Reflections on The Streets' "Weak Become Heroes": A Requiem for Your Wasted Twenties
There will be that one comedown that hits you harder than the others, and makes you look at what you're doing with naked scrutiny.
Now that I'm reaching the twilight of my twenties, I look back on them as something of a disappointment. Not a disappointment in the "Reached 21 and realized I'll never be a professional footballer" kind of way. Or the "Didn't think I would've reached 25 and still be living with my parents" way. Or even the "Now I've reached 29 and don't want to quit raving any time soon so am starting to look at Fatboy Slim and wonder if he's a viable role model for the rest of my life" type of disappointment either. My twenties were more of a muted, winding failure, a constant nagging at the back of my mind that I was wasting the best of my life.
This period is best described in two acts. On the one hand, I was eternally clock watching. I was always urging the silent minutes to wash over me so I didn't have to endure another second of an office job I hated but paid well enough to keep me in an eternal month-to-month, year-to-year cycle of waiting for the end of the day, the end of the week, or the next pay cheque. On the other hand, the best moments of my twenties were spent in clubs, house parties and festivals, savoring the fleeting highs of those 48 hours like a flash of warm sun on an overcast day. It was all I looked forward to, from the minute I stepped into work with a fierce comedown every Monday morning to the minute I left at 5.30 PM on the dot on Friday evening, feeling almost sick in anticipation of the fun waiting ahead.
And if there was ever a song that could truly encapsulate the endless meandering through the highs and lows of a life spent dedicated to living for the weekend, it's The Streets' "Weak Become Heroes," the third single from Mike Skinner's classic 2002 album Original Pirate Material. Even though Mike was talking about his personal memories of clubbing in "Weak Become Heroes," what he says and the way it comes across on the track could be from any age of raving and at any time. The experience hasn't changed. The style of music may have (depending on the genre), the clothes may fit a little tighter, but his description of being in that unique space with a group of strangers for however long has always stayed the same. Cast your mind back, if you will, and press play on the track below.
From the moment the uplifting piano loop enters the fray, Skinner's down to earth, blunt but effective lyrics capture the little intricacies that make a good rave so special. The idea that I could "know you all my life but not know your name". The idea that in those moments everything is reduced to a balance, everyone is on an equal footing, but that it needs to be, for that moment to exist the way it does. Obviously everyone is on drugs, but the combination of pheromones and shifting serotonin levels creates an atmosphere; it carves a space where those strange, subliminal moments can happen. Here is a place where we can all dance and all sing and not be embarrassed or have to do it ironically in case anyone is looking and thinking you might want to genuinely enjoy yourself. It is a world where we can all come together, be lost in the moment and shake off all of life's problems, for once.
"A sea of people all equal smiles in front and behind me / We point at the sky and feel free"
It's those kinds of times that I lived for in my twenties. Those were the nights I felt young, and acted as such. No one in my office gave a fuck about what I was doing in my spare time, as long I was functional enough midweek to make them money. When I was at work, I was always acting a part of the responsible adult. I pretended to care about figures, phrases and a sterile way of thinking that muffled my real personality and kept those nagging ideas of freedom and happiness at bay. I wanted eternal freedom, of course, but it felt like something I could only make a plan for in a year or two year's time—not right now, not when there is a project/commission/paycheck to worry about. So, my soul came out to play when I was with my friends and doing inane things every weekend. It was this experience that made me feel human again.
"Then I realise five years went by and I'm older / Memories smolder, winter's colder"
Living that kind of life makes it really easy to watch the years slip past you in front of your eyes. Most people who come to raves on a regular basis aren't lucky enough to dedicate their lives to them. We can't all be promoters, DJs, or musicians. The large majority of any given night out is going to be made up of people who are just there for their six hours of escapism before they have to go back to a work life that, on average, they will not enjoy, especially at 9 AM on a Monday morning.
Being the eternal punter, the weekend warrior, you're always looking forward, and never making the most of the present. It created in me a sort of anxiety; I was never happy with the moment or with what I had, even when partying. There was always something better I could be doing: a better rave with bigger DJs, a better party with more drugs, a better circle to hang out in, a better flat, better income, better life. If I'd just taken the time to appreciate what it was I did have when I was young maybe I wouldn't have steam-rolled through so many girlfriends, or burned so many bridges, or wasted so much of my time wishing rather than doing.
Like Skinner coming to in the cafe in the final verse of "Weak Becomes Heroes," the end of this period in life is a sudden realization. There is that one party or rave you suddenly don't feel comfortable in as much as you used to, or that one comedown that hits you harder than the others and makes you look at what you're doing with ever more unflinching scrutiny. Everything else has stayed the same, and yet it's suddenly five, or six, or ten years later.
But like that piano that loops over, and over, and over, life always comes back at you with reasons to be grateful. There were times in that period I'll never forget and friends I made that I hope will be for life. It may have felt like a blur when I sit and look back at it now, but there were some amazing memories I had from weaving in and out of weekends, summers, and relationships, and they've made me who I am today, which I can't help but be grateful for. Like most of us, I will probably never amount to anything special, and will most likely just be a blip of binary in the ever swelling throng of statistics that seem to define human life in this day and age. But even if that is the case, I get to be something more when I come together with people and have a fucking good party. Suddenly, when you start feeling the bass, drugs, and love in the room, none of the negativity matters any more. You get to revel in being one of many, and celebrate how good that can really feel.
"And we all smile / And we all sing; we all sing, sing"
You can find Tom Usher on Twitter.