It starts with a Lita Ford song at Karaoke Boho. Then Rachel-behind-the-bar tempts me with dollar well shots. Tequila. Harmless flirtation with a nameless stranger mutates into a heated argument.
“Rumours was great; Tusk was better! You’re just saying you prefer Rumours because you haven’t heard ‘What Makes You Think You’re The One!’”
“Look, I don’t need to be patronized by someone who just sang ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.’”
Mr. Rumours, who, honest to god, has never listened to Tusk, is offended by my accusation. He croons Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.” Tugs at the moist wrapper of his beer bottle with his thumbnail. Skews his eyebrows. Watches me rifle through the songbook. I drink the last of my intellectual insecurities. Steady my hand just enough to scribble 956861 in blue ink, coyly slide the song request across the bar. Rachel-behind-the-bar, blocks Mr. Rumours’ line of vision. Denies him the satisfaction of queening my pawn.
My misspelt name appears in yellow Helvetica on the screen. Violins. 4 bars. A disappointed sigh from Mr. Rumours. A beat.
“Wait, are you fucking singing in Japanese right now?”
It’s true, I am. It isn’t the first time. This is Good Charlotte’s “Predictable,” off The Chronicles of Life and Death. The Japanese version. I can sing it word for word, bar for bar, even in my sleep. Alien syllables –leached through cheap headphones in a second-hand CD store on a Harajaku street in Tokyo–committed to memory. A June eight years ago, caught in a freak electric storm, I was with my family on a summer vacation. It was cold, and it rained, so I begged my parents to take me back to our hotel room in the Shinjuku district. I had to spend some time with my discman, relish the three bonus tracks on the Japanese version of Chronicles, learn all the Japanese words to “Predictable.” I felt as little remorse missing a day of tourist activities then as I do now, missing my chance with a cute music snob who thinks he’s too good for my music taste. But I can’t go home with anyone who has complaints against a band that rhymes “Obi-Wan Kenobi” with “you don’t even know me.”
Good Charlotte spelt music. Four boys unmoored from a bedroom community in Maryland. Stocking shelves at Target, penning letters to labels: “sign us now for cheaper.” A dash of anger and a hint of righteousness proved the critics and labels wrong. They made it. Where the music stopped and the story began, you never knew. Held under their spell, you wanted to be a part of it. Wanted to be them and be with them. You wanted to pour yourself into a jewel case, melt into the lowercase CarbonType liner-notes. And disappear. Into the music.
When a band hears you through those significant years of pre-teen invisibility, down to the early-onset of friendlessness and dissatisfaction, they become a part of your consciousness. They give you something to talk about when the hot German student decides to sit next to you during French class (Level 27, lip piercings). A song to process him into your head (“Wondering”). A shoulder to cry on when he tells you he’s about to ask your friend out while conjugating guttural verbs (“My Bloody Valentine”). Something to drum a reason into youthful infidelities (“I Heard You”). An usher to the comforting confines of a song (“Hold On”). A psychologist to help you understand your existential pangs (“The Chronicles of Life and Death”). These songs map your adolescence, seed your adulthood with dreams.
It is 2007. I am 11. Joel and Benji are 28. I calculate the age difference carefully, add a year here, subtract a year there, before I realize the only way to bridge the gulf between our years is to make it all up in Minor Threat and Social Distortion albums.
