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iconic albums #1: live through this.
kicking off 13 with songs of rage and breast milk.
13 was a weird age. But it’s supposed to be, right? After trenching through the doldrums of 7th Grade, we make it to our first year as a teenager to find that it’s not that different from 12. The mall is still the mall. You still really can’t do anything or go anywhere. And MTV is still playing “Stay” by Lisa Loeb (okay, that was my 13 so feel free to insert your own Top 40 hullabaloo). But there’s this perceived broadened worldview where trips to 7-11 no longer cut it because…you’re a teenager now. And, well, watch out.
Pop culture also plays a part in these tiny teenage years where we all have that moment that changed us, even if just a little. It doesn’t have to be obscure or clever in that why-didn’t-I-think-of-that way because if it matters to you, then it matters. Some of my moments where I really thought I was going to fucking lose my mind (really) was my well-documented appreciation for My So-Called Life’s “Boiler Room” episode, seeing the movie Kids with my best friend and feeling like we got one over our parents who let us rent the harmlessly titled movie about the perils of unprotected teenage sex. Weezer. Beck’s “Where It’s At” video. And while we’re here, Fiona Apple’s video for “Criminal.”
But my very first real pop culture kick in the ass came right before 13. Something that I could say now in my 40s, really did change the course of my teenage years and had me walk into my first year of high school (ours started in 8th) with a sense of knowing. Exactly what did I know? Not sure yet but that’s why I’m exploring this today. But for now, let’s just say I was freshly 13 and didn’t know jack shit. But I felt like I did. Why? Because I discovered Live Through This by Hole, an album that scared me. But for some reason, I had to have it.
I got home and ran up to my room with the leftover ‘80s wall-to-wall mauve carpet. With a pair of scissors, I cut the edge of the cellophane wrapper, carefully applied the Wall’s Lifetime Guarantee blue sticker on the back before popping the CD into my boom box, bracing myself…for something.
It started off sweet. With a pop-minded E, C, G major-chord progression, it didn’t sound as foreboding as the album cover’s crazed prom queen suggested. Then a dreamy-voiced Courtney Love started the story about a sky made of amethyst, a line that sent a chill up my arm because it was the first time I could actually see a song’s imagery so clearly in my head. She then went on to compare the stars to look like little fish with the melody continuing like this: soft, sweet and likeable. And then we get her. The Courtney we’ve read about in the magazines which is not soft, sweet, or universally likeable with her signature gut-wrenching roar telling us to learn how to say no! PREACH. Guitarist Eric Erlandson then hits the distortion pedal, there’s a triple hit on the snare before Patty Schemel (my first girl crush that I didn’t understand at the time) proceeds to pounds the living shit out of those DWs. And just like that, we’ve been kidnapped into one of the best album openers of our time.
That first listen took me on an emotional journey that by the end I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t even know why I connected so much to an album with lyrics about losing child custody over drug allegations, references to breast milk, and themes of lost childhood, distorted body image and kill-me pills. For reference, I was listening to En Vogue’s Funky Divas (still a classic for me) only a month earlier. But after that first listen, I was changed. The mean girls of middle school suddenly didn’t matter anymore. The imagined hierarchy of cool dismantled for me right there with this album putting the wheels in motion for the next four years of my life. It also became a gateway to so many bands. Some obvious like Babes in Toyland. Some not like Guided by Voices. I played with hair color and learned the lesson that girls with my Italian Mexican origins should really not do their own double-process platinum blonde jobs no matter what the box says. Unless, of course, the object is to look like shit. I experimented with fashion where I sometimes hit the mark but usually went to school looking like an asshole. But that’s 13.
Live Through This gave me permission to be a little weird. It introduced me to themes I’d never considered while preparing me for some that would resurface later in life. But it also made me feel less alone because I had something to believe in with the message that women, or in my case, weirdos like me are allowed to have voices and it’s no one’s job to tell us how to use it. Of course, at 13, I didn’t craft my thoughts so articulately. I just knew that not everyone was going to understand me and that that was OK.
It had to be.
To this day, I live by these words because high school never really ends, does it? It just changes shapes whether it’s the workplace, the internet, your in-laws or even picking up your kids from school. But at least we have those albums, those songs or those pop culture moments to find ourselves in, reminding us that we were much braver than we thought we were. And still are.
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