OCTOBER 21, 2007 — Now that I’m in my post-college years, during the last time I went to the Avalon in Hollywood to see the band Brand New, I admit I felt a little silly screaming the chorus to the song “Soco Amaretto Lime“: “I’m gonna stay 18 forever/So we can stay like this forever…/We’ll never have to listen/To anyone about anything/Because it’s all been done/And it’s all been said/We’re the coolest kids/And we take what we can get.”
Then, when I saw Dashboard Confessional last week at Los Angeles’s The Orpheum Theatre, I also chuckled as I shouted the lyrics to “The Swiss Army Romance“: “We’re not 21/But the sooner we are/The sooner the fun will begin/So get out your fake eyelashes/And fake IDs/And real disasters ensue/It’s cool to take these chances/It’s cool to fake romances/And grow up fast.”
Remember those things that you grew into and out of as you became an adult? None of that happened to me. Even now, I don’t like coffee. I don’t wear suits to work. I prefer adventure over stability. I am addicted to string cheese snacks and Rice Krispies Treats. I think most adults are silly. I love Disneyland. I still go to rock concerts.
In fact, I’m a concert devotee. I’ve been to well over 150 rock concerts, and my music taste has a broad range; I like everything from the Dandy Warhols to Underworld, Liz Phair to Cake, and The Eels to R.E.M. The list goes on and on, but there’s also a group of bands that I’m a bit embarrassed that I love.
No one seems to know exactly what to call these bands — “new punk,” “post punk,” “pop punk,” or “emo” seem to be the most popular monikers — but fans, band members, and journalists never manage to agree. Some bands take offense to being lumped into the esoteric “emo” category and others don’t care. But however they’re categorized, I can’t get enough of bands like Brand New, Dashboard Confessional, Jack’s Mannequin, Jimmy Eat World, Something Corporate, and Yellowcard.
Jimmy Eat World plays at the House of Blues in Anaheim, California
Why should I be embarrassed? Primarily, this is music loved by awkward adolescents and ridiculed by grown adults. After all, the lyrics often are cringingly obvious. The vocals are exaggeratedly emotional. The performances are filled with palpable angst. Watch and listen to Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional — a musician often compared to Bob Dylan — cry out, “You have stolen my heart,” in his song “Stolen,” and you’ll get an idea of what I mean.
Adults snicker at all this emotion. Common wisdom tells us that now that we’re grown, we know better than to whine about silly things like betrayed love (see “Screaming Infidelities” by Dashboard Confessional) and backstabbing friends (see “If You C Jordan” by Something Corporate). We have more important issues to deal with like careers, money, and car repairs. Even if those feelings from long ago were as meaningful as they seemed at the time, it feels like there’s no time for emotion or passion now.
These bands sell a unique brand of nostalgia almost completely comprised of bittersweet adolescent memories. They harvest meaning from their young memoirs, transporting fans to a time when their every emotion was intense and all-consuming. When Jimmy Eat World sings in “Your House,” they’re tapping into the kind of raw emotion that makes people feel alive and adults forget exists: “I throw away everything I’ve written you/Oh anything just to keep my mind from thinking/How I’ve had you once…/When I let you closer/I only want you closer/You rip my heart right out/You rip my heart right out.”
When Yellowcard sings “Ocean Avenue,” they reminisce about an experience that as adults we might consider innocent and incidental, and yet when Yellowcard sings it, it feels like we’re at the last stop before the end of the world: “There’s a place on the corner of Cherry Street/We would walk on the beach in our bare feet/We were both 18 and it felt so right/Sleeping all day, staying up all night…/If I could find you now, things would get better/We could leave this town and run forever… I remember the look in your eyes/When I told you that this was goodbye.”
Yet strangely, the guys in these bands aren’t teenagers. They haven’t been so for years. Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba and Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins are both 32. Brand New’s Jesse Lacey is 29, Yellowcard’s Ryan Key is 28, and Something Corporate’s Andrew McMahon is 25. It’s a strange experience watching these grown men, on stage, capture an enormous crowd of mostly teens, singing stories about life events that must have occurred 10 or 15 years ago.
Then again, maybe they didn’t happen so long ago. Maybe the stories told in their songs happened only yesterday — or maybe never at all. It doesn’t matter. These singers and lyricists are rare adults — adults that still experience life as vividly and passionately as they did when they were 14. Even more importantly, at their shows, they have the ability to transfer this gift to anyone willing to listen.
Did I, as in Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle”, ever succumb to peer pressure by taking off my clothes and going to a high school underwear-only party? Did I, as in Something Corporate’s “Cavanaugh Park”, ever get high in a public park in California with my friends in high school? Did I, as in Dashboard Confessional’s “Steal”, fall in love with a girl on a beach on the Floridian coast as it snowed in front my family’s mansion when I was twelve?
No. But when I stood in front of Jimmy Eat World at the Anaheim House of Blues last week with 1,000 other fans, I closed my eyes. I let the monster sound of their music wash over me. And I felt like I could have. Or should have. Or will.
I’m gonna stay 18 forever.