I was in love with Jayme and she didn’t know it. How could she? I didn’t know it. She had an album with two slightly androgynous dark haired women on the cover, and when she put it on, their voices were what I’d hoped for. Slight and mezzo soprano with an air of angst, they sang clear and with a yearning that echoed my insides. “I’d spend all night losing sleep/I’d spend the night and I’d lose my mind/I’d spend the night and I’d lose my mind.” The repetition made it easy to keep a hold of, and I didn’t want to let it go.
At nineteen I didn’t know much about myself except that music was necessary. I’d moved to Chicago for college and worked at a record store in the South Loop where a Sleater-Kinney poster for One Beat was my first official introduction to riot grrrl and real feminism. I’d only been exposed to the likes of Hole, Veruca Salt, and more mainstream adaptations of it on my alternative radio station growing up in Michigan. But the Tegan and Sara album my friend and inevitable crush had introduced me to was pivotal in a way I wouldn’t know until 10 years later, when I’m 29 and thinking back to that moment, sitting on her bedroom floor, despite the fact of the bed behind us, and just listening, letting it reverberate inside and around me.
I’m pretty sure we were smoking pot, too, so that could have helped.
Jayme was the first friend I knew that had weed at the ready. I loved hanging out with her because not only was she a musician (she had recorded songs and even played gigs at venues in Detroit and Chicago with people whose Livejournals I had totally read before), but she knew about movies I hadn’t seen and would pair them with the perfect music while we watched them on mute and were incredulous when the songs seemed to match what was happening on screen. Jayme was one of my only friends who was completely content with doing these things alone and not having to call boys we knew to come over and make things more interesting. She and I would walk ten blocks to the 24 hour cafe in nearby Wriggleyville where the waiter had insect tattoos crawling up his arms and when he talked to us, we felt like we belonged there. The walls were spotted with graffiti and photos and napkins with doodles by regulars and I always secretly wished someone would come by with a camera to take my photo there and say “This – this needs to be up there with the rest of them!” I couldn’t do it myself, and I couldn’t say that to Jayme.
“I felt you in my life, Before I ever thought to /Feel the need to lay down, Beside you And tell you/ I feel you in my heart, And I don’t even know you/ And now we’re saying Bye, bye, bye /Now we’re saying Bye, bye, bye / I was nineteen.” “Nineteen”
Tegan and Sara were only playing 21 and over venues when they came to Chicago from their homes in Canada, small places like the Double Door that I couldn’t get into because they were supposedly really hard on ID checking and I didn’t even have a fake in the first place. They came to town to play five days before I turned 21, and my girlfriend at the time went without me. That whole night I sat around by myself, pouting, waiting for her to call during my favorite song. She did, and I imagined her holding the phone in the air, trying to establish the connection to me and for that to be enough, but it wasn’t. Why did I have to be so fucking young?
By then Tegan and Sara had put out another album, which was the soundtrack to my romance with my first girlfriend, strangely named Jamie. (The first Jayme had never amounted to more than anything but Truth or Dare kisses and she ended up making the waiter a mixtape. I doubted there was any Tegan and Sara on it.) So Jealous was a very literal interpretation of our relationship at the time. Jamie and I worked together at the college newspaper in downtown Chicago, and the song “Downtown” was full of metaphors that I found sexy and perfect. “Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t find me attractive/Look me in the heart and tell me you won’t go” (“Where Does the Good Go”) was a dare, a song we’d play at our connected desks, pretending it was a random choice from our mp3 selection. And later that year I was finally able to see the sisters live, on stage, alongside so many other women my age in what felt like the most come to Jesus moment I’d had up until that point in my life. I bought a T-shirt and a cheap domestic beer with the only cash I had.
By the time their next album, The Con, was released in 2007, I felt ownership of Tegan and Sara, but they were no longer a tiny secret. Opening gigs for Ryan Adams and the Killers and being covered by the White Stripes had alerted more and more people to their woeful tunes of melancholy and, at first, it felt a little unnerving. I’d graduated school by this point and was writing about music and queer pop culture for a living, discovering other artists I liked, growing my interest for genres I’d previously written off as too accessible or not accessible enough. I was growing, thankfully, and so were Tegan and Sara.
When Sainthood arrived two years later, I was nearing the end of my first real relationship. Songs like “Hell” ushered in a change, helped me sing my fears and guilt and right into “On Directing,” when I met my next J. (Julie, thankfully, and not “Jaime.”)
“Go steady with me, I know it turns you off when I, I get talking like a teen.” – “On Directing”
I had that teenage crush feeling again. Sara Quin and I could bob our heads together, inspired by the dancing beats of our hearts. The album coincided with an amalgamation of emotions, and I didn’t care if I was now among the several thousands of women who felt these were their songs, too. I’d given up ownership; I was happy being a member of the club.
Throughout their first six albums, Tegan and Sara were a formulaic duo; guitars, sing-song harmonies and catchy choruses in mostly mid-tempo tracks with a few ballads and radio-ready singles that never quite piqued the interest of the Top 40. Then this year they put out Heartthrob, an ode to that teenage crushdom and with an emphasis on the effects of more “pop” production. I received the album a few months before it came out, a press version available for streaming in hopes of a review. I listened to it fully once, and then I ignored it for a while. I let it sit in my inbox, thinking I’d spend more time with it eventually, even though 10 years ago it would have been playing non-stop in my earphones all day while working, from my speakers while I was showering or getting ready to leave the house, and on my iPod on my way to school or work or other outing.
When Heartthrob was officially released in January and friends and other fans were rabid over dissecting and memorizing each track, I put it on a few times – on my computer, in my car. And I like it. I like the songs. I hear Tegan and Sara in them, despite what other diehard fans might say of their “selling out” to accomplish more success. I want them to be successful, and I want them to change and to grow, because I have right along with them. But now I don’t need these songs about crushes and steadies, somehow. I don’t know if it’s because I’m married, or because I’m almost 30, or my aural tastes have altered, but that feeling I had in a girl’s bedroom is missing. Perhaps their music was a crutch that I am free of, despite never wanting to be, because for a long time, I needed it.
Where are you going now without me / And not knowing then, that we’re slowing down. “Are You Ten Years Ago?”