I didn’t grow up Christian, but for those who did, the experience of leaving home and eventually returning to visit, including a Sunday morning spent in your home church, is probably familiar. For most everyone I know, they left home to go to college, so in theory they became more educated, and along the way they generally became less conservative, began to enjoy a different style of worship, and generally identified less and less with their home church. Returning brings a mix of emotions, from peace and security that carried over to childhood, to trepidation and anxiety about being accepted after having changed so much, and maybe some frustration or bitterness that the home church hasn’t changed. It’s a weird combination of joy and fear and nostalgia.
That’s what I felt last night listening to the Mixtapes last night at Patton Alley. That music was my safe space when I was in junior high and high school, and the alternative and punk rock of the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s gave me permission to stop caring what other people thought, to become my own person, and choose the type of life I wanted to live. Listening to a lot of my old favourite songs last night, none of which I had heard performed live before (and the band was awesome and did a fantastic job), was my version of visiting the home church. The nostalgia brought a mix of peace and joy mixed with sadness and loss.
It was also neat to be in the company of so many people who loved the same music, but once the second half of the show began, I started to feel a bit more distant from the crowd. We’d been singing and laughing and cheering, but when the band started in on Creep by Radiohead, there was some dissonance to me. Everyone there just seemed so… pretty, and stylish, and awesome, and I couldn’t help but think that the music didn’t mean to them what it meant to me. It hadn’t been a way to escape fighting parents and burdensome expectations and school bullies. I felt like they loved these songs because they were popular and were a means of building shared culture, not because they brought salvation or safety. I had trouble imagining most of the people there really identifying with Creep.
As dozens of people danced and sang and laughed along, I kept thinking about a cover I saw years ago, sang by a homeless man in a radio studio. Creep isn’t a song for laughing, it’s a song for weeping and praying.
I guess it’s complicated. Going back home always is, and that’s what 90s music holds for me: ambivalence and sorrowful smiles and joy at the grace that was offered to me. I am thankful for everyone who helped me through, and I lifted them up in my songs last night.