Kansas is a flyover state. But to me, it’s a lot more than that: it’s my flyover state, and no matter how it gets labeled, it’ll always be my home.
Having lived my entire life in the eastern part of the state, a.k.a. where over two-thirds of the population resides, I’m not exactly what you’d consider the prototypical heartlander. At the same time, I’m also a Kansas-born Kansas Citian who stands on the western, suburban fringe of the metropolitan area. If the St. Louis Arch serves as the symbolic “Gateway to the West,” where I live practically serves this role in a physical sense.
I’ve experienced my fair share of large highway stretches and flat field views (rumor is if you look west down I-70 from Kansas City you can see Colorado), and there’s a calmness to it that I crave. Some of my favorite nights are when I take a long drive and listen to music. Often, I’ll make the trek from my hometown of Lenexa (30 minutes south of Kansas City, Mo.) west to Lawrence for a show, or simply maneuver any of the I-435 squircle that entraps the metro.
For someone into emo and punk music, this is freedom. But much of the freedom comes in my basking in the tunes of artists who traveled the roads and frequented the same spaces I’ve known all my life. In recent years, I’ve confronted the same emotions in the same settings as many area bands, and most notably, one of the great Midwestern emo acts of all-time in The Get Up Kids.
Reminiscing on these experiences gets me thinking about their track “One Year Later”. “Wandering the K-10,” vocalist Matt Pryor tells as he opens up the song, “As anniversaries end / Pondering events that brought us here.” The track, the opener on the Red Letter EP that preceded the 1999 emo classic Something to Write Home About, is all about taking that look back to the past in order to grasp the present. Perhaps I’m doing that now, remembering how I took the same highway for four years to get from my parents’ house to the University of Kansas, where I recently graduated.
This is about more than the 50+ shows I attended at The Granada in Lawrence during my undergrad years, however. And yes, I’m talking about the same venue where The Get Up Kids played their 10th anniversary show, in which they announced their breakup and later proceeded to release one of the genre’s finest live albums. But just like Pryor suggests, life is one big chain of events. Writing this now makes me realize how far I’ve gone with emo music in my backpocket.
In the simplest of terms, what I think made Midwest emo the phenomenon that it became a few decades ago was the expanse of suburban and rural America that outweighed even the largest of urban areas. Spending time in this sector of society means there’s not always something to do. You get bored and thus, you have to make things: friends, memories, and most of all, art. When you’re not in the midst of the hustle-and-bustle of city life, you get the chance to acquire perspective. You tend to look out beyond the highway you travel from one place to the next in order to find footing.
Just like the 40-minute drive from Lawrence to Lenexa, these times of transition almost require reflection. That’s because you’ve got the time, the view through the windshield, and the songs on your stereo that beg you to stop and think. The “One Year Later” lyric was another moment of stopping and thinking, and it foreshadowed the inevitable breakup that was going to happen at some point, no matter if it were to happen for good in 2005 or another time thereafter.
It would be easy for me to interpret this lyric in an existential way, but I’m young and shouldn’t be worrying about aging and death right now. Whenever I do start to worry, I hit play on Something to Write Home About and sink into the opening riff of “Holiday”, and my mind is put at ease. I sometimes imagine the band members in my shoes, bored and wandering Mass Street late on a Friday night after a show. We always say the most authentic musicians come from the same place as their fans in a metaphorical sense, but it adds an entire new dimension when that place is literal as well.
I understand I’ve been focusing on The Get Up Kids pretty heavily throughout this editorial, but it’s important to understand that this is the band from the greater Lawrence/Kansas City metro area that I most cherish. It’s the reason I got a huge smile on my face when I saw Relient K play three songs from Something to Write Home About during the encore of a Granada headliner. It’s also the reason why Defeater, Night Verses, and so many other alternative acts have used the sparse seconds between songs to let the crowd know how much their fellow residents inspired them.
In addition, I’d also like to mention The Anniversary, who added their own keyboard-driven pop-punk tunes to the emo mix in the early 2000s, as well as the math rock/post-hardcore outfit Shiner. Other than that, we don’t have a lot from those genres (and I don’t want to get into the mess that is Puddle of Mudd). Although our indie scene has been growing in recent years, we don’t have anything like D.C. hardcore or Long Island punk in our landlocked locale. Instead, we have jazz: Charlie Parker, Pat Metheney, and the list goes on and on.
But no matter our musical tastes, there’s one thing you should know about Kansas Citians: we’re incredibly proud of our city. The Royals won the 2015 World Series and the entire city showed up to the parade, our downtown Power & Light District and Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts have attracted national attention, and my county specifically is one of the richest in the region (and 75th in the U.S. as of 2011). Yet, we can’t forget how much of a role art has played. It played a huge role in our lives 20 years ago when The Get Up Kids emerged as a Midwest emo giant, and it’s only expanded since then.
Emo is all about expressing yourself in an honest way. Often, it can be poetic, and sometimes it can even be confessional. I’m sure it’s meant something different to me growing up in Kansas than it has to someone who grew up in Los Angeles or Boston.
But at the end of the day, it’s important we consider how our circumstances — including hometowns — affect us and, in turn, spur our reaction. They cause us to purge out our deepest emotions, and they result in some of the most beautiful art there is.
Photo Credit: The Get Up Kids (The Get Up Kids promo), The Great Bend Post (K-10 Lawrence exit)