In Chapter 1 of the podcast, J. Thorn discusses the concept of the “Call to Adventure,” which often begins as a whisper in childhood, manifesting as early passions that may be suppressed by practical considerations as one grows older. J. shares a personal story of discovering a love for music at a young age while growing up in a working-class suburb. The episode emphasizes the significance of reconnecting with these early passions as a means to uncover future interests and shape one’s life story.

You don’t remember hearing the Call to Adventure because it starts more like a whisper than a shout. Maybe you first heard it when your 2nd-grade teacher asked you to read your poem to the class. Or maybe it was when you miraculously scored the winning soccer goal making your team the U10 champs. Perhaps the Call to Adventure disguised itself as your 5th-grade choir director asking you to take the solo at your school’s annual holiday concert.

You don’t know when you first heard the Call to Adventure because you were too young to understand what was happening.

But that is when the Call to Adventure first speaks to you—in your childhood. In kindergarten, everyone wanted to be artists, painters, dancers, athletes, musicians. And yet by the time we reached middle school, the system had drilled and killed those passions out of us—our creative fire doused by a hose of practicality.

Knowing where you’ve been is clearly the key to figuring out where you want to go. You have forgotten those early passions or you can’t remember ever hearing the Call to Adventure, but you definitely did. You have lived a core identity your entire life, and it’s become the author of your story. Lucky for you, the story doesn’t end until you do. And your story is always a work in progress, so you must go back to your first passions to discover your future ones.

Let me tell you a story…

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 1980. 9 years old.

I’m in the basement, listening to a new song called “Back in Black” by AC/DC on my parent’s record player. My dad works on the assembly line at a factory, and my mom is a housewife with two kids and one on the way. We live in a working-class suburb of a blue-collar town. My parents are third-generation Americans, my great grandparents are Irish and Slovakian immigrants.

I’m the firstborn, first grandchild on either side of the family. I’ll be the first to go to college. Most of my relatives worked in the steel mills and factories, punching clocks at the end of their shifts, and punching noses in the parking lot after last call. When your life is nothing but shift work and church, alcohol-fueled fist fights at the neighborhood bar provide a temporary escape. The first rule of Fight Club is…

“Do your job.” That could have been the official motto of working-class Pittsburghers in the 1970s. You went to work daily and church weekly. “Art” was something rich people in New York City hung on the walls. Andy Warhol was from Pittsburgh and yet I’d never heard his name until I went to college.

So as a skinny, quiet, introspective, and awkward kid, my salvation wouldn’t come on the gridiron or from an athletic scholarship. Music was my life, as far back as I can remember. It was my friend, my lover, my therapy, my coping mechanism. And as I’ll discover in my teens, it’s the storytelling nature of music that I’ve had in my soul and always been an aspect of my core identity.

The Intronaut // Episode 98 // November 26, 2017

This clip is from “The Intronaut,” episode 98, first published on November 26, 2017.

“The Intronaut” was a free-form podcast for introverts, a deep well of navel-gazing monologues where I explored living in a world built for extraverts. I wrapped the show at the 100th episode, feeling as though I’d said everything I needed to say about introversion—my own Forrest Gump moment.

In this episode, I define “nostalgia.” I explore the teenage years and contemplate why they’re the most wistful time of our life—driving so much of our sentimental longings.

Reminiscence Bump Theory clearly explains why music is such a powerful driver of nostalgia, and how music becomes the soundtrack of our lives, something I’ll talk more about with my friend Justin on “GenX Rock and Talk.”

You’ll discover that nostalgia is a double-edged sword because it gives you a refuge from your current troubles, but it also distorts the objective truth of the memory every time you recall it, which changes the very memory you’re trying to preserve. Doesn’t that suck?


The definition, I guess, like, technically, the technical Webster’s definition of nostalgia, is, “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”

So really, nostalgia is about having a fond memory of certain times and places. And that can really happen from any point in your life.

