Last week’s article in this series felt like a turning point. 2001 was the year I left home, went off to college, experienced 9/11, and turned AbsolutePunk into a website about more than just two bands. And now, looking at 2002, the years start to blend into a period that’s less defined by where I was in school. Previously, each year correlated well with each grade of school, but now in college, things are more mixed. 2002 is roughly sophomore year of college, but there are parts of it anchored to the surrounding grades as well. This leads to my memory being slightly blurred when trying to pull what exactly happened when together; however, one thing is crystal clear. 2002 is a year when pop-punk and our scene absolutely exploded1 in popularity.
It’s 2002. I’m 19. I’m now in my second year in sunny southern California, and I am playing a part in all its stereotypes. Bleached blonde tips, puka shells, hoop earrings, Atticus, Rip Curl, and Macbeth clothing pouring off me like surfer wannabe syrup. I’ve been indoctrinated into the slang. I now know it’s “soda” and not “pop.” The previous summer back home was one of the most interesting in my life. Everyone coming back from their first year of college and meeting up, almost itching to show off the changes. The shy kids who are now the life of the party. The previously unpopular groups are bursting with confidence after a year away from the chains of high school labels. The roles and friendships rekindled. And everyone wants to share their drinking/smoking weed stories. Everyone has become a mini-mixologist in their first year away and is dying to tell you about it. It’s glorious; it’s hilarious; it’s summer.
And now, as I start the new school year, I feel like I’m settling into college life. My college roommate and I install an air conditioning unit in our dorm room that is so old it looks like it’s part of the building. While everyone else gets in trouble for their new, modern units, we go unnoticed and spend the year with the only air-conditioned room in the entire hall. I also discover that the cable TV that runs through the dorm (that we’re supposed to pay for) is simply a box in the ceiling that you can just plug right in if you have the right cables and adapters. So we do. And we now have free cable. It’s a year of immaturity, hijinks, and tales that we re-tell time and time again while laughing at the absurdity of our youth. I honestly can’t believe some of the stuff we got away with. And around us, there’s a pop-punk utopia blossoming. Not that far away, Drive-Thru Records is pumping out the height of their catalog (teamed with MCA Records). [deep breath] The Starting Line release their debut album, Midtown release Living Well is the Best Revenge, New Found Glory release Sticks & Stones, Home Grown release Kings of Pop, Allister releases Last Stop, Suburbia, Something Corporate drops Leaving Through the Window, Finch releases What it is to Burn, and The Early November release their EPs. [exhale]
And that’s just the stuff related to that label.
Around it, we have Thrice and Taking Back Sunday expanding my tastes in a harder direction. The Used and My Chemical Romance releasing debut albums as the scene and screaming — soon dubbed screamo — become more intertwined. We have Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker releasing a Box Car Racer album that I reviewed in embarrassing fashion. We have The All-American Rejects and Simple Plan dropping their debuts. We have Good Charlotte blowing up with The Young and the Hopeless, Sum 41 following up their smash hit with Does This Look Infected?, and countless new bands bursting onto the scene, such as Knockout, Name Taken, Over It, Northstar, AutoPilot Off, and Audio Karate.
When I put together this week’s list of albums that helped define my musical tastes, I just started laughing at how ridiculous it is. I got up to 50 albums, the vast majority of which are scene classics, and am practically delirious. I mean, look at it:
- All American Rejects – All American Rejects
- Allister – Last Stop Suburbia
- Anti-Flag – Mobilize
- Audio Karate – Space Camp
- Autopilot Off – Autopilot Off EP
- Bad Religion – Process of Belief
- Bowling for Soup – Drunk Enough to Dance
- Box Car Racer – Box Car Racer
- Bright Eyes – Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
- Butch Walker – Left of Self Centered
- Coheed and Cambria – The Second Stage Turbine Blade
- Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head
- Dashboard Confessional – MTV Unplugged
- Days Away – The Feel of It EP
- Don’t Look Down – Five
- Finch – What it is To Burn
- Foo Fighters – One by One
- Frou Frou – Details
- Glassjaw – Worship and Tribute
- Goldfinger – Open Your Eyes
- Good Charlotte – The Young and the Hopeless
- Home Grown – Kings of Pop
- Junction 18 – Heroes from the Future
- Knockout – Searching for Solid Ground
- Lucky 7 – Lucky 7
- Midtown – Living Well is the Best Revenge
- Millencolin – Home from Home
- My Chemical Romance – I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love
- Name Taken – Hold Your Breath, You Know How Long
- New Found Glory – Sticks and Stones
- Northstar – Is this Thing Loaded?
