Do you remember the first time you heard Dashboard Confessional?
My middle school best friend, Leah, was undoubtedly the person who introduced me to Chris Carrabba and his acoustic guitar. It had to be somewhere between sixth and eighth grade; at this point, that whole time is a blur except for 9/11 and a few other events. I wish I could say it was “Vindicated” during the end credits of Spider-Man 2 on one of those awkward middle school dates or something like that. But I didn’t really have any sort of game—I still don’t, really—and it was well before that seminal soundtrack.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2016. I’m two beers in, cup thrust high towards the stage, tearing up, and belting “The Best Deceptions.” I was surrounded by five thousand millennials caught up in the exact same nostalgic memories. This was the soundtrack to our first heartbreaks. The words to our first loves, and more importantly our AIM away messages.
For me, it was a reminder that I was still capable of feeling. After finishing the song, Chris sighed heavily and said, “I still get so mad every time I sing that song. But we’ve come so far, haven’t we?” That connection back to who I was in middle school, who I’ve become today, and the music that became the soundtrack to my travels, my experiences, my faith, and my depression along the way… that connection has been resonating within me for months.
I’m really just lucky that he didn’t play “The Brilliant Dance” or the millennials of Atlanta would still be talking about that guy ugly sobbing in the second row. But he did play “Get Me Right,” which is one of those songs from the era where most people forgot about Dashboard Confessional. I’m not sure why it happened. It’s not like we grew out of heartache or love.
Maybe the magic of music just died for me when I went into depression. The music that shaped my middle and high school years carried me through college. They carry me today. I don’t know that I could’ve sustained the passion for music I had before college for much longer. Too much was happening. It took years to recover music—and books—from the depression.
It’s kind of fitting that 2016 saw the marriage of the magic of music and books returning with one of my worst depressive episodes. It’s the place that you have come to fear the most—indeed, Chris. It is the place I’ve come to fear the most.
That Dashboard Confessional set was headlining the Taste of Chaos tour, but you might as well have called it the Mid-2000s Emo Nostalgia Fest Cash Grab. The Early November opened—a weird set time in any other context for a band their size—and “Baby Blue” doesn’t pack the punch it quite used to when you’d end the mixtape for your crush with it. Anthony Green was back with Saosin for the summer and “Seven Years” still hit all the right angsty screams. And Taking Back Sunday made damn sure to lay into the nostalgia, but we didn’t mind.
I never was one to romanticize high school. Maybe it was because I was homeschooled. But I always knew that there was so much better to come. Quickly discovered I was very right and very wrong. Sometimes it’s okay to want to be back in your brand new car (that ten years later has seen some shit and a hundred thousand more miles) wondering if Mary likes you back while belting “Hands Down” after a good time hanging out at Starbucks. Or belting “This Photograph Is Proof” when you found out a few weeks later she didn’t like you back.
It’s not like my generation has a lock of high school nostalgia songs. My mom talks about seeing REO Speedwagon and Journey in high school with her friends. My dad and his brothers talk about their records whenever we all reunite. I had an older coworker go on an amazing tangent about pre-popularity Missy Elliot once. But I do truly believe that those of us who got to experience the meteoric rise of “emo” got a very special time period in music history. The music was wildly different from anything coming before it, for the most part, and it was validated and we had a voice.
I’m twenty-seven writing this—and I still don’t know that I have a voice. But I have my music. And maybe that’ll get me somewhere in the end. It’s gotten me this far.