But there seems to be a commonality with nostalgia and people identifying the teenage years as the most wistful affection for the past. Like, the most highly sentimental longings are for teenage years. And I think there’s a lot of reasons for that. They have to do with psychology and neuroscience.

There’s this great article that came out in 2014, on, in their health and science section. It had to do with the connection between musical nostalgia, song preference, and that sort of thing. So there’s a few quotes from that I want to read to you. And then, I want to talk about the first one.

The article says, “According to the reminiscence bump theory, we all have a culturally conditioned life script that serves in our memory as the narrative of our lives. When we look back on our pasts, the memories that dominate this narrative have two things in common: they’re happy, and they cluster around our teens and early 20s.”

So, I think if you think about it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s when you are your most successful or that you should have just killed yourself at age 25. But, I think we all have a dominant narrative of the time when we were teenagers and in our early 20s. Some of that might have to do with the fact that we were doing really interesting things. We may not have had a ton of responsibility. We were in that sort of in-between shadow of childhood and adulthood, which meant that we got a little taste of each. This is a really unique combination, and not something I think happens again, maybe until you’re older than I am, but it hasn’t happened since.

So, when you think about nostalgia, I think for most people, they’re going to reflect back to their teens and early 20s. And because of that, I think there’s a cycle of nostalgia.

So, if you think about 2017 and who people are in their middle age and how old they were when they were teenagers. If you look at what’s happening culturally, look at movies and television shows. It’s not just a coincidence. There are a lot of really grounded reasons for that. We’re going to talk about some of this.

In the article, they asked the question, “If you’re most happy, or you have this dominant narrative of nostalgia in your teens and early 20s, why is that?”

They said that researchers at the University of Leeds proposed one enticing explanation in 2008:

“The years highlighted by the reminiscence bump coincide with ‘the emergence of a stable and enduring self.’ The period between 12 and 22, in other words, is the time when you become you. It makes sense then that the memories that contribute to this process become uncommonly important throughout the rest of your life. They didn’t just contribute to the development of your self-image; they became part of your self-image, an integral part of your sense of self.”

That’s a really well-worded explanation, I think, for what I mentioned a few moments ago. You’re living in this strange dynamic between childhood and adulthood. You’re having these really unique experiences. Things like college is such a unique experience. Never in your life will you have that type of experience again. You’re given adult responsibilities, but not entirely adult responsibilities. Your parents might still be paying your tuition or your room and board, but you might have a job. You might even have a full-time job. However, you don’t have a full-time job that’s supporting a family.

It’s a weird confluence, and certainly, the ages from 12 to 22 fall into that. It’s not a coincidence that this is the period where people form their identities, their moral compass (or lack thereof), their interests, and their passions.

Certainly, people continue to grow. I believe in a growth mindset and practice it on a daily basis. Even for someone like myself, I know that there are, for a fact, CDs, tapes, cassettes—however you want to categorize it—that I listened to in my teenage years and early 20s that I still listen to on a regular basis. I’m not going to be the curmudgeon who says all new music sucks—that’s bullshit. Everyone’s been saying new music sucks for 40 years. But I think the underlying reason for that is because those of us who love music made that connection to popular music at that age range, and it’s something that sticks with you for the rest of your life.

The reason this article really caught my eye is because they used music as the lens to talk about nostalgia. They delved deeper into why music, in particular, of all the art forms, is the thing that sends up a flare of nostalgia. Why is it music?

In the article again on, they say, “These songs form the soundtrack to what feel, at the time, like the most vital and momentous years of our lives. The music that plays during our first kiss, our first prom, our first toke, gets attached to that memory and takes on a glimmer of its profundity. We may recognize, in retrospect, that the prom wasn’t really all that profound, but even as the importance of the memory itself fades, the emotional afterglow tagged to the music lingers.”