- Over It – Timing is Everything
- Punk Goes Pop Compilation
- Recover – Ceci n ‘est Pas Recover
- Remember Maine – The Last Place You Look
- Simple Plan – No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls
- Slick Shoes – Slick Shoes
- Something Corporate – Leaving Through the Window
- Strung Out – An American Paradox
- Sum 41 – Does This Look Infected
- Taking Back Sunday – Tell All Your Friends
- The Early November – For All of This
- The Starting Line – Say It Like You Mean It
- The Used – The Used
- Thrice – The Illusion of Safety
- Thursday – Five Stories Falling EP
- Travoltas – Endless Summer
- Treble Charger – Detox
- Tsunami Bomb – The Ultimate Escape
- Yellowcard – The Underdog EP
What I take away most from this collection is that the music scene is starting to move between pop-punk extremes. One side is getting more poppy; the other is getting a little more edge to it. Some bands walked this line explicitly, a band like Finch, where they would have choruses as big as those found on a Simple Plan record, but then add some screaming in for good measure. And then you have Thrice and a more technical and metal influenced sound while Taking Back Sunday is doing this screaming Lifetime thing that practically turns the music scene on its head when it comes out. It’s hard to overstate what a transitional album Tell All Your Friends was for our little music scene at the time. It was an album that became an instant favorite for many the first time it played. An almost immediate, “yeah, that’s my favorite thing ever” reaction. It had a swagger, a pull, a draw that put the band on the top of everyone’s list in what felt like overnight. I was, of course, obsessed.
So while one half of me is being pulled to this new The Used/Finch/Taking Back Sunday/Thursday/Thrice kind of music, the other half is finding feels in the piano stylings of Andrew McMahon and Something Corporate, or the lyrical and musical flourishes of Bright Eyes. To me, this year felt like an expansion of my tastes. Like being in a garden and seeing the beauty in the cross-pollination spread around me. And it makes sense that at this same time, I’m expanding the website to talk about more and more artists. I’m into more music than ever, there’s life-changing stuff being released on the regular, we’re going to shows all the time, seeing incredible lineups, and I can barely keep up with it all. And this genre of music is exploding in popularity. Hell, Avril Lavigne drops her debut, Let Go, in June, and I think that’s when I knew we’d crossed some kind of rubicon. And, to go along with it, the internet has given us the ability to amass a massive collection of mp3s, and we’re very close to the debut of the iPod and being able to have all of that music with us at any time.
I’ve long said that Fall Out Boy’s popularity explosion (coming soon to a weekly article near you) was a massive reason for AbsolutePunk’s popularity spike. Still, it’s these previous years that played a significant role as well. I often felt like we were the only ones paying attention to this kind of music, and then it hit big, and all of us were over in our little world going “told you so!” as the bands we were championing were being discovered by major labels, radio, and MTV. This five to six-year run right here is the heart of my musical and professional journey. Everything is tied to these years, these bands, these songs. And it’s where I go from begging labels to send me advanced CDs, to being told by my college’s mailroom that I can no longer get mail sent to me because they don’t have the capacity to process everything coming in. It’s where I go from being obsessed with everything Drive-Thru Records is doing and refreshing their homepage on a daily basis, to sitting in their offices talking about their bands and their upcoming marketing plans and how we could work together. It’s starting a Blink-182 fan-page, and all of a sudden being in a weird bar that scrawled giant X’s on my hands as I’m listening to this Box Car Racer album over the speakers for an official listening party and having no real idea how I got from point A to B. The internet got popular and more mainstream, the bands I liked got popular and more mainstream, and now all of a sudden this fun silly hobby of mine is very popular. And I’m still just a dumbass college student playing pranks with my friends,2 being an idiot with relationships, and living by the good ‘ole “fake it ’til you make it” credo.
2001 was a year of transition — a year of leaving home, losing innocence, and trying to discover me. 2002 was a year of embracing every part of “the new me.” I was shedding the skin of who I was or thought I was, in high school, and enjoying the new coating that the freedom away from my parents and my old friends provided. In hindsight, I probably enjoyed that freedom a little too much. I pushed the limits of “how little can I study and still pass this class” the same way we pushed the boundaries of how many electrical devices we can plug in at one time in a dorm room.3 But this period I also can’t help but romanticize in my memory. Fewer obligations. Sunny weather all the time. Summers by the pool. Late nights teaching myself how to code. Giant Costco sized bags of Hot Tamales in my desk drawer that my college roommate still mocks me about.
I feel blessed and recognize now the privilege of these years. As I sit here in a room tinted by the yellow smoke-filled skies under a year of global pandemic, I can’t help but feel a sadness for the 18 and 19-year-olds that don’t get to go back to college and experience this part of their lives in a similar way. Those were the years that helped me learn how to be on my own, how to make decisions for myself, and trust myself in making the hard decisions. Mistakes were made. Box springs were thrown off the balcony. And music was played oh so loud. But AbsolutePunk was becoming something at the same time, and the music blowing my speakers to bits, and inviting hall-mates on the regular to stop by and ask for a copy of whatever I was playing, was god damn life-changing.
Why we devised a game that included throwing water on each other at unsuspected times around campus; I’ll never really understand.↩
The answer is too many. In the first few weeks of school, we kept blowing the circuit breaker for our hall. This led to us figuring out how many devices our neighbors had plugged into what sockets to optimize our room, run the wires to different plugs, and keep from overloading it.↩