- this is not edited for grammar and all that stuff this is like my password journal i let you read
I saw Free Throw at SubT in Chicago the week I was moving from there to here, Cleveland. It was an important experience for me because this record has helped me soundtrack a journey of embracing growing pains and learning to do what makes me happy and healthy regardless of whether or not it is what is expected of me or even disappoints others. Signing “I finally learned to love myself” in that room of people and being able to mean that even more than I did just months prior when I sung it at Bled Fest almost brought me to tears and I thought I want to write about this record – not a review, not about how incredible the guitar work is or what I would rate it – just how it makes me feel and why I think it matters a lot.
“In an initial listen, What’s Past Is Prologue sounds absolutely like walking back into the same familiar and comforting home that Free Throw has built over the years. But the furniture is rearranged, there’s a garden growing out front, beer cans in the recycling bin, and most importantly the door is open so you can come sit down on the couch to talk for awhile. It’s an album that invites reflection, permits frustrations, but ultimately wants to get better. For me personally, it’s an album that I understand in the context of being a person who is in therapy to hopefully help tackle issues of mental health in a very real way and it feels like a damn fight a lot of days. A fight that needs anthems such as “The Corner’s Dilemma,” which admits “I just want to be a normal person / Or anything but me,” in a way that’s more conducive to relief than grief. The record talks about both hurting and healing with a passion that is expertly conveyed by instrumentals rooted in the same emotions as the lyrics themselves. Together they tell a story you can feel—one that ends with some closure “I’m finally breathing again.” I wrote this for
60 Best Records of 2019 So Far on the incredible site The Alternative back in July.
It’s always frustrated me that optimism can tend to come off cheesy or artificial and sugar coated when it’s such a necessary component of recovery / growth -but it can be hard to taste something so metaphorically sweet after months and months of everything leaving you bitter. I have definitely scoffed at more than one #MotivationMonday post only to feel instantly guilty. Maybe I need the whole story. Maybe I definitely used to find it easier to be cynical than admit my brain did need rewiring. Like the realization on opening track Smokes, Let’s Go: “I think I have some kind of penchant for things detrimental to my health” – there can be some odd comfort in even bad habits. The first few times I walked out of my therapist’s office in Chicago, down the stairs into the outdoor part of a cafe – I remember thinking what no one tells you about “recovery” is the sadness you have for the part of yourself you longer even associate with but are forced to acknowledge in order to understand how the hell you got to where you are. It’s like phantom pains – you just get used to it being there. Do you have a funeral for that version of yourself? Leave it flowers? Re-introduce yourself to people you have known for years? Look in the mirror and say “sorry” over and over until you accept the apology? Break all the CDs you sat in comfortable darkness with because they gave you permission to just accept that?
What’s Past Is Prologue is permission to change and freedom to admit you’re not proud of the way you coped but without the paralyzing guilt that can keep you stuck in the same spot. It’s an approachable stream of consciousness that we often only get exposed to in the midst of ones battle which is still cathartic and worth navigating through art but can be difficult when looking for more to then apply to your own narrative. It is all subjective but for me personally I have realized it is helpful to have art that has integrity but is in some way responsible or self-aware of its subject matter. Why? Because it is easy to get stuck. Sometimes I need to feel like I am winning, to get that same feeling of invincibility after you leave a really incredible movie that made you believe in something or yourself. When I was a kid I wanted to leave Spy Kids and go home to do flips off the swingset, now I want to listen to a record and know I can cope with life in a healthy way or at least try. That’s why I love the full circle moment at the end of the record with the victory cry “Today I finally learned to say, I love myself /Finally got out of my goddamn rut /And learned that when I truly need some help/ Not to keep my mouth so shut/ Not everything should stay the same /It’s okay to have some change”.
I have learned to love growing pains, but the initial reaction to pain is usually to avoid it which can make self-growth so difficult to embrace. It’s kinda nice to have a record kick your ass and be like “hey get up, take a shower, clean your room, go outside, you’re better than this”. In the realm of “emo” music you are often exposed to songs of doubt, loss, loneliness, etc etc which is valid and it is crucial to have the space to express those feelings and be vulnerable – but when that is all I take in it is all I tend to feel as well. For some people that might work or might not bother them and that is fine, I just personally have had to become more conscious of what I listen to as an act of self-care. All of that to say this album has been important to me and while plenty of people have noted the sonic maturity of Free Throw, I can’t help but celebrate the storytelling especially knowing that the person / people behind it are living this narrative of personal victory and self-growth. “What’s past is prologue” is a quotation by William Shakespeare from his play The Tempest. To me it means everything in the past has just brought you to the point you are now, it just sets the stage and doesn’t have to be your final destination. Not to say that what came before does not matter or did not happen, but just what is happening and what is to come is far more important and better to focus on. It’s a mindset that makes change seem more exciting than terrifying and reminds you that your past does not define you and you can decide the past is past whenever you see fit. But it’s okay to acknowledge it – like on The Fix Is In, “And everyone’s ashamed of the person that I have become And I’m the one to blame I let it get to this point”. You see someone embracing where they are and that’s something to be proud of because it’s the perfect place to start. No shame, no guilt – just acknowledgement as a starting point.
There is this sort of turning point on the record with the line “ And that’s when it hit me, this house doesn’t have to be haunted anymore” on the second to last song, Cerulean City, which always hits me. Maybe home is your brain, maybe it is a physical space, maybe it is someone – but you can choose to change the way you think about or totally walk away from that thing at anytime and you don’t need anyone’s permission. I went through a rough patch for a while and I got used to people knowing me as someone who was alone and did not need anybody – it became a messed up part of my identity so much that I denied myself different experiences because it wouldn’t “make sense”. How the hell could I be happy or let someone in or drive to that show or post that poem? We get so wrapped up in other people’s perceptions of us we can even cater to them or match that energy or be what is expected when we do not owe anyone consistency. Giving yourself permission to change is hard and it hurts to heal – it hurts to heal and that seems crazy but it’s true and this record shows that. It hurts to heal but it’s worth it. It hurts to grow but it’s worth it.
“there are older versions of you that only exist because other people give them oxygen, and you are not obliged to keep those versions alive to make other people happy.”
― Billy Chapata, Chameleon Aura
What’s Past Is Prologue. What’s now is what matters. Maybe that’s cliche, maybe it is crocheted in a pillow somewhere – I don’t care. It’s the reason I can sit here and write this with more peace of mind than I have had in years. It is easier to love myself knowing I don’t have to hold myself to who I was, I can just embrace who I am now, who is around me now, what is around me now. That’s what matters. So turn this record up start to finish – hear the story, allow it to parallel whatever you need, let it make you cry if you want. Maybe go for a drive or some place where time stands still like a bus stop or a playground at night or the top of a parking garage around sunrise – I just think you should listen to this record and listen to what it has to say then listen to your response to it more and do whatever you want with that. These are the records that I need – the ones that challenge me and comfort me in the same moment. The ones I get to learn with and love with and find myself in. These are the records I will look back on 5 years from now grateful that I had something to grow through it all with.