I found out that Motion City Soundtrack was breaking up by accident, from a promotional email from some ticketing vendor who correctly figured that my interests included a Motion City Soundtrack farewell tour. It’s not the way I would have chosen to find out, but I hadn’t paid a ton of attention to them since graduating college, for a myriad of reasons that boiled down to the fact that they, being the soundtrack and saving grace of my adolescence, reminded me of too much pain. I took it for granted, I think, that they were eternal — as eternal as the memory of listening to them as a conduit for joy, when I truly believed I no longer had the capacity for joy.
I saw them for the first time when I was 13, some dozen years ago. Theirs was the first concert I chose to go to. It was in Philadelphia. The Format and The Matches opened for them. There, I met my best friend, who would be my other half for the next eight years. There, I threw a very small plastic ninja at lead singer Justin Pierre and hit him squarely in the chest between songs. I wanted him to notice me. I was 13, and I didn’t have the context or vocabulary to explain my depression, so Motion City Soundtrack did it for me.
Like Pierre, I have been suicidal. Pierre’s struggles with mental illness are well-documented and were pored over in the LiveJournal communities and forums that I frequented. So many people, each in turn feeling understood, each in turn understanding. I think it’s safe to say that, for the part of their fanbase with mental illness, much of the appeal of their music came not from how technically excellent it was or how astonishingly, consistently innovative, but because the sheer emotional vulnerability, the honesty of feeling, were catharsis. In this they were not alone — most of the popular bands of the time had at least one member engaged in a very public battle with mental illness, addiction or some combination of the two. Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, My Chemical Romance, The Used — each of these bands had a core audience of teenagers with some kind of “otherness” thrust upon them or who felt acutely in their hearts, echoed and elaborated on by their music.
I hadn’t seen Motion City Soundtrack in six years and I hadn’t listened to any of their music in over a year, but I read their blog post about saying goodbye, and I bought a ticket to their So Long Farewell Tour.
I wasn’t sure what kind of crowd to expect but when I got there I discovered that virtually everyone was my age; maybe a little older, maybe a little younger, with very few outliers. The band had set up a giant vinyl mural where fans could write messages to them, and by the time they got to New York, it was so covered in confession and love — “Thank you for everything,” “Thank you for being there,” “Thank you for so many years of amazing music” — that it was hard to find a place to write.
I bought a hoodie. I stood at the back with my friend and we waited through the opening bands, absorbing the sizzle of energy that was a little less anticipatory than other concerts I’d been to, a little more emotional, a little more joyous. “I’m definitely going to cry,” I told my friend Anna, and she nodded vigorously. “Like, from the first note,” she agreed.
The concert itself was fucking phenomenal. Twenty years of practice have led to a live show that is practically unparalleled. And we did cry; we were not the only ones. I’ve never felt an energy like that at a concert. It was the sweetest of bittersweet, the gentlest of mourning; goodbyes are hard but goodbyes are harder when the impact of a band is so visceral. Motion City Soundtrack is that kind of band.
I thought a lot about what this band has meant to me during this concert. I thought a lot about the person I was when I discovered them and the person I have been in the interim, all the different steps I took to get better, all the hours and hours of listening to their music searching for, and finding, hope.
And I thought about other people who’d been doing the same thing, winding themselves up in Motion City Soundtrack’s music to get through the next hour or the next day. I wondered how far they’d come.
During “Everything is Alright,” the audience screamed every single lyric, the chorus so loud I thought my eardrums might pop. Everything’s fine, we sang, and it felt like a promise we’d made ourselves, and a promise we had kept.
Thank you, Motion City Soundtrack. For everything.