Indie music is the place behind the bleachers: A week of nobody-gets-you radio

Graphic by Kyla Walker

This week, I found myself regressing into the angst of my high school self. I tattooed my headphones into my ears and walked around with the eternal dread of knowing that nobody quite gets me. It was so bad that I repeated the phrase, “they are trying to ruin my artistic vision” more than 100 times.

The vision in question? All of them: My improv troupe not saying yes to my scene initiation, editors not liking my writing and my “friends” not wanting to eat lunch at 11:30 a.m. instead of the normal 12:15 p.m.

This is all to say that for the past seven days, I was a walking cloud of crying-in-the-shower-level distress.

Which means the music I was listening to this week was the crème de la crème of sad girl, nobody-gets-you radio.

Normally in such a state, I would have had to settle for a playlist full of both Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers songs. But luckily for me, the two saddest indie superstars decided to release an album together under the band name “Better Oblivion Community Center” Jan. 24.

So this week, I got to sit in the shower and cry along to not just any lyrics, but lyrics that perfectly encapsulated my pain. Take the chorus from their song “Sleepwalking”:

“Is this having fun? / It’s not like the way it was / I thought that you loved this stuff / Or did I make that up?”

Which truly encapsulates how I felt while writing this very column.

Or take their song “Dylan Thomas,” with the lyrics:

“Put my footsteps on the pavement / Starved for entertainment / Four seasons of / revolving doors / So sick of being honest / I’ll die like Dylan Thomas.”

These lyrics either capture the death of poet Dylan Thomas, or the monotony of self-loathing thoughts that run through your head. Sometimes, you think of nothing but your own flaws until you are so sick of the voice in your own head that you grow grateful for whatever drama the Kardashians are offering that week.

Speaking of poets, I taught poetry to a group of high schoolers this week. At first, all I could think to myself was, “I’m glad I never have to be 15 again.”

There was one girl who, in my two-hour class, managed to recite from memory a paragraph from the second Twilight novel. (It was a piece of writing that truly spoke to her.)

She then tried to pass off the most famous quote from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (“We accept the love we think we deserve”) as her own and wrote an entire poem that was really just her comparing herself to a rose. Think: “I am soft like a petal but can hurt people like a thorn.”

But as I looked at her tie-dye sweater and watched her constantly check her phone under her desk, all I could think was, “I miss that.”

Oh, the nostalgia for the never-ending emotions of being a 15-year-old girl who loves to read poetry. How the world drapes you in this colossal feeling of being misunderstood, so wrapped up in your own pain that you see the entire world as a ready-to-grab metaphor. And in just as swift a motion, I heard a voice in my head softly whisper, “she never left.”

As I walked back from my dorm, I began to think about myself at 15 and how the only thing that saved me from the pain of being so entirely isolated was music.

And then I think about me now. I am 19 and always upset over one thing and excited over everything else. I keep looking for answers or justifications or really anything to cure the angst of always feeling a little bit misunderstood, and I remember why I fell in love with music in the first place — for the indescribable feeling of finding just the right song that speaks to you.

And suddenly, I find myself somewhere between the edge of the Pitzer College and Harvey Mudd College campuses, marveling at the magic of indie music. Somewhere in this great big world, there will be people who get it — who understand how you are feeling enough to write about it.

Indie music never runs from the feeling of being misunderstood. Instead, it writes itself into a cultural knowledge of the pain and joy and beauty and distress that simply comes with breathing. I think about myself lying on the mounds closing my eyes as I fall into the sound of BOCC, and I think about all the people who wouldn’t get Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst and their music — people who wouldn’t even take the two seconds to Google and try to understand it.

I realize that the artists who create this music aren’t writing for the people who misunderstand them. They’re writing because they believe that someone out there will plug their headphones in and be hit with the saving grace of finding a soundtrack to their emotions.

Indie music is the metaphorical place behind the bleachers. It’s for the weirdos and losers who get to hum along to someone else’s pain and simply know they understand it.

I find hope in the fact that artists continue to create obscure music with long band names and vulnerable soundtracks. Not everything has to be for every audience — it can instead be a call to the weird, obscure, music-loving loners just like me.

Anna Koppelman PZ ’22 is just a lone girl trying her hardest to make Nora Ephron proud. If you are looking for her, she’s probably either listening to the newest Vampire Weekend songs or promising one of her friends that she is about to start meditating again “really soon.”

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