#7 Posters on My Bedroom Wall (“Millennials Are Going Gray” track by track)

At last! We have arrived at the seventh and final blog in my track by track guide to my (somewhat) new DIY album, Millennials Are Going Gray. Track #7 is “Posters on My Bedroom Wall,” an unapologetically quirky song that’s literally about talking to posters on my bedroom wall. Don’t try to find the metaphor in it, because there isn’t one. They’re literal posters on the wall. And I literally talk to them (or at least I did when I was sadder and lonelier).

For your convenience, you can stream the track on Spotify and YouTube and read the lyrics at the bottom of this post.

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“Posters” is another idea that had been kicking around for a while before I wrote it. It’s the perfect representation of my introverted, timid young self (who honestly still has a lot of control over me today, though I resist her regularly and I’ve achieved many things requiring social skills that I wouldn’t have dreamed of achieving back then).

The literal truth to this song is a bit embarrassing. For some background, I’ve always thought out loud when I’m alone (or think I am), I still do. I don’t know why; I think I just find it easier to organize my thoughts that way, and maybe I also like the sound of my own voice keeping me company.

That’s not the embarrassing part, though. At one point as a teenager, I got rid of a particular poster on my wall because I didn’t like it and didn’t even really like the band on it anymore. But immediately after doing so, I began to catch myself, way too frequently, talking out loud to “myself” but attempting to make eye contact with the poster that was no longer there. I had absolutely no conscious idea of it before then, but somewhere in my mind, I hadn’t just been talking to myself that whole time, I’d been talking to the face on the poster.

I was always a very solitary kid, but to me, this story illustrated that I never was as much of an island as I liked to pretend, and that I had somehow managed to turn the posters into a (poor) substitute for real-life interaction. The song is largely about that, but also more generally about growing up and trying to make my way as a relatively soft-spoken, risk-averse person. I’m getting by. I’ve made friends in the past few years who have only seen me at my boldest and been shocked when I label myself as “shy,” and it feels great to hear that, but it didn’t come easy. It took some grueling emotional work and I still struggle with the same problems today, just to a lesser degree.

In a bit of a nod to my first album, Secrets I Told to a Sound Hole, the last theme that permeates this song is that admiring musicians and surrounding myself with music has been my main constant for my entire life. I used to tell myself that it didn’t really mean anything because everyone has that same passion for music. But as I’ve said in the past, my feelings about music seemed to become more and more pathological every year after high school. Most everyone else moved onto new hobbies, real jobs, and real relationships, and no longer felt the need to listen to music every day, but I just never “grew out of it.” It’s why one day I just thought, this is clearly what I want to devote my life to, maybe it’s not possible, but why not try? I felt that I owed it to myself at least to try.

And I’m pleased to say I know for a fact that 15-year-old me would be very proud of me now.

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LYRICS

I’m fifteen, I don’t have many friends
I don’t know where I want to be, I don’t know what I want to do
Or if I’ll ever fall in love
I’ve got posters of musicians on my wall
I sit in my computer chair and casually strum a guitar
I say to one of my two dimensional heroes,
“Will I ever figure this out? Will I ever get there?”
They make me feel good, like I can take on the world
But I’m just talking to the posters on my bedroom wall

My twenties, I don’t have many friends
But I know where I want to be, and I know what I want to do
And someday I’ll fall in love
I’ve got posters of musicians on my wall
I sit in my computer chair and casually strum a guitar
I say to one of my two dimensional heroes,
“Will I ever be like you? Will we ever share a stage?”
But when I go to their shows I’ve got nothing to say
Because I’m just talking to the posters on my bedroom wall

And I’m meant to be so much more than this
I’ve got so many songs in my heart that I can’t resist
I never learned how to speak my thoughts out loud
I can only form the words when I know that there’s no one around
I’m meant to do so much more than this
So much more
Than just talking to the posters on my bedroom wall

#6 This Is the Era (“Millennials Are Going Gray” track by track)

Welcome to blog #6 of 7 in my track by track guide to my new DIY album, Millennials Are Going Gray. Track #6 is “This Is the Era,” another quirky acoustic punk-ish tune, this one just randomly listing things I’ve observed about the time in which we’re living, because why not?

For your convenience, you can stream the track on Spotify and YouTube and read the lyrics at the bottom of this post.

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I had the “this is the era” hook in my head around the same time as “Gatekeeper,” along with a much longer list of examples, but I think I managed to narrow it down to the three least stupid sounding: one-click friendships and one-click falling outs; online businessmen who make their fortunes off eBooks of their secrets; and hypocritical libertarians (which, let’s be real, is just one example of a wider issue of hypocrisy in armchair politics). These three examples have little in common except for being three observations I’ve made about the current time period recently, so the song isn’t the most coherent statement, but I did my best.

The first verse, referring to a person who unfriended me, as usual, is about more than one person and doesn’t totally adhere to reality.

