Review Summary: Heart is on the floor, why don't you step on it? When I think of all the things you've done.
There was a time in my life when I thought this was the greatest album on the face of the Earth. There was a time when each iteration of my “top ten albums” list that I’d scribble in my notebook would vary ever-so-slightly in every single spot except for #1, which was inherently reserved for Through Being Cool
. There was a time when I swear to God I could have written the words to this album myself and was hopelessly awestruck at how heartbreaking Chris Conley could get those relatively simple words to sound. Needless to say, I’m not 14 anymore; I’m so far removed from the young adolescent that stepped into that now-defunct Sam Goody record shop with his mother back in the winter of 2000. My exposure to Saves the Day preceded the internet – at least in my household – which means, no RateYourMusic, no Sputnik, no Pitchfork, no MetaCritic. I was too young to accurately seek out professional opinions elsewhere and probably too naïve to care, even if I did know where to look. At that particular point in my life, purchasing a CD that received no amount of radio play or critical recognition was as much of a gamble as buying a lottery ticket.
I’m still not sure what it was about the cover that caught my eye that day; the quintet perched upon a dorm room couch with so much nervous anxiety that it could be detected through a still photograph. Maybe it was the way I wished I could “pull off” argyle socks like Chris. Maybe it was the way I immediately connected with Bryan’s overwhelming look of social displacement. Maybe it was because I was a teenager who dreamt of one day having a girl stare at me the same way that redhead behind the couch was staring at Dave. I remember tearing off the shrink wrap in the car before I even arrived home. My mom’s Crown Victoria didn’t have a CD player, so it’s not like I could have even listened to Through Being Cool
on the ride home. When I was younger, I had this obsession with CD jewel cases and booklets. The artwork, the lyrics printed all along the inside, the sometimes sentimental liner-notes and “thank yous” doled out by various band members. As I rummaged though the lyrics in the passenger seat of that Crown Vic underneath the fluorescent street lights of Dix-Toledo Rd, I distinctly recall the first time I read the words to ‘You Vandal’ – “Yeah, my ribs have parted ways and said we’re not going to protect this heart you have.
” I was already in love with my purchase and I hadn’t even heard a single second of the record yet.
As a teenager experiencing a myriad of brand new things – high school, puberty, girls, what I presumed were “real” feelings – Through Being Cool
was more than just an album. It was a bible. It was a collection of twelve confessional postcards, one of which could be used to accurately describe the way I was feeling at any given moment throughout the better part of the decade that would follow its purchase. It didn’t feel like Saves the Day wrote these songs for just anybody. They wrote these songs for me
me. That was the only possible explanation, because every single word that jettisoned from the back of Chris Conley’s goddamn throat took the wind out of me like a swift punch to the stomach. It was just incredible to me. How could he possibly know? How in the hell was it so easy for Chris to not only capture every possible emotion that I’d ever felt in my life up to that point, but then portray it in such a way that I couldn’t even begin to conjure up myself? "Even now that you’re not here, I climb these mountains of houses every night / Say your name, and wish I could have done things right."
I couldn’t listen to that line in ‘All-Star Me’ and not be immediately taken back to Melvindale Park, where my first junior-high girlfriend, Amber, told me that she liked another kid named Mike because he was "more manly" than me. Does that mean anything to me now? Of course not. But in that moment, it meant everything
. It meant everything be able to listen to ‘Holly Hox, Forget Me Nots’ on max volume and shout along with Chris at the top of my lungs, "I’m diving in this river / Fishing out my heart / Never gonna let you get your hands on this again"
as if those words were crafted specifically for this moment.
