Music as survival: Laura Stevenson and Adult Mom

Laura Stevenson Time Bandits
Artwork for “Time Bandits” by Laura Stevenson

Lily Marks reflects on timely songs from Laura Stevenson and Adult Mom that soothe the stresses of isolation and personal trauma.

It’s a strange time for artists—their finances are at risk, yet everyone who is scared or even bored as we wait out the uncertainty acknowledges that music, television, and literature are more important than ever. On Sunday, singer-songwriter Laura Stevenson nodded to this strangeness with a new single, “Time Bandits.” In an Instagram post she spoke about writing this song four years ago, when feeling hopeless after the 2016 election. She writes, “This song is about how the world might seem like it’s falling apart but we still have love and all we can do right now is take care of ourselves and each other.”

 

Listening to “Time Bandits” is a balm. Over acoustic guitar, Stevenson’s sweet and full voice asks us to “Wake up and savor that disoriented feeling that you’re feeling” and to “Make an honest effort to breathe better than you do/ so we can endeavor to get leathery together me and you.” While many of us are isolated from loved ones, this song reaches across time and distances to remind listeners to move forward in the face of fear and hold on to the comfort we find in each other.

 

Laura Stevenson is the last artist I saw live, and the last I’ll see live for a while now. I was drawn to go to this concert by the opener, the band Adult Mom, led by Stevie Knipe, that releases songs that are both witty and emotionally vulnerable. Many fans treat their song “Survival” as a queer anthem, and I can certainly attest to the joy (in both my highest and lowest moments) of shouting along to the refrain “I survive because I have died!” And the ending lines “Maybe in a year, I’ll learn to love the fear / Maybe in a year, I will not feel like a bad queer” are particularly resonant to the moments when hope for a better future mingles with the darkness of present trauma.

A Laura Stevenson song that serves as an anthem for a different type of trauma is “Dermatillomania.” This upbeat single takes a triumphant tone over the experience of mental illness and abuse. Stevenson has spoken about her struggles with the titular skin-picking disorder, and the catharsis of putting her experience into words.

Just prior to their December concert, Stevenson and Knipe released a dual single where each covered a song from the other. Stevenson’s version of “Survival” is notably softer, with a slower arrangement perhaps more suited to the song’s subject matter (as the original version feels like a defiant sing along). Meanwhile, Adult Mom covered Stevenson’s song “Dermatillomania.” This version is slow and acoustic, rawer than the polished original. The result could be one of Adult Mom’s original songs. The split EP is a wonderful way to link and refashion two songs about moving forward from trauma.

 

As I write this, I think back to the December concert, and how I attended it by myself, finding comfort as usual in being alone in a crowd of strangers who were all there to see the same artists. I had seen Adult Mom live in 2017, back when hearing Knipe sing “it’s okay to feel the world/its ok to kiss girls” felt like a sigh of relief, and permission for me to exist. Meanwhile at the December concert, I felt most connected to the new Adult Mom song “Berlin,” about a friend moving away, and to one of Stevenson’s older songs “Caretaker,” about saying goodbye to your childhood home. Concerts have always felt like a sanctuary for me, and I sympathize with others who are feeling the loss of that space now. But instead of this physical space, music can continue to create an emotional space for connection.

Lily Marks is a writer from upstate New York.

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