14. “May 16” by Lagwagon (1998)

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.

What was your favorite level on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2? You must have one. If you’re reading this entry, I’m 99% certain you spent hours upon hours playing this game just like I did. Mine was the school because the challenges were all fun as hell – Rock the Bells, grind the 3 handrails, find the Secret Tape by hitting that giant launch ramp up to the roof and then grinding the flagpole to the secret area – and I could usually bang out like 6 level goals in the first pass.

If any of that bullshit means anything to you, it means you also listened to “May 16” by Lagwagon roughly a billion times while button-mashing your way through insane skateboard trick combos no one could ever do in real life. You heard this one and “No Cigar” by Millencolin, “Guerrilla Radio” by Rage Against the Machine, “Bring the Noise” by Anthrax & Chuck D, and a bunch of others I didn’t even have to look up because they’re tattooed on my brain from playing this game so much. Some songs I can’t even think of without immediately thinking of one of these games like “Not the Same” by Bodyjar, which appeared on the 3rd game’s soundtrack.

Any band that appeared on one of these games will tell you what an unexpected boost they got from their inclusion. For instance, here’s John Feldmann from Goldfinger talking about “Superman” being in the first game, and Tony’s deadpan response to it. For further context, here’s an absolutely gonzo story from Tony Hawk himself about a meeting he had with his contact at Activision about the success of the games. I won’t spoil the punchline because holy shit. The point is, we all absorbed by voluminous repetition some extremely well-curated shit that almost certainly influenced our collective musical taste in remarkable ways we probably haven’t fully considered. Those games were that good and that replayable,that  those 20ish songs became standard-bearers outside of that context, too.

Lagwagon was in many ways also front and center for my all-time favorite label Fat Wreck Chords. They, along with No Use for Name, were the Main Event of Fat. And what both bands are so good at is allowing you to experience emotional catharsis when you don’t even realize it. Lagwagon has written a lot of silly shit, sure, especially in their younger days, but their talents as songwriters are in expressing exquisite emotional pain and then playing it a million miles an hour at thunderous volume. You get some needed emotional release on a subconscious level while on the surface you’re just rocking the fuck out.

This fact became clear to me on Lagwagon Day (May 16) in 2020 while still in the throes of the pandemic. Lagwagon lead singer Joey Cape offered a livestream of his acoustic performance, and since it had been fucking forever since we’d gotten together with anyone, Jason made plans to come to my house to listen to it. So earlier in the day, we both separately stopped by The Bug Theatre to support their empty house by buying to-go bags of beer and candy (that they delivered in masks and gloves directly to my car), then we sat socially distanced on my patio, and listened to the livestream. What I’m saying is the further away we get from the height of the pandemic, the fucking weirder it all feels in retrospect.

What we both realized is that if you strip away Lagwagon songs – take away their speed, take away the cacophonous drums, take away the bombast – you’re left with some incredibly melancholy music. It’s just Joey strumming away on his guitar telling you sad tales from his life. It’s like listening to punk rock Tom Waits. “May 16” is no different in that played at normal speed, it just SHREDS. Slowed down and played acoustic, it ACHES.

In 2016, Joey told the story of how “May 16” came to be and it’s an interesting tale of waking up from a one night stand in some stranger’s apartment, looking across the street, and seeing some former friends getting married, and feeling regret about the misunderstandings that led to the falling out of that friendship.

Yeah, old friend, see ya there
I will be proud from afar
I can’t paint a picture in a moment
Of memories, there are not many left
I am extradited, uninvited

The way Joey swallows the words at the end of a line and plows through to the next line is like he’s trying to stay ahead of his feelings, but hard feelings are like the taxman – they always come for you. There’s no escape from dealing with feelings of regret, remorse, shame or personal disappointment. The only way out is through. Slow down some Lagwagon songs, you’re gonna deal with those deeply, and in the moment. And yeah, you’re gonna be blue.

Play them at the proper speed, and that pallid shade of blue transforms into bright red as you fire yourself up and launch yourself headlong into a mosh pit. Exorcise those demons! Bump into strangers! Pump your fist in the air! Shout out your feelings right along with Joey! Lagwagon concerts are the best kind of group therapy in that they don’t feel like group therapy at all.

On airplanes I often fall asleep listening to Lagwagon or something equally as noisy. Really it’s the only thing loud enough to shout down the chattering voices in my head that allows me to get some peace (as oxymoronic and counterintuitive as that sounds). But that’s the beautiful paradox of a really great punk song like “May 16” by Lagwagon. You can play Tony Hawk over and over again and enjoy the everloving shit out of it. Or you can listen close and decide to do some work on yourself. The choice is yours.

Up next: The only guy who matters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.