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My Love Affair With Indie Music
Isma Aslam
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“I don’t have any Hindi type music. This is all I have,” I told my cousin as he searched through my iPod looking for Bollywood music.

“Yeah, didn’t you know?” my brother asked my cousin. “She only listens to white music.”

“It’s not white music,” I said, angrily. “And why would I listen to Hindi music? I can barely understand the language without subtitles. You know that.”

I felt the weight of my brother and my cousin staring at me. “I’m sorry, but I like alternative and indie rock music!” I said.

No One ‘Gets’ My Music

It bothers me that my love for alternative music is questioned and doubted by my family and friends. My Pakistani family doesn’t get it, while my friends—even those who listen to alternative music—wouldn’t even suspect what I like. But I never let their opinions stop me from listening to what I like.

To my friends and family, I’m pint-sized, pessimistic, no confidence, sarcastic and worried Isma. I’m also religious Isma—praying, teaching children how to read the Quran and practicing my own recital throughout the day. But I’m also Isma, the alternative and indie rock music junkie.

Blame It on the Cute Rocker

I blame my love affair on a boy.

I walked into class on the first day of high school four years ago and immediately noticed a blond head with spiky hair. He stood out, and not just because he was the only white student in the classroom. (I stood out as much as he did, with a black covering over my head.)

It was clear that he was a rocker not only by his band shirt, but by the numerous band patches stitched onto his backpack. He was also definitely a looker, and I was drawn to him. I was a pop music fan, but the end to my pop music days and the start of something new began that day.

I don’t initiate conversation with strangers, let alone a boy I think is cute. So how would I find out anything about him? Luckily, I became friends with a Goth girl named Terica who spoke quite a bit to this boy. Most of the time I’d hear them arguing about music, so I listened in case he’d name a band (without making it obvious).

Sometimes Terica would ask me to come to her defense, even though I had no idea what was going on. I’d nod my head and pretend to be in the know. With the boy present, I didn’t care what I was agreeing or not agreeing to.

When I worked up the nerve to ask Terica about him, she said, “He’s a punk.”

Punk? What’s Punk?

“Punk? What’s punk?” I wondered to myself. Terica explained that he listened to punk rock music, a sub-genre of rock music. I went home and downloaded some punk after researching a few artists off the Internet, and boy, did I not like it!

I couldn’t find anything appealing about loud music and barely audible lyrics. That didn’t cut it as music to me. But I was disgustingly lovesick so I thought I could start off with some of punk’s softer and more comprehensible music.

image by Terrence Taylor

I stumbled upon pop punk, which incorporates elements of pop and punk rock music. It’s feel-good type music with rock band instruments and mostly understandable lyrics. I began listening to artists like The All-American Rejects and the very early music of Brand New. I actually liked this music. I loved how it was one step closer to my goal, but still close to my own taste.

Terica noticed a gradual change in my music taste, surprised that I was listening to this band or even knew about that band. To me, I was still the same Isma, just with a minor alteration in my musical self.

After two years of longing for that boy, I just stopped liking him. I didn’t find anything about him attractive anymore. (Of course I never said anything to him, since I had a hard enough time simply speaking to him.) But my alternative rock music listening continued.

I Still Loved My Alternative Rock

Terica fed my addiction by giving me my first alternative album, Where You Want to Be, by Taking Back Sunday. I loved this type of music more and more.

No longer did I limit myself to only pop punk. Without even realizing it, I was thoroughly enjoying punk rock, general alternative rock and progressive rock. Much to my shock, I actually started hating the pop music I once loved. It seemed so childish and not my type of music anymore.

Listening to music is an all-day ritual for me these days. Lying in bed at night, I listen to one particular song by Brand New that’s played in the most beautifully sad way.

The last verse starts, “This is the end/This story’s old but it goes on and on until we disappear/This is the calm/Calm me and let me taste the salt you breathed while you were underneath…/You know that you are not alone/I need you like water in my lungs.”

I’m filled with serenity listening to those few lines. The lyrics are sad, yet peaceful. The way the vocalist sings them makes me feel that much closer to the song and to him. Sometimes I swear I can actually feel him singing the words. Now that’s a sign of inspirational writing (and perhaps a loss of sanity on my part).

I Want to Inspire People

I respect and admire the lyrics that Brand New vocalist Jesse Lacey composes. The writing is so beautiful that it inspires me to become a good writer, to write something that inspires someone.

And now I want to learn how to play guitar. I always wanted to play piano until a friend of mine suggested bass guitar. Isma plus bass guitar equals questionable, even laughable. But why not? As if me falling in love with alternative rock music weren’t shocking enough!

Four years later, Terica is aware of my music addiction, but most of my other friends still aren’t.

I can’t blame them—it’s not like I’ve shared this part of me with them. But I recently started sharing a bit since I’m considering taking up guitar in college and I feel I need to state my influences.

A Constant in My Life

What’s been incredible about my evolution is how music has become a constant in my life. For the past four years, there hasn’t been a time when I’ve been without music. Besides the more obvious (and unfortunate) times when I can’t play music—the shower, work, in class—I always have it turned on.

I wasn’t even this crazy during my boy band days—and I loved my boy bands! Indie music has made me more defined and inspired. I’m always excited to see which of my bands has a new release so I can rush out and buy the album. And I’m always trying to interpret some of my favorite lyrics by Brand New. I have an addiction that I don’t wish to break free of.

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(NYC-2007-11-03)

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