It was September of Grade 8. I was in French class, and our teacher had given us the period to work on our first assignment of the year. While I was contemplating the blank paper before me, my friend Sarah interrupted my thoughts. She was exclaiming over a new show she’d started watching that summer called The O.C.. Up until that point (and, let’s face it, for the rest of that year) I was the girl obsessed with Sponge Bob Square Pants. What was this show where real people were navigating the peaks and pitfalls of teenagedom? Was this what my life would be like a year from then? I felt like a sponge, er, rather, a fish out of water.
When I started watching The O.C., two things happened: The first was that I now had something in common with Sarah (she was a cool kid, so this was a game changer for me); the second was that—at the pivotal age of 13—I was initiated into the lives of teenagers. My sheltered eyes witnessed a new world: people going to pool parties where everyone was dancing, drinking, and swimming in their underwear. They hung out together in restaurants and drove around in flashy cars. They went to see their favourite bands in concert. The freedom!! They were beautiful, messed up, privileged, lonely kids.
I was hooked.
By the time I got to high school, I realized that it was a big deal to know where you stood musically. The characters on The O.C. knew it too. When Seth drives Summer, Marissa, and Ryan to Tijuana for the big party the weekend before schools starts, Death Cab For Cutie plays on the stereo. Summer, bored by the music, wants to change it up, but Seth defends his favourite band and threatens to kick Summer—the girl he’s been crushing on since fifth grade—out of the car. It was a huge statement, but that’s how important music was to Seth, and that resonated with me.
As an avid watcher (and listener), I developed my own relationship with the music on The O.C. The show introduced me to bands that would become iconic to the era, like Death Cab For Cutie, Modest Mouse, and Rooney. Transatlanticism, Death Cab’s fourth album, came out in 2003, but it wasn’t until the band became a household name at the Cohen’s that I became truly interested in them.
Death Cab’s calm yearning in songs like “A Lack of Color” and “We Looked Like Giants” reminded me of Seth’s self-absorbed brooding over Summer, but they also place me in a time when I was 16 and couldn’t wait to be in love, just so I could know what it felt like. Moving through my teenage years felt like I’d been wearing a blindfold all my life and it had only just been ripped off. Music became a vessel for my emotions, bringing me closer to knowing myself.
It’s a magical thing when someone introduces you to new music that impacts you; sharing music is one of the most intimate and vulnerable human experiences. On the show, Seth understands that music is a way for us to define who we are. He creates a “Seth Cohen Starter Pack” for Summer and Anna and gifts them his favourite CDs (Death Cab, Bright Eyes, The Shins) so that the two women vying to be his girlfriend are equipped with the vital information they’ll need to be in a relationship with him. It’s adorably nerdy, but also totally believable.
I once dated a boy who listened to music I’d never heard before. We decided to burn each other CDs of our favourites, much like the Seth Cohen Starter Pack. However, we loved the thrill of exchanging music so much we kept it up every week for 3 months, slowly turning it into a tradition. Connecting with someone over music is like getting a brief glimpse into another person’s heart and seeing something that looks like your own.
I remember seeing this firsthand on The O.C., when Ryan hides out in one of Kirsten’s abandoned housing developments, afraid that the Cohen’s will hand him over to a foster family. As he’s settling in, Marissa gifts him a CD she burned. “A little bit of everything,” she says with a winning smile, mimicking his reply when earlier she asked him what kind of music he liked. It’s a telling gesture that Marissa doesn’t give Ryan a bottle of wine — her welcome present comes from the soul.
In high school, when I was a confused bag of intense and conflicting emotions, having the same musical taste as other people helped me form meaningful connections. Looking back, I was on the brink of joining a new community, one that I was equal parts giddy and uncertain of. It was comforting to know that even though I was just starting to figure out who I was, there was one thing I was certain of — music.
High school wasn’t going to be perfect. I’d have a crush on a boy who looked just like Seth (except his name was Ryan… confusing I know) only to watch my close friend win him over and start dating him. But whenever I felt lonely, there was always music for me to connect with and validate my feelings. It was through sharing music and discovering our mutual taste that I became best friends with the person who would become the most important friend I’ve ever had, who was the first person I felt really connected to, who understood me to the core. And if I had been in that car with Seth, I would have told Summer to get out too.