A Decade + 2


“I have nothing to tell you… except that I love you.”

A stroll in the Galerie de Reine (Queen’s Gallery) in Bruxelles brought me to this sight: a huge shopwindow with “Je n’ai rien à te dire sinon que je t’aime… ” I would make this photo the album cover of a mix CD comprising of a dozen of songs I have chosen specially around the themes of my adolescence — love, loss, moving, holding on. Without further ado:

“And please tell mom this is not her fault…”

1. “Adam’s Song” — Blink 182

I’ve been listening to Blink 182 ever since my brothers and I were growing up in Accra, Ghana, and this has got to be one of my all-time favorites. I never listen to the album version however, for I always prefer the live version from The Mark, Tom and Travis Show; the roaring sound in the intro from fans and during the many intervals throughout the song always made my heart soar for some reason. This song is simply timeless, and it is a tribute to every suffering teenager out there; it’s about being stuck in that teenage phase — that time of your life when you’re simply not content with everything, always needing to rebel against every single thing your parents try to tell you do because you think they’re trying to “control” your life.

Thank goodness I grew out of this phase before my teenage years even ended. But while it lasted, I wish I could have told my pre-teen/teenage self that one must be patient, for there is much goodness in this world that awaits.

“I’m sorry but I can’t just go turn off how I feel.”

2. “Kill” — Jimmy Eat World

I first heard this song during one of our many visits to Cairo, Egypt, where my brothers spent over a decade studying. This song always reminds me of my teenage crushes, of which there were few and far between, but they were always deeply intense. I was a very awkward teenager back then; in Conakry and Dhaka, I was usually the only Malaysian kid in my class, and this awkwardness was sometimes somewhat intensified by the fact that I was also the only kid to wear the hijab in my entire school. This means I had no boyfriend during my teenage years. (Perhaps a damn good thing, because I cannot imagine my mom breathing down my back all the time.) Still, I feel like I ought to pat my twelve-year-old self on the back for not taking these feelings of social isolation too seriously and for always keeping in mind that my self worth is really anchored on what I can achieve with my head instead. But don’t worry child, there will be plenty of time for real romance in the future.

“Those days are gone,

Now they’re memories on the wall…”

3. “Don’t You Worry Child” — Swedish House Mafia ft. John Martin

This song sounds like a lullaby a father would sing to his child (more specifically, daughter), and indeed my brother tells me that he sings this to my niece sometimes when she is about to sleep. Strangely, this father-daughter ballad reminds me so much of how detached I am from my own father when I was growing up, and how this helped me prepare myself for what was to come. I have always been closer to my mother and cannot imagine losing her. But him? I feel differently. Heaven indeed has better plans for me.

“This world’s an ugly place,

But you’re so beautiful…”

4. “Going Away to College” — Blink 182

This song reminds me of our living room in our Regimanuel Grey house back in Accra, where my brothers and I spent our afternoons after school watching Scooby Doo on Cartoon Network (if there were no blackouts, I mean), and watching Rush Hour 2 and other Jackie Chan movies on repeat. When I was busy applying for college before finishing high school in Dhaka too I listened to this song many times, thinking to myself, “Geez, time for college already?” I was at that time eager to leave school and to move somewhere new where I could meet new friends and start fresh; I kept getting knots in my stomach as I thought about how nerve-wrecking this huge move forward is as I stayed up late at night to work on Algebra or to write up that essay on Hamlet. When my acceptance letter from UBC Vancouver arrived at our apartment in a package via DHL, I was at once over the moon and simply terrified — it’s like what Mark said in the song, “I haven’t been this scared, in a long time…”

As it turns out, I was right to worry about college because it is not for the faint-hearted, but there is also much bliss hiding behind all those obstacles. I love college so much that I’m currently enrolled as a student in my third university — and all in different countries, which makes studying not only an academic and intellectual challenge, but also a socio-cultural one.

“If this is what he wants, and it’s what she wants,

Then why’s there so much pain?”

5. “Stay Together for the Kids” — Blink 182

I used to think this song is about divorce, but then I learned the hard way that there could still be plenty of suffering without a separation having to take place. Sometimes children can feel helpless and overburden parents during times of trouble; alternatively, they can stay out of it and choose to be the rock they depend on, that helps hold them up when they’re out breath and keep them safe and well above the rising waters. I try to be the latter.

“Turn my hours into days.”

