Jimmy Eat World’s Futures has led me through several years of unpredictable outcomes.
I first heard the album as a senior in high school, in the midst of an “emo” phase that ended up becoming a solidified part of me. Somebody was raving about the record on AbsolutePunk, and I had enough curiosity to check it out. If it wasn’t for my recent cravings for Brand New’s Deja Entendu, I might not have had the urge. But after a year of learning about “emo” music, which included reading Andy Greenwald’s awesome book “Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo” (you really should read it), I decided that there was something peculiar enough about Jimmy Eat World that I might enjoy them. It’s that same thought every time I explore a new band before falling love with them: “They’re cool, I guess.” Yeah, I guess.
Really, on surface level, there’s nothing absolutely mind-blowing. I mean, the thought of substantive radio rock is great in itself. But the songs are simple. The riffs are juicy. The vocals are catchy. It’s nice and honest. But deep inside, hidden in the beating heart, is something incredibly, incredibly rich. It’s something beyond music. Something was alive.
One full listen to Futures and I was hooked. Eventually, I knew all the lyrics and melodies by heart, and would spend Friday nights driving around my neighborhood reflecting on high school. I would park at my elementary school’s parking lot alone, windows rolled down, humming the songs to myself with the cool breeze making its impact. I would remember myself and no one else. Just myself — the way I was, the awkward moments, the optimism. The way I didn’t make any sense, but felt whole at the same time. There was something so graceful about it. And there was something so graceful about Futures.
This was in April 2012. In May, I graduated. Then, in August, I headed to the University of Kansas for college.
Everything was different, yet nothing about Futures had changed. It still had the same effect on me. I would hum “Work” to myself, letting the guitar solo absolutely crush me before its final chorus chimed in. I would listen to “Kill” and cry; no matter how happy or sad I was, it always had me in tears. I would listen to “The World You Love” and stare at the skyline outside my dorm room window. Sometimes background music is all you need to enjoy the scenery. There was just something beautiful to me about seeing all of those building lights and factories at work — as if just sitting there and watching the world magically operating despite such human imperfection was a miracle. Futures taught me that it is.
On weekends when I would drive home from college and see my family, on that 20-mile stretch down K-7, I would listen to those three songs. My car would drive itself, and I would let myself go. Sometimes I cried, just as I did to the heartbreaking “Kill”. Sometimes I would just sit there and think about life. You know, school, friends, family. But sometimes I would think about bigger things: existence, the complexity of the world. And that skyline at work again.
In October, 2013, one of my friends committed suicide. I thought he was doing okay and didn’t expect it. But then again, I didn’t expect Jimmy Eat World to be one of my favorite bands. I didn’t expect to be going to the University of Kansas for college. I didn’t expect to be a journalism major. And I didn’t expect Futures to console me. But sitting by my bedroom window with fists clenched, listening to “The World You Love” became everything. I laid my head against the window. It was daytime and I couldn’t stare at building lights, so I just watched the raindrops pat the panes. I watched and was blown away. It was just so pristine — the guitar riffs, the lyrics, the storm.
Futures became my storm on that day. In the past, it was both a point of reflection and a way of seeing the world as it evolves. It was always the outside, like those lights and water droplets. But that day it turned into something ever-so-personal. I was afraid of it becoming so relatable, but here I was, laying on my side, listening to the opening of “Pain” and focusing on the moment. I was in pain, but Jimmy Eat World was the storm that came into my life and shook every nerve. Jim Adkins is right, too: “It takes my pain away!”
On that note, it’s so fascinating to me how it always rains on the days when bad news like the death of a loved one hits.
Eventually, I would drive home from college, on that short stretch of highway, and those three songs wouldn’t make me so emotional. Sometimes I would listen to something else. But sometimes I would just keep listening, expecting something to happen. And nothing would happen. A year goes by, life occurs, and Futures falls away a bit. Sometimes I would listen to it and think about the way it jolted me upright, those cool breezes, and even the most bitter rainstorms. But most times, I was engulfed in something else.
Then, in August 2014, Jimmy Eat World announces a 10th Anniversary Show in celebration of Futures at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, Mo. I let all of the memories flood back, then immediately bought my ticket. That night, I drove down I-35 and listened to the album. It was as if nothing had changed. I thought about how it used to make me feel. But it felt different. But only I had changed, and it made the record seem even more amazing. Then, in the midst of this night drive, “Night Drive” ended and “23” came on. So many people let that song consume them alone — all while I’m brooding over those same three tracks over and over. But as that minute-plus-long intro broke open the world and Adkins sang the words “Don’t give away the end / the one thing that stays mine”, it became everything. Just then, the Kansas City skyline came into view, and I was overwhelmed.
“What’s the end?” I asked myself, deeply analyzing the inspiration behind Adkins’ words and considering what it might actually mean to me. My conscience would reply: “Who knows?” And that actually made a lot of sense.
The world has changed a lot since I first listened to Futures. I’ve been sucker punched by events I didn’t expect, all while people try to streamline my life into a start and end point. “Tim, what’s your dream job?” “Tim, what do you want to do when you graduate?” Sometimes I just want to answer, “What I always do. Sit down, listen to Futures, and feel.” Not worry. Not think. Just feel. I just want to stick it to everyone else who thinks life works this way. Jimmy Eat World proved to me that it isn’t, and it’s been there in some of those most surprising moments.
On Wednesday, October 8, 2014, I will get to see Jimmy Eat World live for the first time. And I will get to hear one of my favorite albums of all-time in full. It’s scary to think of what could happen. Really, I have no clue. I’ve heard about the band’s sets. I’ve heard about dramatic, heart wrenching performances of “Pain” and “23”, I’ve heard about crowds that know every word like I do and sing along until their voices go numb, and I’ve heard about the great dynamics between the group’s old and new stuff — the stuff that came before and after Futures. But this night will be all about Futures. And when the lights dim and the band comes on stage, I’m ready for the longest, most beautiful night of my young life.
But I just don’t want it to end. Life will end at some point, but I don’t know if I’ve come to terms with that just yet. If I “give away the end, the one part that stays mine”, will I cease to experience the unpredictable? Will I cease to feel nostalgia, miracles, grace, and stormy fronts? God, I hope not.
Good thing that guitar solo at the end of “23” is so long. It holds the record together, almost in slow-motion, in mid-air with no movement whatsoever. It keeps Futures from ever ending. It keeps that man on the album cover from ever leaving the phone booth. And it keeps me sane. I just hope that after October 8, 2014, it will stay that way.