Cool Kids: Echosmith

“All the cool kids, they seem to fit in.”

Nearly everyone wants to fit in with their peers as a child. We want more than just to be respected and tolerated, though some still fail to achieve even these basic things (often though no fault of their own). No,we want to be included, liked. We want to belong. What no one ever tells you when you’re a child, though, is that the need to belong, to have a group that knows, accepts and loves you, never goes away. They don’t tell you that peer pressure never goes away, either. It just gets subtler. The popular clique gets replaced with affluent neighbours or the stylish co-workers or the naturally fit people at the gym. There will always be a set of “cool kids”, and if you’re not one of them, their lives can often seem flawlessly easy and glamorous, especially when you’re dealing with difficult matters.

When I first heard “Cool Kids” by Echosmith, my first thought was that this sounded like something I would have written as a teenager (I didn’t realize at the time that the band was, in fact, comprised of teens). Then I felt a bit of self-conscious irritation at the fact that, at almost thirty years old, this song was incredibly relateable to me. I’d been a loner as a child (due to a combination of frequent moving, an unusual voracity for reading, incredibly large glasses and a bit of shyness). This lead to my becoming even more introverted as a teen. I wanted a group of friends, and I collected a couple every few years (some of whom have stood the test of time and that I’m still close to), But I always have and still often do feel like I’m on the “outside”, Never the cool kid, always the loner, living in my head and wondering why that is. “Cool Kids” struck a chord with me because, as often as we hear songs about love, loss, heartache, lust and the quest for riches, rarely is anyone ever so honest as to admit that they want a friend, that they want to belong, and that they envy others who do. The truth is, this feeling, this need for gregarious socializing, might be the most common of all.

I Write In Order to Feel Whole

As a child, I lived mostly in my head. I was lonely and had no voice in my own home so, as a result, I made a world for myself in my mind. When that world got too tiresome or boring, I would spice it up with the people and places that I read of in books. I wanted to be extroverted, to be gregarious, to be liked by everyone. This didn’t always happen. My peers often thought that I was too weird, too smart, too quiet. Sometimes, they mistook my near-debilitating shyness for aloofness and snobbery. But when it did happen, when I was part of a clique of those shiny, happy people, even when I was the center of attention, I would inevitably feel like a fraud. I’d spend hours, sometimes days, wondering if my friends would like me so much if and when they discovered that I wasn’t as smart, as funny, and interesting as they’d initially thought me to be. I wondered what they’d think if learned that my brains were a byproduct of painful childhood repression and isolation, that my wit was what I resorted to in order to connect with others without ever having to make myself too vulnerable, that my charm was a hodgepodge of personalities I’d collected from my beloved books.

I’ve gone through most of my life feeling as if I were drifting, floating by, going through the motions. I often view others, and myself, from the outside, a third party. I feel strong, long periods of wanting to connect with others followed by shorter periods of apathy and numbness. I feel like a foreigner in my own life. Void. A ghost. I often feel so much, so intensely, that the emotions threaten to strangle me. Other times, I want so badly to connect with someone, to feel something, that I’ll even accept pain, actively seeking it, if only to valid my existence.

But when I write, I can flesh out all of the emotions I have, feelings and thoughts that I don’t think that others can relate to, things that even I can’t always comprehend. I am able to compartmentalize myself in such a way that other people can finally understand me, know me, see me, even if I still feel detached or unwanted by them. Even if I am still the outsider. I write in order to fill myself. I write so that I may no longer be a shell of a person. I write in order to feel whole.

Don’t Fear the Reaper: Gus Black

In the 1970s, the Blue Oyster Cult (BOC) achieved super-stardom with the cult (pun intended) hit “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, a song about embracing death which was expertly made less cryptic with an upbeat, incredibly catchy melody. The song became popular with millions of people in generations to come, gracing the soundtracks of various movies and earning spots in several televisions shows and commercials. In 1996, the movie “Scream” hit theatres, filled with the creme de la creme of young Hollywood’s elite (at the time) and a stellar soundtrack. The most refreshing surprise of that soundtrack was Gus Black’s stripped-bare, slowed-down, incredibly erotic cover of “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. Gus Black is, regrettably, still a fairly unknown artist, but his boldness at covering the BOC classic as well as it’s flawless execution are definitely worthy of admiration and respect.

I must have listened to BOC’s original hundreds of time before I listened to Gus Black’s cover, but it was only upon listening to that version that I experienced the fully morbid sensuality of the song’s lyrics. Unlike BOC’s recording, which induces adrenaline-fueled giddiness in a lovely, albeit audibly sophomoric melody, the cover uses the melody and composition alterations to make the listener feel languid pleasure rather than fear at the thought of truly embracing death.

Keep Breathing: Ingrid Michaelson

“People are dying. I close my blinds… I want to change the world; instead, I sleep.”

Being self-centered is the easiest thing to be. Most of us are taught from a young age to think of and consider the thoughts, feelings, and circumstances of others, but like most etiquette training, thinking of others is counter-intuitive and something that doesn’t come naturally to us. At all. We must be trained to do this, and we always fail, some of us far more than others. It is totally natural to be self-centered, to be fixated on one’s own problems and only consider the problems of others sincerely when their issues affect us, either directly or indirectly. It is easier to commiserate with someone when you have common ground with them and it is easiest to side with and consider the perspectives of those who’s affiliations match our own. So many of us spend the majority of our time ruminating over our own problems, whether the grievances we face are legitimate or otherwise. It should be a staggering slap back to reality, a badge of shame, that we can be aware of wars being fought, genocide committed, people around the globe dying of dehydration and hunger, and yet their concerns fail to linger in our minds as profoundly as the thought of our own kids’ private school tuitions, our car payments, and getting that promotion in order to show up the neighbours that we’re generally ambivalent about, until it comes time to gloat over some assumed point of superiority.

Why is that? Why do people only matter for what they can do for us, what they can give us on a material and psychological level? If other people only matter because they give us food, shelter, money, attention, and admiration, then do we really value their humanity, or does the cusp of their existence rest on their ability to validate our own?