“If I could write one letter to the world as we know it,
I would list these rhymes that mean everything to me.”
If you somehow haven’t heard the news that shocked music fans all over the world last week, here you go: Anberlin, after crafting one final album and going on one last tour, will be disbanding at the end of 2014. The news wasn’t completely unexpected if you think about it. The band left Tooth & Nail Records after releasing the masterpiece Cities in 2007, went to Universal Republic and made three further albums while expanding their fan base, and have now returned home to T&N to craft their swansong. Several of the members are married and/or have side projects. There was a lingering feeling after Vital that they had gone full circle, that they had accomplished everything they ever hoped to with Anberlin. This final tour will be a sad goodbye, but it will also be a celebration for the band and fans alike.
It’s only now, as I write this while listening to their discography (“A Whisper and a Clamor” currently), that the tears begin to well up. And now they slowly roll down, as I reflect on the memories that accompany each of their albums and it sinks in that the band that once saved my life and shaped who I am for the past ten years is coming to an end.
Finding your favorite band is neither luck, nor chance, nor coincidence; it is fate. But the actual music is only a small part of Anberlin’s meaning to me; what they represent in my life goes far beyond great songs playing through a stereo or headphones. Much of who and what I am today, I owe to these people. I would like to share with you the story of my journey with Anberlin, a rollercoaster ride in which there was only ever one constant: that they have always been there for me when I needed them the most.
“Once in a lifetime, I could feel this way”
There are two memories of your favorite band that you always remember: 1) the first time you heard their music and 2) the first time you saw them play live. It’s no different from a relationship; you know when you’ve found that special band that’s going to be a part of your life for a long time.
For me the year was 2004, during my sophomore year of high school. Every day after school I would rush home as quickly as possible to see a local cable program called Steelroots, which played a lot of Tooth & Nail/Solid State bands’ music videos (Underoath, Dead Poetic, Thousand Foot Krutch, etc.). One afternoon, I turned on the TV just in time to see a video for a song called “Ready Fuels” that began with driving guitars, a vocalist with a giant tongue on his shirt, and some really trippy background effects. And when the vocals came in, my god, Stephen Christian’s voice was like nothing I had ever heard before. It was mesmerizing. I knew I was listening to a band that would be huge one day. My mom loved the song as well, so we went straight online and ordered Blueprints For the Black Market (no, kids, we weren’t illegally downloading everything from Google just yet). And thus began my love affair with Anberlin.
About six months later, in October 2004, I saw the band play live for the first of nine times. It was at the Congress Theater in Chicago for the Nintendo Fusion Tour, which also featured Story of the Year, Lostprophets, Letter Kills and My Chemical Romance. I didn’t know much about the other bands or the concert scene in general; all I knew was that I was ecstatic to see my new favorite band live and, hopefully, to meet Stephen Christian. So my mom and I bought our tickets and drove for three hours in a snowstorm (winter came early that year) just to see our beloved Anberlin play a 20-minute set.
The show was fantastic, although I skipped My Chem’s set after a somewhat intoxicated Gerard Way stumbled around the stage and spent five minutes complaining about a bug that was flying around him. No matter – my main goal for the night was to meet the Anberlin guys and Stephen in particular. Drummer Nate Young was the first one to come out to the lobby after their set and, despite my stomach being in knots, I went up to him and asked him to sign my Blueprints booklet. He took my pen and signed the front cover, said “Eh, you can’t see that real good,” and went on to sign the back cover too! To this day I still brag that I probably own the only copy of Blueprints with two signatures from the same member.
We waited about half an hour for Stephen to show up and were just about to return to the show when he finally came out. After a few minutes of my mother urging me to get over my nerves, I went up to him and we chatted for a few minutes before I asked him for an autograph. He took my pen and booklet and said, “We can do better than this,” and left to go get a sharpie. This is what he wrote:
At that moment, he became a leading role model in my life. I realized that I hadn’t met a man who was in a rock band for fame, women or fortune; he was in it to make other people happy and to use his position to make the world a better place. From that point on, I used the internet to keep myself as up to date as possible on the band and Stephen himself. I learned through his personal blog that he shared my love for books and even bought a few based purely on his recommendation (The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Alchemist among them). I read about his experiences in places like India and Guatemala and his charity work with Faceless International, founded to fight against human trafficking and slavery. His philosophical musings opened my mind in so many ways; hand on heart, I learned more about life through this one man than I did in all four years of high school. Even if he didn’t know it, he had become my most important teacher.
Getting back to the band, here’s a fun story to make some of the longtime fans feel really old. It was less than a year later (July 2005) when I saw Anberlin live for the second time, alongside Saosin, Acceptance, Codeseven and Terminal. It was at the most pathetic-looking (I say that fondly) dive you’d ever seen called The Creepy Crawl in St. Louis. The openers Terminal had already started playing before everyone (maximum capacity being an enormous 150 people) could get inside, and while waiting in line, we saw drummer Nate Young walking around the side of the building, talking somewhat angrily on his cell phone.
