Despite popular belief and what is indicated by my grandfather-like interest in boring unionization and politics, I was too a struggling teenage boy with low self confidence.
And so, for the 14-year-old who has just come from Da Vinci or Mount Tabor or a convenience store where they attempted to use their fake ID, I have assembled one last gift: a first aid kit for my fellow young men.
Tyler, the Creator- Flower Boy
As a provocateur, Tyler, the Creator’s first three rap albums were dark, explicit, and overtly offensive. Cut from the Eminem cloth of expression through gruesome lyrics using homophobic slurs and describing violence towards women, Tyler’s twisted charisma appealed to the worst side of young men. “The more I listened to his [earlier] music, the more addicting it got. It’s kind of like living the story of the antihero through someone else,” says Jackson Li (12).
But Flower Boy, Tyler’s fourth album from 2017, is a complete key change, the summer come anew after a wintry discography. In the context of his other work, Tyler provides a model for escaping cycles of adolescent hatred through self expression.
The coming-out story illustrated throughout the work is a sharp turn from toxic masculinity towards vulnerability. “It’s telling people to be more courageous and more free and expressive of who they are,” Li says. “The whole thing [before] with Tyler is making fun of little kids, telling them cyber bullying isn’t real. Before he was joking around, being an idiot, but now he’s the mature person… who appreciates the people he’s around, who understands his time on this earth and what he needs to do with it.” Individuals in the same state as a younger Tyler can see the light through this project.
All this aside, the album is also kickass to listen to—a synth-powered hip hop and R&B collection with Tyler, the Creator’s genius compositional skills, bassy rap vocals, and wispy, strained singing. To aid understanding, music podcast Dissect is doing a phenomenal job at breaking down the album.
J.D. Salinger- Catcher in the Rye
An entry level classic, the spiral of protagonist and boarding school dropout Holden Caulfield is an important exploration of isolation. Some interpretations of the titular character can be disastrous, centering on Caulfield’s hatred of “phonies,” cited in several murder cases including that of John Lennon. However, a closer look shows a lot of empathy from Holden—deep neuroticism and fear of disappointing, disturb at the mistreatment of others, and love for his friends and family.
Salinger’s character’s voice is so distinct, so unrelenting, and so committed that it is difficult not to become invested in Holden. In formative years, pacing Mount Tabor, the lessons and ending (no spoilers here, even if the book is literally a thousand years old) helped me to pull myself out of a hole, and continue to establish an important lesson for young people—no matter how bad things seem, how destructive things become, there is always an ability to turn things around. The plight of a bad breakup, failing grade, or big zit will be soothed by reading through this tale of trial and tribulation.
Violent Femmes- Self-Titled
From the opening moments of the Femmes’ debut album from 1983, they embody the experience of youth. Lead singer Gordon Gano’s whiny, nasally voice synthesizes with rusty, acoustic instrumentation to create the musical embodiment of a pimply face. It is strangely rewarding, genuinely and passionately performed, with unforgettable melodies and baselines.
Virginity is a consistent theme throughout the album, especially in fan favorite “Add it Up.” Childish resentment, channeled through the self-aware lens of a group of adults, is a perfect outlet for the roughest periods in your life. However, the album’s grand closer, “Good Feeling,” provides a forlorn reflection upon lost love, planting a mature cherry on top of the perfect outlet to jam along to in front of your mirror.
Peggy Orenstein- Girls and Sex
Statistically, teenagers sometimes have sex. They sometimes date. And 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted. In entering relationships, it’s important for young men to understand consent culture, the pressures placed on them, and those on others, including women. There is perhaps no source to learn that from better than Girls and Sex.
Through interviews with young women, Orenstein illustrates the everyday experiences of adolescent romantic and sexual interactions. Discussing topics relating from “saving yourself” for marriage to sexual assault and double standards, the book is a complete class. Amidst personal strife and development, it is imperative to not act out with toxic behaviors, intentional or not. Despite any of the weird looks blonde boys with AirPods will give you when they see the book’s title, you owe it to every woman in your life to read through to the end.