Your life is over.
In the interest of reader comfort, I wanted to inform you that in this essay I’ll be discussing my experience with panic disorder in detail.
When discussing Charles Peterson, the legendary photographer whose photos became the front covers of many an early grunge album, former Mudhoney manager Bob Whittaker once said “Bruce (Pavitt, founder of Sub Pop) loved those Charles Peterson photos because it made it look like more of an event.” Often faced with crowds of little more than a dozen, Peterson got right in the middle of the action, making his gritty, colorless snapshots of Seattle luminaries like Chris Cornell and Mark Arm feel as if they were occurring in front of a hungry crowd of thousands.
Whether intentionally or not, the music video to Titus Andronicus’ self-titled single, and definitive anthem, uses this same effect. It’s embarrassingly apparent to me now, all these years later, that the crowd in front of Stickles and co. numbers no more than a few dozen. But when I viewed the video for the first time, at 14, they could’ve filled a stadium.
At the time, I was still recovering from a period in which I suffered from panic disorder, having crippling panic attacks on a nearly daily basis, leaving me in constant, chronic fear of my own mind. During that period, I related to little other than the discography of Joy Division, whose lead singer had struggled so much with his own mental health, and met a tragically early end because of these painful battles.
Though I was recovering, I feared that my attacks could resume at any moment, without warning. I feared ending up like Ian Curtis myself. I didn’t have any suicidal urges, but my lack of understanding of why my brain would consistently turn my body into full on fight-or-flight mode (I didn’t discover exactly what I was suffering from until years later), and my lack of understanding of how the brain occasionally acts completely on its own left me in a state of paralysis. I felt crushed, as if, even if I wanted to continue living, I had next to no control over whether or not that would happen.
So here was a music video from a band whose origins could be traced from a town hundreds of yards away from my house, a music video in which the huddled, undefined masses in the crowd all, during the song’s climax, euphorically chanted four words with the band: “your life is over.” His arms raised far over his head, begging the audience to clap along like at some shitty stadium rock show, Stickles led this giant, communal celebration of vulnerability, the likes of which I had never seen before.
My attacks would, in fact, return with a vengeance mere weeks after I was first exposed to Titus Andronicus through this video. But through it all, “Titus Andronicus” slowly revealed itself to be everything I never knew I wanted in a punk song. It wasn’t just rage and speed; it was the sort of community I had only read about in books, the sort of acceptance I had only dreamed of. If Stickles could celebrate in the face of his own demons, maybe I could too.