Sun Tzu wrote that “Every battle is won before it is fought,” but how can one adequately prepare for something that they don’t even know is happening? That’s what the summer of 1999 was about for me. What started with such optimism devolved into deflation once the transition from elementary to junior high school was complete and I realized that things were never going to be the same again.
It was as if everyone I knew had been abducted and replaced by a pod person overnight, a belief that was exacerbated when we all reunited in September for the sixth grade equivalent of Hell Week at Parris Island. The battle had begun and one’s position within the social hierarchy was pre-determined by someone I always imagined looking like Mr. Roque from “Mulholland Drive.” The more I tried to fit in, the worse things became, so I finally positioned myself as an outsider who wasn’t interested in anything the “cool kids” had to offer.
After all, they didn’t study, wore Soaps, and listened to Limp Bizkit, while I studied relentlessly, couldn’t have cared less about fashion, and listened to Rush, which, as an 11-year-old in the late ’90s, essentially declared me persona non grata.
I don’t know if it’s the pressure to reinvent yourself or simply the natural progression of youth, but there’s something about the summer between fifth and sixth grade that turns your friends into douchebags. Your relationship goes from Laurel and Hardy to Romeo and Tybalt in a matter of three months without warning. The only thing you can do is be yourself and pray that your personality type becomes fashionable again before the cycle of adolescent shaming starts all over again in high school.
You see, kids don’t treat each other poorly by accident, they’re conditioned to do so after years spent growing up in a system where The Extrovert Ideal is king. Quiet kids are labeled as abnormal, which, in turn, leads to a lot of awkward internal monologues as to why they can’t assimilate into the masses.
I say this, because I know what it’s like to be pulled aside by a teacher and asked if everything is OK for no reason other than being an introvert. I know what it’s like to have a middle school “guidance” counselor lecture you on why it’s in your best interest to conform to the previously scheduled program without taking the time to understand your side of the story. And, most importantly, I know how freeing it is when you stop caring what everyone else thinks and commit to going your own way.
That, folks, is the best advice I can offer to any kid who’s unsure of how to approach the next chapter of their formative years. Like anything else in life, it’s not easy, but I’ve put together a list of my 10 favorite albums from 1999 to make your journey less painful.
They worked for me, and, hopefully, they’ll work for you, as well.
The Flaming Lips – “The Soft Bulletin”
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Californication”
Rage Against the Machine – “The Battle of Los Angeles”
Foo Fighters – “There is Nothing Left to Lose”
Sleater-Kinney – “The Hot Rock”
The Beta Band – “The Beta Band”
Paul McCartney – “Run Devil Run”
Our Lady Peace – “Happiness…is Not a Fish That You Can Catch”
Matthew Good Band – “Beautiful Midnight”
The Tea Party – “Triptych”