I must say, as big of a fan I am of yours, I have actually never written you a letter. At this point, I’m quite sure if my friends heard this fact they would gasp; they associate you with me because they know how much of an influence you are in my life. Interesting, how a complete stranger’s life is utterly changed by you, but it is true. You are my Elvis….which in real, non-fan girly, speak is a reference to my mother’s all-time favorite artist. I grew up watching my mother change in front of me whenever an Elvis song was played, and I didn’t understand it until I saw you on MTV with neon-pink hair and an attitude, and the world began to change for me.
You’ve changed as an artist since that first album, which was given to me as a gift for my birthday, because my mother just thought you were just another Top 40 artist I might like. Not many people know this, but I only listened to your popular songs from Can’t Take Me Home when I first got your album. I wasn’t sure about you. You fascinated me, but I wasn’t quite sure how to handle you at that age. I actually didn’t sit down and listen to your album until a few months after receiving it. I was bored, and I decided to just grab a random album and play it. Your album just happened to be the first one I grabbed, and it was the last one.
I know you’ve mentioned in many an interview that with Can’t Take Me Home you felt like you didn’t have much freedom with it, but that album was what introduced me to you so I can’t help but be fond of it. The voice that dominated your later albums was struggling to be heard in that first one, and I latched onto it. While my friends were screaming out the lyrics of Most Girls, I was listening to Split Personality and Stop Falling on repeat on my CD player. I started paying more attention to your interviews, and when news of Missundaztood broke, I was legitimately excited. Then came your Behind the Music special.
You were a fighter. I watched as you talked about growing up in a broken home, being filled with anger, being reckless and out of control, and just fighting to find your voice in the world and from that day on that was it. I was hooked into every note you ever sang, and I swear there wasn’t an emotion, or situation, that I experienced that you didn’t sing about. My brother and my mother bought me your second album and we were barely in the door from the record store when I had that cd out and it was playing in my stereo. I sat there, and listened to every single song, read every single lyric, and laughed and cried with you. At that time, it was Eventually that got me through many days. Middle school and High School sucked, but I had your music and it pumped through my veins whenever the world became too much to deal with. Actually, that entire album is just amazing and I could spend hours discussing how each song meant something to me…like Dear Diary, Gone to California…
That album helped me through a time when I couldn’t turn to my mother; when I railed against her because I was so angry, and hurt, about being abandoned by my father, and later by her. This album was, and still is, my go to album when overwhelming hurt hits me like a shit ton of bricks, and I need to hear I’m not alone in this fight. For a kid, who attempted to kill herself at age 15, I needed to not feel alone and I wasn’t. Your voice filled my room as I poured over notebooks and scrap paper, filling every inch with words that would later define who I would become…a writer.
Try This had come across my lap, another gift, during a confusing time in my life; which is interesting since you wrote this album in what? A week? It was angry, and brash, and it pushed against everything and anything. It was almost a slap in the face to everyone, which I guess it was. It’s now become my rebellion album, when I feel like screaming against the world for even daring to tell me who I was, when I wasn’t even sure of myself. It’s the soundtrack to my sarcasm…and I might have played Trouble a few times before walking into my Honor’s English class in college just to get in the mood to piss of my Honor’s director….
And then you disappeared for 3 years….tell you what…it sucked. By that time your music was a daily occurrence in my life, and it is around this point where people would start to stop me and tell me that they heard one of your songs and it made them think of me…probably because I always fan-girled when someone casually mentioned your music….yup…I was that dork…so naturally I was beyond excited when I’m Not Dead was presented to me. Do you get the theme? I don’t think I have ever purchased your albums…people just buy them for me. Best gifts I’ve ever gotten.
