Birmingham, AL. I’m 13 or 14 years old, standing awkwardly in a crowd of hipsters at a hardcore show with my brother’s band on the bill. I’m fat, sweaty, and tired, head spinning from 4 idle hours of travel from Memphis, and I’m feeling the first dull pangs of video game withdrawal (nothing is fun, everything is annoying, get me out of here). A band is playing: they’re all wearing blazers; the singer has a bouquet of flowers; they’re flailing around earnestly; the whole thing feels desperate and pathetic. The singer jumps off the stage and flowers fly into the air, scatter on the linoleum floor. I walk out of the room. Some years later I learn the band’s name: mewithoutYou. (Why so stylized?)

Huntington, WV. I’m 17 years old and a friend is demanding over AIM that I download a song. They’re playing in town next week, she says—their new record just came out, it’s incredible, you’re gonna love it. “January 1979” by mewithoutYou—I balk, recalling the suits and the bouquet and the linoleum years before. No no, she says, this one’s different—give it a chance. Soulseek delivers, and less than a minute in I feel my stubborn teenage defenses melt away. It’s good. At the show I stand dumbstruck in the face of a performance unlike anything I could imagine, a demonstration of total vulnerability set to poetry and post-hardcore. Watching the singer turn himself inside out on stage made me, in turn, realized how totally exposed my own insides are to the blinding light of [something]. Wandered the halls of my high school speechless for a week, knowing something had changed but not sure what. The album I stubbornly downloaded becomes the soundtrack of the next decade of my life.

It’ll take us the rest of our lives to figure out what mewithoutYou meant. Let’s get started.

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