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 met my friend Jitter at KCSU, our college radio station, and she used to intimidate the hell out of me. I don’t think this was intentional, but Jitter was (and is) a force of nature. She’s just a chatterbox bursting with energy and ideas and enthusiasm for all sorts of things. It can be a lot to take in. She was a Primetime DJ with a cush spot and hosted the other punk show on the station, so it wasn’t surprising that she was planning an all-day punk rock fest featuring tons of local acts.
I just didn’t understand how the hell she was doing this. She secured a venue, got sponsors to donate money and giveaways, and booked something like 12 bands, many of whom started showing up on my show to promote the thing. The very first band I interviewed was a band called Dysarranged whose big gimmick at the time was singing a song called “Safe Sex” where they’d toss condoms from the stage with a note stapled through the packet and right through the middle of the condom. We hit it off immediately, and they asked me to introduce them at the fest, which I did.
This band morphed into a band called A Void, who were even better. I remained close with the two band leads, featured them on my radio show frequently, saw them perform in Fort Collins a bunch where I actually had my technical first date with my wife (more on that in a later entry), and then sort of lost touch with them once college was over.
Cut ahead nearly 20 years later and through a random comment on another band’s post, I recognize Justin Duran, lead singer of both Dysarranged and A Void. He’s now fronting a band I hadn’t yet heard of called The Frickashinas. So I send him a message, invite him on the podcast, and it’s that unparalleled feeling of reconnecting with someone two decades later, but it only feels like two weeks. Like clockwork, I’m seeing them in concert regularly, hiring them to write a theme song for a podcast I created (and left), and just enjoying the fact that Denver’s punk scene feels as vital and energized to me at 42 as it did at 22.
I adore Justin, Jeremiah, Bret and Sam as people. I gave the band very little instruction on how to create “Happy Friday,” but it was enough for them to go, “Yep. Got it.” And what they delivered was pretty much exactly what I pictured in my head. I told Justin it was like I described a painting to him that he couldn’t see, asked him to re-create it, and he did so perfectly. It’s hard to explain, but some bands, some musicians, some artists just feel like they’re speaking directly to you. They find and scratch an itch you didn’t even know you had until that magical moment you hear them. And then a new part of your soul is unlocked.
These guys go hard. Real hard. And for whatever reason, how hard a band goes is still one of the first and most important measuring sticks my brain uses to gauge quality. Gritty, up-tempo, heart-on-the-sleeve, dirtbag punk will probably always be my default taste, and these guys do it as good as anyone, and better than most. Lyrically, The Frickashinas are fascinating because the vocabulary is elevated and of much higher quality than you’d expect to accompany this aesthetic. The songs are abstract in that you couldn’t write an accurate police report of what transpires in any of them, but individual moments are so vivid and evocative that a portal to personal epiphany is bound to open if you’re paying attention. You get the sense that the songs are about someone or something deeply personal without divulging extraneous biographical detail, and they’re all propulsive as hell. To me this band’s closest analog is Face to Face.
“I Like Your Band Better” tells the story of the song’s narrator struggling to gain a solid hold on an internal moral compass that’s gone astray. Or maybe it’s an encouraging ode to a friend who needs a helpful kick in the ass. Or perhaps it’s about the struggles of the grind of entrepreneurship. Or maybe it’s about the frustrating limits of capitalism to solve societal problems and the need for fundamental change.
The truth is I have no idea what this song is actually about, and I don’t really care. Because that’s the trick of great songwriting – it pulls off the paradoxical endgame of being both universal and deeply personal. I can imprint my own meaning on it, and even though that will necessarily be different than whatever meaning this song has to the band, both me and the band want them to play the fucking shit out of this every time we’re together. I frequently underestimate the role the audience plays in the two-way energy transaction between performer and listener.
One of the meanings I’m most delighted to imprint on this song is that around this house I can pose this prompt to my kids: “I just want to ask…” and if I ask it right, they go, “Hey whatcha’ doin?” and we get a nice little call-and-response in the house from this song’s big lyrical hook. My daughters have listened to enough Frickashinas that now they ask to hear them. I don’t care if they grow up to be scenesters, or even if they like what I like once they’re adults. They deserve to self-actualize into whoever they want.
But our shared love of The Frickashinas is a terrific reminder that great art and the things you love don’t have to come from the top down. If you support the work your friends do, engage in your local community, and remain open to the beauty that’s all around you, you’ll realize that sometimes the best things in your life originate from the fire in your own backyard.
Up next: My own personal theme song.