The Sounds of College: A Retrospective

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February 26, 2013 by NowhereButPop

Here at Nowhere But Pop, music is our aeroplane; we often use songs and albums to help quantify and describe our lives.  For our 100th article, the three founders have decided to do a collaborative piece summarizing each year of college in terms of one specific album.

___________________

Freshman Year

Andrew Doscas: “Well my heart is where it’s always been, my head is somewhere in between” -U2, “Even Better Than the Real Thing

Achtung Baby (Guitarworld.com)

Achtung Baby(guitarworld.com) 

Achtung Baby is an album about change, about going into the uncharted territories and revealing in the experience.  It’s about letting yourself go and allowing yourself to have fun.  The album showed a new side of the band, one that stood in stark contrast to what they did before.  That’s how I saw college; I didn’t want to do the same things that I did in high school anymore.  I wanted to go out to parties, get drunk and meet girls, all of which I didn’t really do in high school as much as I objectively should have, and would have liked to have done.  And like the band did following the release of Achtung Baby, I became a little more arrogant, a little more cynical, and little flashier, but at the same time I became much surer of who I am.  Achtung Baby meant for U2 exactly what freshman year of college meant for me: going out into a new environment and doing something different, having fun, and being a little less uptight.  They both became a way for us to let ourselves go, but at the same time brought us back to ourselves.

Steve Secular: Well being as you snatched Achtung Baby right out from under me, I’ll have to choose a different one. I’ll allow it though, as you were the one who showed me the album in the first place.

I'm Wide Awake It's Morning(tumblr.com)

I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
(tumblr.com)

There’s only one other option then: Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning. It’s a depressing album, I know. Because freshman year I was, well, kinda depressed. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the usual pining after a girl that didn’t feel the same. One day I had a marathon viewing of 500 Days of Summer, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Punch-Drunk Love. And that’s one of my fondest memories of freshman year. I’m Wide Awake was there to validate all that, to put my own youthful and naïve unhappiness into perspective. That album kept me down sometimes, but others, it lifted me up like no other album could at the time. After all, morning has to come sometime.

Ian Goldstein: Freshman year was strange, not in the conventional way—where I got to college and everything changed. It was bizarre for me because it didn’t feel like an adjustment; it felt like no modification was necessary. The transition from high school to college felt seamless, of course with an occasional nostalgia about the summer and being back home.

Davy (amazon.com)

Davy
(amazon.com)

That being said, my choice is Davy by Coconut Records. It’s an album that reminisces: “The Summer” illustrates how memories can sit in perfection, even if life is troubling.  It’s an album that looks to the future, yet fears the present, perfectly mixing melancholy and idealistic notions. “Wandering Around” discusses how the days blend into “one lonely night” but the melody is subtly cheerful.  That was freshman year. There was an optimism that hung throughout. By the end of my first year I already thought college was over. I had to remind myself that I still had three years, plenty of time.

Three years have passed and now I’m here writing at 1:45 a.m. on a Thursday night, only three months away from graduating.

“I am young, but not for long…”

___________________

Sophomore Year

AD: “The fame, fame, we live for the fame, fame baby, the fame, fame, isn’t it a shame, shame baby” –Lady Gaga, “The Fame

The Fame (Wikipedia.org)

The Fame
(Wikipedia.org)

Sophomore year is one gigantic blur, for some reason.  I remember everything that happened, it’s just the spacing and timing of it all that I lose track of.  The reason being that it seemed like the weekends were just one big party from Thursday night to Sunday morning.  Every weekend there was a different party that me and my cadre of misaligned misfits would go to.  For the first time in college I had my group of friends, I was going out on a regular basis, and I didn’t really have anything to worry about.  It was also during this year that I started listening to Lady Gaga, and no other album that I can think of perfectly captures the sense of life as one big party than The Fame.  It was a celebration of going out and having a good time.  Everyone has their one year of college that is the party year, and for me it was sophomore year.  It seemed that like The Fame, the weekends of sophomore year just became one big party, and having a good time without having a care in the world.

I was young and I knew it, and I wanted to act accordingly.  It was capricious, but innocent, and sometimes naive.  The Fame and sophomore year both share the fact that they are the sounds of someone trying to act like they know than they actually do. When Gaga looks back at her debut album, and I look back on sophomore year we’ll say the same thing: “Those days were a blast, but man, I had no idea what the hell I was doing”.

The Suburbs (arcadefire.com)

The Suburbs
(arcadefire.com)

SS: If I’m choosing a particular album, I’d have to go with Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. I fell in love with that album the minute I heard it. Musically, lyrically, stylistically, it just cut right through me. It’s impossible to separate that year from those songs: driving around in the summer blasting “Rococo,” or looking out my snow-covered window that winter to ”Half Light I.” Like Andrew’s year of parties, my sophomore year was one of unfettered happiness and idyllic freedom. The Suburbs captured that hope, balancing it out with a semblance of sadness beneath the surface.

