I have an axe to grind today, and in the interest of accessibility, I feel a responsibility to familiarize you with that axe right up front. The weapon and/or forestry implement in question?
Right here, buddy:
Have a listen. Or don’t! It’s my belief that this song is profoundly dangerous. Not because it’s unpleasant. Au contraire, it’s downright lovely. In fact, that loveliness may be the heart of the problem. “First Day of My Life” is such a persuasive argument against cynicism and for the healing potential of romantic love that it leaves you totally defenseless to rationality. Listening to this song is like lingering in the chambers of the sea, and Conor “Bright Eyes” Oberst is a siren wreathed with seaweed red and brown, and human voices will wake you, and you will drown.
Every single crush I have had in my life, from the age of about thirteen onwards, has been scored by “First Day of My Life.” There’s a Mitski tweet about how “encountering a Libra at the height of infatuation is like talking to whipped cream on angel food cake,” and I am that very Libra, and “First Day” is the Maraschino cherry on top of my infatuation sundae. You listen to this song and you’re like, Wow. You’re like, Nothing bad will ever happen to me again. You’re like, I can’t believe I swore off romantic love and decided to focus on my professional and educational goals when my literal, actual soulmate was right in front of me this entire goddamn time. You’re like, You, me, fifteen kids, a summer home in the Poconos. Now.
It’s a dangerous game you’re playing, clearly. Because chances are, if you’re listening to “First Day,” you’re already hopelessly in the throes of new relationship energy – that state of altered consciousness that occurs when you’re crushing hard on someone and everything is shiny, sparkly, rainbows and unicorns abounding. “All the synapses are firing,” writes Heather Corinna, “and it can happen that a relationship barely in its infancy feels like it might last forever and ever.”
So your judgment is already impaired, and your perception of objective reality is already skewed. The very last thing you need is Conor Oberst sitting on your shoulder crooning, “Maybe this time is different/I mean, I really think you lii-iike mee-ee-ee.” How is your voice of reason supposed to compete with that? Even the most stalwart pro-and-con list can’t stand up against a battering ram like, “These things take forever/I especially am slow/But I realized that I need you/And I wondered if I could come home.”
I mean, it starts with you sitting on a rock at sleepaway camp and queueing this song up on your iPod and staring out across the low field, the rows of log cabins, to where the potential love of your life is playing ultimate frisbee with the rest of your eighth-grade compatriots. And before you can even blink, it’s ten years and dozens of crushes later, and you’re gazing at the latest <3-ridden text from the person you thirst-followed on Tumblr, and you’re like, could this be it? Could this be something? And Conor Oberst creeps up behind you and taps you on the shoulder and is like, “I went out in the rain/Suddenly everything changed,” and then you’re <3-<3-<3’ing right back, with total abandon. It never ends. If I don’t get a handle on this, I will be eighty years old puttering around the nursing home on a rusty walker singing Bright Eyes under my breath and eyefucking Dolores from the Tuesday afternoon bridge club.
At one point, it got so bad that I decided “First Day of My Life” was literally, actually cursed. I’m not a superstitious or a spiritual person, but I deleted that shit from my iPod. Scrubbed it off my hard drive. I bought a ticket to see Conor Oberst at Massey Hall and then, in the moments before the curtain went up, I got hit with a tidal wave of anxiety and started searching desperately for the exits, planning my escape just in case he busted out the acoustic and started going, “This is the f-.”
Like I said: bad.
I’ve begun to let it back into my life, though. By degrees. Slowly. I listen to “First Day” like exposure therapy: put it on, stare at the wall, and try to just empty my brain for the following three minutes and eight seconds. Think about nothing but that slab of drywall in front of me. Don’t think about any people I like. Don’t think about any people I might like. Don’t even think about fictional people who might like each other. Because if I listen to this song while thinking about the way Dennis looked at Mac at the end of the Valentine’s episode? And then they don’t get together? It is all my fault, and Conor Oberst is laughing at his own cruel jape and collecting $0.004891 in royalties off my ill-fated Spotify stream.
But, hey. There’s a broader lesson here, and it’s actually embedded in the lyrics of “First Day of My Life,” right at the end:
So if you want to be with me
With these things, there’s no telling
We’ll just have to wait and see
But I’d rather be working for a paycheque
Than waiting to win the lottery.
Like, you probably don’t want to surrender completely to the deceptively airy whipped-cream-on-angel-food-cake easiness of new relationship energy. But by the same token, you probably don’t need to shun human intimacy and brick yourself up like an anchorite in the wall of a cathedral and evict Conor Oberst from your hard drive.
Because one of these times, it really will be the first day of your life. You’re just not going to know it until you’ve done a lot of work and a little waiting.