It’s time for the annual check-up into my life, and this year told through the prism of three bands. Here we go…
Before our kids were in full-time day care, we spent a lot of time with them. I am intensely grateful for this time in retrospect because now that they’re elsewhere from pretty much 7:30-5:00 every day I miss them. Then they fight and start hitting each other over who gets to open the back door when we leave, and I’m grateful they’re someone else’s problem for the majority of the week.
But when you have them more than you don’t, one of the challenges (probably the biggest challenge) is figuring out how to run out the clock on your days. This is especially a problem in the winter when the weather sucks and you’re cooped up indoors.
We retreated to our basement. Most of their toys were down there, it was carpeted (our upstairs was all hardwoods, which probably contributed directly to our girls learning to walk relatively early), and we had a smart tv. We’d build things. We’d wrestle on the couch. We’d listen to music through the Pandora app on the smart tv.
I’d always remembered Bill Simmons writing about brainwashing his kids by showing them old Celtics or Tom Brady highlights and talking them up like they were the coolest things ever. Then you’ve made your own little partners in crime who love what you do, and hey, victory! Since your kids have virtually no access to other influences, they’re your own little Manchurian candidates. You can show them whatever you want, tell them it’s great, and they’ll believe you.
So when you’re chewing up as much real estate as you can before the inevitable dinner-show-teeth brushing-bedtime march to insanity, and you’re trying to salvage some of yourself and your own sanity, you’re going to end up like Bill Simmons and propagandizing to them either intentionally or unintentionally.
At some point I switched from Pandora to YouTube, probably when I could take no more renditions of “Let It Go” from Frozen or “You’re Welcome” from Moana. So, I threw on a Rancid video. Grace was already no stranger to Rancid having listened to them in the car more times than either of us could count. She knew “Telegraph Avenue,” which she adorably referred to as “The Na-na Song” thanks to its chorus. I knew she’d love seeing it up on the screen.
Little did I anticipate how much. Look at this face.
The drummer had a mohawk. Tim Armstrong had a crazy beard, and even crazier head tattoos. Lars looked like he escaped from prison, murdered some preppy and stole his clothes. Matt Freeman looked like Matt Freeman, just fatter and older. It’s visually arresting if you’re 36. I can’t imagine what it’s like to see these crazy cats when you’re three.
They requested more videos. YouTube autoplay was way ahead of me. “Telegraph Avenue” begat “Fall Back Down” which begat “Ruby Soho” which begat “Red Hot Moon” which begat “Roots Radicals.”
Suddenly my girls had a better grasp on the Rancid songbook than an angsty 1996 8th grader.
Due to this sudden spike in interest, I asked my best friend Jason to make me a Rancid mix CD, which is totally something men in their 30s do normally, right? He came through brilliantly giving me one of the most thoroughly enjoyable mixes I’ve ever heard complete with liner notes explaining song histories, quirks, and personal anecdotes that I treasure immensely still.
This CD has not left my car’s CD player since I received it, and it’s because it’s what my girls request to listen to on the way to school and the way home every day. Literally. Every. Single. Day. I listen to, usually in this order, “Memphis” -> “Ruby Soho” -> “Fall Back Down” -> “Telegraph Avenue.” And then if there’s traffic, we work in either “Red Hot Moon” or “East Bay Night.”
The girls know these songs by name. Grace knows the words to every chorus. Sloane asks for “So-hoooo.” She pantomimes the drum fill during the bridge of “Fall Back Down” with me. They both hold up three fingers during “Memphis” at the line “By the time we made it to New Orleans, it must have been half past THREE.”
This happens sometimes twice a day. I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. I can’t imagine I will before something outside my control compels them to ask for something else.
I found Less Than Jake’s press email address first.
I had planned to not do anything. Actually, that’s inaccurate. I was initially too dumb to recognize opportunity when it was right in front of me.
But at some point it clicked as I planned this trip for my three best friends and me to Grand Junction where we were going to see Less Than Jake and Face to Face live at the Mesa Theater. It was a great hook to build a trip around. We loved these bands, we do a guys’ trip every year, and it was roughly a four-hour drive for three of us headed West, and a four-hour drive for one of us headed East.
So I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that I could potentially reach out to these bands and interview them on my successful podcast. Like I said, I found Less Than Jake’s email first, and lo and behold, they responded! And it wasn’t just their tour manager, this was Vinnie Fiorello! The drummer! The guy who writes most of their lyrics! Holy shit. He’s in! You can hear the evidence right here!
Dread crept over me. Now I’d actually have to do it. That’s always the bitch of taking a risk. What if they actually say yes? Now I gotta come through.
And I don’t want to be some run-of-the-mill peckerwood jackass who asks the same rote, prosaic questions they probably get 50 times a month, I needed to prepare. I devoured old Less Than Jake interviews and tried to come up with different, interesting questions that would endear Vinnie to us.
