85. Song No. 937: “The Best Happiness Money Can Buy” by I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business
I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business, 2004
Hooooooly shit, did my feelings about this song age like good cheese and better wine. This was one of my favorites from the album from the beginning but its walloping one minute and 47 seconds of too-real feelings lands a whole different way as a much crankier 30something than it did with all but a few months of my 20s still unknown and stretched out ahead of me.
Ace Enders, the frontman of Jersey-scene darlings The Early November, debuted his succinctly named I Can Make a Mess Like Nobody’s Business solo project with a self-titled album that I mostly enjoyed but never felt a particular closeness to and so didn’t listen to a whole lot. But “The Best Happiness Money Can Buy” was the catchiest song on the album and instantly endeared itself to me on the superficial appeal of an agreeable earworm alone (and also the hand claps).
Which was actually pretty par for the course, in retrospect: For as consumed as Younger Me was with eternally poking at my own emotions, it took me a while to start looking past the immediacy of the feeling to get to the why of it. This album came out almost right smack in the middle of college and during one of the most emotionally tumultuous periods of my life to that point — and one with the most lasting impact, since it ultimately ushered in the most sweeping change in the company I kept without an accompanying milestone or relocation to instigate it — and I’m starting to think it was a victim of all-around bad timing.
Hearing this for the first time amid the heaviness of both literal and metaphorical death was probably too much. The entire album was so mired in regret and missed opportunity and misspent time, and I didn’t want to hear about any of it while some of my dearest friends were mourning like no college students should have to and I was separately nursing my own self-inflicted but no less crippling heartbreak. No emotionally immature, newly minted 20-year-old can put aside their personal pain to confront the inherent dangers of capitalism sucking another soul dry: When you’re young, you don’t care about routine compromise leading to compounded regrets; when you’re young and hurting in ways you don’t fully understand, you don’t have the bandwidth to even begin processing anything that intangibly far into the future. The regrets of the tepidly living felt so frivolous compared to an outpouring of grief over a life denied the luxury of remorseful hindsight; I’m sure some dimly self-aware part of me also wasn’t ready to accept how unceremoniously ending a relationship that deserved a better sendoff than I gave it would have consequences and piles of guilt to deal with later, and getting past one awful reality just to shore up some emotional real estate to process another just made me feel old and tired and in way over my head.
Which are all feelings I’ve had plenty of time to get to know since then. I had no idea that 36 could feel simultaneously claustrophobic and overwhelming and rushed and like still having enough time to experience the entire cycle of loving something and then getting it out of my system. I feel like I’ve packed a good amount of life into the time I’ve had so far but the older I get, the more elusive and impossible becoming a respectable adult feels. I have no idea what I’m doing but I know I’ve made a lot of bad decisions that made even better stories, which is a fair enough compromise.
I have no idea if I’m happy or not. I have no idea if that’s even a viable benchmark of success, since happiness is just as fleeting as its definition is mutable. I am pretty sure I’m at peace with my place in the world, which feels like a strong assertion to make when so much of my existence is dedicated to worrying. But it doesn’t feel untrue. And I feel like some of that peace comes from not giving in to the parts of adulthood that destroy the sense of wonder so often associated with one’s inner child. I gave just enough to wrest a career from a hobby, which I feel isn’t the kind of choice a “better” adult makes but was what it takes for me to convincingly fool everyone else into thinking I can be trusted with my own future when maybe someone should have childproofed it for me instead. Who picks their career based on it being the only thing they can be happy doing for the rest of their life when potential for advancement and financial stability tend to be the preferred metrics most people approach these decisions with?
But, I gotta say, nearly 15 years of working with words has given me way less grief and moral static than exploiting other human beings, sacrificing time with loved ones, building a tenuous empire on the shaky grounds of a needy ego, business-professional shackles and the bloodlust of chasing dollar signs that never really fill the void ever would have. Some of us are meant to be suspicious of the system rather than become instruments of it, and I’d much rather keep my soul and ideals and awe intact than measure my life in things and boastful bravado. And songs like this one make me feel like maybe that’s not such an irresponsible priority after all.