Reminds me... looking back with music

Don't get me wrong... there is some great music out there today. There are artists that are forging their own way or perfecting the craft of another's creation. Bands like LCD Soundsystem, Lady Antebellum, Paramore, The Flowbots, and Death Cab for Cutie that are releasing some fantastic tunes. But no matter how good their music, it is still a pale comparison to the mid-90s.

Say what you want about your high school days, loved it/hated it/somewhat indifferent to it... the music from your days of youth angst will probably be the most important music you will ever listen to. It might not be the best to ever be recorded. But they hold a special place in your heart. Years later, when you hear that song... it reminds you of trying to find your classes on the first day of school, or to remember your locker combination on the second day. Or it brings you back to those days when you were walking across campus in the rain. Or maybe a team or club you were apart of.

That being said, I present to you (with as much fanfare as possible in a blog format) the songs that most remind me of high school. Warning: some cheesiness to follow along with some heartfelt longing of days gone by and some genuinely great songs. Also be prepared for some musical whiplash. Links lead to the songs' videos and other bits of related goodness.

The Offspring: Come Out and Play
Ah... the first entry to my list. A song sung by a guy named Dexter and his friend named Noodles. I wish I was kidding. Toward the end of my freshman year, the grunge movement was dwindling in the wake of Kurt Cobain's suicide. Punk seemed to be the newest hippest trend. At camp one summer, that dude with the guitar told me that no one knows how to play the guitar unless they know how to play Greenday's song Basket Case. But Come Out and Play was the forefront of the punk popularity, and by the beginning of my sophomore year it seemed like everyone knew this song (or at least the line "you gotta keep 'em separated"). I remember standing outside the forestry classroom while a classmate told me this was the greatest song ever recorded.

Counting Crows: Mr. Jones
Mr. Jones was another song that came into popularity around the same time that Cobain died. It's a fantastic carefree and whimsical sing-along that propelled Adam Duritz and his band into the spotlight. But it has a deeper significance for me. My friend Jeff and I tried our hardest to live this song. He'd be Mr. Jones (or maybe that was me). We would go out people watching - a couple of mall rats. We'd "tell each other fairy tales and look at the beautiful women" and we'd have that conversation: "she's lookin' at you - I don't think so, she's lookin' at me." Then we would conduct mentally stimulating late night philosophical conversations, but no one can talk about the most important questions beguiling humanity for long. So our chats would eventually turn to one (or both) of our biggest interests - girls or music. Mr. Jones captured both those ideals. We'd dream of someday being "big big stars" and of a future where everybody loved us. To this day I still "want to buy myself a gray guitar and play."

Stone Temple Pilots: Interstate Love Song
This song was pure escapism for me. It made me daydream of running off to some place that was infinitely cooler than Marysville Washington. I didn't know what that place was (although I seem to have found it now) but I knew I wanted out. That line "leaving on a southern train" rang true for me. And while my life has more-so been an eastern migration, this song still takes me back to a time when I longed for something better than what I possessed.

MxPx: Want Ad
Another song out of the pop-punk explosion, this is MxPx at their sloppiest. Want Ad came off of MxPx's first album and when that album came out, I latched on to this song. For several years I carried this song as the standard for what I wanted out of my dream girl. Talks to Jesus, buys me coke, likes to wear my clothes. And for the most part... I got that list in Bekah (except she doesn't write me songs)

Korn: Blind
Jonathan Davis asked "Are you ready." And as he growled those lyrics at the beginning of Blind, the answer to that question was a resounding no. No we were not ready. Korn started a new genre that took a few years to gain momentum. Yet, when this song hit radio like blunt force trauma, Korn quickly became popular with many of my peers. I must clarify, I'm not a Korn fan (although, Brian Welch's conversion of faith is quite an interesting story). But Blind was one of those songs that took a crowbar to your head and stayed there. It was the song that was playing though my head while walking around in the darkness backstage on opening night just before showtime. Moments before the stage lights when up, I was (internally) asking "are you ready?"

Pearl Jam: Betterman
As Jeff's and my conversations inevitably descended into the topic of girls or music or girls and music, the subject matter of Betterman was a frequent point of discussion. We would talk about girls that we knew that were dating scumbags and we were convinced we were better men. This song reminds me of those many talks under the stars or driving around - often listening to Pearl Jam - wondering when the girls in our lives would realize that we were better than the guys they were dating. Of course we weren't better men, we just thought we were.

Robert Preston: Trouble (from The Music Man)
I realize this song was out long before I was in high school (not to mention predating my birth by a couple decades), but our drama club produced The Music Man as our spring musical my sophomore year. I was a part of Tommy's gang and I broke the Wells Fargo Wagon on closing night. So why am I including this song out of the many from the show? Because I can not play a game of pool without hearing those words "trouble with a capital T that rhymes with P that stands for Pool" inside my head (one of the voices inside my head pretends to be a Broadway star).

Seal: Kiss From a Rose
The bus driver that drove me to school kept the radio tuned to a station that played the same five songs over and over again. This is one of those songs. This song also reminds me of hanging out backstage in the prop room with Mike, Stephanie, and Sarah. Although... I don't know why that's the predominant memory.

