What it really means to be young

June 27, 2021

Each time I listen to The Linda Lindas — in particular their song, “Missing You” — I’m struck by their youth. Partly, it’s the lyric about doing homework; mostly, it’s the youthful energy in the performance that is somehow different from the energy that much older musicians present, even if otherwise they share more similarities than differences.

Being 30 years old means you can’t sincerely channel the same emotions as a 15-year-old in a rock performance. It just plays different.

I thought of The Linda Lindas a lot when I came across a recording of Green Day’s full set from Woodstock ‘94. It’s easy to forget how young they were at that time. They were each 22 years old, playing songs Billie Joe Armstrong had written as an 18-year-old, and no matter your opinion of their brand of pop punk, they were undeniably a tight live act who put on a damn show.

I didn’t get to see them live until some years later, in the Nimrod era, and even though they were great, they were 26 or 27 years old by then. Temporally and spiritually, they were closer to the guys who would make American Idiot than the ones who made Kerplunk, and while it was a singalong with 5,000 of their best friends in a Mountain View parking lot, it wasn’t as if we were watching a lightning bolt caroming around the stage like you see in the Woodstock video.

It’s not just performing artists who have that kind of energy that we should appreciate before it disappears. Fernando Tatis, Jr., Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Ronald Acuña, Jr., and Juan Soto all have it. Bryce Harper used to have it, when he was the kind of guy who would steal home on pickoff plays. LaMelo Ball has it. Zion Williamson has it. Trae Young, too.

Maybe the best way to define the youthful energy I’m talking about is it’s a type of guileless derring-do unencumbered by the past or the future. Steph Curry doesn’t have this anymore. For sure, he’s a swaggy dude who shimmies after making ridiculous threes, but he only started doing that once his team started steamrolling the NBA. Russell Westbrook is a tornado on the court, but he’s also a tornado bearing detritus from thousands of prior storms. Patrick Mahomes has it, but Dak Prescott doesn’t. Somehow, Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic still have it, but Devin Booker doesn’t.

In the athletes’ case, this is not a judgment of their talent or on court/field value to their teams. Perhaps the Hawks feed off Trae Young’s energy in a positive way, but if my only goal is to win I’m hard-pressed to think of a situation where I’d prefer to have him on my team instead of Booker. I’m not even saying Young is definitely more fun to watch than Booker, but the way Booker plays and otherwise conducts himself publicly suggests a meta-consciousness of the present that doesn’t burden Young.

There was a point where you stopped being young, a moment when you became conscious that your past, present, and future flow together and you changed your behavior accordingly. There’s something special about artists and athletes who perform as if they’ve not yet suffered that realization.

(Photo: "Ronald Acuna Jr." by Ian D'Andrea. Used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.)