There was a boy on the other end of the line, which meant my best friend and I each had one ear to the phone. Our cheeks grazed as Ellie spoke:
“We’re rocking out to ‘Say It Ain’t So.’” A beat. “In just our bras.”
It was true, we were. Or we had been before getting on the phone. We head-banged, we wailed, pulling up our bra-straps when they fell to the thrash of air-guitar chords. On the line was my crush, not Ellie’s, but she did all the talking. At age 13, I could only flirt by proxy. And what she just told him, that we were rocking out, wearing only our bras, to a Weezer song, was a game changer. I don’t remember how the suitor in question responded, but his reaction was likely not something that could be gleaned over the phone. Up until this point, it never occurred to me that I had any control over my desirability. I stood waiting for a lightning bolt when all this time, love had nothing to do with destiny, and everything to do with marketing.
Released in 1994, Weezer’s self-titled debut bred a generation of self-deprecating Nice Guys who pledged allegiance to Surf Wax America, guys who are likely still miffed that the Blue Album ranked on Rolling Stone’s Greatest Albums of All Time and not Pinkerton. It was those guys’ kid brothers who I had set my sights on, endeavoring to impress them with my music taste in post-bedtime instant message conversations. “You can’t be a Weezer fan without being a Pixies fan,” one of them typed to me once, arguing, “Weezer songs are just recalculated Nirvana songs, which are just recalculated Pixies songs.” The moment when a boy becomes a mansplainer.
My favorite book-and-movie in high school was Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, the white-male music snob’s manifesto. I fell for Rob Gordon in the way that most teenagers fall for Holden Caulfield: that is, I didn’t yet realize that he is the phoniest phony of all. But despite its insufferable narrator, a lot of the one-liners still ring in my ear a decade later, especially: “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”
The big takeaway from High Fidelity is that true love depends on what you’re like as opposed to what you like—that liking the same books and movies and films isn’t enough to withstand a meaningful relationship. Listing your favorite bands in an online dating profile can be just as objectifying as showing cleavage. But what you're like is usually not the same as who you are, certainly not when you're 13. It's who you seem to be to someone else. You have much more control over what you’re like than over who you are. I’ve used the Blue Album as a litmus test, in hopes that once I found that someone whose heart pounded to Weezer at the same rate mine did, we would suddenly be transported to that elusive world where the boys look just like Buddy Holly and the girls keep their make-up on the shelf: A strange and distant land / Where they speak no word of truth / But we don't understand anyway. 15 years later, I’ve dated my share of Weezer fans, and I still haven’t made it there.
Even with Ellie’s lessons in prepubescent seduction, I never went out with the boy on the phone. Turns out his mom had been listening to the call and and banned him from seeing us without the supervision of a parent or youth pastor. Unrequited love stings less when chaperoned.
I know that taste is nurtured, but I wonder about the biological component, how some songs end up under your skin while others just float next to your ears. I am only truly “over” someone, I’ve realized, when I can listen to all the songs that scored our relationship without any immediate physical reaction—my brows stay soft, jaw relaxed, stomach still. When I can consider that song as first a cultural relic and then a personal one. I’ve started watching the memories instead of feeling them, but the picture is clear as ever: my best friend and I, rocking out, shirts piled on the floor, intensely emoting to a song about alcoholism before I’d ever sipped my first beer. When the objects of our desires stayed safe in the garage where they belonged, answering when we called.