Grammatrain: Believe
This is the first of three songs released at roughly the same time that made a change in the Christian music world. It was music that the mainstream started taking seriously. It was Christian music that was relevant to secular consumers. This was exciting for me as non-Christian music was discouraged in my house; this was something that I could listen to at home, getting my inner-grunge baby on with approval from my parental units.

Johnny Q Public: Preacher's Kid
Song two out of three... On a lyrical level, this song was somewhat autobiographical for me. Aaron and I were PKs (all though, dad left the ministry when I was fairly young). I was insecure and hurt. I had lots of questions with no answers. And basketball was on our TV - a lot. I wanted to dream and often wondered "does anybody love me?"

Jars of Clay: Flood
And song three of three. When I heard this song played on mainstream radio for the first time, I was convinced the world was about to change. Every night, I would lay in bead and listen to 107.7 the End as they played the 10 most requested songs of the day, and I was so excited that I could have peed myself when Flood hit #1. A Christian band being the most requested song on the hippest alternative music station in Seattle? Inconceivable! On the downside, the local church bands started emulating the Jars of Clay sound. By the time I graduated high school, if you were in a Christian band (in the SnoCo area) and did not sound like Jars of Clay, you were ignored (with the lone ska band from Oak Harbor being the only exception). A good friend of mine played in a band with the lyrical content and musical influence of Jars with Rage Against the Machine styled vocals. While Jars' mainstream attention was short lived, their impact in Christian music was (and still is) pervasive.

Smashing Pumpkins: Bullet With Butterfly Wings
This is the song that really got me in to alternative music. My dad didn't like Smashing Pumpkins, but I was drawn to their music like a moth hopelessly in love with an out door lamp. Billy Corgan is one of the most influential artists in my own work. There was a stretch of time that I was inspired to write any time I heard a Smashing Pumpkins song. Corgan is much my doppelganger: he's got crooked teeth, I've got crooked teeth. He's not a great singer, neither am I. He's not particularly attractive, I'm not much of a looker either. If I shaved my head, dressed glam, and lost 20 pounds, I could look like him. But I clearly remember sitting in American Lit, with this song running laps in my head. "Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage." Who comes up with stuff like that? Genius...

Coolio: Gangsters Paradise (And to a lesser extent, Weird Al's parody - Amish Paradise)
Gangster's Paradise was one of the other songs in permanent rotation on the morning school bus ride. (TLC's Waterfalls was the only other song that I remember). The song sounded so cool back then. It has not aged well. (Although the Weird Al version is still hilarious.)

Everclear: Santa Monica
This, (much like STP's Interstate Love Song) was another tune that I'd crank up while dreaming of getting away. And Santa Monica seemed far more fantastic than Marysville. Living beside the ocean? Can't get any better than that. Santa Monica was one of those songs that could make me happy no matter how foul my mood. It is also unique in the fact that it is the one and only song I've ever sung in karaoke. (Shh... don't tell anyone)

Rancid: Ruby Soho
Ruby Soho was pure shameless fun. The album (...And Out Come the Wolves) that birthed it is easily one of the greatest punk albums of all time. This was one of my good times songs that I liked to listen to when I was in a cheerful mood. As for the video, I'm not sure which was a stranger sight: the freaky mohawks and plaid pants or the guy with the mohawk in plaid pants petting a cat while singing "ruby ruby ruby soho." This song also hinted at the upcoming ska explosion (more on that later). Perhaps the biggest oddity with this song is the cheerleader in my history class that liked it. It was the first time I considered the possibility that cheerleaders might sometimes listen to the same kind of music that I enjoyed.

Rage Against the Machine: Bulls on Parade
I emceed for the homecoming assembly my senior year - announcing the underclassman royalty. Before the assembly, as we were prepping the gymnasium, the band was doing their sound checks. The guitarist (a student who was probably the closest I've ever had to an arch-nemesis) was playing the main guitar riff to Bulls on Parade. I was running mic cords at the time and he heard me rapping along to his playing. He was impressed that I knew the lyrics. I am fairly certain that he still despises me - 13 years later - but I gained some respect points that day. (And if you think the Jars of Clay/RATM blend was strange, this kid - my rival - was in a band that sounded like a mix of Dave Matthews and 311.) I must specify that I do not like most of Rage's music. I disagree with the majority of their politics. However, one thing is indisputable: the way Tom Morello manipulated his guitar to get the sounds that he culled from his axe is nothing less than legendary.

Alice in Chains: Heaven Beside You
During our productions of Rumors in my junior year and Into the Woods a year later, one of the most common backstage activities before the show (and sometimes in the middle of the show) was to sit around in a circle with a guitar and play some songs. Heaven Beside You was one that was most frequented (along with Nirvana's Lithium and Come as You Are). Whoever wielded the guitar dictated who sang, and depending on who played I was an occasional vocalist. The most awkward of moment came when one of the girls that went to my church shot me a peculiar stare while I was singing this song. This is also a testament to the culture of our drama club... the girls passed time singing show tunes while the guys sang the best that grunge music had to offer.

