The Music of Our (Teenage) Lives

Oh, high school. It’s a time that so very few of us try to hold any sort of nostalgia for once we leave it. If there’s one thing that today’s DVD release of The Perks of Being a Wallflower teaches us (which you could just enter to win a copy here and possibly even the soundtrack to the film) is that music has always traditionally been one of the things that has held us together through those formative years where we often clamed up, didn’t know what to say, partied with friends in the goofiest of ways, got rejected by the people we really liked only to end up with the ones we often never felt that great about in the first place.

In keeping with our theme of teen week and since giving people mixtapes is just about the most teenage thing one could possibly do, we have assembled a dream team of film and music people (meaning some people who write for us regularly, one who doesn’t, and some dude nominated for an Academy Award at the moment) to talk about what music meant to them growing up and to share a few key tracks to help you relive the glory days or possibly get you through the one’s you’re currently living.

And while the film and many of our writers hearken back to the days when mixtapes actually came on, you know, tape, we’ve also included the remarks of some actual high schoolers and members of the TIFF Next Wave committee (who will be running a John Hughes marathon this weekend, and if anyone knew anything about teenagers and tunes it was him) and what they are currently listening to. Some of their answers might also take you back to the days of cassettes.

But here without further ado are some people that were coaxed into reliving their formative years and sometimes questionable tastes in music for your enjoyment:


Andrew Parker – Film and Performing Arts Editor of Dork Shelf, freelance writer for many more

I was always one of those kids who would start bootlegging songs off the radio onto a tape just so I could hear them over and over again. I wasn’t opposed to buying tapes (the first one I bought with my own money was the soundtrack to Mo’ Money) or CDs (shout out to Bush-not-Bush X- because-I-grew-up-in-the-States’ Razorblade Suitcase!), but I just didn’t have the money to buy everything I wanted. Judging from most of the stuff I ever downloaded you probably would have expected me to go into film because about 90% of the music I listened to could have in hindsight ended up in a movie trailer.

Nate Dogg and Warren G – “Regulate”

This was one of those songs that I listened to a stupid, almost irrational amount of times after taping it off the radio from Boston’s JAM’N 94.5. Something about the groove always helped me wake up in the morning and get me ready to go back to school. I didn’t exactly grow up in “the hood”, but for my town it was kind of considered the wrong side of the tracks to be on. I still throw it on at least every week and it just takes me back to those last few weeks before summer hit when I never wanted to go to school in the first place. Also, it was on the soundtrack to a movie about basketball, a sport I still deathly wish I could play with any amount of skill or dexterity.

Weezer – “You Gave Your Love to Me Softly”


Speaking of movie soundtracks, while I know Patrick Read Johnson has had some not so nice things to say about how his movie Angus was promoted on MTV as “that movie with Green Day on the soundtrack,” but in addition to showing me into the warming glow of bands like Ash, Love Spit Love, and (somewhat regrettably) The Goo Goo Dolls, the real find here was the less than two minute burst of energy that caused me to spontaneously burst into dance or to write reams of sometimes really shitty poetry at the drop of a hat. If “Regulate” was the song that woke me up, this was the song that got the blood flowing to a point where I feel like I had to do something or explode. Also, fun fact: doing a review of Angus for the youth related newspaper The 21st Century was the first paid gig I ever had as a film critic. I was paid in 5 copies of an already free paper, a pen made out of wood, and a $50 gift certificate to Newbury Comics. I gave the film three stars out of four and I stand by that assessment to this day. And yes, I wrote most of the review while listening to this song.

