[My new album is called "Never Doing That Again." It is about 10 tracks long. It has taken time, patience, reflection and a lot of trial and error to get to this point. I'm very fulfilled with how the project is taking shape right now. I can see the finish line as I write.
About two years ago, in early 2020, I was unfulfilled. An internship that I had right out of college led to a bitter end, meanwhile COVID hit and I watched the whole world shut down. I was broke, in a lot of student loan debt and still living with my parents. A feeling that something was terribly wrong came over me. A disconnect formed between me and the music I had made. So I set out to change everything I did with music. I started over.
I was tired of sentimentality, of over-emotional cadences. In everything I ever made there was this prettiness that I can only describe as a “hum” that I suddenly found repulsive to listen to. Pretty equated to mindless. I sensed a mindlessness in my old music. The creative decisions, weaving the more intricate points that matter, just never landed. I never articulated ideas properly. In fact, I never articulated anything. And the more I spent time with music, the more I realized these problems were larger than the music.
In the middle of this process, I saw a bunch of people on Twitter talking about this graphic novel called “Heartstopper”. It seemed out of my element, but I was curious to read it for that reason and ended up enjoying it quite a bit. The story follows high schooler Charlie Spring as he pursues a friendship that turns into a romantic relationship with Nick Nelson, a fellow classmate who's a year older than him. It operates partly as another “self aware tale” on sexual identity which is something I’ve seen attempts at plenty of times over the years. I have often rolled my eyes at these stories for their trite handling of characters who are queer, but Heartstopper is somehow different. I admired the wholesome approach, it made it work in its own way. Nick Nelson, a character who is frequently dismissed as "someone who looks straight" at first, is a character that I would've loved to have seen as a teen. I read this around the time a trending trailer for a Netflix adaptation of the novel was making the rounds on social media. Being invested as I was, on the morning it came out I sat down to watch. I was thinking it’d be a guilty pleasure. While watching, I was put in a trance.
As a show, Heartstopper is remarkably subtle and tastefully done. Seeing Nick and Charlie on the screen hits different; there's a distinct charm and a euphoric purity that comes across that never gets old. To have a show centered around queer characters that landed this well with me caught me off guard. It was out of my element but sort of in my element at the same. Heartstopper conveys a sense of wonder that felt more like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or a Hayao Miyazaki film. Though the nature of queer-ness Nick Nelson relays is what I resonated with the most, I was nothing like him at 15. My experience as someone who's queer differed quite a bit growing up. And yet, it's in the crystalline portrayal of Nick Nelson and Charlie Spring, characters so opposite of who I was and who I am, that I had so much of myself reflected right back at me.
As a teen, I lived entirely in the closet. I didn't want to deal with the confrontations that my Christian upbringing would deliver me so I kept to myself. In the early 2010s, I remember pride culture hitting the mainstream in a positive way. One trend was music videos boasting pride and gay culture, embroidering fashion statements and expressions that challenge norms and biases on gender and sexuality. It was a step forward at the time. Mainstream representation largely existed out of my element, however. I carried the appearance of an angsty “straight passing” art student to most. When you’re a kid, you think everything’s about you and even if you don’t realize it you look for validation in media and the mainstream. Given the trends, I was in the dark a bit. (To clarify, don’t mistake this as “masculinity” or “not looking gay” is a struggle… it’s not. More so the assumption of someone's sexuality on appearance or personality is rooted in homophobia and digs the hole queer people are in even deeper). I felt like coming out would've probably made me a novelty or I would have to change or adhere to something I didn't want to. I also had religious backlash, being looked at as a sinner and consulted as a disappointment, staring me down from afar.
My sophomore year of High School I felt a switch flip and suddenly an anger rose in me. It was a mix of rage and dread. I had no idea what it was. I didn't question much with the assumption it was just classic teen angst. Going someplace new filled me with a fear that gripped me to my core. Drifting from any friends I had by the end of sophomore year, the anger and the dread grew each day. I had no idea what it was, I had no idea why. Maybe I hated high school. Maybe this was just who I was. By my senior year I was slowly shutting down, like there were cobwebs in my head that got thicker and thicker. I had rage, occasional moments where I would have outbursts. I felt a lack of self control. A lack of self control that landed me in a psychological evaluation room in Bridgeport Hospital for suicidal thoughts for a few hours. And still: I had no idea why. To me, this was just who I was. This was just what life was. This was normal. We don’t question things we think are normal.
It was in that evaluation room, a tiny rectangle with a small cot I laid on, that I made a vow to myself. I vowed to never be the person I was that got me to that point ever again. To never have those outbursts. To never feel that unhinged. To never be that alone. To never be that consumed in dread. I vowed to never do that again. I would be someone new, someone better. I felt that who I was in that phase of my life, who I became, wasn’t me, like the real me was buried under all of that and a reset would help me find him. It was a naïve and innocent mission, but one that I believed in more than anything in my life.
College was that reset. Going to college wasn’t a mistake, but a misstep of mine; a reflection of my mindless state at the time. I should’ve just held off like I originally wanted to. But during that time, I came out when I was 19. I didn't process anything yet. Merely charged through it. Coming out in college was not pleasant, it was not entirely on my terms like it should've been. I'm not comfortable with how it happened looking back, but I didn't even process it until rather recently. This is where Heartstopper, where a character like Nick Nelson, came in at an interesting time and pushed some buttons in me. More importantly, this is what my walk with music brought me to realize.
