The Front Bottoms: Hedonism, but with Ambition

“There is a map on my room, on the wall of my room, and I’ve got big, big plans.

But I can see them slippin’ through, feel them slippin’ through, oh,

the palms of my sweaty hands.”

I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor of my mother’s room when he asked me to go to the concert. I move there in the winter because my room is on the cold side of the house. He called me, and I frowned at the name on my phone, this kid from middle school who I hadn’t talked to, much less seen for five years. I answered, and he said, “Elim?” And there was a weird bridge of forced recognition that comes with not talking to someone for so long but knowing an uncanny amount of life info from social media. “Do you wanna go to The Front Bottoms concert with me?”

 I guess I tweeted their lyrics too often. “It’s our favorite band,” he told me.

I framed it carefully to my parents. Could I spend a weekend driving two hours to a concert with a boy who I hadn’t talked to in five years and who they had never met? Sure, I was eighteen, but I was also Asian with Asian parents. I had to ask delicately if I wanted to score a yes. And I needed a yes.

“Dad,” I had asked him, “You know my favorite band ever? Can I go to their concert?”

“The Beatles?”

“Right. Um, they’re dead. But you know The Front Bottoms?”

It took some cajoling, but I didn’t even have to lie. I rode in the car with this boy all the way up to Atlanta and minorly feared for my life the whole time. He drove with his leg tucked into the pocket on the side door, swerving dedicatedly, eyes on his phone more than the road. Not because he was texting, but because he was intently giving me a crash course in all the edgy bands he and every softboy had ever idolized. The playlist he later shared with me was named “alternative rock playlist for angsty teenagers,” and the cover art was that viral picture of Joe Keery holding champagne and a Pomeranian.

“I have this dream that I am hitting my dad with a baseball bat and he is screaming, crying for help.

And maybe halfway through it has more to do with killing him

than it ever did protecting myself.”

The lead singer had looked out blankly into the crowd and pretended to address one particular person. This boy next to me nodded earnestly. “Will you do me a favor? Will you be my dad? This one’s for you, Dad.”

The night was pure adrenaline. I had never been to a concert. There’s something about letting a crowd carry you, about having absolutely no physical power over yourself. You’re part of a mob, screaming every word with the rest of them, on the high that everyone else is carrying you with. I didn’t realize how much their lyrics meant to me until that night. I kept waiting for them to play a song I couldn’t recite. That didn’t happen.


“Being in love

and women’s rights

and male hedonism.”

I’m sure I’ve tweeted this before. Because, damn. It just sums it all up, doesn’t it? Tweeting song lyrics is an intensely seventeen-year-old thing, and I was so seventeen it hurt.


“It’s such a big city, I feel so stupid thinking

I might see you if I wander around.”

I grew up in a small town. I didn’t feel stupid thinking I’d see the people I wanted to see if I just hung out downtown. I just hated myself for it, if it was on my mind, that lingering need to see the right person walk into the coffee shop.


“Cuz I was young, I thought I didn’t have to care about anything,

but I’m older now and know that I should.”

There’s something about the way that they sing. Maybe they can’t sing. They just yell a lot over some kind of guitar and drum cue up. Sara Bareilles makes me sadder than listening to angsty loners yell. Something about solidarity.

I think I was in kindergarten or first grade when I had my first existential crisis. There was no one I could talk to about these thoughts, though, so I made my father email the only intellectual figure I knew in my life, my teacher. She pulled me aside during class. Everyone else was coloring and cutting out craft pieces. We sat by ourselves by the classroom computers, and she asked me what I wanted to talk about. I told her I had so many questions. “About what?” “About life.”


“When my mind is uncertain,

my body decides.”

I pulled up to my friend’s house the night before my birthday. She ran up to my little gray Volkswagen Beetle, and screamed, “I knew it was you! I could hear the music!” Never mind that my windows were all the way up. That night, my friends woke me up at midnight to tell me happy birthday. I smiled before toppling right back onto my mattress where I had passed out long before.