Yet it would be an injustice to sophomore year to disregard all of the blues and 50s rock n roll/rockabilly that I became obsessed with that year: John Lee Hooker, Son House, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Sun Records-era Elvis.

I think for me, all of that music means more: riding the train home listening to “Death Letter” or listening to Jerry Lee Lewis and trying to figure out how to play piano like he could. The Suburbs captured the hope, joy, and freedom of my sophomore year. But the sound of that freedom was the blues.

52nd Street (billyjoel.com)

52nd Street
(billyjoel.com)

IG: It would be unfair not to include Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection or Fruit Bats’ The Ruminant Band in the discussion of my sophomore year’s prolific album experience. But this one goes to Billy Joel. 52nd Street has an upbeat, jazzy tempo running through it. That was my sophomore year. A lot was happening. It was busy. This album is busy.

This is the album that won Joel Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards—not The Stranger, as we all may think. It’s a fun album that’s more of a tribute to Jazz and its roots than anything else Joel has produced.

Billy Joel’s music hit on my moods, and his lyrics reflected my thoughts.  Joel has written better lyrics than what’s on this album, (look to “Through the Long Night”) but 52nd Street is the record that brings me back to sitting, trying to finish a paper with Zanzibar’s trumpet solo by Freddie Hubbard playing in the background, acting as a catalyst to finish.

___________________

Junior Year

AD: “Pride and joy and greed and sex, that’s what makes our time the best, pride and joy and dirty dreams are still surviving on the street, and look at me I’m in tatters” –The Rolling Stones, “Shattered

Some Girls(lpcoverlover.com)

Some Girls
(lpcoverlover.com)

Obvious reason aside, Some Girls probably sums up the year that it’s associated with better than any of the other albums do.  Some Girls is an album primarily inspired by the various women involved with the Rolling Stones whether they be ex-wives (Bianca Jagger), current girlfriends (Jerry Hall) or nameless groupies.  I feel like with the exception of “When the Whip Comes Down”, every other song on the album happened that year.  My junior year basically started with “Miss You” and ended with “Shattered”.  It started off with a bang, but by the end of it I felt…well shattered so to speak, simply spent by everything that was going on.  Some Girls starts with “Miss You”, a howling croon of desire, and ends with “Shattered” a song detailing all the vices of New York and how it’s driven the narrator insane.  By the end of junior year because of the papers, job hunting, graduating early, and yes, the girls, my mind was left splattered all over Syracuse.

But beyond the superficial, junior year was when I did the most growing up, whether or not I matured that much though is up for debate.  For the Rolling Stones, Some Girls was them growing up a little bit.  It was an album they made with their backs up against the wall; they had to confront themselves as a band and rediscover themselves again.  They were growing up from who they were into who they would become for the next twenty years.  It may be too early to tell but junior year might be the linking year between the last vestiges of my youth and my trek into adulthood.

SS: I shouldn’t pick the Muppet movie soundtrack, right?

Anyway, so apparently one of the downsides of having close friends is that they share the same favorite albums as you. Like the time Andrew took both my own personal freshman and junior year albums for himself.

Fear Fun (subpop.com)

Fear Fun
(subpop.com)

I’ll counter by going with an album that came out that very year: Father John Misty’s Fear Fun. Come that Spring, with a breakup behind me and the future ahead, it felt like a personal rebirth. And for J. Tillman, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist behind the moniker, Fear Fun was his rebirth too. He had been the longtime drummer for Fleet Foxes before deciding he needed to go out and make music on his own. And so Father John Misty was born. This debut album reflects that new start: it’s a folky, delirious romp through LA, loosely chronicling Tillman’s own journey to bright lights and excesses. On the opening track (and possibly the most played song on my iTunes), Tillman pleads: “Fun times in Babylon, that’s what I’m counting on; Before the dam goes up at the foot of the sea, before the new wing of the prison ribbon ceremony, before the star of the morning comes looking for me.”

That spring was my own Fear Fun-esque rebirth in my own personal Babylon. Well, minus the LA thing, the lights, the excesses, and the successful rock album.

Helplessness Blues(stereogum.com)

Helplessness Blues
(stereogum.com)

IG: I remember falling asleep on the Long Island Railroad. I’d wake up with music still ringing into my ear and my eyes would open lazily as people hurried off the 7:37 a.m. train to Penn Station. The song that was guaranteed to be on: “Grown Ocean” off of Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues. Those naps took place the summer before my junior year. It encompassed those three months so much that it seeped into the coming school year. I was 20 years old, trekking the streets of Manhattan for the first time, sweating everyday as I walked to my internship in my blue dress shirt and khaki pants in 90° weather. I arrived to work drenched.