My head was forced in the direction to look back on my teenage years in the closet; my coming out, the relationships I had with people over my life, my personality and how it sporadically ebbed and flowed. It's funny how you take the conclusions you make with you throughout life, believing that it's set in stone, and then look back and realize that that conclusion you believed in all those years was maybe not even correct. I realized how much my sexuality had affected me and my life. The closet did things to me. Hell, I think I BECAME the closet which scares me when I think about it. It was in realizing that I don’t feel that dread anymore, it was in its absence that it hit me what it was and the effect it had on me years ago. It was an aura that swirled in this mindless droning of "Why do I have to deal with this? Why do I feel uncomfortable everywhere? Am I weak for feeling this way? Am I really who I feel and think I am?" It was a constant restlessness, like whatever you were going to do it wouldn’t be what you really wanted. It was a lifetime of repression, of denial, of having the worst in you played on naturally. You take someone who loves to follow rules, and keep the peace, and throw them into a faith and society where just naturally you break the rules and are told its all on you. This is how you break a person.
I never articulated myself. In fact, I never articulated anything. Nothing ever came out right. I felt like I was trapped in my skull.
My experience as someone who's queer has largely left me feeling exploited and hollow. Religion distorted my views on love and sex from a very young age. As an adult at 25, I’m realizing how damaging that process was. I look back and see that I’ve had weeks, even months, of my life where I would have phases of mindless thinking fueled by panic and fear. On the inside, I would feel completely unhinged. I would usually isolate myself in these times, I wouldn’t see my friends out of an attempt of self care until my anxiety passed. In these phases I just wasn’t there anymore. I would feel out of character. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened in my senior year of high school as well. But now that I’m older, and with years of therapy that have taught me a lot, I can manage myself a bit better. I accept that, unfortunately, I do have a part of me that’s a bit shaken up. There are things I will always need to deal with and manage. I look back not to lament, but just to understand.
I do not blame my struggles in my life on me being queer, and I hold no shame in being who I am; it's the walk I hate. It's always going "This doesn't bother me" over and over about things I experienced until I finally went "This does bother me", realizing that it had already bled into everything in my life. This is why it is so important to find the things that put you in your element and to never let them go no matter what. This is the stuff that makes life worth living. I do feel a bit frustrated when I look at my life and see my element distorted, nearly lost. But there are no excuses. That was me, in all of the mindlessness. So younger me was a little wrong. Being a “new me” is impossible; you are only ever going to be the person you are. We are all responsible for our lives at the end of the day, no matter what, that’s the unfair part of life that we always hear about. Being in the closet wasn't the source of everything but I do feel it deepened the trenches I went through a bit, dare I say a lot. With that effect, it altered everything. That’s my cross to bare, and that's a walk that may never end. I feel like I’m waking up from a long nap that lasted a couple years too long. And I’m angry, and a bit more realistic, with me wondering “What now?” which ultimately segues into “What is…”
I realized that this took music from me. I told myself I was making things up, that I was looking for an excuse. But it wasn't just music. The more I pieced my whole life together in this lens, the more it made sense. It was like watching a puzzle naturally slide into place.
And then I got over it. Because I realized it doesn’t matter. Nothing really changes outside. None of this changes that this walk has been disturbing. Doesn't change that I was already an angsty person, doesn't excuse my poor choices or anything for the matter. Doesn't change where I am now. I'm not proud of some of the places I went but it was what it was. My head feels clearer now that I've been out for years but this past year I have grown very sensitive. In the midst of the clarity, I had moments I wondered if I ever really had music in the first place. The prospect scared me but I decided that I didn't care. I always end up going back to music no matter what, I imagine that will always be the case. I knew I was right in continuing this. I couldn’t explain why. I just knew.
With the music, I landed in a hole I couldn’t call out. So I embraced that hole, I pulled from it, and I disassembled and reassembled myself in it. I began to realize I’ve been in that hole since I was a teen. I realized I’m not the main character. I realized very little was genuine in my life. I realized it was always this way. I realized it would probably always be this way. I saw that as an opportunity to go as niche and nuanced as humanly possible, not holding back any of the music, the genres, the styles that I really love. I’m not afraid of not being taken seriously. I actually started laughing at the idea. Fuck the gold at the end of the rainbow. And fuck the rainbow, too. I’ll quote David Bowie: “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise I won't bore you.”
Writing this will be the most substantial thing I do in my life. I’m writing and sharing this for me. I don’t want any sympathy or pity from anyone at all, that isn’t what this is about. This isn't about music either. This is a reckoning about me and my life. When I first wrote this it was June 2022. In my revisions, I came to realize that the first time I actually ever said “I’m never doing that again” was years ago in that hospital room. I thought I failed that vow when I was in college. But maybe it never expired. Maybe I’m just now living into the ability to finally fulfill the last wishes of a fading younger me from years ago. When I press play on this new stuff, I hear “If anything, this was real. You finally got out.” And I feel like that’s the only dream I have left at this point: just never doing that again. In that, I think I can finally let go.
- Alex D'Ambrosio]