I’m Not Dead came right around the time my cutting had gotten so severe that I actually scarred my arm. Your music reminded me I wasn’t alone in my hurting, but the hurt had gotten so bad…and boom. There you were…and you handed the world songs like Who Knew, Nobody Knows, Runaway, Heartbreaker, I’m Not Dead…and Conversations With My Thirteen Year Old Self. That song stopped me cold in my tracks. I remember sitting up, because laying on my bed and jamming to your songs was my favorite pastime, as I heard your words and I didn’t realize I had started to cry until I scrambled to stop the next track from playing. I cried because I knew that girl. That girl hurt herself trying to get the pain out. She lied to the world, and they believed her so easily, and she was angry because no one heard her screaming. That song broke me open, and I sat in my room and sobbed for that kid who was still fighting, and hurting, inside of me. I cried for her for the first time…because someone had heard her…someone else knew her, knew what she was like…knew the pain she felt.
What I didn’t know that day, was that song would set me on a course that would forever change my life.
I was kind of floating through college, never really investing it what I wanted out of my English degree. Then I got the chance to take a course called Writing About Love and Loss. It was an emotionally tense course, but I was making it through by giving just enough to satisfy my classmates. Then I got the assignment that had me sitting in my library, listening to Conversations on repeat, weeks after first hearing the song… Write as if you were dying. Thing was…I already knew what that felt like, emotionally at least. So did you…so did thousands of kids who were hurting, and confused, and in need of someone to just hold them, and tell them to keep fighting.
Conversations gave me the strength to tell a classroom of 25 strangers that I tried to kill myself. That it was my little brother who stopped me, and that it was your music that inspired me to begin writing in the first place. That I had begun to think I would survive myself, survive the hurt, because I finally understood that I had found my voice. I had been writing for years, but it was the first time I showed myself to the world. I wasn’t afraid. I was a fighter. I had something to say.
In all the glitz and glamour that the world gets caught up in, your voice was always steady. You laid out your hurts, you fought for what you believed in, and whenever someone tried to curb you, a swift, “Fuck you,” stopped them. I’m not saying that I am completely better. I have my bad days, in which your entire music library is played, because after I’m Not Dead, came Funhouse…which gave me Glitter in the Air, Sober (which helped me get through a prescription pill and alcohol addiction) and One Foot Wrong. But this time, it wasn’t just the music (although Glitter in the Air has become my anthem). I realized, as I watched you mesmerize the world 200 feet in the air soaking wet, was that somewhere between the laughter and tears…you had grown as a person…and you took me along for the ride.
I grew up with you. You were the first person who taught me not to be afraid to speak what needed to be said. You taught me how to be vulnerable, and unsure, and how to swallow my pride. You taught me how to lay my entire soul out for the world to see, even though it terrified me to do so. Sitting in a dark room, your music taught me more about myself than anyone could ever begin to help me with. You aren’t my idol, or some mythical person in the world, that is untouchable to me. You are blunt, and harsh, and understanding. You are impatient, and loud, and loving. Whenever anyone asks me about my influences, I talk about the people you’d normally say…and then I talk about you.
I talk about an artist that went running, and screaming, through an industry that didn’t know what to do with you, and you thrived. You are consistently underestimated, and under-appreciated, and yet I know no one who represents what the world needs more than you do. Terrifying to my mother, you were my role-model…and I’ve learned to be proud of who I am through your music. I’ve learned to love, and lose, and fight, and laugh, at this world, by loving, and losing, and fighting, and laughing, with you. No you weren’t my idol…you were the artist who showed me my own art…you are my inspiration.
And when I have a bad day? There is your music…giving me the same hug you have been giving me for over 10 years, and the same swift kick in the ass to keep fighting. Fucking Perfect? That song came at the perfect time in my life….so did Raise Your Glass…
I’m going to be 25 September 16th. It’s a big deal for me. I didn’t think I would survive long enough to reach that age honestly. I’m surrounded by people who love me, who fight for me, and who listen to my voice. And I have your music, and your voice, telling me this world still needs fighting for. So I want to thank you…like I have thanked my friend for saving my life the first time I ever asked for help. Like I’ve thanked my brother for hugging me the night I decided to kill myself.
I want to thank you for being you. For being an artist…for making music. For being my unwitting friend for over 10 years; for being one of my best friends. But ultimately, I want to thank you for saving that kid who sat in her room, screaming and crying, and begging to be heard. For helping her find a voice…because on September 16th, she’s turning 25…and you helped get her there. You never left her side, even though you never knew she existed. So thank you, with all that I have.