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Growing Up Rock ‘n’ Roll

Growing Up Rock ‘n’ Roll

By: Jessica Bell

Her parents were in a band. But the fun stopped there. Recollections of a rock n roll childhood…

I was a teenage self-loather and binge-drinker in 1990s, Melbourne Australia.

Losing my virginity to rape, experimenting with bisexuality in a school rife with bullies, and having rock star parents — one of whom was obliviously suffering from severe iatrogenic illness and constantly popping pills and getting drunk to numb the pain — didn’t do me any favours.

So I’d turn to artists like Courtney Love [rock star wife of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.] I thought she’d understand the loneliness, the shame of my yet-to-be discovered identity that triggered constant thoughts of suicide. The problem was that this understanding was coupled with the juxtaposing idea that such feelings would earn me worship.

Teenage girls like me struggled with an overwhelming battle between hopelessness and piousness, the idea that looking “cheap” would make others like us, that looking like a bruised and battered bum was cool, that we could drunkenly trip over our own feet until we bled from head to toe and still be perceived as beautiful and sexy. Courtney Love’s music made this acceptable and desired.

I’d stare at myself in the mirror. My too-short hot pants slipped over four layers of coloured ripped stockings. My gelled and tattered-looking pixie hair was covered in glitter and infested with chunks of black rag and aluminium foil to hold random clumps of it together. My black lipstick was a stark contrast against my almost-white face, and made me look at the edge of death. The smudges of mascara on my cleavage suggested a recent bitch fight. Inside I’d be laughing about the principal separating my tongue from my girlfriend’s mouth in the crowded school corridor. I was becoming my own woman, a grown-up. Oh yeah. Pushing the loneliness deeper and deeper.

In early to mid 1997, when my parents’ band, Hard Candy, were getting ready to film the video clip for their single Junior, my mum asked if she could borrow one of my dresses. It was a daring dress that would always turn heads: a bright orange, yellow, and white-striped mini with text on the front that said “Kick It Out.” (I wished Mum had seen me in that dress and got the message.)

I said yes. But I hated her for it. Wearing my dress was wearing my identity. The identity I’d been building to separate myself from her. Because all I could see in her was the “selfish little bitch” she’d always call me. I remember thinking, hasn’t she taken enough from me?

I punished her for this. By continually being cold, mean, and unresponsive when she needed help. Her panic attacks were getting so loud and fierce I feared she’d accidentally kill herself. Or purposely kill herself.

I sat and watched. Every time. Every time I watched. I watched. I watched my mother suffer through agonising physical and mental pain. And I hated her for it. I hated my own mother. And I hated myself for hating my mother. It would be better if she just died. I LOVE HER. I don’t. I do. I hate her. I don’t. I was not a good daughter. The least I could do was lend her my dress without bitterness. But Courtney Love made it all okay to be self-pitying and blind to others’ hardship. 

As an adult, when I listen to the lyrics of Junior, I wonder whether the song was written as a letter to me. It brings me to tears because it shows how alone and insignificant my mother must have felt and how horribly I’d misunderstood her. She too was suicidal and drowning in loneliness, she too hated herself, she too didn’t understand how and why the world could be so cruel to her. “Let me try to catch these foolish words / As you spit them at this ugly world.” 

How could I not see in her, what these lyrics suggest she saw in me? Now, closer to the age my mother was when she made Junior, I can understand. We both suffered through a mix of rage, sadness, and helplessness, and hid it in our music. In Junior, it’s buried behind the chilled bluesy groove of the bass and drums, tricking listeners to get up and move. But whenever I listen ... whenever I truly listen, I understand that the song is about us: two pulverised hearts and minds struggling to live with demons, doing everything possible to veil our feelings from the people we love. It wasn’t artists like Courtney Love I should have turned to for understanding. It was my mother. Because we were kindred spirits.

Adapted from the memoir Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to Be a Rebel by Jessica Bell.

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