Your teenage years can be some of the most difficult yet rewarding times of your life. A time of huge physical and mental transition, you begin to question yourself, think abstractly, compare yourself to others, and otherwise try to find your place within the rest of the world.
One of the most difficult parts of developing during this time is the angst and paranoia of “fitting in”, of becoming part of a larger whole – something I’ve always struggled with even in my adult years. That, coupled with the challenges of developing and realizing one’s own self-identity, makes for a very interesting decade-plus in the life of any young person. Let’s not even get into puberty and body issues!
One of the traits that develops during adolescence is musical preference and taste. According to Daniel J. Levitin, a professor of psychology and director of the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise (McGill University), the age of fourteen is a “sort of magic age” for the development of these tastes. The music a fourteen-year-old listens to will help shape and guide the boundaries of themselves and their peer groups. There have even been studies that attempt to quantify and anticipate an individual’s musical preferences based solely on personality traits. Nuts, right?
Growing up in a Caribbean society, I was exposed to many forms of urban music including Rap, R&B, Reggae, Dancehall, and Soca – all forms of music I still love today. I’ve always felt at-home listening to these genres of music, and even had a short stint (in my late teens) producing Hip-Hop beats and Dancehall tracks for local artists. However, it wasn’t until a chance meeting with another set of genres that I began to experience a shift in musical taste. It became a pivotal point in my life, as it was really a shift in how I understood, approached, and appreciated life in general.
It was March of 2003, and coincidentally enough, I had just turned fourteen years old the February before. I don’t recall if it was MTV or another music outlet, but after flipping through channels I stopped on a music video being played on the station. The song started with four eerie chords, undoubtedly reversed and processed electronically in some way for effect. My hair stood on end, and a chill swept its way across my body. Before I could process what was happening, the chorus of electric guitars hit, and I – for lack of better words – lost my shit. The song – “Somewhere I Belong” by Linkin Park.
I’d heard of the band a few times before (I had sheet music for “In The End” – another great song), but it wasn’t until Meteora was released that I really began to appreciate alternative and progressive metal/rock music. I would later expand my interests to include electric guitar (a guitar you can plug in? What?!), rock drumming, and learning more about rock music. Bands like Audioslave, Blink-182, Coheed, Creed, and Fuel started to replace some of the edgier, more gangster music previously cluttering my Zune (bet you haven’t heard that in a while). More importantly, the music I was into became less about partying and having a good time and more about angst, feelings, and questioning yourself. It was about struggles with faith, fitting in, spirituality, sexuality, and even conflicts in relationships – themes that matched exactly what I was going through as a fourteen-year-old male. I wasn’t sure who I was or was becoming, but I was sure that whatever it is I was going through, whoever wrote this music understood.
My teenage years would pass, and my adult life would begin. I still keep many of the same bands and music in my playlists (now you can stream the stuff – thanks Spotify), and I routinely go back to those times, through music, where I was figuring myself out. I still struggle with self-identity and my mental health in a lot of ways, however it’s this music that really helps to get me through. Whenever I have a rough day (trust me, it happens a lot), I always go back to that collection of music that really captures how I’m feeling in that exact moment.
Sadly, though, too many of the artists I listened to then and now are dyingº, becoming victims of substance abuse and/or mental illness leading to overdose and suicide – preventable issues if only we reach out, if only we recognize the signs in others. If you or someone you know is suffering, even silently, please make the effort. If you’re struggling, please talk to someone. If you know someone who really needs it, reach out and show them that you’re there for them. Show them that life is worth living. Show them this life is somewhere they belong.