While out there, we even purchased two bottles of whiskey from the local Peach St. Distillery in nearby Palisade not only as a thank you for the interview, but as a larger gesture of our gratitude for making music we all loved for the past 20+ years. Somewhere in my goofy brain I imagined them thinking so highly of this, they’d invite us up onstage for a shot mid-show. A pipe dream? Yes. Embarrassing? Yeah, pretty much. But when I listen to either Less Than Jake or Face to Face, I am simultaneously both right back in high school, and firmly rooted in the present. I can’t help but be an earnest little fanboy.
It’s 4:00 the day of the show, and we’re waiting outside the Mesa for Vinnie. It’s the last day of the tour, and I’ve been texting with him for the last two hours. He tells me that getting anyone to do anything outside the bare minimum is nigh impossible, so it’ll just be him. That’s fine. I’m ready.
We sit on a park bench along Main St. and just start talking. He begins giving me somewhat canned responses to my early softballs. I don’t blame him. I’m just getting warmed up, and he doesn’t know me from Adam. But then I start showing my chops. I’ve done my homework both in a practical sense, and, in a way, I’ve been ready for this interview for two decades. Then we’re in it. He’s easy to talk to, he’s vibing on the questions. He shares with me insights about their most maligned record In With the Out Crowd.
It’s everything I wanted it to be. I got stuff from him I’d never heard before. He retweets the link to the interview shortly after I share it, then tweets it again two weeks later after what I can only assume is listening to it for real. I send him this text about a month afterward, and god love him, he responds.
I think it sort of uncouth to pick favorite episodes of my own show, but fuck it, this one was one of my absolute, all-time faves. What a good dude, what a thrill.
I remember the first time I heard Face to Face. I was driving my friend Conor home when we were seniors in high school, and he demanded that we put this in my CD player. It was Face to Face: Live. That disc did not leave my car. Seriously. I don’t think I ever gave it back to Conor.
Later that year for my birthday, he bought me tickets to see them at the Ogden. The opening bands were New Found Glory, Saves the Day, and Alkaline Trio. That’s a murderer’s row of punk bands. It was an absolutely staggering show, and still one of my all-time favorites.
Face to Face is one of the best bands you could ever hope to see live, and I believe I feel that way because a) it’s true; and b) every time I see them, they sound just like they do on that Live album I first heard in the Spring of 2000.
Expectedly, they melted everyone’s face in Grand Junction. We were right upfront, which is something none of us had done in years. The best thing about seeing a show in Grand Junction is that you’ve got a rural crowd, which makes them exceedingly polite. (Sidebar: Punk crowds get a tough rap, but by and large, you will not find nicer people anywhere unless you’re at a heavy metal show. Those folks take the cake in terms of politeness. Throw in a more rural environment, and it’s a real bunch of sweethearts drinking their tits off and shouting their lungs out in unison.)
I had asked Vinnie earlier in the day why they ended the tour in Grand Junction and he told me that Face to Face was opening for Frank Turner and Lucero at Red Rocks in August and the promoter told them there was no way they were playing in Denver a scant three months before that. So Grand Junction it was.
Fast forward three months later, and Face to Face is appearing at Big Choice Brewing (named for one of Face to Face’s most iconic albums), doing a meet-and-greet in advance of their Red Rocks show. $10 gets you in the door, a photo op, and the chance to have them sign some shit. We book a babysitter and haul our asses up to Brighton. I wrote this at the time, but on August 2, if you wondered where all the old punks were in Denver, they were with us at Big Choice Brewing.
It was goddamn life-affirming. It’s comforting when you find your own tribe. And these were my people. Face to Face’s music played ambiently in the background and virtually everyone sang along with it. We all wore black. We all swilled the Hop Fast IPA made especially for the occasion. I was with my favorite person in the entire world. I got to share words and photos with another of my all-time favorite bands. And they’re the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet. Generous with their time, filled with insight, and super excited to meet a bunch of their goofy fans in rural goddamn Colorado.
I was home. And I didn’t necessarily realize I had been away from it.
I love my life as a parent. But if you lean too heavily into it, you can lose what makes you, you. It’s vital to remember who you are, what you are, and the things you love. And even more than remembering, you need to pay them a visit once in a while.
When I tell people I’m this old punk rocker, if they have any tangible connection to punk at all, it’s usually framed in the past tense. Oh yeah, I remember I was into Taking Back Sunday in high school. What ever happened to those guys?
I suppose people move on – I mean, I’m not still into Boyz II Men and that type of new jack swing or anything despite loving them intensely when I was a kid – but from punk rock, I never did. It’s part of my soul and I always figured it would get elbowed out by something else at some point, but the weirdest thing happened. My capacity for love and affection didn’t become like a crowded club with a one-in/one-out policy, the room simply got much bigger.
I was watching this episode of Portlandia where silly punk band Riot Spray reunites in their 40s and 50s and while stopped at an antique store on the way to a gig they can’t find, one of the members says, “When I was young, I didn’t like anything. Now I like lots of things.”
