‘All my friends are dead’: Teenage Musicians and the Loss of Friends

Updated: Jul 21, 2019

A still from Lil Uzi Vert's XO Tour Life video, which popularised the lines 'All my friends are dead'. (Image Credits- Apple Music)

Have you watched the movie Whiplash? If you haven’t, it's all right. We aren’t sharing any major spoilers here. To put it in a nutshell, the film deals with a music teacher called Terence Fletcher whose methods are harsh and pushes students beyond boundaries of reason and sensibility. Yes, it’s as intense as it sounds.

Yes, Fletcher is rude, aggressive and profane but one of his drumming students Andrew takes on this challenge as he knows someone like Fletcher can only push him towards perfection. But in this road to perfection, Andrew pays the price of sweat, tears and even blood; he cuts himself off his friends and girlfriend.

Not everyone’s artistic journey might be like Andrew’s but it’s clear that perfection doesn’t come easy. Parents, therapists, life lessons, everything seems to point towards that fact. For some young musicians, the sacrifice might be not having the average teenager’s life.

“I don’t have many friends’, Mohini Dey put it plainly back when she was in her teens. Dey is a gifted bass guitarist who has toured with AR Rahman and performed with Louis Banks on many an occasion. Collaborating with such visionary adults meant less time for socializing with people of her age.

She feels the reason behind her not adjusting with peers was a difference in thought processes; she felt too ‘mature’ around them and felt like she can strike a better conversation with an artistic grown-up. Perfecting musical skills takes a lot of practice, a lot of time, and a lot of dedication. So, this phase of social awkwardness for some music-oriented teens only seems natural.

'I don't have many friends', bassist Mohini Dey on her teenage (Imge Credits- Scroll)

Anoushka Shankar, one of the greatest contemporary sitarists and daughter of the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar had similar adolescence. By 14, she missed out on school and social life, as she was constantly touring with her father. She kept on doing this till 17 but by now, it was too late. By now, she had become mature enough to branch out with her own brand and music.

Even with the missing out on teen life and the fear of missing out (fomo as post-millennials call it), artists like Anoushka and Mohini have gone on to reach great heights with their music. That popular kid in your class might be a sports jock, might be the top scorer in studies, and everyone’s different but will that student ever tour cities with award-winning artists and get to write or produce something that is truly theirs? The road might be tiring but once an artist reaches the destination, it’s all worth it.

In fact, more and more artists in the 21st century are starting out early, in their late teens or 20s. From rappers like Delhi duo, Seedhe Maut to any one of those ‘emo Soundcloud rappers’ to Bollywood composer Armaan Malik or someone even smaller like the piano prodigy Lydian Nathaswaram, a whole new generation of young musicians is being ushered in.

Yes, in the past, legends like Mozart or Michael Jackson have started out early but now more and more young artists can chase their musical dreams, thanks to the rise of social media. Many artists spend their teens locked up in their bedrooms recording music within those four walls itself and uploading them on Soundcloud. And some of these Soundcloud singers and rappers have gone on to become proper recording artists later.

In fact, mainstream pop artists of the new age like Billie Eilish (who’s a big hit among today’s teens) and Jeremy Zucker started out making music that was classified in a genre of its own, called ‘bedroom pop’. Youngsters are coming in the forefront talking about mental health too, some of whom talk about being cut off in their youth.

All the kids are depressed, nothing ever makes sense’ sings Jeremy Zucker while someone like Tyler Joseph from Twenty One Pilots gets more personal with lyrics like ‘I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink but now I'm insecure and I care what people think’.

While 30-year-old Tyler doesn’t fit the demographic we’re talking about, he too had issues socializing in his younger days and music was his coping mechanism. And surely his musical pursuits paid off if you look at his Spotify streams or Instagram followers.

Growing up with music as your first priority is therefore difficult but maybe, it’s the pressures of being a recording artist which take a serious toll. A Survey by the University of Westminster tells us that ‘working in the music industry might indeed be making musicians sick’. Depression and anxiety have become common words now among young artists and it does seem to make sense.

Tyler Joseph of rock duo Twenty One Pilots (Image Credits- CBS)

24-year-old rapper Lil Uzi Vert shot to fame as his teens ended and he got signed to a record label. But constant touring and the razzle-dazzle of the recording industry affected his health. He had trouble making friends and keeping his sanity. Just take the case of the hook in his chart-topping single XO Tour Life. He raps, ‘Push me to the edge, all my friends are dead’.

Uzi explained that he doesn’t mean his friends are literally dead but he feels like his only friends are dead figures like Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin, the faces on the dollar notes he earns.

‘I wanna take the time out to say I thank each and every one of my supporters, but I’m done with music,’ Lil Uzi Vert said in a video from early this year. “I deleted everything. I wanna be normal…I wanna wake up in 2013.’

Music since the last century, has given many teens a voice and made them feel less lonely but what would happen if young music-creators are lonely themselves? That’s a difficult issue that can’t be summarized as each case can be different.

Here’s hoping that the young musicians of today have a more balanced tomorrow, a tomorrow where there's fame and money, but love and friendship too…

Shaurya Singh Thapa