By Taylor Silver, art by Rachel Davies
For a majority of 2015, it felt like my creativity had taken forsaken me. It was as if all my hobbies had read Kerouac, said “you’re on your own, pal!”, and drove off into the night. Specifically, recording music, which had long been my cure-all, had grown tedious and triggering. I’d dust off my M-Audio interface, sedulously tune weary guitar strings, and sit down to write a song. Within half an hour and without fail, I felt like clawing my eyes out:
- It sounds too tinny
- WHAT is this inexplicable crackling sound
- Did I just rip off a Rilo Kiley riff?
- Aaaaand I popped a string
Next, I’d force-quit GarageBand, draw the curtains, and collapse on my velvet fainting couch. I’ve retired from music at the feeble age of 21. Then, a few weeks would pass and the vicious cycle would rear its ugly head yet again.
In November, I bought Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl. I loved the book because it was good, but I devoured it because I needed it. In her debut memoir, Brownstein describes this compulsory need to periodically fill voids, to feel satiated. She writes, “So much of my intention with songs is to voice a continual dissatisfaction, or at least to claw my way out of it.” This line, in its sheer “well, duh-ness”, punched me right in the face. For nearly a year, I’d been so hell-bent on recording one decent song, I let my frustration consume me instead of guide me. I’d forgotten why I enjoyed music in the first place, forgetting its status as a conduit or even a simply as a leisurely activity.
My first interaction with an instrument (save for the Fisher Price plastic guitar toy I picked out in my peak Josie and the Pussycats juncture) was with a Yamaha keyboard I’d gotten for Christmas. I’d amuse myself by performing its built-in songs, from “Greensleeves” to “Ode to Joy.” And, to be clear, by performing I mean closing my eyes and miming the fingering in time to the music. I’ll wager it was a riveting concerto, a poignant studio session that would end abruptly just as the opening credits of Totally Spies began to play.
Beginning around fifth grade, I started writing poetry. I misappropriated the pages of my marble composition notebook (designated for spelling tests) and wrote pages upon pages of rhyming stanzas. But while I should be embarrassed by my quaint assumption that all poems had to rhyme, the exercise proved to be beneficial when I’d eventually start writing songs.
One of my favorite excerpts from the book is when Carrie talks about buying her very first guitar. Rather than one’s first six-string being presented by a shaman or a Robert Johnson-esque figure, the whole “first guitar” process is quite underwhelming. It typically involves a musky, carpeted store; a locale Carrie refers to as the “WAREHOUSE FOR THE NONCOMMITTAL.” Like Carrie, my first guitar was an off-brand Stratocaster. My early style involved a lot of guesswork: “Oh that note sounds slightly less shitty than the last one, so this must be a chord.” Eventually, I took a year of lessons with a man who exclusively wore hemp and guayaberas. Soon enough, the intro to House of the Rising Sun began to trigger my gag reflex and I quit my formal training. Since then, I’ve been on my own.
Perhaps the main reason I got into music is because it happened to intersect with puberty, i.e., my burgeoning awkwardness. Coupled with my quiet demeanor and awful track record with bar mitzvah party games, I found solace in writing in my bedroom. I’d only to emerge for bathroom breaks, turkey sandwiches, and to prove to my parents that I was still very much alive. There’s a line in the movie Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains where Diane Lane’s character says, in the most matter-of-fact way, “Every girl should be given an electric guitar on her 16th birthday.” Music became the most formative and rewarding gift I ever gave to myself. It became the best way I could effectively communicate. It was solitary, unfettered, and wholly mine.
There’s also a shamelessness in being young and making music, as no one dare scrutinize the delicate oeuvre of a tween. I never thought anyone would judge me for trying to rhyme “prom” and “wrong.” I never thought anyone would tell me that a tender duet I had written with Jesse McCartney in mind was, in fact, derivative. I was just happy it all existed. Throughout 2015, I wanted so badly to feel that way again.
As I was reading Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, I revisited each Sleater-Kinney album chronologically to coincide with each chapter. I lingered on All Hands on the Bad One for a while. It’s catchy, unpretentious, and fun. Carrie describes making music as “creating your own air to breathe.” And it’s through experiencing this record (or maybe the fact that mercury is no longer in retrograde) that I felt my proverbial sinuses start to clear. I’ve made a conscious effort to not overthink or allow myself to be derailed. Devoid of this anxiety and terror, I’m close to feeling full again.
Below I’ve covered my favorite Sleater-Kinney song, Leave You Behind. Listen to it! Or don’t. It’s your life.
Taylor Silver is a student and writer from Florida (and hopes that you won’t hold that against her). Find her on twitter @taylorgayng.
Rachel Davies is a university freshman in Toronto, a freelance writer, and the founder of Pop Culture Puke. You can read her tweets here.