Spenny’s 10: Young Edition

Freaks-and-Geeks

 

For this week’s edition of Spenny’s 10, I’ve chosen the word “young”. All of the songs on this list deal with what it’s like to be young in one way or another. Lets get started!

 

Younger Us – Japandroids

“Young” is a constantly shifting descriptor. Like the term “yesterday”, “young” often seems just out of our reach. A time we remember but cannot live in. This yearning for one’s younger self haunts Japandroids. At 27 years of age, Japandroids are clinging to their youth as it slips out of their hands. They remember the excitement of sneaking out of their parent’s house and staying up all night, but they are unable to recreate that excitement. Thus, “Younger Us” is a love letter for a time when we felt more alive.

 

 

Forever Young* – Bob Dylan

Dylan is more optimistic than Japandroids on the prospect of youth. For Dylan, to be young is not an age, but a mindset. Dylan has said that he wrote this song for his son. Seen through this lens, the lyrics “may you stay forever young” become words of advice. Part of living a good life involves maintaining a youthful spirit. Engaging with life actively: always learning, questioning, and creating. One can live this way regardless of one’s age, which, if possible, is a comforting thought.

 

Young, Gifted, and Black – Jay Z

In “Young, Gifted, and Black”, Jay Z recalls the struggles of his youth and how he overcame them to become the person he is today. Being young was not easy for Jay Z. He grew up around violence, drugs, and in a system that didn’t want him to succeed. Despite these obstacles, Jay Z persevered and earned his “ticket out the ghetto”. He recognizes that his own success does not change the lives of the young kids who still live in the ghetto. In the last line of the song he recalls the death of his six-year-old cousin, a story that is all too common for Jay Z. In this way the song serves as both a celebratory track for Jay Z’s accomplishments and a reminder that many young people are not as lucky as him and never get to achieve their full potential.

 

When You Were Young – The Killers

As children, we all form pictures of what our future will be. These pictures are shaped by the stories we immerse ourselves in, and our own fantastical imaginations. Unfortunately, these storybook futures rarely come to be realized. This is the problem facing the main character in “When You Were Young”. She’s waiting for a Prince Charming to “save her”. As the song progresses, she realizes that this Prince Charming she imagined in her youth does not exist in reality. She accepts this and finds a man, who isn’t perfect, but is polite and is willing to put in work to make their relationship work. In other words, she grows up. She abandons the idealism of her youth and adopts the pragmatism that the real world demands.

 

Young Folks – Peter Bjorn & John

Unlike any of the other songs on this list, “Young Folks” treats the theme of youth with complete indifference. The song centers on a conversation between two lovers. They do not reminisce about when they were young and they are not interested in the trends that young folks follow. All they care about is being with each other. Who cares about youth when you have love?

 

 

Diane Young – Vampire Weekend

“Diane Young” is literally the concept of “dying young” personified. Dianne is a reckless youth. She crashes cars (specifically a Saab) and, in general, throws caution to the wind. She believes in living in the moment because “nobody knows what the futures holds. It’s bad enough just getting old”. She is too busy living life to be afraid of death. This is a sentiment shared by many young people and the irony here is apparent in the song title. It is often those who strive to “live” the most whose lives are cut short.

 

 

We Did It When We Were Young – The Gaslight Anthem

In this song Brian Fallon, lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem, recalls a past flame that’s recently been trying to reconnect with him. She tries to remind him of the good times they had together, but her attempt to reignite their young love falls on deaf ears. Fallon remembers their younger days, but not through the same wistful filter as her. He remembers the pain that she caused him because he was too young to defend himself. He refuses to inflict this pain on himself again – he’s older now, he knows better. Thus, this is a parable about learning from the mistakes of your youth. As the great George W. Bush once said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me… I can’t get fooled again!” Brian Fallon agrees.

 

 

Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood – Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah!

There’s a line in the first chapter of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five on the glamorization of war, which reads: “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra, and John Wayne, or some other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies.” These babies are the “Tidal Wave of Young Blood” that CYHSY speak of in this song. They are the young people who are sacrificed in war to accomplish the objectives of “war-loving, dirty old men”. Young people should be out having fun, not dying for causes that they are too young to understand.

 

 

The Young and the Hopeless – Good Charlotte

Ahh good ol’ teen angst: “I’m angry at my father. It’s me against the world and I don’t care”. Lines like these are so cliché that coming from most people they would come off as satire, but not from Good Charlotte. Benji Madden delivers these lyrics with a straight, tearstained face. Were they pandering to the youth market with songs like this? Probably. I doubt any functional adult sees the world in such a juvenile, simplistic way. Do young people need songs like this? Definitely. When I was 9 years old this song was awesome. Sure, I didn’t actually hate my father or think the world was against me, but it was nice to have songs that felt like they were written for me. The most important thing about music is the personal connection you form with it, and bands like Good Charlotte will always be there for young adolescents to connect with when they feel confused and frustrated.

 

 

Young and Beautiful – Lana Del Rey

“Young and Beautiful” is a song Lana Del Rey wrote for the film The Great Gatsby. It deals with many of the same themes as the movie surrounding beauty, wealth, and young love. Young love is often experienced through rose-tinted glasses. Lana is well aware of this predicament, and the anxieties that accompany it. She recognizes that youth and beauty are the basis of many young relationships, and she recognizes that youth and beauty fade. Lana worries that her relationship is not strong enough to endure once the thrill of youth is stripped away, when all that is left is her “aching soul”. This mirrors the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy, and it drives home how precarious and fleeting young love can be.

 

This week things get a little more personal. When bands tackle the subject of being young, they often turn inward. Being young is an experience that everyone is familiar with; but that we all have are own personal connection to. Whether an artist is reminiscing about their youth, or living in it, it forces them to acknowledge their own limited time on Earth. We all grow up (with the possible exception of Bob Dylan), and we all change. Writing songs about being young enables the artist, and the listener, to reflect on how their life has changed since they were younger, and how their life will change as they get older.

Join me next time I decide to do this, when I pick another word and talk about songs connected to it!

 

 

*Not a cover of the Alphaville song unfortunately.

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