Thursday, October 27, 2016

Believe in What You Want

So, in drastic departure (?) of the stuff I've posted, here's top 40 band Jimmy Eat World.  What?  That "The Middle" band?

Some time during my last year of high school - 1999, for those keeping record - I was heavy into punk bands.  This was satisfying to my teenage rebelliousness, my anger, and my total lack of concern for high school and social norms, but it didn't really speak to my angst and burgeoning adulthood. Besides, I would never be one of the punk rock kids and I knew it - I was terrified of giving myself over to groupthink.

I started this new adulthood by exploring music that was more fitting to the jumble that was my sense of self.  You know, like most kids.  The punk rock was slowly giving way to punk bands with "feelings."  Samiam, 88 Fingers Louie.  All good.  Music became less political and outward, more expressive and inward.

Since I was a lackadaisical do-nothing slacker in my high school classes, I spent much of one class looking for music on this new internet thing.  By chance, I read a glowing review of Jimmy Eat World's "Clarity" on some random homespun website.  I think I was intrigued by the name - this is clearly a band with no motivation for fame.  I'm pretty sure they used the word "emo" in the review, which was probably my first time hearing the word that I disliked so much that I would spend dozens of hours of my life trying to define and defend it to others on the internet.  I guess I can own up to that now.

Anyway, I went out and got the album later that week.  For a kid who grew up on punk albums and was trying hard to grow up, 'Clarity' was like a punch in the gut.  It ran the gamut between soft and hard.  It was delicate - on purpose - and expressive.  It complained about the radio.  It's lyrics were damn near nonsense, but they had heart.  Songs would run 6... 7... 16 minutes.  Crazy stuff.  What are those, violins?  Timpani?  Bells?  The album had an incredible focus.*  

I'm not sure why this album spoke to me the way it did.  Was it because I was 18?  Was there something special about the album?  Would any non-punk rock album have had the same effect?  Was it validating merely because it was an underground band and I knew so few at the time that weren't on Epitaph or Fat Wreck or SST?

I don't have an answer.  I think those of us who spend a lot of time and effort exploring music have albums like these - albums that maybe don't initiate a turning point as much as they are representative of one.  In 1999, I moved out, went to college, was lovelorn, poor, and new to the world.  This was the right album for that year.

In 1999, the band fit in with the other indie bands of the era that I would soon explore.  You'd hear their name in conversations about Braid, At the Drive-In, the Promise Ring, Texas is the Reason.  A couple years later, they were all over the radio, which was both fulfilling and weird - what they became popular for was a different sound than what I'd hoped for their next albums.  I don't hold a grudge or anything, it's just a thing that happened.  They put out an album that was meaningful for me at an important time in my life.  That's no small thing.

Many albums later and the band sounds very little like they used to.  Some sounds reflect elements of their early works, but only rarely, and the band is not often mentioned in the context of 90s indie bands so much as early 2000s pop-punk.  In 1999, they toured with a relatively unknown At The Drive-In, in 2000 with Jebediah, in 2001 on the Warped Tour and in 2002 or 2003, with Green Day and Blink 182.

The biggest challenge of being a fan of anything is when what you like about something, and what they're known for, are two different things.  It becomes a question of accuracy - were they ever that good?  Was that just how I perceived them at the time and now I can't consider them objectively?  Were the early works flukes?  Isn't 'The Middle' stupid?  Can I like anything they do now?

I don't have answers, but I stopped caring much about this.  Jimmy Eat World's new album came out earlier this week; and while, no, it doesn't sound like Clarity-era Jimmy Eat World, there are some good songs here.  I don't know what it means, and I don't care.  I'm 35 goddamn years old - if I can't like something, unfettered, what's the point of liking anything?  In conversation, I might still qualify any discussion of them, "I liked Jimmy Eat World back in the day, but not their new stuff."  That's such a shitty way to have to talk about things, let alone think about them.

*[This is the sort of overview that wouldn't have gotten me to get the album in 1999.]

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