In the ear of every anarchist that sleeps but doesn’t dream,
We must sing, we must sing, we must sing.”
I remember laying on my bed with the bedroom door locked, listening to Conor Oberst croon about a string when I was sixteen. The picture is appropriately despondent. This is around the same time I exclusively wore black band t-shirts and cut my bangs myself. I was going through what one would call a “punk phase.” I don’t know how Bright Eyes fit into my equation of neon pink streaks and Sex Pistols badges. Perhaps it didn’t; quite like how I thought I didn’t fit in anywhere. Maybe that’s why Bright Eyes and I got along so well.
There was a great piece by Consequence of Sound writer Philip Cosores that was making rounds on the internet a few months ago. “Conor Oberst deserves more than your rose-tinted lenses,” he says. And it’s true. Conor Oberst does deserve better than our recycled nostalgia. And yet, there’s always a process of falling in and out of love with a band. When I was fifteen, I discovered Fevers and Mirrors. I’ll never again be able to conjure the irrational but perspicacious adolescent anger I felt every time “Sunrise, Sunset” played. When I was sixteen, I discovered I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning and “Lua” spoke to me of my own social anxiety in a way that made me feel understood. When I was seventeen, The People’s Key broke through my air of pseudo-intelligentsia and planted a single seed of profundity there. As the Conor Oberst’s impassioned ballads turned into narrative-breaking dystopian melodies, I grew — first with him, and then without. Nobody’s to say that you can’t fall in love with the same piece of music again and again, rediscovering little facets that construct a profound sense of cohesion within you. But you can only fall in love with a piece of music for the first time once.
In a letter that I wrote almost exactly a year ago to Conor Oberst, I describe my affair with the band as something that was “un-romantic, but not loveless. Naked, fierce, and easy.” It was then I realised how my love for the band hadn’t disappeared, only changed to accommodate my adult sensibilities. I know other alternative music enthusiasts, few as they are in this part of the world, that feel the same way about Bright Eyes or other mid-nineties bands that were perceived as “immature.” Despite the band’s many transformations and Oberst’s young age when Fevers and Mirrors came out, there is nothing that speaks of immaturity in Bright Eyes’ music. Oberst’s lyrical acumen has always been the band’s greatest strength and I honestly believe him to be one of the most talented songwriters of our generation.
Whether you grew up with Bright Eyes or some other band/musician, disregarding them as part of a phase and writing them off as something that’s not associated with you anymore makes little to no sense. The music we listened to as adolescents is a part of the many little things that shaped our very identities as adults. I haven’t kept up with Bright Eyes since 2012, but I also know that I have more to give the band than my recycled nostalgia. I have a decade worth of stories and introspection. I have a very small but very essential part of my identity that was shaped solely by their music. And I have knowledge of their significance in the world — adolescent rock or no. As I cited a year ago, I don’t know if I still love them the way I did when I was sixteen. But either way, they’re one of the things that make up my sense of self; one of the things that helped me get to the point of self-realisation in the first place.