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.
High school is a closed ecosystem. That’s why so many people hate it so much. It’s hard to carve out a space just for yourself. You see the same goddamn people all goddamn day for four goddamn years. Then you all start dating each other and that makes things even more complicated. I live as a happily married man who works from home by himself most of the time, and even considering the sheer volume of relationship dynamics one must navigate during high school feels me with exhaustion.
That’s why you need friendships that feel like just yours – ones that no matter what else is happening, you know you can count on to be there. Ones that you can take a jaundiced (or philosophical) look at the playing field and levy honest commentary on it without judgment. Ones that only take a knowing look of “Oh, we’re gonna smoke a cigarette and talk about what just happened later.” Ones that you nurture extensively, but that feel like they take no work at all.
In high school, that was my friend Conor.
One night we were at my ex-girlfriend’s house – who was now dating our other good friend – who would go on to date Conor after that friend broke up with her – but Conor was then dating another one of my exes who was the other ex’s best friend (like I said – closed ecosystem), and I was at that point dating no one. They’re all in that house on this particular night. I was headed to Spain for 3 weeks with my AP Spanish class, and navigating this bullshit was exhausting. Couldn’t I just escape across the Atlantic without high school drama plaguing me up until the very last minute? Oh! I also had a job interview the day before I left! Jesus Christ, I’m off track…
So! One night we’re there in the middle of this miasma of drama, and I’m driving Conor home that night. He’s got a lit cigarette in his hand, puts a glass bottle of Sobe on the roof of my ’94 VW Jetta, and announces with the confidence of a Renaissance king, “Jon, two things. One: We are listening to Face to Face on the way home. Two: I need to stop and buy cigarettes, for this is my last one.
[glass bottle of Sobe falls off my roof and breaks upon hitting the concrete]
Ok, three things.”
We both laugh. We pile into the car, and he slides Face to Face Live into my in-dash CD player. A few guitar strums, and then lead singer Trever Keith steps up to the mic. “How you guys doin? Hello, hello. We’re Face to Face. Thanks a lot for comin’ out.” Four stick clicks, and we’re right into “Walk the Walk.” The music is everything I want it to be in that moment. Face to Face continues to be exactly what I want it to be in most moments I’m listening to them. “I could be like you. I could be alone and jaded wondering what to do until they say…”
Whoa. He’s singing right to me and my lonely ass marooned in the middle of this high school romantic drama cesspool. “I could be like you. Angry and intoxicated wondering what to do to make them pay…”
Jesus Christ. Was he watching us in there in that house? Is this a song Face to Face wrote based on what that room felt like “Will I find a way (will I find another way)? Will I find a waaa-aay (will I find another way)? Can I make them say? Can I make them say? Make ‘em all believe you’re wrong, you’re really wrong, your real intentions don’t belong…”
Conor was someone, who for a good chunk of our lives, I felt like I understood on a cellular level. He and I had basically the exact same sense of humor and we were both similarly and hopelessly romantic (One thing I know he’ll hate if he ever reads this is that he used to bust on me for my “boyfriend voice” which I admit was obnoxious, but holy fuck was his even worse once we were in our 20s). He always had much better taste in music than I did, and I reaped the benefit of that. He was ahead of me on every single trend, and seemed to be able to pick singles off a new album before the record company released them. It was uncanny. Also, this is neither here nor there, but as far as pickup high school basketball, Conor was basically a genius level passer. Dude could dish the fucking rock.
He introduced me to Face to Face, and I therefore always associate them with him. When our big high school crew split up due to graduation, he bought me a ticket to the Face to Face show for my birthday. So in September of 2000, I saw Face to Face headline with supporting acts Alkaline Trio, Saves the Day and New Found Glory in a jam-packed, sold out, ready to party Ogden Theatre. This is still one of the greatest concerts I have ever, ever been to.
Earlier in this series I wrote of my love of Track 1s because anticipation and imagination are almost always better than reality. In the case of Face to Face, the very first song I ever intentionally heard from them ended up being the live version of “Walk the Walk.” And what followed was even better than anything my imagination could have conjured. They don’t have a bad album. They have an amazing live show I’ve seen more than 10 times. I met them at a brewery in Brighton, CO.
And more than anything, they frequently make me think of my friend Conor. I told Conor things I never told anyone else. He told me things I don’t think he ever told anyone else. We laughed together. We cried. We puked. We smoked cigarettes. I watched him bafflingly eat a bag of Planters peanuts and drink a Mountain Dew to, according to him, cure his heartburn. We drove up and down the mountain to our various mountain homes our parents loved more times than I can count.
It’s easy to remember this stuff. Because it all smoothly unlocks with Trever Keith walking to the mic and going, “How you guys doin’? Hello, hello. We’re Face to Face. Thanks a lot for comin’ out.”
Up next: I find my all-time style icon.