If I Die, I Wanna Die In The Suburbs: Pop Punk, Suburban Angst and Quarter Life Crises

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The suburbs are a breeding ground for angst and disillusionment, and no other genre of music has captured these feelings or mythologized the suburbs in quite the same way that pop punk has. Given that this style of music has typically been most popular among teens and early twenty-somethings and that the bands themselves often begin as suburban teens, this thematic trend makes perfect sense. From pioneers of the genre like The Descendents to current day pop punk bands like The Wonder Years and Light Years, lyrical themes of alienation, disenchantment and even nostalgia surrounding the suburbs continue to abound. Though I’ve gone through various musical phases in my mostly suburban life, I always seem to cycle back to pop punk in some form or other. It has been a staple in my musical diet from my early teen years all the way through recent quarter-life crises, and it has been inextricably tied to alternating feelings of disenchantment and nostalgia that have surrounded my suburban existence.

My early experiences with pop punk began when I discovered the more “old school” bands that I grew up on and fell in love with in middle school like The Descendents, Blink-182, MxPx, Green Day, and early Saves The Day. I came across these bands at a time when, like most young adolescents, I felt disenfranchised by my hometown and by being somewhat of a misfit in a high achieving, upper-middle class-dominated educational environment. School sucked, kids could be pretty mean, friends were fickle, and times were generally tough. So pop punk bands (as well as 90’s rock greats like Weezer, Nirvana, and the Foo Fighters) provided a much needed refuge from the uncertain and unwelcoming terrain that I was forced to navigate at school.

I grew up in a slightly more working class neighborhood of a very affluent Boston suburb, and the D.I.Y. ethic and sense of camaraderie that characterized the kids in my little enclave went hand in hand with the themes and sentiments commonly expressed in the various sub genres of punk rock. So it was natural that some of my neighborhood friends and I would come to embrace this kind of music in our middle and high school years. In some ways, punk rock, pop punk, and later on, emo, numbed the pain that accompanied my life as a confused, underachieving outcast lost in a sea of privileged overachievers. While they were most likely listening to radio friendly hip hop and mainstream acts like the Dave Matthews Band, I was holed up in my room listening to punk rock records supplemented by a healthy dose of Morrissey.

Fast forward several years, and I’m back in the same suburban town, living with my parents temporarily while I sort out this latest quarter-life crisis and return to grad school. A whole new breed of pop punk bands have emerged and the genre has seen quite a rebirth since my middle school days. While I’m a little pickier about my pop punk than I used to be, bands like The Wonder Years and Light Years have occupied an important niche in my eclectic listening habits. And while my high school escapist habits of occasionally raiding the liquor cabinet, sneaking a cigarette, or smoking pot in the alley behind the coffee shop where I used to work have been replaced mostly by distance running, I feel like I’m still running from my suburban roots, running to escape the town I was born and raised in, running toward an uncertain but still promising and alluring future of living somewhere that feels more like home and finding my life’s purpose after taking all these fascinating detours. As I ran through the streets of my hometown today, three pop punk songs stood out on my playlist, each evoking a quarter life crisis-fueled sense of either angst, disillusionment, or nostalgia as the lyrics came blasting through my headphones:

1.) The Wonder Years- “We Could Die Like This”

Memories flood back like photographs
All bright and out of focus, all drab with muted colors…

Operator, take me home
I don’t know where else to go
I wanna die in the suburbs
A heart attack shoveling snow all alone
If I die, I wanna die in the suburbs

2.) Light Years- “Parking Lots”

Before my past comes crawling back through my front door
I’ll spend the rest of my days and nights
Just hoping for something more

Do you ever miss
the parking lots
we hung out
in the town that we grew up
Not being held responsible
for all of the shit
we used to do

3.) The Swellers- “Parkview”

It’s been four years
And I still don’t know what I’m doing here
My friends settled down
And all I do when I’m home is sleep in

Until then you can watch me shoveling snow
Clearing a path so I’m not walked on anymore
I guess tomorrow it could melt
But I’m not sure
Maybe I’m paralyzed
Haven’t stood up for myself in a long time

I’m not used to the soundtrack of my neighborhood at all…

While each of these songs offers a unique reflection on the suburbs, they all capture a sense of aimlessness and angst that often accompanies suburban life. Each lyricist wrestles with his twenty something suburban existential crisis in his own way. Dan Campbell of The Wonder Years seems to romanticize the suburbs of his youth while simultaneously envisioning his own tragic demise that will someday take place right there. Pat Kennedy of Light Years evokes a more carefree time in his youth as a nostalgic escape from the harsher realities and disappointments that come with adulthood. And Nick Diener of The Swellers describes a situation marked by lethargy and confusion, sleeping in as he remains frozen in the same place, but clearing a path perhaps to make his way toward something better.

As I run past the landscaping trucks parked in front of neatly manicured lawns, schools I once attended that are now being demolished or converted, and once modest ranch homes that are being torn down to make way for huge McMansions, I’m overwhelmed by the sounds of these constant suburban embellishments, and the lyrics “I’m not used to the soundtrack of my neighborhood at all” feel especially relevant. In many ways the place where I grew up has changed dramatically since the 90’s/’00s, as one would expect, but now that I’m living back at home all these years later, I’m experiencing some of the same apathy and angst that I felt in high school. Maybe these “grown up” pop punk bands I’m listening to now will provide me with a little comfort or a brief escape as I run, flooding me with childhood memories and nostalgia for the places I used to hang out. Maybe a year from now the six miles I typically log through these streets as The Swellers stream through my headphones will be just another fond memory, and I will have cleared a path to find a place that fits me better. I’m almost certain it won’t be the suburbs, but I’m pretty sure wherever life takes me, you’ll find me shoveling snow. Let’s just hope that won’t be how I die…

3 thoughts on “If I Die, I Wanna Die In The Suburbs: Pop Punk, Suburban Angst and Quarter Life Crises

  1. Nice post! Nothing reminds me of my quarter life crisis like Dashboard Confessionals. I guess they’re not pop punk but they are sure angsty!

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