Tunes bring memories. FR look back, with open ears. Sometimes, the shit just takes you right back.
Travis: NOFX, “Linoleum”
I was one of those stupid kids who thought when I got to college “people would finally understand me” or some such nonsense. The illusion was maintained when, instead of the Dave Matthews/jam band/311 axis of music that dominated high school parties, the sneering pop-punk of NOFX awaited me at the first college kegger I ever attended. Little did I know that as soon as all the girls got there, they’d put the DMB back on, but for a few seconds I felt like I was finally home.
Nathan: “The Freshmen,” The Verve Pipe
In 1997, The Verve Pipe had their one hit wonder with “The Freshmen”. I heard it on the radio, but could never get used to it, because in 1996 I’d been introduced to The Verve Pipe and an earlier version of the song by the first girl I ever asked out. Laura didn’t want to go out with me, but that’s probably a big reason that the song conjures up my clearest memories of being a high school freshman. I wrote bad poetry about her while listening to that song. I listened to it in the dark.
It was also the first time I recall being introduced to a local (Verve Pipe were from East Lansing, we were from Port Huron) band that no one outside of our area really knew. No matter how bad The Verve Pipe actually were, I felt I’d been a part of something special and exclusive.
I’m not entirely sure what Laura is doing these days, but every time I hear the newer, unimproved version of “Freshmen”, I remember walking down the hallway as she told me she’d rather just continue to be my friend. It took a lot of nerve for me to ask.
Someone put this video up on YouTube, a cassette recording of the original version of “The Freshmen” on Detroit’s 89X. It’s possible that I heard this broadcast live.
Tyler: “One Headlight,” The Wallflowers
My first kiss came in the eighth grade, concurrent with my gradual discovery of music, both tempered by my adolescent ignorance and unacknowledged uberromanticism. The Wallflowers are nothing special, kind of a low-budg’ Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (aside from Breach, an album deserving of acclaim in any arena), and I have no idea where said first smooch, Elizabeth, might be these days. But she was pretty, the song played often on the radio at the time, we only saw each other after long drives to “Perfect North Slopes” outside Cincy, and hey, said first kiss was on a ski lift tracing up into the night sky. Beat that.
Travis: Zen Guerrilla, “Moonage Daydream”
When in college in Boston, a friend and I attempted to see a band called the Mooney Suzuki play at the Middle East. When we got there, that band hadn’t managed to show up, but their tourmates, Zen Guerrilla, were still playing the show. Nothing better to do, we stuck around, and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen to date, with the blistering, psychedelic garage rockers managing, with their set closing covers, to steal two great songs, the Who’s “The Seeker” and Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust classic. Even when hearing the Bowie version, I always think of Zen Guerrilla.
Nathan: “Jesus Freak,” DC Talk
I don’t hear this song often anymore (thank goodness), but when I do I am immediately transported to the youth group world of my high school years. More specifically, I am transported to a youth group “lock-in” at a giant sports complex in Flint that I went to in tenth grade. I played hacky-sack more than any sane person should and heard this song blaring out of any available speakers that were lying around. There is something almost magical about being locked into a giant sports complex overnight, with your senses fleeing you at a slow rate.
By the time I got around to actually being a Christian, I couldn’t bear to listen to “Jesus Freak” on my own time. The song is horrible in quality and sort of disgusting for its opportunistic aping of post-Nirvana grunge trends. But it was the anthem of a youth group culture that believed they were being martyred just because someone might have been calling them silly names.
I just tried to listen to the whole song via YouTube video and couldn’t make it through. Ugh.
Tyler: The Garden State soundtrack
My junior year of college was marked by a number of occasions: first serving job, first legal drink, first other things, man-love friendship with fellow FR writer Travis. I was as thought-drenched then as I am now, and, some months after the release of Garden State, some years before I realized it wasn’t actually The Greatest Movie Ever Made (oh, my white upper-middle-class ass; though, as ever, SARSGAARD), its soundtrack soundtracked my life, my drives to class and work, forever uncertain as to what I was doing, my developing adulthood, full of crazy collegiate emotion, exuberance. All of us have learned since that The Shins will not actually change our lives. Though, speaking of which…
Travis: Riddle of Steel, “Ass Kicker #1”
Riddle of Steel were St. Louis’s best band in the early 2000s, and broke up a few years ago for the reasons that bands do when they’re getting older. They provided me many memories over my seven or eight years of going to see them play, but the one that sticks with me most comes from early on New Year’s Day, 2005, the party to close out the Rocket Bar, a great music venue run by RoS bassist Jimmy Vavak. The band was called to the stage for an encore, and played this song, one of the few Vavak sang lead vocals on, and the emotion of the moment overcame him, with the crowd picking up the words when he could no longer sing them. Whenever I hear this song, I’m right there again, a few feet from the stage, yelling right along.
