The Holy Grail of Adulthood: Tatiana Ryckman and Caitlyn Renee Miller On Colleen Green’s I Want to Grow Up
Ryckman: The songs I tend to listen to on repeat for weeks at a time are the ones that sound like the hottest possible sex I could have with myself. A few months ago that song became Colleen Green’s “Deeper Than Love” from her new album, I Want to Grow Up. While most of the songs are fun and upbeat and easy to listen to, “Deeper Than Love” catcalls the worst in me. It’s not just the haunting whisper of Green’s vocals or the deep methodical bassline—the kind of thing they’re always playing at hip stores to make customers feel like they’re cool enough to be at a rave, like if you buy that matching bandeau and hot pant set people are going to like you—it’s the devastating lyrics:
“Someday I hope for a lover to kill me/it’s the closest I can hope to get anybody/it’s the closest I can come to being nearly free.”
Miller: I’m a little bit different. I don't actually like music. I have unequivocally loathed each new album from even my favorite artists until the second or third listen, at which point I switch over from hatred to either blasé acceptance or some kind of transcendent joy when I hear the first notes of the song I’ve chosen to love. Then, like you, I listen to that song until the people around me hate me.
I wasn't sure what to expect from an album called I Want to Grow Up. Full disclosure: when I first heard it, my car was broken for the second time in three weeks. It snowed in that ugly muddy way and I still had to run errands. No, Colleen, I thought. You do not want to grow up. Growing up is no fun. It also leads to getting old, and some of the old people I've encountered have stubbornly transformed themselves into pieces of furniture who distinguish themselves from ottomans or side tables only by making periodic complaints of indigestion.
And I was a little overwhelmed by Green's album (so insistently catchy!), but as soon as the final notes of the last track, "Whatever I Want," had ended in her characteristic reverb-heavy fade, I missed her. I had also identified my song with no need for my usual adjustment period. "TV" is the track I related to the most; TV is my friend. In fact, many of the songs on the album sound like they'd be the perfect soundtrack for a show that stars uncomfortably beautiful people living out their lives on carefully curated sets.
Ryckman: You advised Green against growing up. I'm torn. I am responsible and would sometimes like not to be. I do have a schedule and I do exercise regularly and eat vegetables and make sure I get enough protein and recycle. I feel like I’m being my own mom. Sometimes I’d just like to eat potato chips for dinner and drink too much. But on the other hand, just like Green, I am sick of being dumb, I do want to be more thoughtful, and I am definitely sick of being insecure.
What I love so much about this album is how perfect it is for singing along loudly and embarrassingly, but it's hard to sing unabashedly along with lyrics I don't actually know if I mean...
I don't love every song on the album even if I love singing along to 90% of them. "TV" is one of those that I love to sing along to, but it makes me feel uncomfortable. TV is not my friend, but I think I'd have more real friends if it were. If I could keep up with The Shows I’d have something to talk about in real life, which is what I'm bad at and what the rest of the song is about. But there's this line that makes me feel insecure in the way I feel insecure around people: "If you're not a fan, then I can't relate." I am one of those people who want the people I am a fan of to be a fan back, or at least I like to entertain the fantasy that I am likeable, and even if I share in all the rest of Colleen Green's stylish misanthropy, this line feels like being found out. It makes me ashamed.
Miller: I agree that some of the songs on the album are a little hard to love. I think it comes down to their complexity. Those that rely exclusively on an unvarying chorus—one that recurs too many times, don't work for me the way songs like “Wild One” or “Whatever I Want” do. I also find it difficult to hear the lyrics in some songs, as though they are intentionally obscured. At times Green reminds me of the way teachers get angry: they speak more softly instead of yelling so that you have to strain to hear. She's buried her raw feelings under loud chords like she wants us to work for the truth.
Ryckman: Have you listened to it in the car yet? On cassette at night with the windows down?
Miller: No, I'm listening while I shop for loafers online. The album sounds amazingly different to me today. The songs I found a little annoying and repetitive are now charming. It's remarkable how much I hate new things.
"Got to stop doing things that are bad for me / Cause I don't want to live with disease / Want to rid myself of toxicity"
That lyric reminds me of this batshit crazy article I read about a 28-day cleanse that cycled between emetics and enemas and rounded things out with "three days of herbal medicine through the nostrils." The scary thing was how appealing the author made this all sound. By the end, I thought maybe my life would be better if I could only rid myself of my insides and start again.