Through Being Cool
was there to remind me that no matter how often and how deeply it appeared so, I wasn’t alone. I may have been “alone” in regards to physical proximity to another human being, or current relationship status, but those feelings - those feelings that broke my concentration each time my English teacher would read ‘Macbeth’ aloud to the class, those feelings that paced through my head as I ran laps around the school during football practice, those feelings that sank deep inside my gut each and every night as I’d force myself to get some sleep, wondering if I’d be alone forever – those feelings were no longer exclusively mine. And it felt nice to be able to experience grief in a communal medium, rather than one of complete solitude. From the ages of 14 to at least 19, maybe even a few years thereafter, Through Being Cool
was staple gunned to my cerebrum. I would fall asleep at night, dreaming (wishing, maybe) that I was Chris Conley, on stage and playing these songs for an auditorium of jealous classmates. I wrote these lyrics and these songs were mine
. It was the first album I learned to play from start-to-finish on the drums; I enjoyed every second, from the profuse sweating I’d encounter during the jarringly quick second verse of ‘You Vandal’ to the slick intro of ‘Do You Know What I Loved the Most?’ that I’d almost always miss by about a half-second. Chris’s words made their way across every social media medium I could possibly plaster them up upon – AOL Instant Messenger away messages, MySpace about me’s, Facebook status updates – you name it. Chris Conley from Princeton, NJ was the only person in the world who knew what I was going through. He had an answer for everything, and he always knew just what to say to constantly reassure me of two things: (1) he’s been there before, and (2) everything’s gonna be just fine.
Though I had advertised the album and my affinity towards it to close friends over the years, most of them hated it, some of them liked it alright, but it never really hit anyone else the same with it hit me. I was always perfectly fine with this, however, as it seemed to strengthen that proverbial “bond” that I artificially created between Chris and myself inside my head. It was further proof that he wrote this record vivaciously through my
own experiences - he just had a much tidier and more digestible way of regurgitating them aloud. Saves the Day had effectively captivated a random teenage boy living in the suburbs of metro-Detroit unlike any other band had ever been able to do before. I’m not so sure the band would view that as any type of worthy accolade or special accomplishment, but when you’re so young and know so little about the world around you, it seems monumental. It was astronomical, the way Through Being Cool
could pull emotions and evoke feelings from me so whimsically and without struggle. It didn’t even have to try anymore; no matter where I was or what kind of mental state I was in, a few seconds into the explosive drum and guitar introduction of ‘Banned From the Back Porch’ and I was a mess. I was suddenly falling back in love with a girl I had dumped years ago; I vividly remembered how I threw her down into a pile of leaves walking her home from Davidson one autumn and she chased me for three blocks until I stopped and kissed her on the corner of Poplar and Leroy, both of us out of breath and lips cracked like withered, dried-out newspaper pages. Never does dismemberment seem so elegant or beam with such potential as it does each time I hear, "Let me take this awkward saw / Run it against your thighs / Cut some flesh away / I’ll carry this piece of you with me."
It wasn’t just the lyrical content, either – Through Being Cool
was musically just as amazing. Saves the Day was to pop-punk what Thomas Edison was to the light bulb. They didn’t invent anything brand new, they didn’t make any groundbreaking discoveries, and they weren’t exactly pioneers of some mysterious, uncharted territory. They just took something that already existed and then perfected it, essentially re-establishing a more formidable baseline for many years to come. They simply cherry-picked the absolute best qualities from other bands of the genre – including their former selves – and articulated that conjunction in the most masterful way. They rolled up Jawbreaker, The Get Up Kids, American Football, and Lifetime into this beautiful smorgasbord of tracks that shone so elegantly like a diamond in the rough. The way guitar licks like the chugging intros of ‘Third Engine’ and ‘You Vandal’ could sound so aggressive and angry, yet so melodic and remorseful while retaining this incredibly viable sense of hopeful energy was astonishing. Fourteen year-old me certainly hadn’t heard anything like it, and even 27 year-old me would be hard-pressed to come up with an adequate parallel. The old saying, "they don’t make ‘em like they used to"
is pretty fitting in this case, because, let’s be honest, they really don’t make music like this anymore, whoever “they”are.
It isn’t difficult to find emotional music. And it’s not difficult to find emotional music relating to: being in love with, falling in love with, falling out of love with, chasing after, dreaming about, thinking about, wishing for, wanting, hoping for, breaking up with, and/or getting over a girl. What is
hard to find, though, is music that does those things in such a poignant and outwardly manner without coming off as a try-hard, cringe-worthy façade. Therein lies the true essence of Through Being Cool
, and ultimately, all of Chris’s songwriting abilities during the first-half of Saves the Day’s existence. His quips felt honest and heartfelt instead of forced, awkward, or rehearsed. They didn’t just come from the heart, the gut, or the brain – they came from some inwardly-focused place that you couldn’t really pinpoint yet you knew exactly where it was. His lines were simple and clean, but also inexplicably effective, and painted with such concise, yet intricate colors. "You and I are like when fire and the ocean floor collide."
