On Song: The National 'Afraid Of Anyone'

by - Friday, January 29, 2016

'Little voices swallowing my soul...'

It took me a long time to 'get' The National. I'm still not sure I do. Having tried any failed to get into them many times, I always felt too overwhelmed by their legacy, too entombed by my friends suggestions that they might change my life.

I liken my tentativeness over pressing play on 'High Violet' for the first time to the place I was mentally this time 18 months ago. Fresh out of University, jobless and not sure where to go next, I had all the plans but nothing to cling onto. With a first class degree and a fairly exemplary academic record before that, options were plentiful, but almost too many - so many tunnels, so many alleyways, so many labyrinths. My optimistic resolve gave way to self-doubt and near crippling anxiety, to the second guessing of even basic decisions ('then I'm radio/ then I'm television') and conversations that clouded my ability to socialise or move forward.

It made it near on impossible to make a decision, and on some days, near on impossible to get out of bed. The job centre became a sign of failure, a manifestation of my deepest darkest fear that despite my best efforts, the end was still inevitable. That we get up, go to work (or don't), watch reality TV, cook banal meals and die alone. Morbid I know, but a mindset that is oh so common amongst millenial graduates - an instagram filter over life, permanently set to grey.

For a song named 'Afraid of Everyone', it's unsurprising that I found some comfort in the parallels of anxiety within an album track nestled on The National's most critically successful record. Wracked with resignation, it sounds like the thoughts of someone who has come to terms with their own shortcomings, who dislikes what they see in the mirror but has accepted that it's the face they've been given. The romanticisation of mental health is not something I encourage, but it's a song with a definite beauty, 'starspangled tennis shoes', the perfect metaphor for the American dream placed before cold feet.

I still don't think I 'get' The National. But when I'm alone on a dark train coming back from a successful day of work in a job that fulfills me, or visiting somewhere new, or experiencing the full-body exhale that comes from climbing into bed next to the person that I love, 'Afraid Of Everyone' reminds me how far I've come, and how far I have yet to go.

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