I used to want to be you. I got close one night in 2004.
My favorite quote is, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” As a teen, I was pretty content being who I usually was: a reserved, well-behaved, shy girl with an occasional wild streak. Other than a cigarette here and there, the shoplifted Wet n Wild glitter nail polish, and that time I hung out of my boyfriend’s mom’s SUV and flashed a guy at a stop light, I was pretty tame. I spent a lot of time alone on Saturday nights writing poems and listening to U2. I did my homework on time. I got a college scholarship. I saved my money.
Then I heard the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell.
Those previous acts were of a curious teenage girl testing limits. But as a college freshmen, that Yeah Yeah Yeahs album took me deeper than simply shocking the suburbs.
The album sounds like what you sweep up after a really good house party—bottle caps, dried cheese cubes, a gob of chip dip, dust bunnies, and a surprising amount of glitter and thumbtacks. You let the dirt pile slip off the dustpan into the overloaded trash can. Then, you realize that you missed a whole section of glitter thumbtack dirt on the kitchen floor. But you let it go because it’s oddly beautiful and you’ve got better things to do, like write a poem.
Fever to Tell boasts fun-drunk yet composed songs arranged in such an order like they’ve grabbed you by the heart and dumped you next to them in a roller coaster car. Right out of the gate is a cluster of minute-and-a-half to three-minute songs that don’t need Adderall to have a good time. Song two, “Date with the Night,” defines how my friends and I spent many hazy nights.
You’re already losing your mind by song four, “Tick” (the way you screech “T- T- T- TIME!!!!!!”!). Your playful chorus on “Pin” is offset by the deceptively demure Nick Zinner’s fuzzy guitar filling in the few blanks between Brian Chase’s speedy beats. “Cold Night” told me that it wasn’t weird or wrong to straight up tell a dude that I wanted to have sex with him. Or maybe it was weird and wrong. Well, Karen O, I wanted to be wrong with you.
By “No No No” the ride starts to hug sharp turns low to the ground. During “Maps” we’re slow dancing. The lights come on with “Y Control.” We’re lulling ourselves to sleep with the mixed feelings and hard reflections of “Modern Romance.” We think we’re dreaming when we hear the sober words on the hidden track. “And, cool kids, they belong together.”
“Modern Romance” is perhaps my favorite Yeah Yeah Yeahs song for the reason I admire you, Karen. I like when pieces of art and people are layered and dynamic. You’re an example of the vastness of a woman. You’re someone I wanted to be like when I was 20 years old.
When I bought a ticket to your February 2004 Cleveland show, I really hoped that you would do “Art Star.” On that sticky and sharp, spit-in-a-stuffy-old-man-face track, your voice is perfect. Slightly off key at the just right moments, sour-sweet yet strong, sensationally gritty when you scream, hilariously adorable when you mutter, “It’s a mad house.” I scribbled, “I’ve been screwing on the tracks of abandoned train stations” inside my dorm room closet. Your persona on that EP to me was the goddess Kali breathing fire on my old idol, Bono.
And the show was awesome, of course. Your pure joy was invigorating and dazzling. You giggled, you growled, you sweat, and got bruises. You went hands-free with the mic by shoving it in your mouth. You were off the wall. And, I loved every ounce of it as I jumped, bobbed, and screamed along with you.
By this time, too, I had traded in the late-90s look of low-waisted, boot cut jeans and crop tops for the post-post-punk, artsy New York City wardrobe I saw you wear in Spin. I had my thrifted red and black striped top, a tight mini skirt, drug store pantyhose I cut into capri leggings, and filthy Chuck Taylor high tops. And lots of red lipstick.
After that show, my friends and I tried to meet you by your tour bus. There was a boy there who wanted to apologize to you for freezing and forgetting the words to “Maps” when you directed your mic at him. He told us he was so embarrassed. But, we assured him it was all good, that you probably didn’t notice, that we were all just having a good time. Rock stars are usually considered cool in a way that you’re not supposed to do something embarrassing in front of them, or in a way that means they’re the opposite of square, that they don’t stay in on Saturday nights.
Personally, I still felt a little stupid milling around your bus. What was I actually going to say? What could I do in front of a person who I was trying to emulate?
I talked my friends into leaving. But, I really wanted to live the Karen O lifestyle, whatever that meant at that very moment. I reapplied my goopy, red liquid lipstick and pinned a big sloppy smooch on the grill of your tour bus. I have no clue if this is actually something you’d really do. It was totally something I would do.
I returned home from that show to learn that I didn’t get the summer job I recently interviewed for. I had no income in the near future. I just spent a bunch of money on snacks, gas, and tickets for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs show. Oops.
I brushed off the job rejection and probably wrote some poems. Maybe I listened to “Art Star” or Fever to Tell from start to finish. Maybe I partied that night after working on a final paper due for Monday morning’s class. But, I never became you. I became more of myself.