Our Lady Peace – “Clumsy”

I really, really wanted to put either Jimmy Eat World’s “Rock Star” here (as they were the first band I ever saw live and way before they were famous. No big deal) or Beastie Boys “Intergalactic” (which pretty much signified the death of my teenage years in an oddly heartbreaking way for such an upbeat song that was ruined for me by awful timing), but I would be remiss if I didn’t say this song wasn’t the track that most reminded me and the group of people I used to not hang with as much. I had friends, but I was always (and definitely still am) that guy who always craved attention. Now, keep in mind that I grew up in Massachusetts originally and not in Canada, but I assure you that that whole OLP album was huge down there, and I would regale people with my two best impressions: Axl Rose and Raine Maida. Also, if this wasn’t on the soundtrack to I Know What You Did Last Summer, again, I probably never would have been one of the earliest adopters of it. Many nights of shenanigans came to a close with me in my room, returning back to my quite literally busted home life listening to this because maybe I should sleep, and maybe I just need a friend, and I would be safe for just a few moments.

Anne T. Donahue – Writer and contributor for Hello Giggles, AUX, and many others


Disappointingly, I never used music as a form of escape during the dreaded teen years — I was too busy trying to fit in to actually like anything for the right reasons. However, that approach resulted in stories peppered with likes of Xzibit, Eminem, and Less Than Jake (and also Enya and Geri Halliwell – but those ones aren’t so good).

Eminem – “My Dad’s Gone Crazy”

I can’t stress how important it is for you to know that in no way do I relate to Eminem, his music, and even more specifically this song. HOWEVER, it was the summer of 2002. I was 17. And while a good portion of high school was reserved for being the literal worst, most of 2002 was the opposite thanks to terrible decisions, friends with licenses, good pals (who I’m still friends with now) – and memorizing The Eminem Show. You don’t know teenage sing-a-longs without scream-singing, “I think my Dad’s gone CRAY-ZAY!” (And you don’t know adult regret like realizing your poor parents heard this song on repeat for hours at a time.)


Less Than Jake – “History Of A Boring Town”

The sad/best thing about Less Than Jake is that I listened to them because I liked a boy, and that boy and his friends didn’t think I was cool enough to listen to them in the first place. But too bad, “cool people” of the early 2000s! Try finding another song that so perfectly articulates the “UGH THIS TOWN BLOWS AND I HATE IT” feeling of being 16. WHO’S COOL NOW?*

*I don’t know. I’m genuinely asking whoever’s reading this.

AC/DC – “Thunderstruck”


This song is an inside joke that began between my best friends and I in grade 11, and has never stopped being insane. I’d explain it now, but a) you won’t laugh, and b) I don’t know if I physically can explain it. So I’ll leave you with this: you’re in a parking lot, and a car full of girls drives by. Out of their car blares “Thunderstuck,” and they are dancing. One is miming the drums, another a guitar. You hear something about a full body leotard.

And that is all.


Emma Seligman – Member of TIFF Next Wave Committee, Age 16

I’m really into movie scores and soundtracks so I have a lot of John Williams and Hans Zimmer on my iPod. Right now, I’m enjoying the Beasts of the Southern Wild soundtrack. It has some very triumphant music that gets me through the day. The three songs that mean a lot to me are those some of my favourite films; Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, “If You Leave” from Pretty In Pink, and “I Wanna Be Loved By You” from Some Like It Hot.


Roman Coppola – Director, Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III. Writer and current Best Original Screenplay Academy Award nominee, Moonrise Kingdom

It’s kind of curious for me because my journey with music was a little bit different. I was about 10 years old in the mid-70s when this might have taken place, I was listening to The Beatles and I wasn’t really into what was happening. I remember getting “American Pie”, and that was my first single. Except for that I wasn’t really involved in popular music. It was the music of those times, something like Baker Street or these songs that become iconic in your mind as a teen or something. Music is important to me, but I was never really a super savvy music consumer. Then the whole punk rock scene with the Ramones happened in ’76 and ’77 which was something that was very exciting and a bunch of friends exposed me to that. Then there was all these heavy metal people like Sammy Hagar and AC/DC were also important to me.


