Monday, October 3, 2011

An Open Letter to Jesse Lacey

After Michael posted Amy Klein's open letter to Conor Oberst, I was inspired to write my own letter of appreciation to the artists that made music actually mean something to me. Jesse Lacey, the lead singer, guitarist and chief songwriter of Brand New, is to me what Conor Oberst is to Amy Klein and these are my words of thanks to him.

Dear Jesse,

In order to properly express exactly what your music has meant to me, I must bore you to tears with a brief history of my being. As a child, I was raised as an athlete. My father was a two-sport athlete (football and wrestling) in college and my mother, a Portuguese immigrant, came from a family that worshiped futbol. They felt the lessons of teamwork, communication and leadership learnt through athletic competition was essential to my development as a human being. This is no way meant to be a jab at my parents; they were excellent role models and (I think?) did a great job raising me. However, my complete immersion in sport at an early age, left little room to explore other endeavors.

In middle school, I was accepted with the “in-crowd” because of my connections with fellow athletes and was regarded as “cool” because I could tear it up on the playground. However, as we all know, middle school can be some of the most brutal years in a persons life. As a cool kid, it was my responsibility to abuse the losers but it was never a part of my constitution to take part in the constant harassment of the “freaks” and “fags.” Lord knows, I wasn’t strong enough to stand up and put a stop to it but I could never bring myself to take part in the chiding of their clothes and intelligence. As middle school wore on and high school beckoned, I was ostracized for my inability to debase and bully the unpopular kids. I was still viewed as a jock by the un-cool crowd so I was left without anyone to depend on. The confusion and loneliness of adolescence had officially taken hold.

I tried to find solace in other activities but struggled to quell my suffering in books and school. In the summer before high school, I was introduced to independent music as a relative suggested listening to the likes of Midtown, New Found Glory and The Juliana Theory. As I listened to the loud, distorted guitars and yelled lyrics like “God, I wish I could hate you,” I figured I was on to something.

My exploration of the independent music world eventually led me to Your Favorite Weapon by Brand New. On a cold September night at the beginning of 9th grade, I sat down with my portable CD player, inserted my burnt copy of the CD and pressed play. As the roll on the snare drum and distortion soaked power chords came pouring through my headphones, my right foot tapped with the beat. The next 7.5 seconds were truly a defining moment in my life, as your voice delivered the opening “It’s funny how your worst enemies always seem to turn out to be all of your best friend’s best friends.” In that one line, you managed to define my entire pubescent and adolescent existence. In that one line, you summed up the betrayal and abandonment by those I considered friends. In that one line, the pain I had felt for the better part of a year was washed away by the relief of knowing someone else felt the same way I did.

After replaying “The Shower Scene” at least 9 times, I finally moved on to the equally spiteful “Jude Law and a Semester Abroad.” The pure venom and hatred spewed through your words in this song were as cold as the vengeance that you and I so desperately longed for. I listened to the album on repeat the entire night and had finally discovered the solace I yearned for. By the next morning, I had crafted my master plan: I would become one of the freaks that I was derided for never bullying. I’d show those jocks and barbies I didn’t need their superficial bullshit. I’d show my fellow losers that I wasn’t like those cruel fascists they associated me with. In the next few weeks I completed transformed my persona into one of the “emo kids.” My jeans were tight, my t-shirts were size small and black, my hair was long, I was playing the guitar, attending shows and had fallen into a group of friends with similar ideals to mine. I had succeeded. I’d gotten my own subtle revenge without turning to the malice that my detractors thrived on.

Your music matured on Deja Entendu and I grew right along with it. My feelings of injustice and inadequacy were alleviated and my focus turned inward; self betterment. I wasn’t satisfied with just being a part of the alternative crowd. I had to repay my debt to you by making the music actually mean something. I joined the Respect Club at our high school and tried to take as active a role as I could in supporting the art of music. This was initially difficult because I have absolutely zero musical talent but I guest sang with friends’ bands (it was Mecca when I sang “The Quiet Things No One Ever Knows” with Joey, John and Andrew’s band First to Last), I did my part organizing open mics and the respect arts festival and jumped at any opportunity to get involved. By the summer of 2004, Michael and I were trying to organize a “concert” in my backyard and were able to donate almost $200 to the Ronald McDonald foundation. A very, very mild contribution in the grand scheme of things but the overwhelming sense of happiness I got from actually accomplishing something through music was another one of the defining moments in my life.

At this point in my life, I’m 23 years old and just as pissed off as I was when I was as a teenager. While the reasons for my disgust and disapproval are much more grand and far-reaching than cliques and high-school drama, I still turn look to music as the cure to my ailments. Alphabet. Alphabets by Trophy Scars got me through a serious break up back in 2007. Manners by Passion Pit provided the soundtrack as I partied away the uncertainty of life after college in 2009. And now in 2010-2011, when I feel bogged down by the soullessness and moral atrophy of the money and power driven society we live in, I listen to The Monitor by Titus Andronicus.

Your music has made me into the man I am today. I owe just as much to your words and melodies as I do to my parents, teachers, coaches and friends. Your music turned me into the avid music-lover I am today. Your music taught me that it was OK to feel; that no matter what I was going through, others have felt the same way and survived.

As I grow older, I realize that a lot of things will come and go; family, friends, jobs, governments. But the one thing that I can always count on to stay constant, no matter the turmoil, is music. For that, I am eternally grateful.


  1. Dude, I can really relate to a lot of this.

    Especially the love for BN and Trophy Scars.