We’re All Teenagers Again

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In a Pandemic, the Songs We Loved as Kids May Save Us As Adults

I had a moment while shopping in a Publix a couple of months into the pandemic. I was wearing a mask, as were most customers, and shopping for many of the things I often get at this one particular store. Bread, milk, broccoli rabe, crushed tomatoes, sardines. The usual things. But the experience was disorienting. I hadn’t really adjusted yet to the markings on the floor indicating which direction to walk down an aisle. I was nervous passing another customer with my cart. I couldn’t help noticing the people without masks. I was hesitant to talk with the produce person when I couldn’t find the rabe. I couldn’t find anything, really.

Then I noticed a song on the store’s sound system. It was Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World.” I hadn’t even considered the lyrics to the song, but the sound of it immediately lightened my spirits and oriented me in the moment. In a situation that would normally be mundane, and was now nothing of the sort, the song was recognizable and familiar. Duran Duran brought me comfort.

And then there are those lyrics.

What has happened to it all?
Crazy, some’d say
Where is the life that I recognize?
Gone away

But I won’t cry for yesterday
There’s an ordinary world
Somehow I have to find
And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive

The outro is particularly inspiring.

Every world
Is my world
(I will learn to survive)
Any world
Is my world
(I will learn to survive)
Any world
Is my world

I walked out of Publix — I never found the broccoli rabe — feeling renewed and with a sense of hope that I could do this; that we could do this. We could find a way to adjust to this new ordinary world. It was all strange and foreign, yes, but there were still plenty of things that were familiar. It’s like that song from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood when the family goes on vacation and Daniel is scared of all the new places and things. “Find out what’s different, “ the song goes. “And what’s the same.” I have four-year-old daughters, so I know these things. There’s safety in what’s familiar.

“Ordinary World” came out in 1993, a few years after my prime impressionable teenage years. But it was enough to remind me that I might need more of the music of that time to help me through this timeAnd so I found myself going back to the songs I loved as a fourteen-year-old and have never forgotten. I went to Spotify to listen to the Scorpions and Def Leppard. I bought vinyl records by Dio and Dokken. I never stopped listening to Queen, but now I listened more. Even Bon Jovi, a band I have come to respect more as an adult than I did as a teenager, made an appearance. Pop, rock and metal from the 1980s came pouring back to me. To quote Genesis (the book of the Bible, not the band), “… it was good. … it was good. … It was very good.” To quote the band, that music “… seems to have an invisible touch…;” it “… reaches in, and grabs right hold of your heart.”

New York Times analysis of Spotify data in 2018 revealed that the most important period for forming musical taste for men and women between the ages of 11 to 16. It’s very likely that your favorite song now came out then, and that what you like now is similar to what you liked then.

Our early teenage years are formative. It’s not surprising that so much of who we are and what we like can be traced back to that time. But those are also tumultuous and strange times. We go through puberty and our bodies and voices change. We get pimples. We fall in love with our classmates and have our hearts completely and utterly broken when we see our girlfriends or boyfriends holding hands with other people. Our parents don’t understand us and we don’t understand them. It’s all a bit unknown. And that’s only the basic stuff.

On the flipside, we begin to get a glimpse of the future during those years. We start to imagine how getting a job can earn us some freedom. How getting us a license could get us out of our neighborhoods. How getting an education could get us a new life. More importantly, music and books and films are no longer merely entertainment. They show us the way. Our teenage years are years of “becoming.”

I like to think that we never get over those songs we loved back then for the hopeful, positive place they take us, not the distorted, confusing place we were. And here we are, in the throes of a pandemic, where so much is unknown and so much is changing. But we’ve got these songs we know so well; different for all of us depending on when we grew up. They just might save us.

This post was also shared on Medium.com.

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