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21 songs about being 21

| Thursday, April 23, 2020

Cristina Interiano | The Observer

When I look at our Observer site stats to see how many reads our stories are getting, I frequently see an old article from our Scene department by Allie Tollaksen entitled, “17 Songs About Being 17.” If I’m being honest, I’m a little jealous.

This piece was written in 2014, and is still constantly visited. In fact, it’s the second-most viewed article in our website’s history. What’s more, I write for the Observer Sports department, so I don’t often get to express my views on topics like music.

Tollaksen was 21 at the time of her writing, and quoted the lyrics of one her favorite songs, “Seventeen” by Ladytron, saying, “They only want you when you’re 17. When you’re 21, you’re no fun.”

Tollaksen was inspired to consider what made being 17 so special, and I think a lot of that feeling is the sense of nostalgia that people have looking back on that sliver of time where you reach the heights of high school’s hierarchy and the world seems to be your oyster.

I hear those lyrics and take some offense, albeit offense that is taken out of the context of the song’s pointed commentary on the treatment of starlets (and in all honesty I’ve never even heard the band or song). Even so, I think that 21 is as, if not more, special an age than 17.

Thus I am inspired to compile 21 songs that I believe encapsulate the feelings of being as old as I am. While I may not be as eloquent as my predecessor Ms. Tollaksen, I only hope that I do justice to her original piece.

While it may not seem apropos, I begin with the dulcet tones of Thomas Rhett in “Sixteen,” as he continually laments on the opportunities he will soon attain with his continued existence. After moving from fifteen to eighteen, we await the day we can “open up a cold one and drink it legally.”

And of course, the only thing the number “21” is more synonymous with than Roberto Clemente (like I said, sportswriter) is legal drinking. It’s a sentiment expressed by Tom T. Hall in “I Like Beer.” 

Of course, I’m not advocating or condemning the consumption of alcohol, because now is a time of freedom, freedom summed up by Lynyrd Skynyrd in “Free Bird.” We all long to “fly high” like a free bird, and to move with the freedom of Allen Collins’ and Gary Rossington’s fingers during that four-minute guitar ‘solo.’ 

Admittedly, my path in my post-17 years is not the most frequently traversed, but as a college student I’m sure others, one way or another, have felt “Under Pressure” like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. Similarly, I’m sure others, one way or another, have made friends similar to those of Twenty One Pilots in “Heathens,” much as I have in the cultural melting pot that is my college campus. 

But with the college experience comes unavoidable stress, stress which makes us say “I Wanna be Sedated.” Even so, it is important to remind ourselves of the importance of maintaining our “Peace of Mind.”

When that inevitable adversity hits, there’s a couple of possible reactions. We may exhibit those qualities Billy Ocean expresses in “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going;” conversely, we may long for the ignorance of our youth, much like Toby Keith in “Wish I Didn’t Know Now.”

And in our nostalgia, we look back on the “Glory Days,” even if it is a bit earlier than Springsteen and his cohorts did. What’s more though, we long for our “Roots,” just like Zac Brown Band. 

Plus, for a more personal touch, we have our own song-of-home, whether it’s “Sweet Home Alabama,”Georgia on My Mind,” “Kentucky Rain” or otherwise (take your pick). But no matter how far we may wander, Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles remind us that there’s no one “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.”

While we may be able to return home, we can’t undo the past, as Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose state in “Too Late to Turn Back.” But that’s OK, because all that’s happened has made us who we are, so we thank God for all of our “Unanswered Prayers.”

We must accept the good with the bad. As sad a fact as it is, friends from our adolescence often drift away, but we can trust that there will always be someone to whom we say, “You’re My Best Friend.” And sometimes, we find those bonds we’ve forged can grow even stronger than previously thought, as Rachael & Vilray ponder in “Do Friends Fall in Love?”

Oftentimes, if not by age 17, we will have found that special someone, that someone who is our own “Brown Eyed Girl.” Or boy, no judgement. 

But regardless of where we stand romantically, 21 represents the frontier of our independence. As we look out on all the possibilities before us, and as we make our leap out into the world, we hope that it will welcome us. We ask that someone please “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).”

But our fear shouldn’t stop us, and it doesn’t. We go forth “Into the Mystic,” prepared by adversity to face whatever challenges lie ahead. We must remember, however, to heed the words of Eagles, and “Take It Easy” when need be.

Granted, some of these may be forced to fit the situations I presented, but when it comes down to it, no playlist of just 21 songs is going to be universally applicable. Life’s a journey and no two people follow the same exact path through it.

So take my suggestions, or don’t. Just make sure that you find some good tunes that help you drive down the road, loosen your load, and take it easy. Because heaven knows 21 is an age where we all need to be able to do that.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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