The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.
I see my friend Mikey probably once every 4-7 years. Makes sense. He lives in Australia; I have children and therefore no time or money. I’ve never been to Australia, but when he makes his way back across the International Date Line, he stops in Denver and we get together for an afternoon. And even though months (sometimes YEARS) pass between times we’ve even conversed, we always pick back up as if it’s been a matter of mere days since we last got together. The last time we were together, we were at the Irish Rover in Denver with our pal Gabe where we re-created a photo we took together in college. Mikey is on the righty.
At some point “Stare at the Sun” came on in the bar, and in ONE NOTE, Mikey and I both go in near perfect unison, “Aw hell yeah, Thrice!” I posted about it on Facebook and Mikey commented, “if you don’t stop mid-convo while a thrice song starts, i don’t think we can be friends.” That’s as good a measuring stick for my own personal definition of friendship as I’ve ever heard, so I’ll take it.
“Stare at the Sun” is extraordinarily unsubtle in the way it starts. Frankly, it’s unsubtle the whole way through, fitting for a single off the tour de force record The Artist in the Ambulance, which is an album of banger after banger after banger. The guitar bursts through the wall of your consciousness like the Kool-Aid Man and just wails for 10 seconds until the drums start up. 20 seconds in and we’re into the lyrics. And reader, this song has some of my favorite lyrics from any song, ever. Here’s the chorus:
Cause I am due for a miracle
I’m waiting for a sign
I’ll stare straight into the sun
And I won’t close my eyes
Til I understand or go blind
It’s easy to look back on younger versions of yourself and scoff at how seriously you took the drama in your life. Much of it seems so silly and ultimately trivial in retrospect, but viewing it that way is thoroughly unfair. It would be akin to replaying an empty version of a crossword puzzle you already solved, filling in the squares and saying, “You idiot. You thought this was hard?!” Well yeah, you dick. Everything is harder the first time you’re trying to solve it.
Thrice in 2003 struck the perfect tone for being 22 years old and full of angst. Thrice understood your pain, and not only understood it, but elevated it. Your pain was worthy of anthems. Your strife was epic in scope. Your problems were important. In fact, they weren’t just important, they were unique. No one understood you and oh isn’t that the great burden of being meeeee? It was pretentious and self-involved and it felt fucking amazing. I know it sounds like I’m being glib or sarcastic or making fun of Thrice, but fuck that. This was exactly the right stuff for that moment of post-9/11 existential angst, the looming and daunting prospect of leaving the cocoon of college, and of figuring out who you are, who you want to be, and notably, who you want to be with. It’s funny that figuring everything out felt so urgent at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight, you had a lot of road in front of you to do so. Thrice felt satisfyingly serious.
I noticed a pattern in my 20s. Every time I started listening to Thrice, like, A LOT, it almost always portended a career change. The screamed vocals, the noisy composition, the overbearing feeling of needing change but having no real idea of how to start affecting it all hit me right in the sweet spot when listening to Thrice. Thrice occupies a plum spot in the pretentious wing of my punk taste residence, and I like it that way. They’re not silly. They’re not winking. They’re not cute. They’re not funny. They make this shit with precision, and they make it fucking hard. You’re allowed to feel your feelings in all their self-indulgent glory when you listen to Thrice, and that provides a perfect way through to enlightenment.
I remember at the end of college when Mikey told me he was leaving to work in San Francisco, and I was overwhelmed with sadness. In the time after San Fran, Mikey returned to Denver, worked in LA, and then emigrated to Australia where he continues to kick huge amounts of ass as a radio producer. My initial sadness gave way to confidence because Mikey is singularly one of the most talented people I have ever known. He’s been on this show, and is the one responsible for designing the intro to my podcast. He made it sound even better than whatever version I originally had in my head. He knew exactly what to deliver, and it’s simply another fun expression of our friendship.
It’s also an exhibit of how I knew we ultimately wouldn’t lose touch. Our sensibilities are too similar. Any time we get together, 5 minutes into the conversation it feels like home again. I have multiple people like that in my life, and I’m so grateful that I do because it’s a reminder that none of us are alone in the universe and it’s not even close. There’s love in every direction, sometimes all you need is to be reminded of it.
A bar on a non-descript Denver Sunday. One note plays. “Aw hell yeah, Thrice!” Boom. Friendship contract renewed for another decade. Cheers.
Until we cross paths again, my friend. To paraphrase Joe Dirt, “Next time you stare at the sun, remember that somewhere I might be starin’ at that very same sun and for that brief second, we’re together again, kind of, you know?”
Thinking about Thrice doesn’t have be serious 100% of the time. =)
Up next: Ya I’m crazy but I get the job done.