Torin Craig – Member, TIFF Next Wave Committee; 16 year old student at Blyth Academy

For me, its a combination of Classic Rock, such as the Beatles and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and a little bit of 90s Grunge, especially Nirvana. Three songs that mean a lot to me would have to be “Revolution” by the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “Tears of Rage” (a song by Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel of The Band), and “Lithium” by Nirvana.


Jess Lewis – Dork Shelf contributor, editor of Static Zine

I know it’s cliché, but music was everything to me when I was a teenager. For an awkward girl from a suburb of Buffalo who never really fit in anywhere, music’s what finally gave me a place. I started high school obsessed with the VH1 stars of the time: squealing over the first John Mayer CD to friends in class, listening to Jason Mraz while on a family vacation, daydreaming about what it was like to be a twenty-something as per Jamie Cullum’s lyrics. But it was when I got into emo and pop-punk that I started to come out of my shell, ironically. As an aspiring music journalist at 16, my first big interviewee was the drummer of Taking Back Sunday. My portfolio of talking to dudes with feelings expanded quickly after that. I was excited for my newfound group of friends that didn’t go to my high school because I started going to a lot of concerts and meeting local bands. Writing about music, seeing music and talking about music became my passions. Though I never really was what the stereotype of emo implies, for some reason my depressions identified with The Spill Canvas’ “The Tide.” When I moved to Toronto for university at 18, these genres started to leave me and I was introduced to bands such as Broken Social Scene, Sufjan Stevens, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Rilo Kiley. The music I listened to as a teenager defined who I was then and pushed me towards who I am now. It’s hard not to look back and cringe at most of the stuff I listened to, but I’m forever grateful for how it helped me through that time.

The future goon: John Mayer’s first big single “No Such Thing” was glued to my brain for a while. I always wanted to run through the halls of my high school singing it. I just thought he was so sweet.

The daydreaming emo: To spare from more of the ear-bleeding stuff I listened to, Straylight Run’s “Existentialism on Prom Night” sticks out to me as a tune I’d use for an escape, and I didn’t even know what ‘existentialism’ meant.

The local band I loved: There once was a Buffalo ska band named CherryBing. I loved them with all of my teenage being, more than any other band there, but boys will be boys and they broke up a year or so later after I discovered them. I got to enjoy many shows, made lots of new friends and I can still giggle when I think about how some of them are now in Cute is What We Aim For.


Maiesha Zarin – Member of TIFF Next Wave Committee, 16 year old student at RH King Academy

It’s funny when people ask me what kind of music gets me through the day because the artists I end up mentioning are always from completely different genres. I’d have to say that the two big genres that get me through the day would have to be alternative indie and pop-country. Artists like Tegan and Sara or Taylor Swift have really been the main musicians that have inspired my thoughts throughout the day or have just been an easy escape when things get flustered or overbearing. I also find them great for creating visual scenes in my mind (I’m a visual film geek, everything in my day is viewed like a movie). Three songs that mean a lot to me are “La La Lie” by Jack’s Mannequin, “The Best Day” by Taylor Swift and “I Was a Fool” by Tegan and Sara. These songs all really touch me at the core of my mind and speak to me in all honesty because I trust them and believe them. They make sense to me at times when nothing else does and the lyrics and melodies are just absolutely perfect in my opinion. The best part of those songs is that they give me the chance to relate it to anything so it never has to be about one specific feeling all the time.


Noah Taylor – Dork Shelf contributing writer, part time Queen Video counter monkey, local gadabout

