The cliché goes that the music you listen to in your most formative years is the music that will stay with you forever. And, while the past couple of weeks have touched on some of the most important years of my life, nothing comes close to 2001 in terms of “formative.”
It’s 2001. I’m 18. At the beginning of the year I’m completing my senior year of high school. At this age, I’m well aware it’s always been expected of me to go to college; that’s just what you do after high school. But it was never a huge draw or goal for me. School felt like such a waste of time. I felt like I was on the frontlines of technology, the internet, and all I wanted to do was spend hours online exploring and learning about computers and programming while listening to pop-punk music and eating Red Vines. The idea of four more years of sitting in class felt positively soul-sucking, but there was no way in hell I wanted to stay and live at home with my parents either. I wanted out. And I wanted to go to sunny California, somewhere the polar opposite of the rain-soaked Oregon I had known my entire life. Somewhere I associated with all these punk bands in my CD collection. So I applied only to colleges in California and one of the Oregon schools as a back-up. The University of Redlands offered me the most money. The campus was gorgeous, it was in southern California, and that was good enough for me. I knew I would be leaving my childhood friends behind, they’d scatter to other schools across the country, and I’d be leaving my girlfriend.1 But I needed to get out. Desperately.
That summer before college, I got a phone call from my randomly assigned roommate. The call went something like this:
Nick: “Hey, I’m your college roommate, and I figured we should probably chat before we get to school.”
Me: “Yeah, sounds good. I’ve got a mini-fridge I’m bringing.”
Nick: “I’ve got a TV my parents are letting me bring.”
Me: “Cool. Uh, what kind of music do you like?”
Nick: “Well, I’m from Poway, so Blink-182, Unwritten Law, Pennywise, stuff like that.”
Me: “Heh, we’re going to get along just fine. See you in a few months.”
He’s been my best friend ever since.
In my head, this entire year is jumbled together in a yarn of confusion. The combination of leaving high school and starting college runs together in the weirdest ways. A senior year full of all the senior year tropes. I remember running a Blink-182 fan-page during the lead-up and release of their new album, Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. I distinctly recall ripping “Stay Together for the Kids” off the radio, to cassette tape, and then using some convoluted method of getting it into the computer as an mp3, and then playing that radio ripped mp3 over one of our senior videos before the album even came out. And then I remember a tsunami of pop-punk hit the airwaves riding the wave of Blink’s success. From Sum 41’s All Killer, No Filler, to Sugarcult, to Mest, it seemed like everywhere I looked there was a new pop-punk band on the radio.
This is a year where we have FenixTX dropping the underrated Lechuza, Jimmy Eat World releasing the radio-conquering Bleed American, Drive-Thru Records putting out debut EPs from The Starting Line, Finch, and Something Corporate, and Thursday dropping Full Collapse. It’s a year where The Ataris release End is Forever2, Relient K release The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek, Saves the Day blow our minds with Stay What You Are, Chris Carrabba goes Super Saiyan and gives us Further Seems Forever’s The Moon is Down and Dashboard Confessional’s The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, and a little band called Yellowcard catches my attention with the release of One for the Kids.
I’m discovering all of these bands while running my Blink-182 and MxPx fansite called “AbsolutePunk,” and it’s as I head off to college that I am thinking about how to take this to the next stage. I still love Blink and MxPx, but there’s this vast new world of music opening up in front of me that I want to explore and share with the internet. A combination of desire and newfound free time in a dorm room with persistent internet (and the fastest I’d ever had) led to me expanding the website into something where I could cover all the music I was listening to. AbsolutePunk.net, as it was most well known, was born.3
All of this music was surrounding me during a period of complete change. My entire world as I know it is upended, I’m making new friends while trying to stay in contact with old ones over AIM, I’m exploring life in southern California and doing all the things my parents wouldn’t let me. Yes, I pierced both ears and had spiky blond tipped hair while wearing Atticus clothing and puka shells. Of course I did. And it’s during all of this upheaval, and not all that long after my freshman year of college was starting to feel underway, that the phone rings at some ungodly hour in the morning. Nick answers. I’m barely awake, half annoyed at the phone going off, half trying to fall back asleep and ignore it. I hear, “wait, what,” and he’s out of bed. I know something’s wrong.
”Get up; a plane hit the World Trade Center.”
My exact memory is foggy; I don’t remember the precise order of events or what I’ve pieced together in my head from footage I’ve seen over the years. But I think we walked into the slowly filling up common room in our dorm right around when the second plane hits the tower. I remember standing there in stunned silence as the towers collapse.
I remember sitting in the dorm later talking with my roommate and trying to understand what was happening.
”Are we going to war?”
”Is there going to be a draft?”
”What the fuck are we supposed to do?”
