No Doubt – “It’s My Life”

When: 18 December 2003
Where: Barnhart Middle School
Who: Several Students
Weather: Cold, overcast

Earlier that month, two of the girls at my school invited me to their combined birthday party. I nearly missed it, I had band practice earlier that day, but I arrived on time in the pouring rain. On the advice of my mother, I’d brought journals from Papyrus. Unfortunately, my good friend and landswoman Annie had also bought them both journals from Papyrus.

But I wasn’t discouraged, because during that same trip to the Santa Anita Mall I’d discovered a bright yellow Lakers cap. My attraction to bright yellow things would cause trouble in the future, but when their friend Alex came in, she asked if she could wear it while she danced. I was smitten, and the great drama that dominated 8th grade began.

A month later, I was playing StarCraft after school while this song was on. It was the last week, and I noticed one of my friends IMing this Alex girl. Much to their protest, I managed to get her screen name, but was to embarrassed to use it. For now.

In this manner, the freewheeling, hard-rocking year of 2003 was already over. 2004 had come, and as vivid and colorful and it might have seemed, the waters would be treacherous.

Next: One nation, united under a single song.

Background Music, 2003
No Doubt, Barnhart

The Strokes – “12:51”

When: November 2003
Where: The Vincent Thomas Bridge eastbound
Who: My father
Weather: Sunny…sort of.

Autumn in Southern California is known as “fire season.” It lasts two months, with wild temperature swings, and the entire landscape around you is on fire. In an attempt to get away from this, my father took me on a trip to San Pedro to hang around Fisherman’s Wharf and ride the new streetcar. We were passing over the bridge on our way home when Jed the Fish came on.

“You know all those fire’s we’ve been having?” He said in his Andy-Dick like quiver. “This is from the new Strokes album, called Room on Fire. Coincidence?”

Next: When 2003 ended, it was really already over.

Nirvana – “Sliver”

When: 21 October 2003
Where: Somewhere on King Street, Alexandria, Virginia
Who: Elliot Van Nest and David Paez
Weather: Rain

With all the benefits of going to a private school, I got to go on a class trip to Washington, DC. It was a tradition at our school for 7th-graders to go to Yosemite and 8th-graders to our nation’s capitol, one that had been pre-empted or postponed in recent years by 9/11 and the Beltway Sniper. Hurricane Isabel nearly killed it for us, but we got to go right on time anyway.

Our trip didn’t start in DC, though. First we switched planes in Charlotte, my first taste of the South, thence to Norfolk, where we met up with our regular driver Kurt. The first days were to be spent at Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, and I fell in love with Virginia. It was just so different, and it was old and pretty.

After visiting the battlefield at Yorktown on Tuesday, we pulled through the evening to Alexandria in the pouring rain. While my roommates slept, I couldn’t help but stare out the window and listen to my Nirvana CDs, euphoric from the alien landscape. I wasn’t in the west anymore. I was in America.

Next: Fighting fire with Fire

Rancid – “Time Bomb”

When: 10 October 2003
Where: Crescenta Bowl
Who: Several Classmates
Weather: Warm, dry

As it turned out I was quite good at bowling. Here I was, at the same party, when I heard the birthday boy getting overly focused on the lyrics. First Jed the Fish, now him?

“White shoes, black coat, black hat? Very strange.” Neither he nor I knew the significance of these clothes in third wave ska-punk culture, which we were too young to have been aware of. His birthday was in April anyway.

Next: Journey to the East

Jet – “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”

When: September 2003
Where: Southbound on Lake Avenue
Who: My mother
Weather: Foggy

My mother was driving me to school one morning when this song was on. It’s exhausting, and people got tired of Jet really fast. An AVClub commenter said it best: “Get Born was a pretty cool album as long as it didn’t bug you that every single song sounded like a cover of some classic rock song.” Pretty unoriginal. And as I was going through my classic rock phase at that moment, not to mention their use in a terrible WB sitcom called The Help, Jet had to go.

Next: A bowling party turns into a dissertation on songwriting.