by Jessica Perry
I grew up in New Jersey — a state with undeniable musical history. Beyond Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, this oft-insulted landmass has acted as a cross-generational beacon of punk and hardcore glory. Perhaps it’s our shitty reputation of oil tankers, strip malls, and fist pumping. Maybe it’s the less-talked-about countrysides, farmlands, and oceanfronts. But something about this place makes it rife with songwriting opportunities aligned with values and themes typically celebrated within this music scene — loving your town, hating your town, loving your friends, hating your friends, having your heart broken, going to diners. That’s what resonated with me and what resonates with many misguided suburban teenagers.
Right now, I sit in a coffee shop in New Brunswick — a small college town from where pioneers and torch-bearers hailed — Lifetime, Thursday, Bouncing Souls, You and I, Midtown, The Gaslight Anthem, Screaming Females. Travel up US–1 and you’ll run into Newark, hometown of My Chemical Romance. Down US–1 South, you’ll hit Princeton, the hometown of my favorite band — Saves The Day. Even now, nearly 30 years old, I drive around here with giddiness as the history of the bands and scene I love surround me. Being a teenager here in the 2000s was really exciting, and it made being a music fan easy, fun, romantic, accessible.
It also made growing up and out of it harder. And I can’t say I have, will, or even want to.
I will be 30 in October — a senior citizen by Zack’s standards, and approximately eight years beyond the age where recent college graduates tout that they’re “too old” – for shows, for “the pit,” for staying out late. Punk, emo, or whatever restrictive adjectives you want to assign to my taste have steered my life’s course since I was 13. My hobbies, my friendships, my passions, my (failed) relationships, my humor, my place of residence — direct results of picking up blink–182 and MxPx records sometime in the late 90s and never really putting them down.
Honestly, I’ve been struggling with the inevitability of the first digit of my age odometer flipping from two to three. I’m worried about people I consider(ed?) peers ostracizing me for being “too old.” I’m worried about retreating because I assume people will feel that way. I’m worried that “normal” adults, whatever that means, will snicker and tell me to get a “real hobby.” I’m worried that I’ll look back when I’m 35 and wonder why the fuck I spent 20 years doing whatever this is. I’m often confronted with the tension caused by feeling like I should be feeling nostalgic and the reality that nostalgia requires one to detach his/herself from present-day enjoyment.
Often, my early teens felt like a movie. In the early 2000s, New Jersey was a hotbed of bands and venues of all genres and sizes. My friends and I would pile into my mom’s Camry and get dropped off at Krome or Birch Hill, adoringly watch an assortment of Drive-Thru, Vagrant, and Victory bands, and spend the rest of the night gushing about the show at a diner. When I got my license, we’d pile into my Camry and head to New York, Philly, or anywhere within a four-hour radius. In the beginning, it was entirely the music, and the camaraderie that we all know so well – being entangled in strangers’ arms during a particularly poignant singalong, the relief and elation of finally finding “your people” in the walls of a VFW hall, the ethos of a subculture that validated, accepted, and welcomed your idiosyncrasies and neuroses.
My life in 2015 isn’t much different, though – way more miles traveled, maybe fewer lawsuit-addled labels, a new car, and sleep and a 9 to 5 in place of a post-show diner trip. But I’m still filled with the same love, excitement, anxiety, and bewilderment about how fucking cool life can be when you let it happen without other people’s pressures and expectations. In my mid–20s, I let those pressures and expectations bother me a lot more than they do now. Now, I find it incredibly ironic – so many of us embraced counterculture because it challenged the mainstream status quo, because we were (or felt) different and excluded. But often, in this overwhelmingly large Venn diagram of a scene of emos, -punks, and -cores, we are the ones doing the excluding (and ageism is only the very tip of the iceberg). That goes for invalidating teenagers’ feelings and tastes, too, by the way!
But I think that’s why I resent the “too old” mentality so vehemently. Being “too old” sounds too much like being “too good for” or “more mature than.” It’s always said with an air of superiority, or to establish a distance between who you were and who you are – as if you could be one without the other. It cheapens peoples’ experiences, including one’s own. Sure, we change and evolve. Some of us stick it out; some of us abandon it in college in exchange for stability and routines; some of us try to balance between the two. That doesn’t make anyone better, just different.
Doing what you love, what makes you happy, shouldn’t have an age (or any) restriction. “All ages” doesn’t mean 14–23. We don’t anxiously await our 21st birthdays just to trade up for more “adult” interests. Life doesn’t stop happening and we have to find ways – new and old – to make it easier (or even possible) to maneuver.
As the years have passed…as I’ve grown, attended more shows, seen more of the world, met more people, and gotten a handle on my individuality outside of this scene, I’ve found even more to love, and more to be thankful for than ever before. I’ve watched my heroes become my peers before my very eyes, often to the point of surprise and disbelief. I’ve built meaningful relationships with people I respect, who respect me, and whose politics and values are respectable. Through my tinges of jadedness and my undeniable tiredness, I’ve grown alongside, not out of, my bands and my scene. I’ve lived this unbelievably full, vibrant, and fulfilling life, and somehow changed the course for an impossibly broken, self-hating, anxious, often suicidal teenager to, at the risk of sounding entirely cliché, “find herself.” I resent that people look down on that, or think that the capacity to feel those things should have an age restriction.
More than any relationship, job, or hobby, staying heavily involved in this scene taught me about myself, about the importance of doing well by my own standards. That perspective makes turning 30 in a largely early-to-mid–20s scene feel a little easier.
I’m not clinging to my youth, or using this scene as a crutch to maintain some sort of relevance. I’m not collecting tokens of nostalgia to feel “17 again” for a couple hours and then forgetting about how much this means to me until the next anniversary tour comes around. I’m 29 and feeling happy, proud, and thankful about where my life has been and where it’s heading – and 14-year-old me would have never, ever imagined herself living long enough to feel that way.
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