AFI – “Affliction”

When: December 2006
Where: San Gabriel Boulevard
Who: Alone
Weather: Cool, breathtakingly clear

One day, not long before winter break, I went home sick. I don’t think I was sick, but when I got on the bus home, I was awestruck. I was alone on the bus, the driver was the same guy who usually went the other way in the mornings, and as the bus went over the top of the hill I saw the clearest view of the San Gabriel Valley I had ever seen. And this was a song I had not previously listened to on my CD. Little did I know it would be the last CD I ever listened to.

My 17th birthday came during finals. I got an iPod, much to my surprise, and a copy of A Walk in the Woods. I was really into Bill Bryson; even now he’s my biggest influence, and there was plenty more of his work to read.

It was an uncommonly mild winter. During finals and before christmas, it was cool and clear. James Brown, Saddam Hussein, and Gerald Ford all died. And I was Time Magazine’s man of the year. And having written my longest screenplay ever at 60 pages, I was feeling warm in the winter breeze.

It did rain torrentially between Christmas and New Years,’ but that was about it. I went to school with an iPod full of This American Life audiobooks. One of them would change everything.

In Catholic School, you take religious classes, and this time it was Stroup’s Social Justice class. It was cool, because it was a small class, lots of videos, and the teacher actually worked with gangsters, giving him a considerable edge over the other teachers. It was at the end of the day, and a lot of the time we didn’t actually do any work, leaving me to listen to my iPod. One story in particular took me. Alez Zharov, a person the same age as me, stranded on a desert island…in Brooklyn. And he wants nothing more than to go back, and be done by dinnertime, and then find something new and different, never knowing where he would end up.

It was at that moment that I decided to live an interesting life. As it turned out, finding adventure would not be as difficult as I thought.

Next: 2007 begins in earnest, and the adventure takes off.

Foo Fighters – “Ain’t It the Life”

When: 21 November 2006
Where: Valley and San Gabriel Boulevards
Who: Several classmates, several students at a rival school
Weather: Sunny

For some reason on the day after the midterm elections, we got a half-day at school and my mom, who was somehow also off work, took me to Canterbury Records on Colorado. She bought Incubus’ Light Grenades (as I mentioned before), I bought AFI’s Decemberunderground and There is Nothing Left to Lose by the Foo Fighters, the only one of their albums I didn’t have. I spent the following day absorbing it.

It was a busy time– I was catching up on 24, trying to get a film festival started at Bosco, and everybody was watching the Polonium story unfolding overseas in the hope it would lead to a new Cold War.. Most notably I was in the process of writing my first feature script, not counting Dublin. This was a comedy, set in the early sixties and written as a ploy to get closer to a girl who went to Gabrielino. It was my first attempt at sweetness; sadly if any hard copy of the script still exists, I have yet to find it.

We rode the bus home every night, in the encroaching dark and often alone, as I took the opportunity to get my friends to review the screenplay. I dubbed us “Team Huddy.” I’d been recently listening to Al Franken’s book on CD, but this Foo Fighters album was often my companion on the long rides home.

Bodies had been showing up in the middle of the street on the way to school lately, which aside from being disturbing and inexplicable created massive detours that caused tons of trouble not only for us, but for the students at Gabrielino High School which was on our way. I had a huge crush on a girl who went there, but that’s for a whole other series.

Anyway, one of the bodies finally showed up in front of their school, and as the traffic here was already impossibly bad, we took an hour through residential streets to traverse one net block. That’s when I saw the body. In the spirit of seeing something so gruesome, I thought it appropriate to listen to something completely at odds with the situation. So I played “Ain’t it the Life,” and I never forgot it.

Next: Wives and knives

Incubus – “Anna Molly”

When: November 2006
Where: Eastbound on Foothill Boulevard
Who: My mother
Weather: foggy

When Steven Hyden of the AV Club praised Stone Temple Pilots after years of ridicule, I breathed a sigh of relief. Even if some of the smartest guys in the room didn’t love the things I liked, there was a good chance history would vindicate me. I’d now like to take that tactic with another band that doesn’t get any respect: Incubus. Particularly, their ambitious-but-troubled sixth album Light Grenades.

Light Grenades gets a lot of shit for “Love Hurts,” and while it does have quite a few duds, the good is so good. It opens with some ass-kicking Blade-Runner soundtrack stuff and goes into full-on concept album mode, and many of the songs that were played on the radio are better in this context. Even if it isn’t the best thing in the world, Boyd and company deserve credit for trying, because otherwise we’d just have Nickelback and Ke$ha.

Next: My first cadaver

Muse – “Starlight”

When: October 2006
Where: San Gabriel and Foothill bus stop
Who: My mother
Weather: foggy

In October of 2006, I had my best dreams. They were totally real, the people, the locations, and they weren’t scary at all, save for a Back to the Future-inspired dream of an evil cyborg Doc Brown, which the internet tells me is not that uncommon for people just getting into Back to the Future. I was able to control them for a while, and I woke up invigorated. It was in this spirit that I actually, briefly enjoyed the music of Muse.

Next: In defense of Incubus

The Strokes – “Juicebox”

When: October 2006
Where: My mom’s car on the way to drop me off at the bus station on San Gabriel and Foothill.
Who: My mom
Weather: Cool, foggy
Book: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

I wasn’t sure this was a Strokes song when I first heard it, it was so different from before. This may have contributed to the album’s commercial failure.

Next: Why I couldn’t escape Muse.