Music in One Teen’s Life

Angelina: a sophomore in high school; bright, wonderful, one of four children; parents separated; has used cutting as a way to deal with the stresses in her life. Angelina was gracious, honest and articulate in the interview process. She was generous with her feelings with the hope that her story may help parents and kids like her stay connected.

Nirvana & Green Day
S. Thanks, Angelina, for agreeing to talk with me about music in your life. To begin, could you tell me what types of music you like?

A. It’s my pleasure. It will be fun. I like a wide variety. Lots of rock. My favorites are branches of rock – like punk, classic and alternative. Nirvana and Green Day are two of my favorites.

Expressing the feelings we all feel sometime.
S. Why do you think those types of music appeal to you?

A. So many of the lyrics are just easy to relate to. Kurt Cobain, the kind of image he displayed – the whole suicide thing. He’s been where you are – feeling overwhelmed just like so many of us. It’s not unhealthy to appreciate someone who ultimately killed himself.  That’s not why I like him.  I appreciate him because he was able to expose the pain, to capture what it feels like.  So he is a hero in that way. When you listen to different artists, over time you build relationships with them, like friends.  Lyrics and melody are like a bridge to where you are.  Whenever I’m in my best state of mind or worst state of mind, music is there for me.  I’m connected.

Music doesn’t cause the feelings. It helps the feelings.
S. I’d like to speak as a parent for a minute. We do our best to understand and want to protect you, so we just naturally worry that the music you are drawn to might bring you down even further. That it can trigger depression. Can you understand that?

A. Please trust me and my music. I don’t listen to songs that make me feel worse. No one does. I want to feel better and it begins by seeing that others have felt the same way. Even if parents don’t understand why we feel frustrated, those are our feelings. By digging into the emotions and giving them room, I come to understand them better. Then I can get to a different emotional plane.

Music reflects universal feelings. It doesn’t come and go, whereas friends move on. Music is like a band-aid that is always there for you.

Validated. Connected.
S. Do different artists or different songs feel better to you based on what you are going through at the moment?

A. Yes. There are certain songs that I reserve for when I am down, upset – just having a bad day. It would be easy to think of myself as a disappointment – or the crazy one. So finding music that connects to others who feel the same? That’s great. They, and you, aren’t losers.

My Chemical Romance is another favorite. They just broke up this week and it broke my heart. But then I realized that their music is still here. The leader used music to heal himself. He had been into drugs and alcohol. He was suicidal when he started the band. Through music he overcame his problems. The band saved themselves and created music that saves other people every day.

My Chemical Romance gave me the strength I needed over the summer when things were real tough. Their music helped me get in touch my anger and frustration and blast it out. When I was feeling weak and discouraged, it helped me up. I am not helpless. I can take control. It was a real lifeline for me.

Need to feel hope. Need to feel control.
S. Can I ask what gets you down?

A. From my point of view the world can beat you down. Everywhere you look you see pictures and stories of people who look unbelievable and who accomplish amazing things – like you know you never will. Why even bother? You want to be special, someone who shines, who people admire and I was feeling that I would never be that person.

Also I didn’t feel like I could control much in my life. Things were tough and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. So when I wanted to find strength and hope, those powerful songs gave it to me.

S. What happens to kids who can’t find that support and solace when things seem darkest.

A. If they don’t feel connections then they feel alone – like no one cares.

S. How much music do you listen to in an average day?

A. (Laughter) When I wake up, when I’m on the bus, at the end of classes when we’re studying, in my room. Probably at least 7 or 8 hours a day. Weekends it is pretty much constant.

When I’m with friends I often keep one ear bud in. It kind of quiets the emotional background for me. They understand. It’s not a big deal to them at all.

S. Do you ever play one song over and over again?

A. Yes! I do it a lot. I give it time til I feel done.

Privacy. Safety.
S. You say the musical artists are friends, but isn’t it a risk that you won’t make real friends?

A. Music is personal to me. I keep it quiet. I don’t like opening up to different people. When a musician captures their pain – your pain – it’s private. They are opening up to you. And you don’t have to worry that what you told someone is going to get out there.

My friends know I’m private and they are still my friends. It’s easy.

Tumblr Community. Real Community.
On Tumblr I have made tons of connections over bands. It’s a great place for teenagers to come together. You have your blog and see other people’s postings. You build real relationships. You know they are real people.

If you post something dark, a dozen posts will come back instantly, “Are you okay?”

Also connecting on Tumblr opens up a broader world. It broadens your views. I have lots of friends in England and it gives me hope that maybe in two years I can go over there. Three months ago I had plans but with no expectation that they would ever happen. But now, through music, I feel connected and very hopeful. I know I can do it.

I posted poems I wrote and my Tumblr friend, Roanan, has taken some and put them to music. When I share my poems here …

Playing music is an emotional ride.
S. Do you play an instrument? How does playing an instrument affect what you are feeling?

A. I’m learning guitar and piano and I play bass. With piano, you can take your emotions and put them into the music directly – transcribing them into the instrument. Happy? You can play with a lightness. Angry? The harder you pound the keys, the more the anger comes through.

Just practicing the piano can take you for an emotional ride. Each time you slow the tempo and then speed it back up, your emotions come with it. Or when you struggle to learn a piece and then you get it right! A thrill everytime! I did it! I felt it. I controlled and conquered. You feel anxiety – and then when you hit the right notes …..

Other arts.
S. Are there other art forms you appreciate?

A. When I was in sixth grade, my teacher made us do a poem every week. At first I was terrible. Then I found I had a talent for writing. I submitted my work and won. Often. But I think I narrowed my options too early. I stopped picturing doing anything except writing. Then I got nervous and my confidence started to slip. But when I decided that I just like to write – but it doesn’t have to be a career, I got better at it again.

S. Any other art forms interest you?

A. I love reading. Music is immediate for me. Then often while I’m listening, I’ll start a book. Books take you to another world. It began when I started the Harry Potter books a long time ago. Since then, I love to read and escape. They take me away.

I have a friend who loves to paint and she is really good at it.

She jumps off the bed and starts giving me a tour of her walls and shelves, pointing out the work of friends. Music posters. Everything carefully chosen and placed. Such a nice way to wrap up our discussion of art in her life.

Thanks, Angelina!