I wanted to tell you, I wanted to share,
Some important details that you’re unaware of

I am a restless and inquisitive soul.

As such, I’ve spent most of my adult life asking questions. My favorite subject (as I am, admittedly, also a little bit of a narcissist) has been myself. Why am I the way I am? What were the influences that lead me there? Why do I care so damn much about the things I care so damn much about?

More often than not, a lot of this soul searching invariably comes back to music. Particularly of the loud and screamy variety (AKA Punk, Metal, Hardcore, Etc. Etc.). My relationship with music, the kind I listen to, absorb, and collect, has evolved over the years, but that “WHY” was still persistent.

I’ve often maintained that there is a big difference between hearing something and listening to it. 98% of the people I know hear music. It enters their ear canal, they enjoy it passively, and it goes as quickly as it comes. There’s nothing wrong with this (indeed, I recognize that the other way is probably the one hitting closer to wrong). The other 2%, of which I am one, LISTEN to music. They read the lyrics, they absorb them and find meaning in them. They see the messaging in the tone and cadence of the instruments and interpret the meaning behind the music.

And then they find themselves in it. They find themselves and let those connections motivate them, alter their moods (for better or worse), to connect to other people, find their guiding principles in life or just plain old make it through the day. They let the music speak for them where they can’t or won’t.

There really is no term that works particularly well for the type of music listener I am, at least that I’ve heard. But I’ve been trying to find one, or at least some logic that makes sense, for why I connect so deeply with music. Especially for why I connect so deeply with music a lot of people would qualify as noise.

I’ve tried to write countless pieces about this with contrived titles like “Peaceful Chaos,” trying to explain why *insert song* saved my life or *insert concert* that helped me choose a life path or *insert band* helped me know who I was. I felt that if I could adequately explain this to a wider audience that I could somehow find something in myself. I inevitably trashed all of them because, much like there is no word to call what I am, there really is no way to explain either. I’m sure there’s some kind of science here about brainwaves and stimulants, or some sociological study about angry suburban kids creating a unique form of art to express their angst and the ability for other suburban kids to connect with it, but that’s not really the point.

I’m not sure what the point is, but I know that isn’t it.

Music is one of the best person to person communication devices ever conceived of. Don’t believe me? Well, how did you feel the first time you learned the person you had a crush on liked a band you never heard of? Or, better, made you a mixtape? Exactly.

So let me tell you a story about music.

I want you to listen, I want you to care,
I’ll choke to death if I don’t clear the air

Last night, I saw the band Off With Their Heads play for the sixth time. (It seemed like more, but I counted.) They aren’t my favorite band, but I enjoy them. As with most bands, my interest has ebbed and flowed, but whenever I find myself listening to their records or at their shows, I enjoy myself. The height of my OWTH fandom was early/mid-2010, one of the harder years of my life.

Anyone that gives even a cursory look at their lyric sheets will learn very quickly that the subject matter of their songs isn’t exactly the cheeriest lyricism known to man.

It’s not a secret that I obsess,
And then I get angry, and then I get stressed
And you can’t imagine and you can’t compare,
You have no frame of reference and then you get scared

Subjects like depression, anger and loneliness are laid bare across a soundtrack of somewhat poppy, straight-head three chord punk rock. Yeah, most of the songs sound the same and yeah, their lyrical content is pretty similar too, but in 2010 they were speaking the language of newly out of school, under-employed, living with his parents, single with no prospects me.

It’s not uncommon for musicians (and their fans) to use music as a sort of therapy. To express the things going on in their head in the only way that makes sense. Human emotion is chaotic. It is often disjointed, unclear, moving a mile a minute. Sometimes the only way to express it is to mimic it, or at least the way it comes across to you.

I’m doing my best to help make you see,
That it’s not your fault, when I’ll beg and I’ll plead
It’s much easier just to go back to sleep,
But we gotta find a place to start because I’m falling apart

Off With Their Heads, despite performing as a four or five piece, is the brainchild of Ryan Young. I’ve seen the band six times and I’m fairly certain I haven’t seen the same lineup twice. As the primary lyricist and songwriter, it would not be unreasonable to assume that most of the band’s lyrical content is based around his own life experiences.

Clearly the dude has had a rough go of it.

I never feel happy, I never feel safe,
I can’t let myself ever stay in one place
I look in the mirror and I see the face
Of a failure who will never be significant
The face that you see from the morning to night
Is the mask that I put on to hide what’s inside
I don’t take it off until you fall asleep,
I don’t want you to see what live inside of me

Their last song of the night was “Clear the Air,” off of 2010’s In Desolation. As the track slowly built, Young shed his guitar, grabbed the microphone and jumped into the crowd. He was not the first singer I’ve do this and he will not be the last. The crowd immediately mobbed him, forming an amorphous shell around him as they screamed his words at the top of their lungs.

I thought I’d get older and it’d go away,
But it only gets worse and causes more pain
And being alone is getting so hard,
I just got to tell you…

(I joined in around this point.)

Goddamnit, I’m falling apart
I’m down on my knees in the dark
Feeling for whatever is left
But the pieces are falling too far

In pretty short order a smile began to plaster Young’s face as the mob/hug moved across the floor. A group of complete strangers, singing his words together with just as much earnest drive as he did. As much as the words meant for him to say, they meant just as much to the people there to hear them. They gave raw and jagged form to the feelings they themselves could not express.

Message sent and message received and responded. Thank you said with ragged vocal chords and emptied lungs.

Don’t leave yet, I haven’t got to the part that explains at all
Don’t leave yet, I need somebody there to catch me before I fall
To catch me before I fall
Goddamnit, I’m falling apart

The band finished their set and the crowd dispersed into the night. Some to smoke, some to buy merch, some stuck around to see the aging politico-punks on their easy money reunion tour (Good Riddance) perform. As quickly as it began, it was over. A gathering both unique and average. Irreplaceable and completely forgettable. Gig #45 of 50. On to the next town and back to work.

About halfway through their set, Young dedicated a song to a friend that had unfortunately committed suicide. In a heartfelt dedicated he admitted to understanding where his friend was coming from, but gave the poignant reminder that “there’s always a way around the bridge.”

It makes me wonder, given the subject matter of his songs, if this band is Young’s way around. And it makes me think about all the people for whom those songs are in turn their way around.

This is the point where I would normally try and condense my facts and find some kind of conclusion. But that’s not the point.

I’m still not sure what the point is, but I know that isn’t it.

Because sometimes we hear music, and sometimes we listen.

And sometimes the music listens back.

I wanted to tell you, I wanted to share,
Some important details that you’re unaware
I want you to listen, I want you to care,
I’ll choke to death if I don’t clear the air right now

“Clear the Air” by Off With Their Heads

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