ONLY NOISE: To All the Boys I Loved Before Who Loved Jeff Rosenstock

COLUMNS|Only Noise

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Taylor Ysteboe connects past and present relationships with the earnest anthems of DIY icon Jeff Rosenstock.

On a sticky afternoon in June – the summer after my first semester of college – Aden and I drove to a park by the lake. We burrowed into my hammock to shield ourselves from the hot Tennessee sun and snuck each other soft kisses. In our cocoon, Aden played music from his phone and introduced me to his favorite punk artists: AJJ, Ramshackle Glory, and, most importantly, Jeff Rosenstock. Rosenstock quickly became my favorite singer, and Aden and I spent many days that summer lying in my hammock, listening to the hard-hitting anthems and heartbreaking ballads of Rosenstock’s first two records, I Look Like Shit and We Cool?

At 19, I fell in love with Aden. At the same time, I also fell in love with Rosenstock. I would turn to those lyrics in times of bliss and times of sorrow alike. Listening to him – with Aden or not – made me feel whole. As a then-sophomore in college, Rosenstock’s discography tracked all the changes happening in my life: finding independence, saying goodbye to friends, coping with depression and anxiety, falling in love. Rosenstock has been there, done that. He ditches superficiality and embraces sincerity instead – even during harrowing spells when it’s difficult to hold on to just a sliver of hope. And because of that, I felt a little less alone, a little less splintered in this chaotic world of ours.

At the end of that summer, Aden and I agreed to a long-distance relationship before I returned to college in Missouri, a 10-hour drive away. Still, he came to see me in my cramped dorm room at least once a month. One night during one of his visits, we slow danced in the middle of my dimly lit room to “80’s Through the 50’s.” With my head lying against his chest, I could feel his heart beating fiercely to the twang of the guitar. We swayed and stepped on the shadows cast by my desk lamp as Rosenstock reached into his scratchy falsetto, singing, “’Cause nobody needs me / Nobody needs me / Nobody needs me the way that I need you.”

Months later, it turned out Aden didn’t need me like Rosenstock needed his whomever he was singing about in that song. Our breakup shattered me, and at first, I was too petrified to listen to Rosenstock’s music. It conjured up too many painful memories – the sweltering summer days at the park, slow dancing in my dorm room. Rosenstock sang it best: I was “waiting for life to start feeling better / Waiting for pain to not be a constant.”

Somehow – I honestly don’t even know what flipped the switch – I moved on. I started listening to those songs again. I felt all the magic that I experienced when I first heard him. The spark was back. Even though Rosenstock was a central part of my relationship, he is also the one who healed me. All of the meaning I previously divined from his music could now be applied to the new wonders I had experienced and was going to experience.

A few years after the breakup, I met Jesse. In one of his photos on Tinder, he was wearing a POST- t-shirt, and he listed his anthem as “The Trash the Trash the Trash” from I Look Like Shit. I (obviously) swiped right, and as soon as we matched, I messaged immediately, “I LOVE JEFF ROSENSTOCK.”

A mutual love of Jeff Rosenstock was how our relationship started, and for a few wonderful months, we knew we could always communicate our feelings through his songs, especially when words just didn’t seem good enough. One of our last dates was a Rosenstock show. The energy was palpable, and I felt so much love. Love for Jeff. Love for Jesse. In the middle of his set, Rosenstock sang “Nausea,” and when he reached the line, “Called up some folks I truly love,” Jesse and I simultaneously turned to look at each other. His eyes sparkled against the pulsating green and blue lights. At the word “love,” we kissed. I swear to God, in that moment, I’ve never been happier.

My first relationship introduced me to Jeff Rosenstock. My last relationship began, I like to think, because of him. Even though these relationships dissolved, Rosenstock’s music remains my constant. He is still tracking the twists and turns of my life: moving on, reconnecting with friends, figuring out what the hell I’m doing, still coping with depression and anxiety, trying to find happiness again. Rosenstock would probably be the first to tell you that it isn’t easy, but it’s worth it, and that music is always there even as people come and go. In his words, “When I listen to your records, it’s like I’m hanging out with you.”