Ryckman: I also struggle to enjoy new things, especially music. But sometimes loafers, too. I suffer the paradox of choice acutely--there is always a better, cheaper, more comfortable pair of shoes out there. Or, you know, anything (or anyone) else.
I warmed to this album much faster than I thought I would, but it was a gift from an attractive man so maybe I was more generous with it than I would ordinarily be? I had kept it around the back seat of my car for a while, sort of resenting the way it threatened ELO and Diarrhea Planet's presence in my cassette deck but eventually gave it a listen.
"Deeper than Love" got me from the beginning, but for a while I skipped "Grind my Teeth" every time it came on. This song is the closest I came to your original experience: the repetition, the music competing with vocals, the sense that there might not even be lyrics? But now I'm not even sure I didn't enjoy it, there are places where the music becomes dreamy and alluring. I'm also trying to reprogram my value system. Because maybe liking something isn't actually a very good indication of its worth. I mean, who the fuck am I?
Miller: "Grind My Teeth" is my least favorite song. It kinda lives up to its name in my book. I would advise wholeheartedly against re-programming of any kind. I'm personally trying to move towards divining what it is that I actually like versus what I think I should like or what other people like and I don't really get.
Can we openly fantasize about being friends with Colleen Green for a moment? I picture dyeing our armpit hair together, going for an ill-fated hike with little-to-no backup snacks, watching The Birds (and The Birds II: Land's End just to see), and definitely friendship bracelets.
Basically, I don't like I Want to Grow Up for its polish or complexity, and I don't like it in spite of its roughness and simplicity. I like it because a talented woman decided she would start recording albums—so she did.
Ryckman: I like to fantasize that in our bestever friendship with Colleen Green we are cool enough not to fantasize about our bestever friendship with Colleen Green. Bestever friendships are just the kind of thing that happens with us.
Just curious—are we ignoring the title track on purpose?
Miller: I was ignoring the title track, but now I’ve started thinking about the trade-offs of growing up. The older I get, the truer a few things become: I start sentences with "The older I get" regularly. Seriously, I hear myself do it, and it's pretty annoying. But I also develop a better sense of what and who is important to me. I've been able to let go of people who weren't as into me as I was into them. The other thing is that life feels more arrange-able. I can somewhat shape my days (“Lately I’ve become aware / that I can do whatever I want”).
Alternatively, there are a lot of children in my life, and I do envy their unabashed creativity. Like if you say to a bunch of kindergartners, "Let's have a puppet show," they're like, "Sweet, I wanna be the puppet in the wizard hat." I don't know if that's something you can ever regain. I do see hints of this unfettered creativity in "I Wanna Grow Up," though. I've never read any other reviews of the album, but I can guess some of the standard criticisms of her music. I also don't think she cares. At all. Sometimes the songs kind of sound tongue in cheek to me, as though she knows exactly what she's not doing that other artists would do. Does that make sense?
Ryckman: It does make sense, but I think that knowing and not doing what others would do is exactly what all artists should do. (You know, if they feel like it.) I try not to say should, but I really mean it in this instance. Were that I could be the puppet in the wizard hat. Were that I could regain unabashed creativity. All this to say, I'm not worried about Colleen, but because I agree with 90% of what she sings, I am a little worried about me.
Miller: I never worry about you! Also, I realized that I was wrong before. I didn't take issue with the message of "I Want to Grow Up" because growing up isn't super fun, I take issue with it because growing up doesn't exist. There is no "more comfortable" or security or figuring it all out. I actually take a lot of solace in the fact that everyone makes up their life as they go along—partially because that means you can re-make your life as needed.
Ryckman: I'd argue that growing up not existing is what I Want to Grow Up is all about. But I should also say that I've been accused of wanting to be old, of chomping at the bit.
To me, the song expresses longing for this weird Holy Grail of adulthood that doesn't exist. But I think anyone with even a modicum of self-awareness is sick of feeling dumb and insecure and whatever a lack of self-control looks like on them. Other than getting too tired to care, I don't think those insecurities go away.
Or maybe they do.
Caitlyn Renee Miller's poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared online, in print, and in two anthologies. She is the author of three nonfiction books for young readers. Caitlyn lives in Salisbury, Maryland, where she works as a writer, editor, and part-time school librarian. Her most recent essay can be found here.
Tatiana Ryckman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of the chapbook Twenty-Something and Assistant Editor at sunnyoutisde press. Her work has been published with Tin House, Everyday Genius, and Hobart. More at tatianaryckman.com.