I know this firsthand. I can remember, I can close my eyes, and I can transport myself to certain memories based on a song. I can hear “Mr. Brownstone” by Guns and Roses and, when I close my eyes and listen to that song, I’m standing at the dishwasher in the back of Bonanza Steakhouse where I worked as a teenager, washing dishes, listening to it on a boombox. I can hear it, I can see it, I can smell it. There’s no doubt for me that the reason I’m so into music is that it connects me to memories that I have filed away as fond, even when they weren’t.

So, I like using this example. Working as a dishwasher at a restaurant is a shitty-ass job. If you’ve ever done it, you’ll know that it’s wet, it’s cold, it’s filthy, and it smells. Yet, I get this little smile on my face when I hear “Mr. Brownstone,” because there I am in 1987, washing dishes and somehow I have this “emotional afterglow” now tagged to that song, even though the original experience was terrible.

And I think that kind of gets to the next point, and I touched a little bit upon this in Episode 97. Nostalgia is memory revised. It’s not memory.

Every time you think about something from your past, those fond associations get better. Washing dishes was not great at the time, and maybe I’ve heard “Mr. Brownstone” 300 times in the past 30 years. I don’t know the exact number. But, every time I hear it, I think back to that time and remember it more fondly. As time progresses, as I get older, I think about being a teenager and what that meant and how that felt. So every time I think about washing dishes, it gets a little bit better.

And that’s why I think nostalgia is really addictive. The more you do it, the more you want, and the better it gets.

However, there’s a danger there because that’s not reality. You can’t go back. So, it’s a bitch.

GenX Rock and Talk // Episode 12 // August 1, 2018

This clip is from “GenX Rock and Talk” season 1, episode 12, first published on August 1, 2018. I discuss with my friend Justin Jackson, co-founder of, the most influential music of 1991, and why one particular album from that year had such an impact on our journey to adulthood.

Spoiler alert: We both chose Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” It would be impossible to choose anything but that record because it captured the essence of early 90s angst. Justin describes the first time he heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” We reminisce about the cultural impact the song and music video had on Generation X.

You’ll discover that nostalgia isn’t the same as memory—its memory revised, which makes it immensely more powerful. Your teenage years and early 20s feel like a lifetime ago and you can’t relive them, and yet it’s when you created your core identity with the help of popular music.

For folks our age, this will be the last time a generation will share a common nostalgic frame. Regardless of when you were born, the music of your era helps to shape your identity. It is the soundtrack of your story. And if GenX had a scent, ours would definitely smell like teen spirit…


Justin: I have this vivid memory of being on the bus. Nathan is in front of me, listening to his Walkman. He turns around and says, “Justin, you got to listen to this.”

I take it, and he shows me the cover of the cassette. I was like…

J.: I know what’s on their cover.

Justin: Yeah, I’ve never seen anything like that, you know? And I put it on. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” comes on. So, the album is “Nevermind” by Nirvana. Oh, man.

J.: How could you not pick that? Really?

Justin: I know. It was… again, I don’t listen to that album a lot anymore. I actually find it difficult because, at the time, what’s perfect about it is I’m just going into puberty. That song, that album, is chaos. It’s like every raw emotion kind of put out in musical form.

A lot of young men get this like anger and rage, and they don’t know why. This album perfectly channels all of that. So actually, to listen back to it now is sometimes difficult because it’s like, “Whoa, I just remember all the emotions I was going through.”

But when I put on Nathan’s headphones and I listened to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, it was like, “What is going on?”

Context is so important. It was all like 80s hair metal. You know, last week, my pick was AC/DC “Razor’s Edge”, so “Thunderstruck”.

Nah, Nah, man.

And then all of a sudden, you have “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Like, ah, it just… it’s so gritty. It’s so fuzzy. Cobain’s vocals don’t sound like anybody else.

I think that’s one reason I couldn’t get into Pearl Jam as much because I listened to them after. And for me, it was like, “But it’s not Cobain”.