Junior year was when I realized the second half of my college career was beginning. There was only a year left of this fantasy land. This is an album that asked a lot of questions of its listener: “Why in the night sky are the lights hung?”  in “Blue Spotted Tail” and “What’s my name, what’s my station? oh, just tell me what I should do” In the album’s eponymous song. It was a new step for the band; it was more pop than their debut album. Going into my second half of college this album recreated my questions of what my role was to be in life through song.
___________________

Senior Year

AD: “A man walks down the street, it’s a street in a strange world maybe it’s the third world, maybe it’s his first time around, he doesn’t speak the language, he holds no currency, he is a foreign man” – Paul Simon, “You Can Call Me Al

Graceland(paulsimon.com)

Graceland
(paulsimon.com)

If Graceland is an old man album (which it is), then I guess senior year was my old man year.  It didn’t feel like it’s own standalone year; it felt more like an epilogue, like I had already finished what I needed to do, as if I was only back on a formality.  Walking down the streets or around the campus I felt almost lost at times, a stranger in a strange land.  I knew that I was ready to move on from college, but I was still there, to compound on things, everyone I knew had already graduated or was abroad that semester.

When Paul Simon began writing Graceland, he had simply lost his inspiration and motivation.  But he found solace, and more importantly himself again in visiting South Africa, where he would begin to formulate the sound for what would become Graceland, his magnum opus.  I guess I was in a similar predicament, but as the semester went by, things started to work themselves out, and I found my own personal solace in writing.  For Simon, gone were the old inspirations and musical styles, replaced by new sounds from unlikely sources.  Unlike the previous years, I tend to remember the events of senior year in a more linear fashion, instead of as one big blur.  Various songs and lyrics remind me of specific events, instead of feelings or scenarios as was the case junior year.  Whenever I hear the line “She looked me over and I guess she thought I was alright, alright in a sort of a limited way” it immediately reminds me of a specific point in time, while the line “These are the days of miracles and wonder so don’t cry baby don’t cry” brings me back to my last day of college.

Graceland is my senior year.  For Simon, Graceland was his way of closing one chapter of his life while simultaneously starting a new one.  Senior year was my epilogue to the college years, it’s the ribbon wrapped around the packaging. It’s the end of one part, and the beginning of something new.

SS: Senior year has been weird, that much is for sure. It’s like freshman year revisited, except while I’m still figuring out what the hell I want to do with my life, I have to go get a job. That said, my senior year album is Outkast’s Aquemini.

Aquemini(amazon.com)

Aquemini
(amazon.com)

Brief overview of Outkast’s career arc: Their first album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik is pure, unadulterated Atlanta rap, in all its Cadillac driving and funk guitar playing glory. 1996’s ATLiens is the weird album, though not as strange in retrospect as it was believed to be at the time. But people were taken aback by it, that’s the important part. Because next came Aquemini, the “return of the gangsta” as the first track announces. There’s even a Southernplayalistic outtake in the form of “West Savannah.”

Aquemini was Outkast going back to their roots, rediscovering what they do best, while still maintaining everything they had built with ATLiens. It’s the Outkast album. That’s really what my final collegiate year has been. You build up an identity in college, a sense of yourself, one that gets knocked down and rebuilt and knocked down again over the years, reforming around different things. And now, on the eve of graduation, I’ve tried to rediscover the balance, between the person I used to be and the person I’ve become. Hopefully I pulled it off as well as Outkast did.

Cold Spring Harbor (eil.com)

Cold Spring Harbor
(eil.com)

IG: I should be listening to more music. I’ve seemed to retreat to Billy Joel. It’s not as much a regression as it is a rediscovery. The primary album now is Cold Spring Harbor. I already covered what makes this album memorable, but it has shaped my senior year. Songs like “Everybody Loves You Now” and lyrics such as: “A man my age is very young, so I’m told, why do I feel so old?” make me realize that as much as I’d like to bring a new artist in for this post, I can’t.

The album has its flaws and there are songs with which I can’t presently relate (“She’s Got a Way” and “You Look So Good to Me“), but it’s his first album. I think it’s a retreat because emotionally I still feel like I graduated high school last week.

Billy Joel was 22 years old when he recorded this album. I’ll be 22 this July, I’ll have graduated from college, entering whatever phase is next. Cold Spring Harbor didn’t launch Billy Joel’s career, it didn’t make a dent; Piano Man did that. Cold Spring Harbor was an under-appreciated masterpiece. Senior year is probably being undervalued. Maybe in the future I’ll be nostalgic.
___________________

Albums and college have to end at some point. But we can always put an album on repeat, and we can always look back and smile at our time in college.

Well, maybe not Steve and Ian, who apparently spent most of their time listening to folk songs and piano ballads in the dark.

CHEER UP GUYS.

Go put on DMX’s Party Up.

-NBP

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