It turned out that, as he was only 18 at the time, the owner of the bar refused to let him in to watch the other bands in the fear that he would drink! (Side note: most of us fans were under 21 as well, but security put special armbands around our wrists to set us apart and warned us that if we stepped outside for any reason, we wouldn’t be allowed back in.) So poor Nate had to wait outside all evening, come in and play his set with Anberlin, then leave again when Saosin came out. Fast forward to today, and Mr. Young will now be turning 27 next month. As the band themselves put it, the time we have is time well borrowed.
“Lines and phrases like knives, your words can cut me through”
Despite the significant influence they had both inside and outside of their music, it was in 2007 that Anberlin changed my life permanently. I was in community college at the time, taking classes for a web design degree that I had no desire to get. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life; my grades were slipping; my childhood dogs – my best friends – had recently passed away; my girlfriend and I had ended our relationship on bad terms. I felt as if I had no future or identity, nowhere to turn to. I fell into a deep depression, didn’t talk to anyone, and ate next to nothing for days. It got to the point where just waking up and getting out of bed was a struggle; I was questioning what my purpose in life was and couldn’t find any answers. And I was not the type of person to seek help, regardless of how serious the situation was. Call it stupidly stubborn pride. It felt like the walls were closing in around me and there was no way out of it.
About a week later, I was home alone one afternoon and washing the dishes. Cities was playing in the background, although I wasn’t paying attention to it. Then the inevitable happened as I finally snapped; I was almost done cleaning the dishes when I pulled a knife out of the sink. I stood there and stared at it for several minutes, thinking “this is my way out.” I turned around and held the knife up, inches away from my chest, ready to do it, wanting to do it. My heart was racing, like it knew what was about to happen and was trying to escape. And at that exact moment, I heard these words:
“It’s not that I keep hanging on/I’m never letting go”
And then, of course, the iconic chorus followed, along with the repeated phrase, “Save me from myself.” I put the knife down and cried, hard. That band, that voice, that music that had always been there when I needed it the most, helped me realize that suicide is the selfish, the easy way out. I didn’t have nothing to live for, I had everything. They also reminded me why they have always meant so much to me: because they constantly fuel my desire to be a better person and to make the world a better place, as they do.
I never thought I’d be making all of this public, but I want you to know that a favorite band is much more than a group whose music you love and adore; they can also be a best friend and a mentor, forming a bond that runs perhaps even deeper than with the people you love the most in life.
“Let’s you and me make a night of it, old enough to know but too young to care.”
I promise this lengthy story will wrap up soon, but I want to say a few things about New Surrender, the album that many fans (and the band themselves) were not completely satisfied with. It had always felt like the band and I were growing up together, side by side, and that trend continued when they left their longtime home at Tooth & Nail Records to take a chance in the big leagues with Universal Republic. Similarly, I had at long last decided to pursue a Publishing degree, left the local community college and moved away from home to Illinois State University – a new school, a new city, a new home, and a fresh start at life.
It was everything I needed and more. It was only a month into my first semester when Anberlin’s highly-anticipated major label debut arrived. Critics were lukewarm towards it; I loved it. I quickly made new friends who were also fans of the band, and also had one of my best friends as a roommate and he was quickly influenced by my love of Anberlin. There were many video games and beer pong tournaments played to the sounds of “The Resistance” and “Feel Good Drag” as well as random driving (gas prices were still halfway reasonable) trips while blasting “Breathe” and “Breaking” with the windows down. It was the most important year of my life, 2008; I had finally broken out of my shell, my grades improved drastically, and I was truly becoming happy, becoming successful. Perhaps that’s why I always argue that NS is underrated, because it’s associated with some of the happiest times in my life. Whatever the reason, it will always have a special place in my heart, just like all of the others.
“This is the correlation between salvation and love”
Stephen, Joey, Christian, Deon and Nate have deeply impacted lives all over the world, whether through their music, their live shows, their charity work, or just stopping to chat with a fan for a few minutes. It is only fitting that they’ve earned this very rare opportunity – to end their career on their terms, with all of their friendships completely intact. They’ve given us so much already, and now they will give us one final album followed by one final tour.
As sad as it is, in a way it’s a dream scenario because we have the chance to say goodbye and give them a sendoff they’ll never forget. What more could we possibly ask for? Wherever the nearest show on the tour is, you better believe I’ll be there, front and center, singing my heart out with them one last time, along with thousands of others who have their own wonderful tales with the band. There will be smiles, there will be laughter, and there will probably be a lot of tears – it is inevitable.
From the bottom of a heart that you’ve traced and carved yourselves, Anberlin, Thank You and Godspeed to all you’re after.
*I would never dream of trying to create a “dream setlist” for the band’s final tour; I don’t even think it’s possible. Instead, below you can check out a Spotify playlist of my 25 favorite Anberlin songs. If you have a special story of your own with the band, favorite albums or just favorite songs, feel free to share them in the comments section below. I would love to hear them.