My yearbook quote was a lyric from them.

“He said, ‘hey, you’re good at that,’ and she said, ‘thanks, it’s kind of all I’ve got.’”

Which is ironic, considering in the scheme of high school, I guess that meant school. It meant grades, it meant keeping my head down and staying in line. But in the context of the song, it goes:

“She says a lot of the kids we graduated with are now homeless which puts them in mad shady situations with mad shady people if not every day then on an every other day basis. And she is probably with a few of them right now, and they are probably just drinking and talking about how she misses getting fucked up and hanging around. And he says, ‘hey, you’re good at that,’ and she says, ‘Thanks. It’s kind of all I’ve got.’ And then she looks away and says, ‘It’s also all I need.’”

So, in reality, that meant the exact opposite of what they all thought.


“Right now, I’m just a psycho

 hellbent on self-destruction.”

My driving style can seem psychotic. The acceleration responds readily, so there’s a lot of stop and start jerking. There’s a lot of close corners and hit curbs. Going sixty down wobbly brick roads, switching lanes fast to weave through traffic. But you’re not going to die. Rather, with the music loud enough, you’ll feel like you’re on a ride.

Sometimes I want to keep going. Especially late at night, when I have a tricky highway exit combination to manage before I get home, I’m tempted to avoid it and just go North. Away from the South, away from Georgia, all the way gone. But that’s the thing about driving as a way of running away: no matter where you go you’ll still be stuck in the car with yourself. 

“I believe that someone somewhere has got a plan for me,

They got a plan for me… Even if I don’t know it yet.”

I drove downtown to meet my best friend after a week of being at the beach without her. Spring Break coincided with Ivy Day. She had gotten into Yale, and I had been rejected from Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and Brown. We collaged my rejection letters. We sat on tables outside Iron Bank and I circled words like “obvious weaknesses” and “with great regret” and “hopes and dreams.” Boxing words like “all our decisions are final” and putting “clearly capable” in quotation marks. I used thematic colors and smudged acrylics onto canvas with torn up snippets of every letter. My friend gave me yarn to add texture.


“I’m always focusing in on the wrong things, and then the wrong things become everything

I don’t know what I’m gonna do, I don’t know what I’m gonna do about anything.

This is what I want, motherfucker, make it happen for me.”

It’s nice to blatantly and unapologetically want sometimes. Without a guilty justification. Let us be young and do stupid shit and want crazy destructive things. This was the anthem, this was the way I was allowed to blissfully make no sense and be selfish.

Have you ever done things that you knew you were going to regret? But in the moment, at the time, you knew of it as a story that would be great to tell someday.


“And I’m scared I’m going to die as lonely as I feel right now.”

I spilled purple on a black canvas (the black ones were cheaper than the white ones sometimes). And the purple became a bed, and on it I painted swirls of color to represent four people at once. The red and black twirled together for the way that anger and passion spill into each other. The yellow and tan hues on the edge represented the blondes that every boy would want to fuck over me. The green and blue swallowing into themselves represented myself. On the bottom, I painted block letters that read, “I’m scared I’m going to die as lonely as I feel right now.”


“There is a map in my room, on the wall of my room, and I’ve got big, big plans.

But I can see them slippin’ through, feel them slippin’ through, oh,

the palms of my sweaty hands.”

I think often about how I should have a map on my bedroom wall. Isn’t that typical for everyone who likes to pretend they have dreams and ambitions?


The chorus of the song goes:

“But you are an artist, and your mind don’t work the way you want it to.

One day you’ll be washing yourself with hand soap in a public bathroom.

And you’ll be thinking, ‘How did I get here? Where the hell am I?’”

And I like to entertain it as a true testament of my life and its inevitable future. – Elim Lee


Elim Lee ‘22 is a prospective English and College of Letters double major at Wesleyan University. She grew up in Columbus, GA and has written a lot for an audience of basically herself.

Learn more about the Front Bottoms here.  

This article is presented in collaboration with Midriff Magazine. Look out for their fall issue, coming soon.