The ‘C’ Word
Music has an exceptional ability to conjure up complex memories and emotions. You have likely noticed that music, as a topic, is a common feature of this blog, alongside cancer, unsophisticated humour about blood nurses being vampires and baking. ‘After the Party’ by The Menzingers came on whilst I was in chemotherapy on Saturday. It immediately made me nostalgic for my past, and I spent some time reminiscing at the hospital. I decided I’d do a little blog post on some of these memories and trawl through some other songs that remind me of past times, which also came up as I took a trip down mental memory lane.
‘After the Party’ was introduced to me by a girl on a first date in Philadelphia in 2019. I realised she had quite an alternative taste in music which always entices me as I have always spent a lot of my free time and effort digging around for new artists of all genres, generally. She offered a wealth of artists, mostly of an alternative/rock type genre, which I didn’t listen to much so I hadn’t discovered many of them before. Many of the bands were relatively local, hailing from Philadelphia or New Jersey, the next state over. There is a lot of good music that comes out of this part of the United States. Another band that I love called Pinegrove are from New Jersey, and I listened to them a lot then.
A lot of the music recommendations washed over me, but I loved ‘After the Party’. We quickly decided we got on well as friends, and there was never a romantic element to our relationship. I did go to a few gatherings at her house with her friends, though, and they did them well. They lived in South Philadelphia, which was quite rough-around-the-edges-trendy (and cheaper than the city). The house was 3 stories and had a lovely rooftop area overlooking the city skyline. ‘After the Party’ actually contains the below lyrics, which I listened to her friends sing in unison. They were liberally throwing their arms around each other; I enjoyed my drink and observed the comradery with glee. They were a fun bunch.
“With a new outlook on everything we see
From high upon this rooftop over South Philly“
Funnily enough, the song immediately made me think of the time I spent at The University of Bath for my masters year in 2015 – 2016. I went with all the good intentions in the world… Get my head down, focus and walk away with a mastery of business unparalleled in the shark tank. I’d just finished my undergrad degree and managed to get a first despite not taking it extremely seriously, but I wanted to start expecting more from myself. I should have known better to think it would run that smoothly. Entering into a house share with 6 other random strangers from the internet, I was certain that this would be a calm and knowledge-enhancing experience. Day 1 of meeting Dee, one of my favourite people on this planet to this day, we decided to put vodka into a Pot Noodle. The red flags were there from day 1 – I was in trouble.
What proceeded was the most unhinged 3 months of my life. That is really saying something, as my friends and I had a propensity for unhinged behaviour before this, but the time in Bath really did take the prize. After the Party’s story of a volatile, substance-driven relationship always appealed to me because it captured the mood of that time so well. It smacks of immaturity; doing something because you want to do it and not thinking about the consequences of that mentality. Somehow the song captures this vibe perfectly for me. It is just chaotic enough yet melodic enough. The lyrics are nicely written, and I truly feel I can see them all play out in front of me, and they conjure up images in my mind from that period in Bath.
The phenomenon is strange, as I didn’t hear the band until 2019, so it had no relation to my time in Bath. Music has a fantastic ability to do that to you. It was a really fun time, but I don’t long to return to it. The memories all feel like they happened to a different person now. When I see pictures like those below, I smile a lot to myself at times passed and know that I’m more the person I want to be now. Even if it was fun at the time. Perhaps I needed that year to become who I am now, though – I learnt a lot about myself during it.
Things had to die down after Christmas. It is hard to keep up a lot of energy for drinking, going to bed late, spending a lot of money you don’t have etc. I’ve spoken before about how drinking sat quite uncomfortably with me too. I already had a complex that the behaviour was at odds with my favourite characteristics about myself: my productivity, waking up early, feeling physically good and exercising. It also made me feel like I was at my most appealing when I was drinking. That mindset really bothered me especially, as I wanted to have more to offer the world than just “he’s fun when he drinks”. I’m fun anyway, aren’t I? Still, the memories are great, and I made so many friends for life. Cam and Dee, who I met in that house, remain some of my best friends to this day!
The nostalgia train had left the station. I went to my phone and looked for another song that would somehow dip into my past. I landed on ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ by Frank Turner.
This song was played a lot among my friendship group when we were in sixth form, probably about 17 years old. I remember vividly being at a New Years house party at my friend Rich’s house. There were far too many people who were far too young to be drinking far too cheap cider. Classic English party vibes, really. There were people at the party who weren’t as integrated into our group and weren’t aware of the phenomenon that is ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ by Frank Turner. When the song came on, they looked concerned as voices bellowed out of every room in the house and from the garden, singing along and throwing arms around each other. People were running and finding others to shout the lyrics at. It’s all sort of cringe, really, but it has also stuck with me for all of this time, so it must be significant. I sometimes hope that the portrayal of memories from the animated film Inside Out is accurate, and some part of my personality was defined at that moment. It is now concreted into my character as a core memory forever.
The song’s recording is done live in some capacity, and the way it has been produced makes you feel like you are sitting watching him perform it in front of you. It adds to the magic of the song. When the background voices come in during the lyics ‘And we’re definitely going to hell, but we’ll have all the best stories to tell’, you can see why it became an anthem among a group of angsty teenagers; drunk off cheap cider and enjoying the novelty of a ‘free house’ on New Years Eve. It adds to the feel that you’re sat somewhere watching a friend play a song, and everyone is joining in at the apex of the lyrics.
I can’t remember how the song got into our group. It was probably through a member of the group called Ben Hackett. He actually ended up getting the quoted lyrics above tattooed on him, then went to a Frank Turner show and managed to show him the tattoo. There was a picture of them together on Facebook, but I deleted my account years ago. I wonder if he still has the lyrics tattooed, but I don’t see him often anymore, and I haven’t thought to ask when I have seen him. Tattoos are usually, by definition, permanent, so I assume he has, but I have had a tattoo covered up before, so I’m not easily tricked by their ‘permanence’.
Anyway, times are different now. The nostalgia is pleasant and is an excellent technique for getting through the tough chemotherapy sessions. It was a really lovely method of escapism today. It made the time go much quicker towards the end of the session, so I have it to thank for that. Music can bring so many memories flooding back, both good and bad. ‘After the Party’ definitely didn’t bring up all good images of my time at Bath. Many things were plaguing me at that time, such as dysfunctional relationships that were fuelled more by alcohol than any genuine feelings. You also learn a lot from those experiences, though, and I look back on them as a very different person with a newfound clarity over what was valuable about it and what wasn’t. Lots of it was useful, even if I didn’t study anywhere nearly as hard as I should. I still ended the year with 68%, 2% off the highest past rate. I can’t complain, really. I got 75% in my dissertation, which completely floored me. Life is not about how hard you study, though; there were plenty of other things I learnt during this time and in the proceeding years that were nothing to do with any degree I acquired. Hearing ‘After the Party’ for the first time in Philly on that rooftop immediately captured a mood for me, one that I can easily tap into any time I listen to it now. It’s lovely for that reason alone.
Feel free to comment with some nostalgic songs you like and any stories they bring to mind. I’d love to hear them and see if I can paint the image whilst listening! This was quite an alcohol-heavy reflection on my past. Next time I will talk about some music that reminds me of other times in my life. Any excuse to reminisce!