I do think in general, with social media being the ultimate symbol of a friendship or relationship now, because these can be manipulated with a simple click, there is more of this sense that friendships are disposable. You’ve got hundreds or even thousands (whether they’re real is beside the point), so if one person’s post or interaction makes you feel bad even just once, you might as well just hit “unfriend” and be done with them. (To be fair to modern humans, I think people probably would have used this option at any time in history had it existed, but it didn’t.)

In reality, I try not to talk about politics online ever (though every once in while my unruly tongue gets the better of my typing), so I wasn’t really unfriended over that ever as far as I know. However — I kid you not — I was unfriended on Facebook by an IRL friend of several years over an argument about double spacing between sentences, during which I was genuinely trying to be conciliatory, but I guess it’s hard to tell online and many people these days just aren’t willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Again, I think this has to do with this notion that friendships are disposable now and people are out on their first dubious strike, and I think that’s really sad.

Speaking of social media, it might just be because of my stated singer-songwriter job or the pages I like, but I am CONSTANTLY getting ads about self-proclaimed “creative entrepreneurs” making “six figures.” They always sound exactly the same: believe it or not, they advertised and built their fan base entirely online, and if I’d only shell out $100 or so for their eBook or online course, I could learn all of their “secrets” and be just as successful very quickly and with surprisingly little effort.

Look, social media lady, it seems painfully obvious to me that if you are indeed making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, it’s most likely from these godforsaken eBook sales and other ways of cornering the unsuccessful musician market, not from your music or art that no one’s ever heard of. And I accepted the need for hard work and patience to build a music career a long time ago, and I still feel perfectly fine about it. It really bothers me how many “entrepreneurs” and businesses out there are built purely on finagling money from hopeful musicians who are probably lacking in either talent or understanding of the business. That is literally their target audience, not people who are likely to succeed, but people who are likely to need their questionable “services” for a very long time.

And why is every eBook sale landing page exactly the same? Plain black text broken up with bold, yellow, and red on a white background. Lots of bullets, lots of promises and guarantees that sound way too good to be true. A handful of testimonials accompanied by names and photos that look fake, and then in a little box way down at the bottom once they’re sure they’ve got you: “Get this life-changing eBook that will pay for itself in basically a day for $1000 — no, wait, if you buy it today it’s only $99, what a steal!”

Finally, as for “libertarians who seek a fortress guarded by high-tech Nazis,” like I said, I never talk about politics. I like keeping friends and keeping my head, and I’m smart enough to see how informal political debates these days literally never go anywhere. I suppose I snuck this in because I felt like a wide variety of people would interpret it as agreeing with them, so the risk was lower — and it seems to have worked.

All I will say is that I generally don’t begrudge anyone any political opinion that they genuinely believe is right for the world (unless it’s a real fascist idea, I mean, that basically shows me you don’t actually have a valid sense of right and wrong/you’re a sociopath). But you have to be consistent about it. Intellectually I can understand the origins of the selfish desire to put regulations on people you disagree with while remaining free yourself, or to curb all government spending except the subsidies and programs that directly benefit you. What I don’t understand is how people can spout it proudly as though it’s perfectly decent and appropriate. Those people need to be pushed back on more often, wherever they fall on the political spectrum.

Finally, I attempted to tie the song all together with a little hopeful summary at the end and my usual (five, in this case) standard chords. When I first finished the song, I wondered if it needed an extra part or something, but in the end I left it at that. It’s not about what’s wrong, it’s about what’s right.

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LYRICS

This is the era of one-click friendships
And one-click falling outs at the first hint of difference
She friended me after a party where we exchanged a mere handful of words
Then we had some late night heart to hearts and it felt good to be heard
But before we met again she dropped me after one link I shared
And my political views say “Skeptic” and hers are agree or get out
There was no option to appeal the decision
And we look just like strangers when we see each other now

This is the era of online businessmen
Who make their fortunes off eBooks of their secrets
I saw an ad on social media, blocking the things I really want from my feed
Promised me riches and a freedom most can only dream
I scrolled down for half an hour just to see where it led
And the red text at the bottom, assaulting my eyes
Said “Snag this deal while you still can”
A hundred dollars, hundred pages, for one simple truth:
When they can’t create value, then they just invent it

This is the era of libertarians
Who seek a fortress guarded by high-tech Nazis
I see them wrapped up in their bubble
Blocking detractors just like everyone else
They flip, they don’t just stretch, the meanings of the words that they sell
When they hate free movement and free trade across imagined lines
Protect my industry, protect my family, they don’t care about the rest
I could see them defending chattel slavery as long as their own rights were protected

But it’s going to be okay, okay okay
Because we can still stand up, make changes
So let’s defy them all, the online robber barons and the fascist libertarians
Be true to ourselves and let’s dream and let’s love
It’s the only way we will get through this life
It’s not about what’s wrong, it’s about what’s right

#5 Gatekeeper (“Millennials Are Going Gray” track by track)

Here we are at blog #5 of 7 in my track by track guide to my new DIY album, Millennials Are Going Gray. Track #5 is “Gatekeeper,” a defiant (but kind of quirky) acoustic punk-ish song about not letting other people define your worth, no matter how cool you might think they are.