That’s true of me too. I used to posture up with how much I hated stuff. It was exhausting. Now I’m overcome with the beauty of the world and how many fucking great things are out there. True, the world is depressing and hopeless in so many ways, but if you’re open to it, the beauty of things and the wonder that’s inside yourself will overwhelm you. It’s a choice to see the world when you’re privileged, as I am. That doesn’t mean I turn a blind eye to those who are suffering, but rather means I re-frame my own tendencies toward despair, anger, and hopelessness into optimism, which propels me to action. And it’s action that I hope is additive to the world, and action that institutes positive change.
It happens daily as a parent. It’s in the time machine that is standing in a crowded club seeing one of my favorite bands still rock the fuck out 20 years later. It’s in being more hopelessly in love with my wife after 14 years than I ever thought possible. It’s in watching WWE’s NXT product that I can still find amazement in professional wrestling after all these years. It’s in the conversations with the gorgeously insane entrepreneurs on my podcast.
The world is a wonderful place, if we let it be. If we can own who we are, recognize and foster the beauty in others, and understand and appreciate each other, we’ll be fine. I’m not always convinced we’ll get there, but I’m hopeful.
Now onto the random crap about this year’s mix:
- I don’t mean to get heavy, but I can’t help myself. I’m overwhelmed with my life. We had our second Kenny Lagers party – wait, here’s a photo:
- And I got up on a chair to memorialize the occasion. Kristin and Jason told me they were rolling their eyes because this is who I am. I can’t help but try and make a memory for myself and for others. I believe in the future and potential of humanity. The present can be dour and bleak, but if we’re going to see ourselves out of our current situation, we need to be the change we want to see in the world.
- When I asked Vinnie if there were songs he felt were little-loved in their catalog, he mentioned the two that appear on this mix, and a song called “Hopeless Case” that bums me out too much. That’s why they appear here.
- I know the backlash against that Weezer version of “Africa” has kicked into full swing, but I don’t give a shit. I like it, and it reminds me of our yacht rock party. It’s also the first Weezer song I’ve enjoyed in like 10+ years.
- The fulcrum of this year’s mix (besides the three bands whom this entire essay is built around) is “Wilson” by Fall Out Boy. This song speaks to me in more ways than I can count. I’ve already written too many words on this page, so make of that what you will.
- Alice Merton is going to be an absolutely massive star. Her shit is so good.
- Another of my favorite episodes of the pod this year was with Younger Than Neil. Check out this link for what I said about them after listening to “In Our Genes” and then listen to the episode. I’ve never interviewed four people at once, much less a rowdy ska band, so it was a nice throwback to my college radio days.
- It’s weird that I’ve never put Ruby Soho on a mix before, but here we are. Issue resolved.
- In an ongoing text I have with Jason, Jamie and Keith, Jamie was on the road and texted this: “A grown ass man just walked into the bar I’m at, sat down and ordered a Jagerbomb with a cherry vodka and Sprite.” Everyone else asked if it was me. Jamie says, “Jon from early college confirmed. If he throws on a leather jacket and goes out for a clove, I may lose my shit.” Later a scooter gang rolled by, and I joked that my X-Men power is unleashing past versions of myself onto the world.
- With that in mind, let’s check in on how Jon from the past is looking. Here’s a 2003 version with some other punk rockers, including my Mile High 100 co-founder Braden:
- Gah! That’s not good at all. Look at those dorky punk kids wearing all black. You’ve never seen so much chubby babyface in all your life. No wonder I love that Fall Out Boy song so much. “…I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color!”
- Maybe I set the wayback machine too far into the past. Let’s cut ahead to 2005:
- That’s somehow even worse. Look at that posture. The weird expression on my face. That crazy amount of product in my hair. The tucked-in t-shirt. Those ugly sunglasses. The longass sideburns. The backpack. The cigarette. Jesus, how did Kristin fall in love with that version of me?
- If you listen to one album this year, make it that Portugal. The Man album. It’s so fucking good, it’s like someone put MSG in audio form. You can’t get enough.
- I’ve typed this entire thing sitting at the bar of Freshcraft on August 28. I’ve eaten a meatloaf sandwich, spud puppies, and had a Scorpion Bowl IPA by Stone, and an Oktoberfest and a Rue B. Soho by Ska Brewing. It’s’ been a great afternoon.
- I hope this year treats you kindly, and if you’re reading, I hope we connect soon. No matter who you are, where you are, I think of you, and I miss you. If you’ve been a part of my life in any way, I’m happy you’ve been here, and I look forward to more.
- Face to Face – “Bill of Goods”
- Less Than Jake – “Great American Sharpshooter”
- Rancid – “Memphis”
- Jimmy Eat World – “A Praise Chorus”
- Fall Out Boy – “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes)”
- Anderson East – “Girlfriend”
- The Struts – “Body Talks”
- Lemaire – “Closer”
- Alice Merton – “Lash Out”
- Fitz and the Tantrums – “Spark”
- The Man – “Live in the Moment”
- Weezer – “Africa”
- Sir Sly – “&Run”
- King Princess – “1950”
- Face to Face – “Keep Your Chin Up”
- Younger Than Neil – “In Our Genes”
- Rancid – “Ruby Soho”
- Less Than Jake – “Rest of My Life”
- Face to Face – “Bill of Goods” (Acoustic)