Rediscovery – What it means to come back

On April 9, 2017, I met the members of a band I’d found while in university. I was 21 when No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls was released. I lived in the dorms. I had a tight knit group of friends, I was involved with some campus activities. It was a pretty good time in my life, truth be told.

I don’t remember how I found Simple Plan. At that point, most of my music was filtered in through my friends or MTV/MTVU, so it was probably something along those lines. At the time, and for several years following, they were a band I really liked but it was always on a superficial, aesthetic level. I loved the music – it was catchy and poppy and something I could turn up loud and dance to, singing at the top of my voice – but I never felt a true emotional connection to any of it.

I’ve always believed you hear what you need to hear when you need to hear it.

When I was 21, life was pretty good. I had friends I really liked being around, I had joined a sorority and some of the women I met through that are still some of the most important in my life.

My parents were still married. I had every intention of becoming an editor for a publishing company. I had what I thought was a decent thing going with a guy and if that didn’t work out, a couple other prospects waiting in the wings. I actually probably could have had my pick of any one of 20 guys at the time. I was a C-student but only because I wanted to be. I worked hard in the classes I enjoyed – for my degree – but in the ones I had to take, the math classes and the history classes, the science classes, I was satisfied with the minimum amount of effort. I had a fair social life between my sorority and other friends. Gone were the days of being a bullied weirdo in high school.

I was in a good place where I didn’t need the music.

Since then, my parents have divorced. Through that process, my dad did some ugly things I think he doesn’t think I know about. My fiancé suffered a nervous breakdown and destructively ended our engagement. I moved back “home” and have since gotten marooned in an extremely dissatisfying life. I still feel like I am meant for so much more than what I have, what I am doing, but I have, in the interim, lost sight of what I was meant for. My writing comes in sporadic bursts, at best, and the pieces that do come out are glorified diary entries. I feel like my hopes for the Great American Novel have dashed themselves on the shore.

About six weeks before the first time I would be able to see this band I’d found at a time when my life was so different and my future looked like a future, I dug out that old album. I played it top to bottom and then I put it on shuffle. I intermingled some of the later songs but I focused on the original album, the one that started it all.

And in that, I found new meanings. This is what is called burying the lede, and I apologize for that but I felt like some introduction was necessary. I have changed, dramatically, and I don’t always feel like it was for the best. But bringing out those old songs, from that time in my life, brought back some of who I remember being.

They also touched on some of the things that have happened since.

There are obviously songs, on No Pads… and throughout their catalog, that speak to my struggles with romance and unrequited feelings. “I’d Do Anything,” “Addicted,” “Perfect World,” and “Outta My System” all fit the bill, in one way or another. But that’s still just surface level connections. I am the love and love hard type; it’s easy for me to listen to lyrics about love and apply them to my own situations.

Even now, in my thirties, the deeper connections come from the songs that talk about frustration and desperation, about the need for understanding, the need for acceptance. Songs about feeling alone or out of place. Songs about wanting something more out of life.

Now that the anniversary show has come and gone, I find myself submerging in the entire catalog, hearing my life littered throughout the lyrics. From “Maybe one day, I’ll be back on my feet, and all of this pain will be gone. And maybe it won’t be so hard to be me and I’ll find out where I belong,” (“Lucky One,” 2013) to “Deafened by the silence, is it something that I’ve done? I know that there are millions; I can’t be the only one who’s so disconnected. It’s so different in my head. Can anybody tell me why I’m lonely like a satellite,” (“Astronaut,” 2011) I hear a lot of my day to day struggles. Feeling like I am going through the motions, feeling like I am not where I am supposed to be, feeling like I am alone, forgive the cliché, in a crowded room. These songs – songs that somehow flew beneath my radar for so many years – have put words to some of what I struggle to say, every day.

When you’re a teenager, or even in university, feeling alone and misunderstood comes from being different. Maybe you’re an emotionally driven artist surrounded by shallow people. Maybe you are a 98-pound weakling in a family of athletes. Regardless of your struggle, you are expected to have them. Some level of exile is expected in adolescence and young adulthood.

When you’re thirty – thirty-six – you are supposed to have it all figured out. Unfortunately, you are also supposed to have figured out the same things that everyone around you figured out. When you are slowly becoming the only person you know who is single, who doesn’t have any interest in marriage or children, who just wants to make art, chase music, and live every day with the potential for adventure, you become the flighty one who can’t let go of the past. Whether anyone says it out loud or not is inconsequential. You look around and that’s all you can see. Music that echoes those feelings of exile and distance can easily be the most comforting thing in the world.

“In my blood, in my veins, in my heart I know what’s right for me, so I refuse to apologize for who I am. And I refuse to ever let somebody say I can’t.” (“I Refuse,” 2016)

“Get outta my face. Quit bringing me down. Don’t care what you say. So what part of that don’t you understand? Hey! I’m doing things exactly like I want to. What part of that don’t you understand? Hey! And I don’t give a damn if you don’t approve. What part of that don’t you understand?” (“Opinion Overload,” 2016)

When I was 23 – 2004 – I was engaged. I was going to move from Colorado to Texas and start a new life with someone who had changed everything in my life in just a few months. And then he changed everything, again, and pulled the rug out from under all of my plans. For a long time after that happened, I was numb. I couldn’t even truly call myself heartbroken because heartbreak hurts and I felt nothing. But those people closest to me, those people who were watching me fall apart, were afraid that I’d fall asleep and never wake up. So they sat up with me so that didn’t happen and we listened to music and talked about music and when they weren’t there, I listened to music that made me feel something. And soon I started to feel pain and anger and I will tell you, unequivocally, that pain and anger are the greatest feelings in the world after months of feeling nothing at all.

“This Song Saved My Life” was written, essentially, by fans, through conversations with their heroes. The lyrics were pulled from those conversations, as fans explained, time and time again, how that music they loved had come into their lives at just the right time, at a time when their personal darkness was at its deepest. When I talk about songs and music “saving my life,” I wonder, deep in the back of my mind, if I sound melodramatic, despite knowing in my heart that it is very much the truth.

In seeing them live – and seeing them perform “This Song…” – I started questioning why a band I had loved so much before that deepest darkness descended on my own life, hadn’t been included in my own list. I had to separate the catalog into pre- and post-heartbreak and most, if not all, of the songs that would have easily been included in that came later. And I think, also, that that is a big part of why I had lost track of them for so many years. I found the bands that I needed, when I needed them, and those became the focus of 90% of my musical library. I’ve seen Kill Hannah 11 times, Dashboard Confessional 6, and AFI 4. I’ve only ever owned one Simple Plan album, out of six they’ve released. I’ve listened to everything they’ve released  – I realized, in my pre-show prep work I knew a lot more of the catalog than I thought – but that first album was the only one I deliberately sought out. And I’ve only seen them live once but, goddamnit, I made the most of that one time and I’ll do it again, given the opportunity.

There is some regret in losing track of this band that could have meant so much more to me over the past few years. But the reality is that first album, though such an enormous part of what I consider to be some of the most important years of my life, wasn’t what I needed when I needed the music to save me. There are messages in those songs for kids (of all ages) who struggle with familial acceptance and that wasn’t my struggle. And nothing can change that. So I lost track.

I can’t get back lost years as a fan but I can be a better fan going forward.