"How am I going to be an optimist about this?": On fragmented family and Bastille
Welcome to Formative Jukebox, a column exploring the personal relationships people have with music. Every week, a writer will tackle a song, album, show, or musical artist and their influence on our lives. Tune in every week for a brand new essay.
I think it took me a full twelve years to verbally tell my parents that I loved them. Vocally expressing my emotions was something I was never taught growing up: Maybe it was those default first-generation Asian parental tendencies, or maybe it was because I had nothing to truly complain about or share. Either way, I lived in a household where we never really said how we were feeling.
My family consisted of my mom, my dad, and me. We lived a few states away from any other relatives, so aside from the stray holiday get together, the three of us were pretty isolated. Nothing good or bad ever happened; we were pretty complacent in our suburban lives. My dad was in the military, my mom in the medical field, I got good grades and went to college. So when my mom left my dad because she didn’t feel happy, it wasn’t necessarily a shock, but it was very abrupt. She kept repeating that she’d been trying for years to make it work, and she had finally reached her breaking point. But since none of us ever said what we were thinking, my dad and I never knew she was feeling any of this until that moment.
A month before this, my friend texted me a YouTube link, along with the message,“You have to listen to this. NOW.” I opened it and heard dialogue from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho: Norman Bates famously declaring that a boy’s best friend is his mother. A build up of strings came in that sounded similar to The xx’s “Angels,” and then the first few lines of TLC’s “No Scrubs” were sung by a voice that I didn’t think was humanly possibly to produce. What the fuck did she just send me? I replied with a series of “OMG”s and she went straight into it. “It’s this band called Bastille. They’re British. They have a couple mixtapes. The lead singer Dan has Eraserhead hair because he loves David Lynch and he samples Back to the Future, Frank Ocean, and Terrence Malik. It’s literally everything we love in one convenient location.”
Over the next few weeks, I got my hands on the mixtapes, witnessed the release of the eventual smash hit “Pompeii,” found out that vocalist Ella Eyre wasn’t part of the band, and anxiously waited for the arrival of their debut album. The day my mom left my dad was the day Bad Blood came out.
How am I going to be an optimist about this?
Bad Blood is this weird album: That of a young band trying to find its identity but also already having confidence in who they are. The lack of guitars and heavy production fit into modern musical trends, but it’s their lyrical density that makes Bastille’s music utterly timeless. No matter its arrangement, the emotional intent never falters, and Dan Smith’s vocal execution is what sticks to your soul. Though inspired by historical events and works of fiction and not Smith’s personal experiences, the universal messages of self doubt, negativity, and ultimately acceptance shine through.
I was 24 when my parents divorced, an age where I thought I was past the point of having to worry about my parents divorcing. It all started to snowball: Lawyers. Putting the house up for sale. Dividing up the furniture. My mom only communicating with us through her legal team. I remember hearing my dad cry every night. One time I heard a click and had to wrestle a gun out of his hand as I literally watched him give up in front of my eyes.
I never told anyone what was going on. I would call out of work to simply watch my dad, help him find a place to live and get better lawyers. Through all of this, I had also decided to move to Los Angeles to not only get away, but to also do something for myself for once in my life. The only thing that kept me from not completely falling apart was Bad Blood; it was the only sense of normalcy I had. As long as I talked about this new band and this new album to everyone around me, no one would figure out something was wrong.
It was there for me. “Pompeii” and “Things We Lost In The Fire” were me watching my world fall apart. “Overjoyed” was me feeling like someone was listening to me as I said nothing. “Oblivion” told me it was alright to sulk. “Flaws” let me know I wasn’t alone. “Get Home” made me realize I no longer had one. Bad Blood comforted me, exposed all my insecurities, made things better, made things worse. But as long as that album was playing, somehow everything was ok.
The future’s in our hands and we will never be the same again
Both of my parents, along with my best friend Gabi, moved me down to Los Angeles. It would be the last trip we took as a “family.” Gabi and I were in my car with my dog, my parents in the U-Haul. “These Streets” played as I drove into Hollywood.
These streets are yours, you can keep them. I don’t want them
They pull me back, and I surrender to the memories I run from
A week later, I attended my first concert in LA: Bastille. Since that first show at The Troubadour, I’ve seen them all over the country. From small theaters to arenas, to their first show talk show appearance to selling out two nights at Radio City Music Hall to their last couple shows touring with Bad Blood — I’ve witnessed it all. In the beginning, it was simply as a bystander, a fan. But then it grew to working with their team, befriending their inner circle, and ultimately the band themselves. As their accolades became bigger and more known, my confidence and accomplishments grew alongside with them. We both started in LA at The Troubadour and two and a half years later, they were one of the biggest acts at KROQ’s Almost Acoustic and I was there too; backstage to interview my friends.
It’s strange how Bastille has been the common thread that connects everything that has happened to me in LA. Any time a monumental shift happens in my life, you can track it in my increased Spotify plays of Bad Blood. It has become my safety net in a way. Change will happen, good or bad, but Bad Blood will always be there.
I no longer speak to my mom. Before the divorce was finalized, she held a lot of things over my head, played the victim, and never saw or cared to understand that it wasn’t the divorce putting my dad and me through hell, it was her actions after the fact. My dad and I have become closer and have gotten better at expressing what we’re feeling to each other. After my mom left him, the reason he wanted to give up was because he didn’t know what he would do with the rest of his life. He essentially saw himself as pointless without her. Now he’s traveling more, taking up hobbies, and just experiencing life like he never had. He thanked me for not giving up on him. Over the holidays, after dinner he turned to me and simply asked, “Have you heard about this band called Bastille? I feel like you would really like them.” There are still some things I need to be better about telling him.
That these are the days that bind you together, forever
And these little things define you forever, forever
The album articulated things I never could: It helped me my find my voice and the confidence to actually say the things I was thinking aloud. It enabled my negativity, but also showed me that my problems weren’t the end of the world. The band taught me how to handle life with humility, humor, and fun. There was a hole in my soul and they helped me fill it.