#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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SPOTIFY

YOUTUBE

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

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