The Soundtrack to My Adolescence

My amazing Austin friend Adrienne* recently took me to see the Indigo Girls play at La Zona Rosa.  Remembering how their music defined my teen years, I was sure it would be an emotional night for me. 

Lately I’ve been thinking about how good it would feel to move back to my hometown; to retreat out of the stress of adult life and pretend that I’m a kid again.  I know that part of my impulse in moving home is just a desire to revert rather than deal with being a grown-up.  And I’m aware that this is like putting a band-aid on a head wound.  That it wouldn’t really fix anything. 

Before the Girls came out last night, I told Adrienne, “You can go back to the place, but you can’t go back to the experience.”  In other words, I could visit my happy little hometown, but I wouldn’t ever be able to recapture the emotional place that I was in as an adolescent.  Not without becoming a complete joke, anyway, like Matthew McConaughey’s character in Failure to Launch.  (A movie I wouldn’t recommend to my worst enemy, by the way.)   

Well, Amy and Emily proved me wrong last night.  Their music marked my teen years, and hearing it performed again brought me back to all of the trials and tribulations therein.  I’m sure that I misinterpreted any number of their poetry, adapting them for the time and the place in my life, but they spoke to me nonetheless.  I had a moment, a memory, for every song.

“And now I’m serving time for mistakes

Made by another in another lifetime.”


As I finished junior high, I was often privy to older teammates belting out Galileo in the locker room.  The words would echo around the tiled walls, and I’d listen to the girls in mild admiration.  Being cool seemed so easy for some of those girls; why wasn’t it a simple thing for me?  I’ve often thought that I was paying my dues for past lives; for the people that I’ve been before.  Maybe my old selves were haunting the present-day me.  As a teenager, I did already feel like an old soul.  And not in a good way, either.  Not in the mature-for-my-age, wise-beyond-my-years sense.  Just somehow plagued by indecision and indulgent introspection.  Maybe I needed to call on Galileo for some answers, after all. 


“What makes me think I could start clean slated?

The hardest to learn was the least complicated.”

Ah, the summer of 1994.  Least Complicated got me through those endless, hot months, when I’d just gone through a messy break-up with my first real love. 

Nick and I dated for almost a year—an eternity in teenage time—and the whole thing fell apart when we both developed wandering eyes.  (Me for a geeky theater kid, he for one of my own softball teammates).  I sobbed over him for weeks, in the semi-privacy of my bright-yellow room, until I realized that Emily Saliers was right.  It seemed complicated, but it was really so simple:  We’d worked for a while, and we seemed like a great match on the outside.  But he was a high school relationship that was bound to fade.  To a certain degree, at least, we went out because it was expected, and because it seemed like the thing to do.  We made sense.  In the end, it was all so basic, so clear:  We weren’t meant to be together long-term.  It felt complicated, but it really wasn’t at all.  And we took forever (or at least what seemed like forever) to figure it out. 


“And the best thing you’ve ever done for me

Is to help me take my life less seriously; it’s only life after all.”


At the end of sophomore year, two of my friends and I sang Closer to Fine for a choir final, and I don’t think I realized at the time why this song resonated with me so much.  Sure, it’s one of Emily’s best songwriting ventures and possibly the most popular IG tune of all time.  It’s feel-good and upbeat; positive and insightful.  In retrospect, I realize that I should have paid better attention to the lessons that the Girls were teaching me.  Stop worrying so much; forget about searching for meaning in every mundane detail; quit your angst; live and be happy. 

I suppose I could start taking that to heart now.  Because if I’d started heeding their advice at sixteen, maybe I’d be a happier adult today.



“Because I burn up in your presence and I know now how it feels

To be weakened like Achilles, with you always at my heels.”


Of course, just like I had the predictable, good boyfriend in Nick, I also turned to someone unattainable and dangerous in Aaron.  We had a fiery, head-over-heels, exciting relationship…until it burned out, as these relationships do, like cheap fireworks on the 4th of July.  I remember falling so terribly hard for him, but knowing that he would never really be mine, and that he would always be just out of emotional reach.  I would play Ghost on my walkman (yes, walkman) as I walked to diving practice, sighing over Aaron and his terminal emotional distance.  Every time I gained some independence and began to move on, he’d show up again.  He did, indeed, haunt my teen years like a ghost. 


“I’m harboring a fugitive, a defector of a kind

And she lives in my soul, drinks of my wine

And I’d give my last breath to keep us alive…”


I sang Fugitive in my high school talent show with two of my friends, who were both sophomores at the time.  I was a senior, about to leave home for college, and I didn’t really know who I was yet.  And I knew that I didn’t know.  There was this girl hiding inside, waiting to come out…But she wasn’t ready yet.  And, as one of my new friends pointed out during freshman year of undergrad, I had a way of hiding her away even from myself.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m still digging her out from the cave that she lives in now. 

I’ve seen the Indigo Girls play at least half a dozen times, including once at a huge outdoor amphitheater just following my high school graduation.  They have since recorded several albums, most of which I’ve only listened to a little bit.  But that didn’t matter when I was swaying back and forth the other night at La Zona Rosa, arm-in-arm with my friend, two adult women riding high on nostalgia and girl-love.  Maybe it was the drinks, maybe it was being wrapped around Adrienne (who’d have a few too many and needed me to hold her up), or maybe it was just the soulful lyrics that always seem to speak right to me. 

I cried twice.  Yes, cried.  In the middle of the dirty, sweaty, alcohol-slick floor. 

I sang as loud as I could during the songs I already knew.  I listened hard to the lyrics that were unfamiliar. 

The bright lights made my grown-up troubles seem so damn small, and my teenage years so bloody fresh in my mind.  I suppose that, while I can’t stay in that emotional place, I can at least visit.  Because I will always be the teenage girl who played her Indigo Girls CDs until they were scratched and worn-out. 

Or, at the very least, a somewhat older, slightly wiser version of her.

3 Responses to “The Soundtrack to My Adolescence”

  • Sara Says:

    I am so jealous you can get out your emotions on paper and make people feel something 🙂 Even though I didn’t listen to the Indigo Girls (only when you played them at practice) I feel that way with MANY songs that I play here and there…it is amazing how a song from the past brings up so many memories and you are transported back to that time and what you were feeling. I think every LARGE event in my teenage life comes with a song 🙂 Keep it up Colleen 🙂 Your writing still makes me want to read more 🙂

  • Missy Brooks-Szumski Says:

    Are you reading my mind with these posts, the Indigo Girls were my youth too,, well we were friends so of course we listened to the same music. In another post we were talking about not being popular or something, wich I thought was funny because to me were always the popular girl. and I remember being so grateful to have you as a friend, because when i was going through crazy stuff you were always there for me, you would eat lunch with me and I remember and appreciate that. Thank you for being such a good friend. But back to the Indigo Girls, I have been feeling that way about getting back to that youthful feeling, and about wanting that back, and your right we can never have that back, and holding on to those memories and those first loves will have to be enough and it really is a good thing and life is about changes and growing, but the Indigo Girls will also always take me back there where things were simplier and fun!

  • Missy Brooks-Szumski Says:

    Oh, and by the way, I cry at every concert I go to!

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