Everyone has a set of bands or musicians that they hold dearly for some reason or another. Oftentimes, it’s not even an artist that you listen to anymore. Time placed a wedge between whatever it was that connected you so directly to their message and the place that you currently reside in life. It’s like losing touch with an old friend; you never actually stopped caring about the person, it’s just that life has led you in separate directions and it no longer makes sense to spend more than the occasional holiday catching up with them. For all intents and purposes, your friendships become ones of convenience. But just like those time-tested relationships, there’s this unspoken understanding that anytime or anywhere, you’ll be able to return to that album/song/artist and everything will return to being exactly like it was before. It’s a comfort that very few bands have been able to bestow upon me: Brand New, Yellowcard, and others do come to the forefront of my memory first – but then there’s Jimmy Eat World – the band that I too often tuck away, saying to myself, “I’ll give Clarity another listen once I’m finished with the new Sufjan.” Well, I’m here now to say thank you to a band that I probably haven’t listened to nearly as much as I’ve always wanted to.
We’ve all experienced that crystallizing moment when you hear an artist’s message and everything seems to click – it’s almost as if that passage, song, or album was written specifically for you. Perhaps the lyrics are exactly what you’ve never been able to articulate, maybe the music just fits a moment better than any other possible combination of sounds. Finding love in music – to me at least – is almost as rare as falling in love with another person. You both need to be in sync on so many different levels that when it finally does happen, it feels like a celestial alignment. Are you dizzy yet? Sure, maybe that sounds a little far-fetched. I’d honestly be surprised if most readers didn’t scoff at that comparison. But that’s exactly how I felt when I first laid ears upon Bleed American. Like many Jimmy Eat World fans, it was my first experience with the band. It was their breakthrough album, and it lit up the airwaves with huge hits such as “The Middle” and “Sweetness.” In purchasing the album, I never expected to find the level of depth that I uncovered with the material that resided between the blockbuster numbers. “Your House” hit home when the very first girl I thought I was falling in love with moved away, ‘How I’ve had you once / Oh, I can’t forget that / Sometimes I wish I could lose you again‘ while “Hear You Me” resonated with the passing of my grandfather, who died of cancer when I was only five, ‘So what would you think of me now / So lucky, so strong, so proud? / I never said thank you for that / Now I’ll never have a chance.’ Each song had a moment that tore me up inside…and I developed a personal attachment to this band that I haven’t even come close to replicating with any other band. Jimmy Eat World was always who I turned to during moments of loss, and even if I didn’t know it at the time, that’s something that would continue for quite some time.
By the time Futures was rolled out, it seemed like everyone in my school was talking about the band. I remember leaving straight from my 9th period history class to go pick up a copy from FYE (remember when they were everywhere?). While the record stands tall as my favorite Jimmy Eat World release to date, I recall being pretty disappointed with the album at the time. It didn’t seem to pack the same amount of energy and hooks that its predecessor did, and there was no reason for me to relate to the drug themes woven throughout the record’s lyrical fabric. In fact, for about three years it was always the “good Jimmy album that is no Bleed American” – and that all changed one fateful night when I lost an incredibly close friend to the aforementioned subject matter. “Drugs or Me” suddenly exposed its profound depth. “Pain” took on a whole new meaning. I found myself spiraling out of control, stumbling about my college streets drunk and alone on school nights and rarely sleeping. I doubt a gave a fuck about Futures at that point, but when I snapped out of it and started to piece myself back together, I looked back at the album from an entirely different perspective that I doubt very few could unless they walked an identical path. To this day, I still have to fight back tears when I hear the line ‘If only you could see the stranger next to me / You promise you promise that you’re done, but I can’t tell you from the drugs.’
It wasn’t until after graduation that I came to fully appreciate the meaning of the album’s towering 7 minute closer, “23” – which just so happened to coincide with my age at the time. Once again I found myself on the wrong side of unrequited love, and this time it was someone completely unavailable. ‘You’ll sit alone forever / If you wait for the right time‘ became the story of my life, always wondering about the what-if’s and if-only-I-had’s that never seemed to break in my favor. I found myself drowning in self-pity, seemingly unable to even get noticed despite being a central cog in several large social groups. I began doubting myself to the point of crippling insecurity, and at one point considered leaving everything I knew just to get away from the inescapable feeling of disappointment. I never did though, clinging onto hope in a few areas that seemed to serve as silver linings – like my fresh teaching stint. The lines ‘Don’t give away the end / The one thing that stays mine‘ rang out like a mission statement, and empowered me with the hope that someday things would turn out differently. Not too far down the road, they thankfully did.
Not every single Jimmy Eat World album or song has had a deep and personal impact on me — that would be almost impossible. But the moments I’ve shared with this band go to some incredibly dark places. It’s not the kind of band you’d expect to share that type of journey with, but that’s the thing about music: you never know what role it will end up playing in your life. So even though I’m pretty far beyond the years of Bleed American and Futures, and the experiences that surrounded them, I’ll always have a profound respect for the band that got me through some of the most difficult periods of my young adult life. So even as I shelve those records for whatever is new and exciting, it was long overdue to put pen to paper (figuratively) and say thanks to a group of musicians whose impact will probably go far beyond what they’re even aware of.