6. “Streetcar” — Funeral for a Friend

I first got into Funeral for a Friend when I was in Conakry, Guinea. I used to download their songs from Hours, Four Ways to Scream Your Name and Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation via Ares, which was one of the P2P downloading applications I used back then. FfaF’s sound has changed immensely over the years, but back then they really appealed to my teenage self. Their music, which is/was largely a delicious mixture of angst and romance, also complemented the many Harry Potter fan fictions (especially ones with HermionexDraco pairings) I was consuming voraciously back then, which I resorted to largely out of desperation after having read all the books I’d bought from Malaysia, and not having new ones to read because there were no bookstores selling English books in and around Conakry. My teenage self is grateful I found FfaF, which served to invigorate what would otherwise have been an absolutely dull period of adolescence in that hidden corner of Africa.

“Secrets from the wind; burned stars crying…”

7. “We Own the Sky” — M83

This song’s delicious electric vibes and Antony Gonzalez’s soft haunting voice kept me going throughout 2012 when I was writing up my Honours’ thesis back in Perth, Australia. Back then, all I could think of was investing my time and effort into the present so that by the coming year, I could be somewhere else. I find that this has always been how I am: my current struggles are always centered around my desperation to leave and start somewhere new in the future. I have no idea how I will ever meet a partner who could put up with this wandering beast, but one thing’s for sure — I was born this way and it will be a tough thing to change. My teenage self probably knew this; otherwise, I might have settled down in one place already.

“So why can’t you stay just long enough to explain?”

8. “When It Rains” — Paramore

My sudden move into St Catherine’s College during the second half of my first year at UWA was perhaps the loneliest semester in my life. I was still underaged so I could not rent out —not that I had close friends at that time I could share a house with anyway — and my mother, who acted as my legal guardian until I was bound to turn 18, had left, for distressing reasons I forced myself to keep to myself. We’d all claimed that she had returned to care for my father, but we both knew that it wasn’t his physical health that was ailing, but something else. I used to listen to this song in my room (number 45, in Upper Whitfield, right at the end of the corridor) that first winter, and it accompanied me on my solo outings to South Perth’s IGA, which, though father than the nearer Broadway IGA, was always a pleasure to get to because I would take the bus to the city, then the ferry to the jetty on Mint Street. It was winter; everyone had gone home for the semester break, and whenever this song came on in my iTunes, I did not have the heart to skip it.

“Demolition woman, can I be your man?”

9. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” — Def Leppard

Def Leppard speaks to the crazy side in me, and no doubt does it best with this song. Sometimes on stressful nights working on my thesis I would have my own karaoke session in my room to “unload” some stress, and this song always does the trick. It’s a major boost for my weekly cleaning sessions on Fridays too. Frankly speaking, this song has few things to teach, just pleasures to give.

“Strangled by the wishes of pater;

Hoping for the arms of mater…”

10. “Holding Back the Years” — Simply Red

I always feel grateful for having my mother whenever I listen to this song, for I realize that it is not a blessing all of us are privileged to have. I have a few friends who tell me that while yes, they have mothers who provide for their material needs, their relationship with their mother is very much unlike the one I have with mine. My mother is virtually my best friend and confidante, though there are clearly still things I censor accordingly whenever I tell her things because I know exactly how she will react. I am thankful that my teenage self, no matter how rebellious I’d been, never did anything as stupid as distancing myself from my mother, for this is the one thing that has kept us both afloat after the shipwreck. Keep up the good job, kid!

“And you fall, and you crawl, and you break, and you take, and you turn it into…”

11. “Complicated” — Avril Lavigne

This was the song that defined my entire adolescence. It’s about the importance of being true to yourself (er, whatever that means…). I’d switch from Hitz.fm to Mix FM repeatedly in one afternoon just to catch a glimpse of this song on the radio, so it was a relief to finally get a copy of Avril’s first album, Let Go, so I could listen to it anytime I want. I suppose the main lesson my teenage self could get from this song was to simply be yourself. Not anybody else. Just yourself.

“There’s oceans in between us,

But that’s not very far.”

12. “Blurry” — Puddle of Mudd

This is a powerful song that taught me to appreciate the bond I had with my brothers. Growing up together, we were always fighting with each other — over the computer, the TV remote, over who gets the biggest share of the cake — but when they were shipped off to Egypt things did get pretty lonely. I always get pretty sentimental about our siblinkship. Not sure I will ever grow out of this either…

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