MGMT – “Kids”

When: 28 May 2009
Where: The southbound 605
Who: Assorted people
Weather: Mild

I was invited to a beach party by the girlfriend of an old neighborhood friend, and I decided to go. Unexpectedly I found myself with more than a few girls I’d known from middle school, but the Pasadena area catholic school circuit is a small world.

That spring was my britpop phase and I was on my way out, but it was a shock to hear contemporary music on the way down to Orange County. They alternated between KIIS-FM and KROQ, and was surprised to hear this song. Wasn’t it already pretty old? The whole ordeal made me feel very out of place, and I decided that once I got my composure and got back to San Francisco, I’d make more of an effort to be in touch with current culture.

It would be a while.

Next: “Take it on the run.”

The Strokes – “Someday”

When: 16 December 2007
Where: My dad’s car
Who: My dad
Weather: Cold, intermittently cloudy

“And now my fears, they come to me in threes.” I’d heard the song countless times for years, but it never struck me the way it did that icy December. It was the sound of things getting worse. It was the sound of the horrible feeling in your stomach when you feel as if the walls are closing in. And, considering the timeframe, it was just about perfect.

Older people had always complained that Bosco lacked unity, that we as a school disparate and apathetic, but while the school’s rapidlt declining state left something to be desired, as students we had never felt closer. To the outside world that was all that mattered; so long as we wore our ties and said intellient things, people thought highly of us.

We were like-minded, mostly in good standing, and no girls to fight over. It came as a shock to the state government how open we were to gays; California public schools at the time might as well have been Saudi Arabia. We made money off each other, we gambled, we got along. And it was at this most crucial moment that everyone started dropping dead.

First it was Victoria in the front office, cancer. And then Brother Gene, cancer again. Coach Yurak was old, to me was just an irritable eccentric, a real Ron Swanson type, but he turned out to be much more, and when he died there was a big outpouring but it wasn’t completely unexpected. Two weeks later, my design teacher of four years died. Alex Chavez was 32, with more friends than you could count, a young son, and an undiagnosed heart defect. For him, we broke out the green ribbons. We didn’t sell them, we just gave them out. It started to feel as if anyone could go, and he wasn’t the last.

People showed up to his funeral from the old days, film club, old teachers, even Mrs. Plummer, who was supposed to be my english teacher back in freshman year but left. I couldn’t make it to the burial. Tomorrow was the beginning of finals. As my Dad picked me up, it played on the radio. A song of desperation hidden behind careful hooks and Motown-style production.

“And now my fears, they come to me in threes.”

Modest Mouse – “Dashboard”

When: August 2007
Where: My mom’s car
Who: My mom
Weather: Hot

The pedigree was undeniable, the beat inescapable. Johnny Marr’s guitar shone with distinction. I realized what I was hearing right away. In future period pieces, it was inevitable, I imagined, that this would be the song that says to the world, “Hey, it’s 2007!” Just listening to it made me feel effortlessly cool. School was coming, senior year, and I was certain to have the adventure I was dreaming of. Or maybe I was just thinking too hard.

Next: Returning to the Strokes.

Smashing Pumpkins – “Tarantula”

When: July 2007
Where: Jim MacQuarrie’s car
Who: Several people
Weather: Hot but unseasonably humid.

Smashing Pumpkins in name only of course.

Some friends of mine were going down to Monterey Park to get some business cards. I was particularly excited to get a box of free business cards for my mostly theoretical production company Septentrionale.

Next: Velvet Revolver, now that’s problematic.

Beck – “Timebomb”

When: 23 July 2007
Where: Southbound on Lake Avenue
Who: My dad
Weather: Warm, clear

Friday. My summer was going a lot better. I’d spent some time walking around Downtown LA during a mild stretch of summer, entirely losing my shit over the movie Barcelona and the guy who made it, Whit Stillman. I’d run into old friends, girls who had crushes on me, and their mothers who love me, and always with a sunflower on hand. I saw movies in theaters, frequently, like never before or since. But my excitement that day was for more than just beautiful weather and hilarious movies. It was Hallows Eve.

Tonight, I was going to a massive street party (the kind Pasadenans will find any excuse to have) at Vroman’s Bookstore for the debut of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, so I decided to win it. After all, I would never get that opportunity again. I spent the better part of an hour circling the store while crappy wizard rockers pounded away and news cameras rolled. Luckily, rescue came in the form of the Art School Girls and their leader, Taylor Doran. We go back when the line starts, a grad student hits on me, and I get my book.

Monday. I’d already finished the book. I had attended a scout meeting earlier that night that was sure to be among my last, and as my dad drove me home, this strange song came on the radio, the definitive song of 2007, if I had to say so myself, effortlessly cool. It was the song of the summer. When it ended, the DJ posited a question: “Wouldn’t it be awesome if that was meant to be a cover version of Time Bomb by Rancid?”

And I thought to myself, “hell yes.”

Next: Things get gross again.

Arctic Monkeys – “Brianstorm”

When: April 2007
Where: My mom’s car, northbound on San Gabriel at Garvey on the way back from Parent-Teacher Conferences
Who: My mom
Weather: Warm, sunny

Jed the Fish again. “This is a band from Coachella,” he said. “It’s a very loud band. It’s Arctic Monkeys.” I was very confused. The Arctic Monkeys weren’t a Loud band!

Of course, they were very loud, but in 2007, “Loud,” capital L, was a genre, and garage rockers weren’t part of it. Metal was Loud. Post-Grunge. Loud music was supposed to be generic and ooze like molasses. Such had the term drifted that the loudest band on the radio wasn’t loud. It was indie. The danger of the nineties had come to pass; the terminology of music had drifted out of reality, and it wouldn’t change for a long time. But from then on, the Arctic Monkeys were loud.

Earlier that day, I visited the counselor’s office. My grades weren’t good, and certainly there was not enough money for me to attend any of the better film schools. But she disagreed.

“Have you considered San Francisco State?” she asked in an Oxford accent that suggested she was about to die. I had never heard of San Francisco State. But I’d just been in a tornado, and was compelled to make San Francisco State my first choice then and there, regardless of how little I knew about it.

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