Like, yeah, it’s almost kind of like listening to Rage Against the Machine. Anyone who tried to be Rage Against the Machine, I was like, “It just doesn’t… no one can do it like that.” And there’s no album like that. I’m like, “Lithium’s” on that, “In Bloom” is on that album. You listen to that album over and over again. You listened to that album when you were angry. You listened to that album when you wanted to party.

It had that iconic cover that we saw, the baby, the naked baby going after the dollar bill. Just like no one had ever seen anything like that. And so, anyway, that album for me… insane. Yeah, just I can’t stop.

And there’s an Edmonton story here as well. They, right before, about six months before that album comes out, this is like Edmonton folklore, they’re on White Avenue, which is kind of where a lot of the clubs are. And they were a late addition to a bill. And something like 20 people came to that show. And watched them play. Reviews weren’t great. You know, couldn’t hear Cobain singing, guitars were messy, sound… you know, it sounded like garbage.

And then I think something like six months later, “Nevermind” comes out. And it’s just crazy. Mass hit. And everybody has it.

And yeah, so that’s my pick. It’s the reason I was excited to do ‘91. Because nothing like that album is… I don’t know if there’s ever going to be an album. I don’t know, maybe there will never be an album like that again, that has that much cultural relevance that kicks off a genre like they did.

J.: I totally agree. And it’s no surprise I picked the same record. I mean, there’s no way I could pick anything else. And my biggest reason, other than some personal ones, which I’ll mention, was exactly what you just said. Like no matter what you think about Nirvana, or the music industry, or the way things are right now, that was the last scene, and that band created the last scene. It will never be like that again.

And I totally agree with you. I mean, from the moment I heard that… I heard Dave Grohl, BAP, BAP, and the beginning of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” I’m like, “Oh!” Like the anticipation of hearing the riff, hearing the drum fill coming in and knowing what’s coming before you even heard it. Yeah, it was mind-blowing.

I can just remember the anticipation of like, “Oh my God, here comes, here it comes, it’s gonna come in full-on,” and it does, and it’s just so brutally powerful.

And I can remember thinking at the time, and given my age of 20, and having been groomed on metal and hair metal and a huge fan of it, I remember hearing that and immediately thought, “Well, that’s the end of that.”

Nirvana had opened up this Pandora’s box of whatever you’d want to eventually call it – grunge or alt rock or alternative, whatever. That was it, man. It was in that moment, it was in that opening riff. And I would even go so far as to say, I don’t know if there’s a better opening to a rock record than “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I just can’t think of one that’s even close.

Justin: What’s weird about that song is that you think of that song as almost like very high adrenaline, whatever. But the opening is, but then about 30 seconds in, it slows down. And then you’ve got these haunting vocals. His voice was so haunting.

In the beginning, you’re almost thinking, you’re like, “Okay, this doesn’t sound like AC/DC. It’s not as clean as AC/DC. But man, this sounds kind of like stadium rock,” like, “DAHN, DAHN-DAHN.” And you got the drums, “BA-PAP, BA-PAP.” And you’re kind of like, “Okay, here we go. We’re gonna get like this soaring, like, you know, powerful metal vocal,” and then it brings it right down, “BAW-BAW.” And then all of a sudden, he’s singing and it’s like, “What is this?” And then it brings you right back up again. It drove me insane. That song… I mean, that had to be the single. It’s so…

J.: We haven’t even mentioned the music video.

Justin: Oh my god.

J.: Like if you talked about the teenage angst and, and the aggression and the things that you feel as a young man. And then you look at that video and you know, they’re playing… It’s a mockery of like, the pep rally filled with people in dreads and with tattoos, and, and, and porn-star cheerleaders with anarchy on their chest, like it was, and some guy mopping the floor. It was crazy. It didn’t look or sound like anything else.

Justin: Yeah. And I think the other thing, I just want to mention it because it shows you how powerful music could be.

