It was an unseasonably gloomy August day when I settled into a large, clinical-style chair in the corner of a seedy tattoo parlor in San Diego. It was my 18th birthday, and I was ushering in legal adulthood with a decision that hinted at a lingering immaturity. The design wasn’t big though, barely a squiggle.
After squirming in my seat for 20 minutes, I got what I came for: a small “AM” on my right forearm as an ode to my favorite band, Arctic Monkeys.
My teenage wisdom had led me to immortalize my love, and I couldn’t have been more satisfied with the result. Arctic Monkeys, a four-piece rock group from Sheffield led by Alex Turner, have serendipitously appeared at every major turning point in my life. 2009’s Humbug was released just in time for me to brood my way through freshman year of high school. Suck It and See arrived in the spring of 2011, six months after my mother died.
A couple of years later, AM sound-tracked my high school graduation and the uncertainty that lay beyond. Even Turner’s side project swooped in to salvage what remained of the collective nightmare that was 2016. If I was experiencing a particularly challenging period, Arctic Monkeys were beside me as I pushed through. This was why I spent my 18th birthday under a tattoo gun; not only to honor how many hours I had spent laying on my bedroom floor listening to Cornerstone on repeat, but also as a reminder of those trials and how I had conquered them.
Fast-forward to 2017. I had spent three grueling years at community college, and I was entering UCLA as a transfer student with no idea what to expect. I had never lived away from home, never shared a room with anyone, and I was terrified of how difficult the work at an actual university would be. It was overwhelming, to say the least. At UCLA, between managing a part-time job, a full class load and social obligations, I struggled to keep my head above water. There is, of course, always a period of adjustment when you’re dropped into a brand new environment like this. And although I knew I wasn’t an outlier, I felt isolated all the same. As the weeks dragged on, I allowed myself to succumb to the pressure of being a student at UCLA and the expectations that come with it.
Enter: Arctic Monkeys. It had been nearly five years since AM came out in 2013 when they announced their sixth release, a concept album titled Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. The lucky few who had heard an advance copy described it as a musical sci-fi journey to a fictional resort on the moon. At a time when I wanted to be anywhere but my dorm room, a trip to space sounded perfect. When the clock struck midnight on release day, I braced for entry into the orbit of Arctic Monkeys once again.
My first listen (and second, and third, and fourth) transported me from my tiny bunkbed to a gentrified lunar surface, complete with disco lizards, batphones and kindly concierges named Mark. The surrealist lyrics somehow felt relatable to me: that fish-out-of-water feeling embodied in the anachronistic image of a taqueria on the moon, a confession that “golden boy’s in bad shape,” the frustration with an unnamed audience for having never seen Blade Runner.
I loved every part of it. But my appreciation for Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino went beyond the actual music. Difficult moments in my life had been punctuated by the reappearance of Arctic Monkeys just when I needed them most, and this time was no different. Listening to the new material reminded me of all those other times I had stumbled, but also how I managed to get up, brush myself off and push forward. Because of this, I took the arrival of Tranquility Base as my cue to stand up again. I had spent months hovering outside myself, reluctant to fully engage for fear of failure. It had been a turbulent adjustment, and what I really needed was something to ground me, a reminder of what I’d been capable of achieving in the past. It’s only fitting that Arctic Monkeys’ intergalactic musical odyssey would be the thing to bring me back down to Earth.