On The Wonder Years & Second Chances

Individual aesthetics dictate that -- guess what! -- not everybody enjoys the same things. Over the years, I have attempted nonviolently to make people I love enjoy all the same things I love -- and they have often returned the favor. But most of the time, one must discover great things on her own time. Case in point: me and The Wonder Years. So...is there anybody out there who didn’t get The Wonder Years to begin with? Was I getting old too fast at a point when I became so keen on indie rock that I failed to notice the appeal? Well, I’m back from the bland and I learned my lesson.

The thing that continues to guilt me is that even with all the stars aligned, I could not be a fan for the longest time. Besides “that one song -- ‘All My Friends Are in Bar Bands’?” -- I was on the verge of being annoyed by them, by how they appeared to be the next poster boys for American pop punk. In my mind, no one outside the Midwest could ever claim that title -- save Tom, Mark, and Travis. After a high school acquaintance suggested I listen to The Upsides because he knew I had terrible taste (or incredible, rather), I encountered an introductory skim-through of the album, essentially writing them off as “just another pop-punk band”. I was so immediately unconvinced that I didn’t bother paying attention. Obviously, I feel terrible about that now.

On the upside...I was ushered into future retribution when a good friend wanted to see The Wonder Years at Middlewest Fest 2011 between sets of Gold Motel and our mutually-beloved Tokyo Police Club. I sort of understood the die-hard motivation more after that show...but again, selective memory suggests I don’t remember that missed opportunity at all. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from years of music immersion, it’s that live shows have more potential of converting a non-fan into a fan better than all the mixtapes in the world. So, fast forward two years later, post-Riot Fest when pictures of Dan Campbell stage-diving from a free-standing tree started springing up everywhere on social media. This, for some reason, read credibility in large letters to me, so I tried listening one more time with all efforts of dismantling preconceived notions, the way many modern musical discoveries happen: YouTube. Almost every day since that September it’s been hard to listen to anything else while I cycle through my trivial regrets.

It’s true that I missed out on the prime live experience, but I made the better part of the discovery at the most necessary time in life, and I drove myself across the Midwest twice in one month to prove my admiration in person. To be honest, I still agree that listening to The Upsides as a whole is as physically exhausting as using my small, weak arms to try to hold up a human swarm of male crowd surfers -- but I can tell you now that Dan Campbell is my favorite lyricist of the 21st century and that if anyone’s going to save-pop-punk-or-whatever, it’s probably this band. I mean, Campbell wrote Hey Thanks for his ex-girlfriend, whose favorite singer is Rachel Minton, the track’s guest vocalist -- the choice was largely a sentimental one. That’s actually the thing about The Wonder Years -- and live and recorded music in general. You have to get into it for the emotion...otherwise you just won’t get it.

After my proper reintroduction to The Wonder Years, I started writing again -- a lot -- including my first short film which was coincidentally inspired by the band’s most recent album; and I started holding myself accountable for all things. Because of The Wonder Years, I was introduced to new, similar artists; started revisiting other artists I thought I never liked or simply never understood; and challenged my tastes for the better. One of my friends always questioned why I didn’t listen to La Dispute when I listened to so many of their contemporaries, so I tried again. Now, Rooms of The House might be one of my favorite albums of all time, and Jordan Dreyer one of my (other) favorite lyricists.

Challenging one’s musical tastes, I think, is the ultimate test for the most dedicated of music lovers. I tried for years to understand the musical appeal of Taylor Swift -- and stuck with it until 1989, where I realized that her lyrics have become smarter, more complex, more engaging, more poetic. I realized that one day she can become an artist I personally, wholeheartedly love -- and with that, I can now exist peacefully alongside the rest of the world. But ultimately, this isn’t a lesson on the bandwagon or my regrets -- it’s simply to say that second chances are worth giving. So do it: give out second chances like charity. Not only because you have the chance to share love and fanaticism, these intense, positive emotions, with a greater number of people -- but because you owe it to yourself to receive all the benefits of being well-rounded and open-minded.


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