Gaithersburg, MD. It’s been 48 hours since I basked in Joel and Benji’s saintly presence as they performed an acoustic set promoting the forthcoming Good Morning Revival at a Hard Rock Cafe in Jakarta. I’ve flown in with my mother to meet my newborn cousin. This is my first time in the States, or as it is known to me now, the Land of Cool, where there’s magic in music. The overzealous servings of exotic sugary cereal upon arrival does not aid the starry rush from two nights ago. My mother reprimands me for refusing to wash my hand after shaking Benji’s. She does not understand it is clearly blessed by Based “alternative/punk” God. I begrudgingly cave in to her sanitary demands. The water leaves an icy touch that resembles the stinging after-effect of an Extra Cool Listerine rinse. Life feels surreal. I am overcome with exquisite, inexhaustible excitement. I try to force myself to sleep by closing my eyes. The four new songs the Madden brothers played two nights ago fill my ears in soporific opposition. “The River”, “Victims of Love”, “Beautiful Place” and “March On” are etched in my memory like the dust-swept side-streets I walk to school everyday. I withdraw my attention from the mock-angst misanthropic scribblings in my diary, plug them into new narrative arcs that seek repentance. The lights are off. My baby cousin is finally asleep. The guest room is struck with darkness. The shell of my Fujitsu laptop glows a muted green. Darkness becomes visible. I give up sleep. Plug Good Charlotte into my ear. A three-year-old radio interview with Billy, Benji and Joel I have saved on my laptop. Divinity drips through my candy colored earphones.
Oct. 5, 2004. The Chronicles of Life and Death has just come out. Paul doesn’t make it to the interview because he’s engaged in birthday celebrations. I listen in closely. Benji shares accounts of fans sneaking into his house: “If they would’ve told me they were fans, I would’ve let them in!” I wonder what the insides of his house look like. Are his walls covered with posters, too? Squeamish teen callers yelp and scream. I promise myself I will never be one of them. I’m going to get to know them at a professional level–one day! They talk about The Cure, The Smiths and Nirvana. I studiously jot down names of bands I’ve never heard before.
The jangle in their voices zaps me out of my ordinariness, into a next-level, alternative-reality. I finally understand what Narnia, Harry Potter and Nancy Drew do to 11 year olds: magic realism and hysteria, love and all those things that make the world worth living. A veritable fairyland where it’s cool to stay in on Friday nights and just go on listening to music. I soak in their love for music, soak in the way they sing about girls–like it’s their music taste, their anger, the rhythm in their banter that makes them beautiful–I soak it all in. They’re the “alternative/punk” embodiment of the American Dream. It ceases to matter that they’re on major label Epic/Daylight, singing about The Man shutting them down. Ceases to matter that critics debunk them as “not punk.” Ceases to matter that I’m “not punk” for listening to them. All that matters is their music. All that matters are those songs about love, neuroses and misunderstandings. I need somebody to treat me like a grown-up, look me in the eye and say, “The world is black” and “Money talks in this world, that’s what idiots will say, but you’ll find out that this world is just an idiot’s parade.” They’re beyond sincerity– they don’t “wanna run for president; they just want enough money to pay the rent.” These songs nourish me. I survive failing grades, sail past the hot German guy in my French class. And I yearn instead for a guy who wears eyeliner and doesn’t mind my “Riot Girl” antics.
I listen to the interview every night, for the next ten nights, all through my stay in Gaithersburg with tempered idealism. Scribble random notes on scraps of paper. Laugh at every joke. I google The Smiths, the band Joel talks about in the interview. Stumble upon a song called “Frankly Mr. Shankly,” The song becomes my favorite Smiths song. Stays with me for the next ten years. I begin to understand that The Man is the corrupter who corrodes souls, writes bloody awful poetry. I listen to The Cure, to crucial b-sides like, “Christmas By The Phone”, study terribly coded HTML blogazines, live in chat rooms studded with pixelated emoticons. I realize boys cry, too.
We drive down to D.C. over the weekend. I walk into a used record store, a $10 bill in hand, I tip-toe to the elderly, tattooed man at the sales counter and ask if they carry Social Distortion’s White Light, White Heat, White Trash. He stares down at me. I’m not sure what he sees: an eleven year old brown girl interested in punk rock, an ardent fan slicing into deep cuts or a young historian trying to grasp where punk rock went wrong. All he hears is a little girl proudly explaining : “Benji and Joel from Good Charlotte used to sing ‘Social D’ on the radio when they were young.” “Ah. Well, then you must start with Mommy’s Little Monster, of course.” For my $10, he offers me Mommy’s Little Monster, Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, Prison Bound and White, Light, White Heat, White Trash. He throws in an Offspring album for free, assuring me it’s “a much better record.”