Dave Matthews Band: Too Much
I have mentioned before how Dave Matthews has had a significant impact in my musical history. Too Much was my introduction to the band and I could not resist the infectious glee their music spawned. But I have a secret for you all. Ever since high school, I've wanted to dance like Dave Matthews. I've given up trying to play the guitar like him... but I'm still trying to master that spastic leg twitchy seizure like groove.

311: Down
When I first heard Down, I thought the world was changing. I know, I said that about Flood... but I could say the same for most of the songs in this list. However, with Down, the world was changing (the music world at least). The lines between genres were blurring. Suddenly the way we classified music didn't matter. Rap... rock... same thing. It's just music. I'd hear this song on the radio in between classes and think this is where the music industry as a whole is going. And to some extent that's true. Several years later, look at where we're at. Rock, rap, county, jazz are all bleeding into one another. Artists of disparate styles are collaborating. Now if only our political leaders could learn that lesson.

Duncan Sheik: Barely Breathing
This song was a permanent part of the soundtrack to my senior year. It was playing on every road trip. It was always on the radio. But beyond the music, I wanted to be Duncan Sheik. I wanted his fashion sense (all though, I dress more like that now than I did in high school). I wanted his tall dark and handsome looks. I wished I had his silky voice. Surely, if I looked like him and sang like him, I would have had better luck with the ladies. Right?

Plankeye: B.C.
My brother gave me the Commonwealth album for Christmas my senior year, and I listened to that album more than any other through the rest of my time in high school. I loved that album like a fat kid loves cake. I played it every chance possible (I managed to slip it into my set list while DJing at a skate park). Even today I can remember the lyrics to every song regardless of how long it's been since I last listened to it. B.C. is such an energetic song - it's always made me want to get up and do something active.

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones: The Impression That I Get
This is ska. The Bosstones helped launch the third wave, and launched my two year dive that made ska one of my primary listening habits. Ska reminds me of summer and I still need to listen to the album that contains The Impression That I Get at least once each year between June and August. But the song itself reminds me of all night set building parties and rehearsals for Into the Woods. It also reminds me of a girl I dated after graduating... but that's a whole different story.

Aerosmith: Taste of India
The CAD club took a road trip to EWU during the spring of my senior year for a technology conference. There are two things I remember from that trip, goofing off in the hotel room in Cheney and the charter bus ride over Snoqualmie and back. I do not remember anything of the actual conference or competitions. The trip over the pass is memorable for a few reasons. getting lucky with McDonald's Monopoly (it was the first year they did the game) at the McD's in North Bend on the way over. Picking up and carrying the fat kid across the parking lot at the pass in front of our school's band and choir who were both returning from road trips that weekend (to my credit, he'd been pestering me since we left Marysville). And Taste of India. That song was played on the radio no less than thirty times in the two days that we were gone.

Queensrÿche: Sign of the Times
There were two songs that played in repetitious form on that road trip to EWU. The first was Taste of India; the other was Sign of the Times. Both songs are still in my road trip playlist and both were in the mix tapes I listened to while driving alone from Sioux Falls to Coeur d'Alene. Sign of the Times is the superior song and is still culturally relevant (maybe more relevant today than when it was released in '97). "Would someone please let me know how we have spun out of control? Has the captain let go of the wheel? Or could we please try to find a way to be a bit more kind?" Again, if only our leaders would take a lesson our artists learned years ago.

The Verve Pipe: The Freshman
Released at the tail end of my high school career, The Freshman captured a feeling that many of us experienced facing our impending graduation and potential freshman year of college. We know nothing but think we know everything. Oh how reality set in. This is one of the songs that motivated me to learn how to play the guitar (yet the full story there is one that deserves it's own blog post).

Third Eye Blind: Semi-Charmed Life
We had just graduated and this song was suddenly all over the radio. Jeff and I spent the rest of the summer trying to figure out the lyrics. What we discovered: it is dirtier and more somber than the music sounds. You'd think it's a happy song. It is also (like The Freshman) one of the songs that inspired me to buy a guitar and learn to play. Two things - 1) I know the lyrics by heart, 2) it is ridiculously fun to play. "The four right chords could make me cry." So true. And logical in a song that only has four chords.

Switchfoot: Chem 6A
One week after graduation, I bought an album from a new and unheard of band on the day the album was released. That album was called Legend of Chin. I took it home, listened to it and something happened that has never happened to me before. Each song from start to finish reflected my life. I could relate every song to something very specific, from a girl that I was interested in (Concrete Girl, Might Have Ben Hur) to my spiritual searching (Home, Don't Be There). That album was my life. And Chem 6A represented that longing to get away that I've mentioned twice now. Later that summer, while driving around town with my dad, we were listening to The Legend of Chin. I told my dad that if I was ever in a band, that was the type of music I wanted to play. Another funny thing... that unknown band was Switchfoot. They're kinda big now. (and HAH! I liked them before you did)

Thanks for humoring me and looking back at the songs that carried me through high school. And I apologize for the long post. It's been a while since I last blogged, so I may be making up for missed webspace.

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