarist accidentally hear the music through my headphones and realize I knew who he was? The music brought me back in an instant, a visceral moment where I was at once thirteen in my bedroom and twenty-two far away from my hometown. It was no longer my taste. And that was okay.
There are moments I wish I could travel back in time ten years to my days of rocking out to bold punk-rock with reckless abandon. I’m certain there are days he wishes he could too. Life was easier when the hardest choice was what album to queue up, what band we’d beg our parents to see, what merch we’d thrown on in the morning. But there’s a simplicity in the realization that your heroes are only human.
I’ll admit my heart skipped a beat the first day he walked into our office and greeted me by name. I’m not ashamed to say I texted the girls from that group the moment I saw him, some for the first time in years. Those moments were fleeting. After a while, he became less of the rockstar that held my heart for the tumultuous four years of sixth through ninth grade, and more the kind man that talked me through my lunch break. Meeting him felt like a once-in-a-lifetime chance, but in the end, he was a person just like me. If anything, it made me feel better.
Part of me wants to encapsulate moments, freeze them in time. It’s hard to hear that your icons are having children when you were a child the last time you saw them. It’s that strange feeling, like when a friend tells you how old their sibling is, and at once you have to reconcile that, of course, they aged at the same rate you did, and of course they wouldn’t be stuck as a 4th grader forever. If the picture in your mind is from years past, you can pretend, if only for a moment, that time never touched you either.
When we look at celebrities, we see people as who we want them to be, not who they are. We see the perfect persona, crafted for the eyes of adoring fans. The persona can never last forever, it can never keep up with our never-ending growth. Time hits us all, no matter how much you try and avoid it. Life goes on, we learn and grow. Fame ebbs and flows, we get older, a bit more jaded, and move on. People are people. Humans are humans.
On a Friday afternoon I watched as he painted with his back to me; headphones in, humming softly. I wasn’t the music I’d heard from him before. It was softer, older, something more suited to the time, the environment, the world around us.
Part of me wants to encapsulate moments, freeze them in time. The rest of me is okay with the world moving on.