Nathan: Denison Witmer, Safe Away and Of Joy and Sorrow
I discovered Denison Witmer in college. Though I can’t remember who introduced me to him, and there’s no specific song/memory connection, hearing him drops my mind right back into my entire college career. His music is so delicate, sad, and ultimately beautiful in the simplest ways; it’s the perfect music to listen to while you’re trying to discover yourself in an environment of theological confusion.
And it’s the perfect music for trying to remember the essence of that time.
Tyler: Wincing The Night Away, The Shins
I moved to Chicago for the second (and final) time in the spring of 2007. My girlfriend of the time had taken a lucrative gig in said Windy City, so I’d saved up cash waiting tables at a bistro in Cincy after the election cycle of ’06 (throughout which I worked various political gigs) with designs on moving back in with one of my best friends/former roommates, who’d grown tired of his post-college stay in St. Louis and was heading upper-Illinois way as well. There are a number of records and songs I recall from that time–the last period I routinely drove to and from work–ranging from Lily Allen’s Alright, Still, Rick Ross’s “Push It,” and my first foray into the world of Winehouse. Those tunes, though, I’ve listened to plenty in the subsequent years (aside from Winehouse; I’ve never listened to her music, not at all, I don’t know what you’re talking about), and thus they’ve lost their At That Time flashback-immediacy.
Wincing The Night Away, however, still takes me back. It was a purchase made more so I could burn it for my lady, though I enjoyed the first six tracks or so. “Phantom Limb” was all over public radio at the time; I had a real affinity for “Australia” (“La-la-la-laaa!”). It’s never found its way into rotation since, though, and so those jangly James Mercer tones remain a portal back to very visceral recollections. Living with the girl for the first month in Chi’; searching for a serving job all over the North Side (eventually landing one in Evanston); catching up with a pair of best buddies with whom I’d lived my first time around in town; shifting my shit into a ridiculous garden apartment that could well have doubled as a dungeon. It was spring at the time, so the weather was growing warm. I’ll never listen to that record much; it’s not my really my style. So it’s a time machine. One of the most potent I got.
Travis: King’s X, “Over My Head”
I was lucky to have parents who loved music, and dragged me as a child to shows not many other parents would. The first concert I remember was King’s X, a semi-forgotten alt-rock band who maintain a cult following to this day. The soulful “Over My Head” was the centerpiece of their perfect set, and it’ll always hold a place in my heart as the song I remember from my first time to the sadly closed Mississippi Nights, St. Louis’s best music venue before the Rocket Bar.
Nathan: “And I Love Her,” The Beatles
Olivia and I danced to this tender Beatles tune for our first dance. When I hear it, I recall our wedding day and I also imagine a muggy moonlit night by some lagoon.
