Trust Me, I Got This: Music of angst for every age

"Trust Me, I Got This" is a weekly column by staff writer and senior Christopher McDermott on surviving senior year, guided solely by this unconventional advice.

Angst comes from awareness that a chapter of our lives is coming to an end but not yet clear being on how the next one begins or where it will take us. We don’t often enough get to see our heroes and mentors actually experiencing this. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus) 

The Menzingers dropped their fifth album, “After the Party,” a week ago now, and I’ve been listening to it meticulously. I’ve mixed and matched every possible way that I can process music: first giving the album a full-through, savoring the individual tracks on loop, listening to it while walking, running, bathing, napping, writing, on the bus, and while generally stressing out my place in the world.

I want to be clear that this isn’t exactly album review. My priority here isn’t really to critically analyze this album. The Menzingers are my punk heroes. Their 2012 album “On the Impossible Past” is what I hear when I try to process my transition from high school to college.

It’s a warm and wistful but biting take on memories and growing up, on a beautiful past that in practice might not even exist at all, at least as I processed it. It’s stories about Mexican-made guitars, CVS parking lots and inevitable screw-ups.

I’m sure everyone has these albums that come to represent a period of your life perfectly. Your music preferences might change as you age but it’s hard to forget the peaks of your teenage tastes. They become deeply personal; I can’t help but feel like I’m in a crappy high school rock band again.

That being said, “After the Party” on a topical level is about the songwriters leaving their 20s. These are songs about the hours after the bars are closing so you don’t really know what to do with yourself (“The Bars,” the title track), about calling in favors to find a couch to sleep on (“Midwestern States”) and how terrifying it can be that you have an obligation to make the most of your life (“House on Fire.”)

The Menzingers are punk rock in the vein of Bad Religion or Social Distortion, but you can hear them taking on a heavier influence from Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits with every subsequent album. The lead single “Lookers” (arguably the best track) makes overt references the song “Jersey Girl,” written by Waits and made famous by a live Springsteen performance.

Punk rock takes criticism for being the music of angsty adolescents. Angst defines the genre, and plenty of bands that fall under the punk umbrella sing about being proudly immature. But it’s also difficult to distinguish adult angst from teenage angst; adult angst feels adolescent because all angst is adolescent on some level. We’ll always associate angst with our adolescence: the first major period of life transition, of watching childhood turn to adulthood.

Angst comes from awareness that a chapter of our lives is coming to an end but not yet clear being on how the next one begins or where it will take us. We don’t often enough get to see our heroes and mentors actually experiencing this. Many of the same stabilities that make mentors make them distant from transitional angst.

I’m listening to “After the Party” while living through (and sometimes writing a newspaper column about) college graduation anxiety. The Menzingers are singing about ungracefully leaving their twenties while I’m ungracefully entering them. In a way that hits me even harder than could an album about graduating college.

The first track’s last line “Is it wrong to say that things can change?” bites into the bigger picture perfectly: the details, the people and the places around you will change but themes and feelings will rhyme throughout every stage.

It’s both unsettling and reassuring. Transitional stress is something that transcends age. And that’s okay.

At the very least it makes for great music.


Christopher McDermott is the news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.mcdermott@uconn.edu.