When I was a child I knew exactly how my life would turn out. I knew that at 16 I would get a job at Mrs. Murphy’s Donuts. I knew where I would go to college. I knew I would eventually become a surgeon. My parents still poke fun at me for the way I talked to adults like I had it all figured out. Unsurprisingly, only one of my predictions turned out to be true, but I was so desperate to reach the future I meticulously planned that I became bored with the present. The time for these dreams to be realized was fast approaching, but they began to feel farther and farther out of reach. I was just one month into my freshman year of high school, reluctantly confined to the tobacco-farming hilltown I had called home for 15 years, when Lorde released her debut album “Pure Heroine.”
In “Pure Heroine,” I found a roadmap for navigating the collective adolescence that I entered into just as Lorde left it behind. It didn’t matter that I didn’t yet have a car, job, relationship, or any of the other tenets of the typical teenage rebellion — Lorde lent her low, breathy voice to experiences beyond the tropes. In “Ribs” she sings, “This dream isn’t feeling sweet / We’re reeling through the midnight streets / And I’ve never felt more alone / It feels so scary getting old.” She held up a mirror to the exact mix of disillusion with the future and longing for the past that, in my hurry to grow up, I hadn’t allowed myself to feel. Pulsing beneath each song on the album is the heightened awareness that neither she nor I nor any of us have control over our own timeline. Lorde revels in her ambivalence to this truth. Like she sings in “Tennis Court,” “It’s a new art form showing people how little we care.”
For the next four years I took the lyrics from “Still Sane” — “all work and no play never made me lose it” — to heart. Lorde’s debut carried me through hour after hour of early morning shifts, lengthy homework assignments, and an array of club meetings, rehearsals, and tech weeks which culminated in three straight months of college applications. By December of my senior year of high school, I had the college acceptance I had dreamed of, but I was mentally and physically exhausted. I had my fair share of adventures and had made wonderful friends, but there was still something missing. I had yet to really let go. As I entered the last semester of high school I embarked on a mission to make the most of the waning time I had left at home. I sought out the world of bad dates, first loves, and messy teenage nights that I had previously denied myself. Once again reading my mind, Lorde released her anthem “Green Light” my senior spring and second album “Melodrama” two weeks after I graduated high school.
The sophomore album, its cover a saturated portrait of the artist herself, lived in my car’s CD player until the day I left for college. It accompanied me as I chased experience across miles of open fields, backyards, and secret haunts. “Green Light” sent me, like Lorde, chasing after my own fresh start. “Homemade Dynamite” underscored my sleepless nights out, driving hours with friends in search of adventure, food, art, and sometimes nothing at all. I chased love, or something close to it, up and down Interstate 91. I belted the words “Okay I know that you are not my type (still I fall) / I’m just the sucker who let you fill her mind (but what about love?)” along with Lorde in “The Louvre” as I made the drive to waste time with my first summer fling and cried to “Liability” each time I made the same drive home, always alone.
All in all I waited nearly five years to see Lorde live. Five years of love, friendship, fear and nostalgia, growing older all the way. As I took my spot in TD Garden, the tobacco farming town growing farther away by the second, two new friends to my left, and that same summer fling (no longer really a fling) to my right, I prepared myself for what I knew would be an emotional experience. At the end of the concert, my face smeared with mascara and tears, voice hoarse from singing along, I realized how much I had grown alongside her albums. That from early adolescence to my last summer at home, from ambition to boredom and back again, and from my first love (and first love-induced tears) her music accompanied me each step of the way. There is a Lorde song for each road in my hometown and for the interstate, for each of my friends, and for the person sleeping next to me while I type this sentence. As I made my way down the escalator into North Station, arm-in-arm with the people I love, the faintest hum of “Perfect Places” escaped my lips before the T doors opened and we stepped onto the train.
—Staff writer Allison J. Scharmann's column, "Music as Memory," explores music through personal narratives.
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