Listening to that line over and over, at first you realize that you don’t really know exactly what he means, until all of a sudden, you know EXACTLY what he means. "Did you know, my sweet, that I once took the liberty of watching you in your sleep?"
I never even knew that I wanted to just sit up and stare at a woman lying in bed, sleeping, admiring such a natural and accidental gracefulness, as much as I did the first time those words ran through my headphones. Chris was as much a storyteller as he was a musical artist. "I’ll sit in the lazy chair all day / Remembering the things you do / So when you come home, I jump up to kiss you / And it will knock you back / You’ll fall over our TV set / Pick you up to dust you off / Baby, let’s give it a go."
I played Grand Theft Auto III on my old Xbox a few weeks ago. I loved that game as a kid – I stayed up all night and day playing it until my fingers went numb. This time around, the loading times seemed to drag on forever, the controls were incredibly janky and felt arbitrary, the graphics weren’t nearly as cutting-edge as I remember, and the missions were actually quite repetitive. I only made it through about 7 or 8 of them before I decided I’d had enough. This past Halloween, my fiancée and I watched the original Friday the 13th – another thing that I grew up watching as a kid (behind my parents’ backs, of course) that terrified the living daylights out of me and gave me a thrill like no other. But once again, I was disheartened to find that my love for this old flick had simply run dry. It wasn’t scary anymore – in fact, it was nearly laughable. I couldn’t make it through more than thirty minutes before I turned it off, ultimately disappointed that my nostalgia glasses blinded me for the second time in recent memory. Last week, while driving a few hours to Chicago and listening to my iPhone’s music on shuffle, ‘My Sweet Fracture’ made its way through my speakers. As Chris sang, "Don’t you love those leaves? Don’t you wish the orange stayed forever and crickets sang in the night all through winter?"
I glanced out my driver’s side window at the half-dead grass in the highway median, then turned my head towards the passenger’s side and took in the miles of leafless trees, draped in chunky, dirty Midwestern snow. I briefly thought about my first homecoming dance and how I was one of the only sophomores there because I was dating a junior. I wondered what she was doing with her life and hoped things turned out okay for her. I thought about some of the friends I spent my 9th grade Halloween skateboarding with and felt a segmented sadness that I no longer speak to any of them.
Then I thought about the time I took a few semesters off of school and moved to Kentucky for a year-long internship. I thought about how alone I felt at the time. I thought about the first time my parents came to visit me there, and took me to a comedy club that night. I thought about how we were seated across from an absolutely stunning Kentucky-native girl who appeared to be around my age and I thought about how my dad drunkenly struck up a conversation with her mother solely in an effort to bridge the seemingly furlong-wide gap between this gorgeous southern girl and his socially inept son. I thought about how we dated for a few years, broke up, saw other people, and eventually found our way back to each other. Then I thought about how that girl now is now my fiancée, living with me in Michigan, and I wondered what my dad would say if he were still here, knowing that he’s the catalyst that kick-started such an elegantly disheveled dynamic between two soul mates. I thought about how much I'll miss him at our wedding and how he'll never get to meet his grandchildren, but I smiled a bit because I knew that without him, none of that stuff would have been possible. That was the difference between things like Grand Theft Auto and Through Being Cool
My point is, the simple fact that you once loved something when you were younger doesn’t automatically grant it access to be deemed “nostalgic” years down the road, and just because something is old doesn’t mean you’ll get the same rush of feelings you did when it was new and fresh in your mind. It has to truly and honestly mean
something to you. It has to have really been a part of who you were to still be a part of who you are.
As I’m closing in on 30, Through Being Cool
doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it did when I was 14, but it still means something
. It was there for me when nothing else was. It understood me in ways that nothing else did. It spoke to me in tongues that nobody else could comprehend. It stuck with me the same way Paige did even while we were apart. Holding her in my arms for the first time after those two long years of being separated and trying my hardest to forget her, I had a completely new and almost otherworldly appreciation for her that I didn’t have before. Things were different, but not in a bad way. We were stronger, we were more ductile, mature, and understanding. The same way I can listen to Through Being Cool
over fifteen years later and still have those intangible moments. The moments are different – they’re more complicated, more involved, more wholesome – but most importantly, they’re there. They exist. And no matter how old I get, those opening three chords of ‘All-Star Me’ will never fail to make me feel something
that nothing else will.