I come back to Jakarta manic-obsessed, self-proclaimed “punk-rocker,” eyeliner smudged, nails painted black, with a loot of three Minor Threat t-shirts. Mother declares them inappropriate, bans me from wearing them to school. She also vetoes “Cashdogg,” as no name for a dog, however hypothetical. Father’s new peeve are the tattooed, pierced and made-up men on my wall. I assure him I’m in good company.
The second coming of jetlag wears out. I become painfully aware of the distance between Jakarta and Maryland. I fill the void with a GC “rockumentary.” Hate on Pearl Jam for dissing Good Charlotte: “No, Eddie Vedder, Good Charlotte does not sound like a popsicle stuck up an asshole. Pearl Jam sounds like a popsicle stuck up an asshole!” I scream at the television. Listen to Paul’s favorite composer Danny Elfman. Watch Paul’s favorite movie, Beetlejuice. Watch interviews with Billy about his illustration. Print out pixelated images of his illustrations and hang them on my wall. Memorize the words to newly released single, “The River” and count down the days to the release of Good Morning Revival. I wait, perhaps for the last time, four hours at the music store for it to be sold.
My friends at school are unappreciative of my new locker room decor. They refuse to dress up as fruits and vegetables, to reenact the “I Just Wanna Live” video, for Halloween. They cannot fathom what has happened to me over the course of a few weeks in MD. I’m upset. My friends are tasteless.
Good Charlotte plans to come to town. I buy my tickets 90 days in advance. I wash and dry and wash again my screen-printed Good Morning Revival t-shirt, sharpie lyrics on my white Converse shoes. I change my ringtone to a clip of Joel and Benji parodying “Keep Your Hands Off My Girl.” (A clip, to my dismay, that never resurfaces on the internet.) I take a yellow baseball cap to the tailor down the street and beg him to embroider “Good Charlotte” in Century Gothic on it. I lose myself in my preparations and forget to study for my world history test. I end up writing the lyrics to “In This World (Murder)” in a first person essay to describe the feudal system. I get a B+.
24 days to April 24th. April is the cruelest month. Mixing memory and desire, crawls slowly. I show up at Istora Senayan four hours early, score a good spot in the crowd. Against the banister, by the monitors. Joel appears from a cloud of grey smoke center stage. He sings “Misery,” liberates me of mine. Benji tells the crowd he knows a place where they can go and I hear “Waldorf Worldwide,” live for the first time. It is better than all bootlegs. I shout on top of my lungs. The show is over. I cry.
I busy myself. Dig up Good Charlotte obscurities. Songs with N.E.R.D. and Tommy Lee and Mest. Mams Taylor and Three 6 Mafia. Three 6 Mafia; Jesus. I buy Not Another Teen Movie on DVD and revisit a 2001 cameo. Good Charlotte play the prom band. They cover “Footloose” and “Put Your Hands On My Shoulder.”
I buy my first drum set. A Pearl. Learn to play all the Good Charlotte songs, starting with my favorite non-single “Complicated.” Spend a disproportionate amount of time getting the timing of the drum fill at the end of the chorus right. Make friends with Eric and Jennifer: they like my kind of music. We have late night conference calls discussing threadbare our favorite band members. I’d like to date a boy who owns red pants like Benji’s from the “Little Things” video. We start a band. We play Good Morning Revival from “The River” to “March On,” include bonus tracks “Jealousy” and “Face The Strange” in our repertoire. Jennifer is obsessed with My Chemical Romance. We devise a nightmarish mash-up of two very different songs called “The Ghost of You.” We play Sims 2 on our PCs, name our characters after band members. We even bake them birthday cakes. Wish for them to tour Indonesia again before we blow out the candles. It takes Good Charlotte three years to release their next album. I convince the school choir to sing “We Believe.” Jennifer transfers schools. Eric moves to Australia. Our band goes on indefinite hiatus.