Tyler: “Fly,” Sugar Ray; “Legend Of A Cowgirl,” Imani Coppola; “The Freshmen,” The Verve Pipe; “Walkin’ On The Sun,” Smashmouth; “Du Hast,” Rammstein; “Come On Eileen,” Save Ferris; “The Impression That I Get,” The Mighty Mighty Bosstones; “Sell Out,” Reel Big Fish; “Tubthumbing,” Chumbawamba; “Bitch,” Meredith Brooks; “I’ll Be Missing You,” Puff Daddy w/Faith Evans; “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems,” The Notorious B.I.G. w/Puff Daddy & Mase
Every single damn one of these songs has a ridiculous, incredible ability to whisk me back to the first semester of my freshman year in high school. I’m part of a Clooney-esque crew of boys that went to both grade school and high school together, non-blood brothers who remain an absolutely vital part of my life today, convening as we always did at “The Lunchtable.” What these tunes mostly bring to mind, though, are the mixers and dances to which we were immediately addicted, all hormonal and suddenly surrounded by comely girls from other Catholic high schools, the majority of us inexperienced as hell, tentative romantics who also wanted to make the fuck out, because all the chaperones at our St. X inexplicably turned their heads whenever lips and tongues got to mashing. John “went out” with a girl named Amy, who became one of my absolute best friends; Brad took up for a few weeks with a girl whose name I can’t remember. I spent two weeks in the thrall of a young lady named Allison; James looked on with bemused detachment, as he didn’t really give a fuck. All these songs played a lot at the time, at those mixers, the dances, as well as on the car-radios or Walkmans that soundtracked our rides to school. (Long live 107.1, “Channel Z.”) It blows my mind that this now is more than fourteen years ago, but each and every number above makes me feel not twenty-nine, but fourteen, ready for something, unsure what something is.
I guess some things never change.
P.S. – Special hat tip to “The Freshmen,” because we were freshmen. Oh, the irony.
Travis: Bonnie Tyler, “Holding Out for a Hero”
For a good portion of grade school, I claimed this as my favorite song, due to its prominent placement in the St. Louis Cardinals 1985 season retrospective video, Heck of a Year. This blissful eighties blast will always take me back to days of sitting in the living room of my parents’ house, watching Terry Pendleton, Ozzie Smith and Tom Herr turn amazing double play after double play. Baseball and bad music: a childhood I’d love to go back to.
Nathan: “Losing My Religion,” R.E.M.
Though I know I deliberately misconstrue Michael Stipe’s haunting lyrics to suit my own personal history, I don’t believe that there is a song more personal to me than this one. I’ve been listening to “Losing My Religion” since it came out about 20 years ago, so there are more memories than I can count associated with this song. But (and I mentioned this in my R.E.M. obituary) the song does provide me with what is probably my first distinct memory connected to a song.
Riding home from school in my sixth grade year, “Losing My Religion” came on the bus radio a minute or two before reaching my stop. It was September. I had just moved to a new neighborhood. The weather was beautiful. I was transfixed by the song but aware that I would have to get off the bus before it was over. I popped off the bus and high tailed it through a few back yards to get to my house only to flip on the radio and find that the song had passed. It’s not often that you go running like a possessed maniac for a song.
Tyler: “Trapped In The Closet (parts 1-12),” R. Kelly
My first stretch in Chicago lasted about six months, bunking down in a damn flophouse apartment in Rogers Park with the aforementioned Brad, John, and a glorious motherfucker named Matt who in the interceding years has rebranded himself as “Wes.” (He was good for stories. Personal favorite: Tyler sits in an easy chair, unemployed, watching TV. Matt/Wes emerges from his bedroom. Asks “What time is it?” Tyler replies, “3:30ish?” Matt/Wes juts chin. Speaks. “Almost time t’start drinkin’.”) I didn’t last long up Windy way that time around for various reasons–I was in the wake of a breakup, our four-man/two-bedroom arrangement didn’t allow much privacy, looking for a job didn’t go well, Katrina happened, I wasn’t meant to live with these particular best friends (weird how that works, no?). There were fine moments scattered throughout, though. Because we were young and financially stupid, we got HBO and got addicted to Entourage. We found a glorious bar, the Sovereign, that was cheap and had an inexplicable Fisher Price-size pool table. We got up to all kinds of shenanigans involving all kinds of random strangers and apartments, ’cause we weren’t hard partiers, but we were curious. And, thanks to the crazy brain of a Chi’-based R&B crooner, we had “Trapped In The Closet.”
It became an initiation ritual. Lots of friends came to visit, as well as Brad & John’s girlfriends; every time anybody came to town, they had to sit down and watch (often before they’d dropped their bags, or been offered a beer). It was batshit loony. It was before ol’ Kells got aware that he was the butt of a joke. It was baffling. We watched those videos roughly a thousand times. We tried to discover whether there was actually a “Pajets Club” in our new town. We just couldn’t stop.
It was glorious. Seven o’clock in the mornin’, and the rays of the sun wake me…