Junior high marked my transition from a mini metal head to a nerd, when my Metallica T-shirts were replaced with Star Wars ones. Since the onset of your teenage years is supposed to bring out your rebellious side this may seem as backwards as my shirts during my Kriss Kross phase in elementary school, but for some reason it was when I decided to start getting good grades and taking my toy collection seriously. By the time I hit high school, I was a full blown movie nerd which meant most of my interest and discovery of music came via soundtracks. I was still buying cassette tapes at this point, my first CD player was my first DVD player.  Music was not yet playing the important role in my life that it would come to, but at least I was avoiding the pitfalls of the popular music my friends were listening to like Limp Bizkit and Creed. My 16th birthday brought with it two milestones that would affect my taste in music forever: a driver’s license and my first Beatles album (Abbey Road). Without a cassette player in my dad’s jeep to rock my Dumb and Dumber soundtrack, the radio dial was constantly tuned to Q107, Toronto’s classic rock station, exposing me to the likes of Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, and Pink Floyd, to name only a few. The fact that a lot of this music was featured in some of my favourite films (particularly those made by Scorsese and Stone) obviously helped propel my listening. When this new found love of classic rock sometimes extended to musicians like Elton John, jokes were made. But I had the last laugh as the classic rock I was listening to was quickly adopted by my friends once they hit University and I became the go-to guy for album and artist recommendations.

“Misirlou”  -Dick Dale

Despite Pulp Fiction being Tarantino’s second film, many people associate the rollicking first notes of this song with the director announcing his arresting presence on the film scene. For me there is no better song to represent my already growing interest in movies being given an adrenaline shot to the heart. The early Tarantino soundtracks brought with them the realization that the right song in the right place of a film could create a union more titillating than either art form could achieve on its own.

Dynamite Hack- “Boyz In The Hood”

If there’s one song I associate with my discovery of drunken buffoonery, it’s this one. I have very fond memories of my friends and I drunkenly singing along to this hardcore rap song given a white boy makeover. The juxtaposition of Easy E’s lyrics with the melodic sweater-vest-wearing acoustic guitar-playing “hacks” appealed to our upper-middle class selves who, perhaps more consciously for some than others, saw the irony of blaring this in our friend’s parents’ million dollar house while we learned how to kill brain cells.

“Let it Be”- The Beatles

“Let it Be” was not the first Beatles song I loved, nor the last, but when I was 18 I declared it as my favourite. Not just my favourite Beatles song, but my FAVOURITE song (now I can’t even choose a favourite Beatles song, there are just too many that are fucking brilliant). I’m not sure I can describe what it was about this song that effected me in that time and place of my life. I loved the repetition of the lyrics and the simplicity of their sentiment, but in retrospect I think it was as much the soulful piano and musical
arrangement that really struck an emotional chord. Finishing High School often brings with it the first taste of adulthood, I guess it was a comfort knowing I’d always have the fab four’s swan song to fall back on.



Brandon Bastaldo – Dork Shelf Writer, freelancer for many more

My memories of High school are shrouded by a mystyerious-hazy fog of Axe cologne and hallways where you couldn’t escape 50 Cent’s droning musings about being shot. I went to two different institutions: a Roman Catholic and then a public for the next two. My experience with music in my teens contrasts like night and day. I went from bumping to thug acts like Dipset and Shyne to bands like Boys Night Out and Operation Ivy. It was a radical time.

“Melanin”- Bugs

A hidden gem, this continues to be a song I go back to every now and then. Surprisingly conscious for a Dipset track, the passion of these lyrics have carried me through some tough times.

“Late”-Kanye West

Before Kanye West was inaugurated into the Kardashian clan, his music sounded like this: underplayed, soulful and relatable. Any teen attending secondary school can find some solace in this one.

Alexisonfire- “WaterWings (and Other Poolside Fashion Faux Pas)”

A great stress reliever. The video for this track introduced me to The Warriors and opened up Ontario’s hardcore scene to the public.


Will Monahan – Member, TIFF Next Wave Committee; 16 year old student at University of Toronto Schools

I listen to lots of different types of music.  I listen to Deadmau5, The Beatles, The Strokes, Swedish House Mafia, George Watsky, Mumford and Sons, Michael Jackson, and Justice, to name a few artists.  It’s tough to pick just three songs that mean a lot to me, but I’d have to go with “Hotel California” by The Eagles, “Levels” by Avicii, and “Kings and Queens by 30 Seconds to Mars.

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