You are seventeen years old.
Do you remember what it felt like being seventeen years old? Of course you do, no one forgets something that traumatizing.
You live in the suburbs.
It doesn’t matter if you actually live in the suburbs; you’re seventeen, so everywhere’s the suburbs. Nowhere will ever be enough. Every space you inhabit is too small, too orderly, too un-disruptable. Your whole body feels like a disruption.
Time marches forward. You can still remember when you didn’t feel like this. Very recently, in fact, you didn’t feel like this at all. The spaces that now feel too small to contain you were once comforting and cozy. The things you’ve just started to question were once absolutes. But you see through all of that now. When you’re seventeen, you are wise. When you’re seventeen, you are ancient.
Fading youth is hardly a new musical theme — even children get older, after all, and I, for one, am getting older too — but Lorde’s first album, Pure Heroine, which came out at the tale-end of my own teen years, treads the knife’s edge of adolescence with the unparalleled precision and grace of Phillipe Petite crossing a high wire. Each song teems with languor and longing. Meandering late night drives, bad parties, low funds, boredom, gossip, growing pains.
The fourth track, “Ribs,” is the greatest distillation of these feelings. The aimless synthesizer of the opening builds, builds, builds, until the bass drum cuts through the mist, steady and relentless as time itself. The refrain is a mess of contradictions: the desperation to cling to the simple joys of the past, the disillusionment of the present, the combined threat and promise of the future. The hairpin lyrical turn from the joyous, childlike “My mom and dad let me stay home,” to the world-weary, “It drives you crazy getting old,” is a thing of wonder.
Lorde was only seventeen herself when she released the song. To hear someone so young sing “I want ’em back/Those minds we had,” has a bizarro kind of poignancy. Nostalgia eating its own tail.
(Song recommendation by Phoebe Cramer)