Cardiology comes out in 2010. I am fourteen. Pundits have retrofitted “alternative/punk” into a less cool outfit known as “pop-punk.” They might as well have stuck an advisory label: “Only to be listened ironically. Grow up, you tasteless idiot.” My musical pretensions, enforced by insidious influences of music writers, chip away at my alt/punk core. I replace White Light, White Heat, White Trash with White Light, White Heat. I feel guilty for giving in to the still of the nights. Beg for “Time After Time,” the demo/precursor to The Young and Hopeless‘ “Say Anything.” Tears drown stomach full of morbid butterflies. I gingerly take down my autographed Benji Madden from the wall. Even My Chemical Romance and Avenged Sevenfold ones. I replace them with five small oil-on-canvas paintings by an Australian artist. I cancel my AP and Kerrang! subscriptions. I listen to “Wondering,” a song supposedly about Cashdogg, while I snuggle against his namesake– the stuffed dog flaps his ears. “Now my life is changing. It’s always rearranging/ It’s always getting stranger than I thought it ever could.” I want so desperately to feel jittery. To fall in love with music again. I want so desperately for it to be 2007 again. It is 2011. I am 15 now.
A year later. I pack for college. I look around. A terribly mismatched yellow baseball cap embroidered with “Good Charlotte” in red Gothic. A heart locket with a “GC” engraving. Sample Jennifer drawn Chronicles-inspired tattoos. Old tour t-shirts collected over time. Diaries with lyrics to “Secrets” annotated in the margins in tangerine ink. Ecstatic entries: “BENJI TWEETED ME TODAY.” Polite nods to an emotionally-stunted future imagined while listening to “Mountain.” The imprint of a forged sadness listening to “Emotionless”. Debris of childhood. We are rudely reduced from lovers to friends.
I secretly harmonize with their self-titled album in the shower my first year of college in Syracuse. Listen to “Festival Song” when I quit my job waitressing at a restaurant in DUMBO. Listen with friends to “The Click” to celebrate my first job in the music industry. I don’t tell them how I discovered The Smiths and The Cure. A long distance relationship tires me out. I sob into the quiet of the nights “Where Would We Be Now?” I think about how my boyfriend doesn’t have any tattoos or piercings. Wonder if my 11 year old self would be disappointed or relieved. I call it quits with him. Turn “Dance Floor Anthem” all the way up. I stay in my room, pigeonholed to my desk, writing a review, sipping copious amounts of cheap whiskey, frantically scrounging acres of cyberspace to look up that first interview from Oct. 5th, 2004. It’s nowhere to be found. I upend the bottle, sing along to the entire discography. My roommates are concerned. I wish for someone to come in, spill pixie dust over my head. I want to travel back in time, listen to music with those innocent, untarnished ears, without these voices that rouse rubbles in my head: “Hey, isn’t this is a hijacked Police song, which really is a hijacked version of something else entirely, which is kind of misappropriated if you really think about it.”
A favorable alignment of the planetary bodies. An inexplicable unraveling of fate. The Madden Brothers release their first album as a duo, Greetings from California in 2014. I listen to it on a Greyhound from New York to DC. It’s ripe with sleekly tailored narratives. Luscious. Layered. Groovy. Very chatty. Largely influenced by a duo I’m rather intimate with– Steely Dan. It has a sturdy face and deep-set eyes. Provides me with all the closure I need. A mutual admiration for the Dan. We have grown up, the both of us. Good Charlotte is defrosted for adulthood. I uncover my tattoos. Listen to “Good Gracious Abbey” on the train to my new job in City. Sing “Predictable” in Japanese at karaoke every Sunday.
And I tell Mr. Rumours, “It’s GC baby and we’re workin’ with somethin’.”