My Chemical Romance play in the rain in Philadelphia, 2008FLICKR / NBSTWO

Last Michaelmas, as I Face-Timed one of my best friends in a haze of deadline-induced panic, I told her that I’d been listening to a lot of Bon Iver lately. Specifically, a lot of Bon Iver alone, in my room, or the kitchen, or sometimes even the college library. Mostly, crying. It had been a tough first term, and, true to form, I was nauseatingly behind; my mental health was in tatters, and I’d just come to terms with a friendship that, I was recognising, had begun to turn toxic. Hundreds of miles away, she asked wholeheartedly if there was anything that she could do.

“Just keep an eye out for my Spotify. If I’m listening to My Chemical Romance, then something’s probably wrong.”

My relationship with rock music was not what it used to be. What had once been the genre I’d listened to exclusively as an angsty adolescent had become stale and boring: a metaphorical record player collecting metaphorical dust, too dramatic for my new life as a ‘serious’ university student. Pearl Jam and Taking Back Sunday had been replaced by an effervescent stream of funk, jazz, reggaetón, hip-hop, Proto-Germanic experimental folk – the list went on, completely unfiltered, until I was choosing between styles like a musical menu-of-the-week. Going back to rock felt like fleeing to safety: giving up, somehow. The thought of it was… too comfortable. Too unfashionable. Embarrassing, even.

It was with this in mind that I started Lent Term, working from home (or at least trying to). As I attempted to meet deadlines and catch up with long-overdue reading, the glow of getting into Cambridge soon morphed into a heightened sense of dread: the world became tiring, monotonous, like I was an office worker in the Matrix never interesting enough to be offered the red pill. Yet one night, as I stared up into the white nothingness that constituted my bedroom ceiling, on a whim I pressed play for a record I hadn’t listened to in months, possibly even years: Nirvana’s Nevermind. Hardly a revolutionary choice, I know, and a shameless nostalgia trip more than anything, but as I lay in my bed, hoping for this long, bitter winter to end, I remembered things about myself that had long been buried; it was as if the missing pieces of myself – those that, once lost, had turned my waking hours into such hellish stretches of fatigue and anxiety – had suddenly been returned.

“ the dark, brooding basslines finally brought me some respite, I finally realised what an idiot I was, to think I could get through all these months without this music.”

It was a musical epiphany. I began combing through Foo Fighters records on my daily dog walks, rewatching all of Fall Out Boy’s music videos and writing essays to Led Zeppelin (very meditative – Led Zeppelin I is great for last-minute assignments); as I watched reruns of the X-Files on my self-proclaimed ‘free’ Saturday nights, Blink-182’s “Aliens Exist” replayed frenetically in my head, bouncing around like a sugar-filled 5-year-old. I started getting into Riot Grrl again – I haven’t seen the recent Netflix release Moxie (and to be honest, nor do I intend to), but as anyone who’s been in a mosh pit will know, there is something so soul-wrenchingly liberating about music that isn’t afraid to be angry.


This soon (and inevitably) lead to heavier stuff. Heavy metal, industrial metal, metalcore, thrash, doom, stoner, hardcore – there’s a lot to choose from, and at first glance it might be overwhelming. But out of boredom breeds inspiration, and soon the not-so-sweet sounds of Leathermouth and Rob Zombie were helping me revise Italian grammar, to the eyebrow-raised chagrin of my mum (who knew a song called “Bodysnatchers For Ever” wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea?). Long nights missing my friends were spent to the soundtrack of System of a Down’s Toxicity, and as the dark, brooding basslines finally brought me some respite, I finally realised what an idiot I was, to think I could get through all these months without this music.


Mountain View

Ben Howard’s Collections From The Whiteout

As I reflect on Lent Term, I doubt I could have survived it without rock. That sounds dramatic, and it is, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of. I started listening to My Chemical Romance recently – the last step in a long journey of something like self-discovery – and found it wasn’t so bad to be nostalgic after all. The shame I had been so afraid of – of ‘failing’, somehow, in the music that I listened to – was gone, dissolved like the band itself (or so we had thought, of course). I realised I should be honest with myself – and embrace the dramatics of it all. Rock music is dramatic: it’s loud, and it’s angry, and it forgets to lower its voice a lot. It doesn’t have Bon Iver’s quiet composure, nor does it like to revel in soft melodies: but there’s something that’s infinitely comforting about that. It’s something that feels like home.