For your convenience, you can stream the track on Spotify and YouTube and read the lyrics at the bottom of this post.

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This is a pretty straightforward song. I’m not going to tell the specific story of the people I wanted to like me who were only ever rude to me, partly because the song is a mixture of several real people with a hint of poetic license, and partly because it’s just kind of private. But you can use your imagination to put a disapproving hipster from your own life into the song!

My initial idea (typical for me) was the chorus. I’d been struggling a lot emotionally with one of these people (in this case, a man) who I thought was super cool but who had no interest or time for me whatsoever. I got a little reflective and asked myself, why does this actually matter to me so much? And I sort of said to myself, in so many words, “If he doesn’t think I’m cool or smart, then I must not be cool or smart.” I ended up writing down in my journal, “If you don’t think I’m smart, I’m not smart. If you don’t think I’m cool, I’m not cool. If you want nothing to do with me, I swear to God I am not worthy” (which was only changed slightly for the final song). Somewhere in the back of my mind I wanted it to be a song, but I mostly wrote it down at that moment so that I could see how stupid it sounded, laid out so clearly like that.

If you have fragile self-esteem like I have and find yourself in a situation like this, you might also be familiar with the sense that one cool person liking or disliking you can make or break your entire social life. At one word, all of their dozens and dozens of cool, popular friends will either become your friends too, or write you off entirely. I set my initial lines aside for a while and let my subconscious work on them, and eventually I came up with a response that satisfied me: “But hell if I’m just gonna let you be the gatekeeper to a world that doesn’t want me” (hence the title), along with the turning around of the chorus. Basically, if you don’t like or respect me, I will just have to like and respect myself instead.

By that point, I was definitely thinking of it as a song, and at some point that gave rise to the bridge. In my opinion, the execution of that part wasn’t perfect, but the idea was to lightheartedly point at evidence that I actually am smart and cool. It turns out that it’s really not that easy to do effectively without sounding like a douche, I think I erred on the side of not sounding like a douche but sounding a bit silly instead.

The verses are probably the least personal part. I wrote them last, at a time when the whole idea was feeling a bit abstract — like I said, I was no longer thinking of one person and one story by that time, but just the general idea of being defiant in the face of a “cool” person who doesn’t approve of you. I did my best to personify that idea, and that was that.

Upon finalizing my usual unimaginative chord progression and melody (I’m always ready to admit my lack of musical creativity, but I’m working on it!), I was hoping to do something different with the rhythm. I happened to be at Frank Turner’s songwriting camp around the same time, and one strum he discussed that caught my interest was the one he does on “I Am Disappeared” (I’ve also seen him use it randomly during solo acoustic sets, I’m assuming to add interest).

In my last blog I said I’d come back to the fact that Frank claimed to have stolen the “Be More Kind” guitar figure from John K. Samson, who apparently stole it from someone else, and I stole it from both of them. It’s funny because, when I heard Frank (multiple times) excitedly tell the story of emailing JKS to apologize for “stealing,” I kept thinking, hmm, it kind of sounds like he knew it wasn’t really stealing and just wanted JKS to hear his song. But it’s nice to know he still fanboys. But the funny thing is that I ended up doing the exact same thing by emailing this “stolen strumming pattern” song to Frank, only recognizing the irony in hindsight. And if you’re not convinced that he knew it wasn’t stealing, his reply to my email was (and I quote), “No such thing as stealing a strumming pattern, it’s all fair game!”

My dream is that someday some young songwriter will send me their song and say, “Sorry I stole the strumming pattern from you,” to which I will have to say, “It’s okay, I stole it from Frank Turner,” and it will be BEAUTIFUL!

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LYRICS

I see you and I want to know you
You’re hot and you move and socialize with such grace
Good at everything and you’re well read too
Got your shit together in a worthless place
I watch and I daydream and I work up the courage
And if you pushed me away, then it would devastate me

If you don’t think I’m smart, I’m not smart
If you don’t think I’m cool, I’m not cool
If you want nothing to do with me
There can be nothing in the world of which I am worthy

When you finally condescend to meet me
You’re not giving me a lot but I’ve still got hope
Every day’s a new day when you might see
What you never see, that I’m worth getting to know
I laugh and tell stories when I know you’re in earshot
But every time it’s worse when your interest never stirs

If you don’t think I’m smart, I’m not smart
If you don’t think I’m cool, I’m not cool
If you want nothing to do with me
There can be nothing in the world of which I am worthy
But hell if I’m just going to let you be
The gatekeeper to a world that doesn’t want me

And as I read the highbrow papers
With my morning oatmeal like I’ve got some direction
I think how there’d be nothing cooler
Than for me to shrug off an inconsequential rejection
And I don’t care how far this cost has sunk, I’m done
And I know that even if I can never attract you, I have value

If you don’t think I’m smart, you’re not smart
If you don’t think I’m cool, you’re not cool
If you want nothing to do with me
Then I’m the one who decides that I am worthy