And maybe this is the last scene, but those shoes… like, you know, everyone started wearing those shoes, all the clothes – that Seattle kind of look. All my friends and I looked like that. Like that’s what we were wearing. And you know, Kurt Cobain would put long-sleeve shirts under T-shirts, right? We did that.

J.: And I still do that.

Justin: Oh, man. It was such an amazing time to be around.

Again, for context. Like if you grew up in the 80s it was very commercial, like everyone had to have like Reebok pumps. That was a big thing. When I was a kid, it was expensive, flashy, neon.

And then, you know, I’m just about to become a teenager. It’s 91-92. I’m 11 or 12. And I felt all that pressure growing up of you know, having to dress the right way.

And then Nirvana comes out. And it’s like, oh, I can just wear ripped jeans and my dad’s old flannel… like, what a… What a crazy band. What a crazy scene. You know, there was still long hair around but it was just different. It was indescribable what happened there.

J.: I totally agree. And, you know, for me, I know that you had a little different take on Pearl Jam, but I kind of grew because “10” and “Badmotorfinger” and “Teen Spirit” all came out in the same year. And I sort of grouped those together in my collective memory. And I can remember bouncing from you know, the Pearl Jam CD to Soundgarden to Nirvana and just thinking like, this is the apex of music for me. Like I can’t… I couldn’t imagine a time where music would get better than that.

And I totally connected with Pearl Jam. And it’s funny because I don’t like much after “Ten.” Like a lot of hardcore Pearl Jam fans don’t like “Ten.” They like everything that came after. Yeah, and I like “Ten.”  Just for the record, that was… and “Badmotorfinger” was clearly my favorite Soundgarden record.

But I put those three together and I feel like for me, they defined everything I felt… Everything I couldn’t articulate as a young man, like as an, as like transitioning from a boy to a man, those three records spoke for me. And it’s so incredible because even to this day, I can… I put those records on, any one of those, and I feel those same feelings I did back then.

Justin: Yeah. And then again, maybe this is why I like talking to you, I often go back to these albums that I might have passed on the first time. So I want to go back to “Ten.” Because I don’t know what it was that didn’t speak to me the first time but it could have just been, you know, maybe it was too sophisticated than Nirvana. There was a little bit more versatility. His voice was totally different.

And so I almost want to go back and listen to it again, just to… but I remember again, if you look through those zip-up CD cases, it would be like first it would be “Nevermind,” then it would be “Ten,” then it would be “Badmotorfinger”… like and then those two Guns N’ Roses albums, like everybody had the same, the same sequence and maybe that was also… it was cool is like everybody was listening to the same music. And maybe there’s something… you know, I don’t know, maybe that’s not a good thing, but just to have that identity. Everyone’s going through it at the same time.

J.: Right!

Closing Thoughts

Your story doesn’t end in young adulthood because so many of your beliefs and values formed at that time hold true today.

Although I felt the rebellious, grungy fire burning in my belly, I took the traditional path into my adult life. After earning a BA in History from the University of Pittsburgh, I enrolled at Duquesne University, where I earned a Masters Degree in Education.

For the next two decades, my career defined my personal and professional identity: teacher.

You see how I’ve followed the thread back to my childhood passions of storytelling and music. Even though I silenced the Call to Adventure for many years, my core identity remained, manifesting in the storytelling style I used in the classroom.


What does your Call to Adventure sound like? How long has it been since you’ve heard it?

Up next…

In the next chapter of the story, we’ll debunk the “end of history” illusion and discover that the Call to Adventure never disappears. We grow up and become responsible, but that’s not the end of the story. It’s never too late to rewrite your story, because the story doesn’t end until you do.


Mentorship by Brian Clark, Jerod Morris, and Trudi Roth

Podcast concept by Jerod Morris

Written, narrated, and produced by J. Thorn

Editing by Miranda Weingartner and Trudi Roth

Audio editing and production by J. Thorn

“Twisted” and “RetroFuture” courtesy of Kevin MacLeod at

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 at