It feels like a blur all these years later. These emotions, fear, anger, sadness, and utter helplessness are swirling around like a tornado in my brain. I don’t remember how long classes were canceled for. I remember lots of people crying. I remember being scared and experiencing all of this away from home and the comforts I’d known all my life. And, like I have so many times in my life, I turned to music to help get me through. As a way to process, as a way to distract, as a way to fill my head with anything else. And it’s these songs, these albums, and these memories that stay with me to this day. I look at the albums I was listening to from 2001 through 2005 and see some of my favorite albums of all time. Albums that not only define years, but I’d argue, help determine who I am. And that’s part of why I’ve been doing this series, to look at and deconstruct my musical tastes throughout the years, to pull apart and see the building blocks.
And in that vein, before we get to the actual list of albums and the playlist, there’s one more wound that needs to have the band-aid ripped off. It’s impossible to write about my musical history and not talk about Brand New. They are, inarguably, one of the five most influential bands of my life. The impact their albums had on me, starting here in 2001 with Your Favorite Weapon, is virtually beyond calculation. Unlike my 2006 article, where I was re-ranking the albums from each year as I feel today, this is a historical re-telling of my musical journey. And that journey is incomplete without that band and the subsequent sadness and hurt I feel to this day from everything that came after. As I sit here now, I struggle for the words. I’ve been struggling to put to paper how I feel about everything for over three years now. I’m no closer to an answer. I have drafts upon drafts of attempts to chain my thoughts together in a way that makes sense. All abandoned. But, in its most plain, the band helped save my life. Sitting in that dorm room thinking of home, a home I so desperately wanted to leave, and yet in times of uncertainty wished I could be safely tucked in the basement, all the while listening to “Soco Amaretto Lime,” is a massive part of my history. They were my favorite band and as much a part of my self described identity as any musical act since Blink-182. So I say that as a statement of fact, as a rung on the timeline of my soundtrack.
When I think about 2001, these are the albums I think of most:
- Alkaline Trio – From Here to Infirmary
- American Hi-Fi – American Hi-Fi
- Blink-182 – Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
- Brand New – Your Favorite Weapon
- Dashboard Confessional – The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most
- FenixTX – Lechuza
- Finch – Falling Into Place EP
- Further Seems Forever – The Moon is Down
- Hey Mercedes – Everynight Fire Works
- Inspection 12 – In Recovery
- Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American
- John Mayer – Room for Squares
- Lucky Boys Confusion – Throwing the Game
- MEST – Destination Unknown
- Name Taken – The Silent Game
- No Motiv – Diagram for Healing
- Park – No Signal
- Pennywise – Land of the Free
- Relient K – The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek
- River City High – Won’t Turn Down
- Saves the Day – Stay What You Are
- Sick of Change – These Shattered Lives
- Something Corporate – Audioboxer
- Student Rick – Soundtrack for a Generation
- Sugarcult – Start Static
- Sum 41 – All Killer No Filler
- The Ataris – End is Forever
- The Bouncing Souls – How I Spent My Summer Vacation
- The Living End – Roll On
- The Movielife – Has a Gambling Problem
- The Starting Line – With Hopes of Starting Over
- Thursday – Full Collapse
- Travoltas – Teenbeat
- Yellowcard – One for The Kids
I see albums that were massive mainstream successes, albums that became cult classics, and albums I feel like only a handful of people ever listened to. I see bands starting that would become lifelong favorites. It’s all just beginning for Yellowcard, The Starting Line, and Something Corporate. I see my musical tastes starting to shift ever so slightly, still obviously pop-punk obsessed, but also utterly enamored by Thursday’s Full Collapse, Finch, and this drastic shift in style from Saves the Day.4
But on top of everything, I see my most formative years in musical form. I see my high school graduation. I see my freshman dorm room. I remember the fears and uncertainty. I remember the mistakes, the embarrassments, the failures, just as well as I can recite to you the lyrics from “First Date.” It’s all there. The mp3 mixtapes for girls. The new website designs. The Winamp skins and, soon, my first iPod. These are the albums that powered all of it and feel as much a part of me as my own skin. I wear the choruses around my bones. They tell the story of me and wrap around my soul like a baby’s comfort blanket, safe, consolatory, and a marker for a period of time that will forever define a life.
The cliché goes that the music you listen to in your most formative years is the music that will stay with you forever.
I’m 37 now and find new music to love every single year,5 but it’s within these albums that I see the songs that will never go away. It’s these bands, these albums, that have a place within my heart that is forever protected from replacement. They’re me.
There was an ill-fated attempt at long distance, but that was a horribly stupid idea.↩
A burned copy was sent to me from Kris’s dad. I think that counts as the first-ever promotional CD I received.↩