I was not cool in high school. I do not mean that in the way that celebrities use it, the canned “I was such a geek in high school!” answer. I was chubby, homeschooled, and wore a lot of denim on denim. While I managed to avoid the bullying of my peers and had enough friends, you don’t exactly gain a considerable amount of knowledge of medieval weaponry and get asked out every Friday night. However, I had one saving grace that kept me from total social Siberia: I worked in the coolest independent coffeeshop in my suburban town. It wasn’t a lot, but it gave me an edge.
Sure, I was too much of a square to smoke cloves with the cool kids in the parking lot after the night shift, but working at The Wired Bean did expose me to indie rock. I became a full-fledged music snob, and Dashboard Confessional was my particular drug of choice. I would wax long and loudly that no one understood adolescent angst as well as Chris Carrabba, and there were many tearful breakdowns in my car as he wailed over my sound system. While A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar was my first and favorite, that album sent me exploring the back catalog of the band as well, leading me to The Swiss Army Romance and The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, which dropped 15 years ago this week.
It can be very embarrassing to revisit the music of your youth. What was so profound as a teenager can come across as overly-earnest and downright cringeworthy as an adult. There are some bands that I haven’t listened to in over a decade because I simply don’t want the good memories ruined by the harsh light of being a grown up. Still, on the 15th anniversary of the release of The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, I have decided to put aside my fears and dive into the deep waters of emo lyrics and guitar solos.
Track 1: “The Brilliant Dance”
Sample Lyric: “So this is odd/the painful realization that has all gone wrong. /And nobody cares at all/ and nobody cares at all.”
Then: Ah, yes. This album speaks to the darkest corners of my soul. So real, so deep.
Now: Oh wow. The angst is, uh, a little heavy handed. However, that last verse is sufficiently sad. Sometimes you just need a song to verbalize what you can’t. This is that song.
Track 2: “Screaming Infidelities”
Sample Lyric: “I’m missing your laugh/ How did it break?/ And when did your eyes begin to look fake?/ I hope you’re as happy as you’re pretending.”
Then: I am the only real person around. Just me and Chris Carrabba.
Now: Honestly, this song meant too much to me for me to ever be objective about it. Even if it overwrought, I’ll never tell.
Track 3: “The Best Deceptions”
Sample Lyric: “I heard about your regrets./ I heard that you were feeling sorry./ I heard from someone that you wish you could set things right between us./ Well I guess I should have heard of that from you./ I guess I should have heard of that from you.”
Then: Everything is the end of the world and everything hurts.
Now: Let’s be real: very few “regrets” that I had at 16 seem significant today. Everything feels like the end of the world in high school, and this song personifies that heightened mentality.
Track 4: “This Ruined Puzzle”
Sample Lyric: “This basement’s a coffin./ I’m buried alive./ I’ll die in here just to be safe./ I’ll die in here just to be safe.”
Then: Has anyone felt as much as I do in the moment? Nope. No one understands.
Now: Alyssa, you live in the suburbs with your white middle class family. It really isn’t so bad.
Track 5: “Saints and Sailors”
Sample Lyric: “And you smile like a saint/ but you curse like a sailor/ and your eyes say the joke’s on me.”
Then: No song has ever encompassed my many facets as well as this one. I contain multitudes.
Now: Aha, we had to hit an “upbeat” one eventually. I’d probably still listen to this one with the windows down. I’m not dead inside.
Track 6: “The Good Fight”
Sample Lyric: “Hope has sprung a perfect dive/ A perfect day, a perfect lie./ A slowly crafted monologue conceding your defeat.”
Then: Who needs Shakespeare when you have Dashboard Confessional?
Now: Should someone check on Chris Carrabba?
Track 7: “Standard Lines”
Sample Lyric: “Which of the bold faced lies will we use?/ I hope that you’re happy, you really deserve it/ this will be the best for us both in the end.”
Then: Why can’t people just be ~authentic~?
Now: Okay, this one holds up better than some of the others. Still, I don’t know if my emotions have shriveled since my youth, but this is just not working for me anymore. I’m not embarrassed, per se, but I’ve certainly left this part of my life behind. Thank god.
Track 8: “Again I Go Unnoticed”
Sample Lyric: “Please tell me you’re just feeling tired/ cause if it’s more than that I feel that I might break/ out of touch, out of time.”
Then: The boy I like will never like me back, so this song speaks to me on SUCH A REAL LEVEL.
Now: Fair enough. The boy I liked at the time would never like me back. But I am exhausted. How did I listen to so much angst ALL THE TIME? Dear 16-year-old me, I promise someday boys will like you. However, there are some even better parts of growing up, so don’t worry about it so much.
Track 9: “The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most”
Sample Lyric: “Buried deep as you can dig inside yourself/ And hidden in the public eye/ Such a stellar monument to loneliness/ Laced with brilliant smiles and shining eyes/ Perfect make-up, but you’re barely scraping by/ But you’re barely scraping by…”
Then: Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know…
Now: The 2000 film High Fidelity is coming to mind. “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”
Track 10: “This Bitter Pill”
Sample Lyric: “And this bitter pill is leaving you/ with such an angry mouth/ One that’s void of all discretion/ such an awful tearing sound.”
Then: Okay, maaaaaaybe this one is a little dark for me.
Now: How did I not drink in high school? Seriously, if I truly related to this much pain and angst, how was I not at the bottom of a bottle most of the time?
I am not going to call this a failed experiment. Will this album find a place back in my regular rotation? It’s safe to answer that with a no. However, I will forever consider myself a Dashboard Confessional fan. Subtle they are not, but Dashboard did verbalize a lot of what I felt as a teenager, and for that I am grateful. There is an ugly tendency to dismiss the feelings of teens because they are young and don’t yet comprehend much of what exists in the real world, but instead of silencing them, Dashboard Confessional gave a generation a voice or safe haven. But it’s probably not sensible to listen to an entire album of it again.