It should be no surprise that the guy who loved Toad the Wet Sprocket and worshipped Sunny Day Real Estate fell in love with a band named Jimmy Eat World. But, hey, I love the Goo Goo Dolls, too. I guess I have a thing for verbose band names.
My first exposure to Jimmy Eat World came at the hands of Jerry Rubino, a part-time jock at the local radio station where I interned. He seemed older than most of the radio station employees and was probably no older than the age I am as I write this post.
At the time, “Lucky Denver Mint” was getting modest play on alternative radio stations. It was even featured in Drew Barrymore’s “Never Been Kissed.” Something about the song resonated with me. It was poppy and energetic yet inexplicably reminded me of a sitcom theme song open.
When I mentioned to Jerry that “Lucky Denver Mint” was my favorite song in rotation, I was making a statement, especially when you consider the late-90s music awesomeness dominating local play before the century came to a close. Lit, Blink 182, Cake, The Offspring, Tonic, and the often forgotten The Flys – Got You (Where I Want You).
Jerry referenced something about these guys being the “real deal” and that I needed to grab a copy of “Clarity” and “Static Prevails” if I wanted my world rocked.
And rocked I was.
The dynamic instrumentation on “Clarity” hooked me. But despite some time on the Warped Tour, the band was dropped by Capitol Records; the album was considered a commercial failure.
But what the fuck do those corporate record guys and gals know? “Clarity” went on to be a significant influence on countless emo bands and has remained on my playlist for decades. And yes, emo is the dumbest genre name ever; are all other music categories devoid of emotion?
Jimmy has that magic formula: harmony and aggression. Light and dark. Polar opposites blended into the perfect smoothie where you are not even sure what fruits are inside–but you know you like ’em!
Maybe that’s why I have an affinity for The Beach Boys and Metallica.
With elements of Red House Painters and Christie Front Drive, the unpredictability of Jimmy Eat World’s early tracks was part of the appeal. Organs and harpsichords and cello and funky drum beats. WTF? Yet, the songs on “Clarity” fit together like a puzzle. While the songs are diverse, each track leads into the next seamlessly.
“Clarity” left me hungry for more J.E.W.
Released on July 24, 2001, the band dropped its fourth studio album, the self-funded and ill-titled “Bleed American.” The album delivered, dominating my Rio 600 MP3 player. I’d deplete that single AA battery every week on my commute into the city, with Jimmy leading the charge–or should I say leading the drain?
A mere six weeks after its release, America did in fact bleed, as four coordinated suicide attacks changed the world forever.
With thousands dead, thousands injured, and innocence lost, I changed in ways I could have never imagined. I waited for more attacks. And waited. And waited. Maybe I’m still waiting?
Something about being four miles away from the slaughter of innocent office dwellers and then trapped on an urban island with no way home impacted me deeply. But that story is for another day; ultimately, I was fortunate.
“Hear You Me,” the sixth track on “Bleed American,” became my 9/11 anthem, a biblical passage. For weeks I would listen to the song, think of those who perished and cry my guts out.
I waited for the track to become a coping mechanism for the country, but instead, it only turned up in the dumbass snowboarding flick, Out Cold. But hey, the song helped me through some shitty times and still leads me back to that fateful day, the way only music can.
Perhaps that’s why I’ve never loved “The Middle,” the song that went on to be Jimmy Eat World’s highest-charting song (It hit number five on the US Billboard Hot 100 in 2002). It’s not bad. But it’s not their best. Not even close.
But “The Middle” went to the top of the playlist and crossed over to many Top 40 radio stations. It’s also one of the last examples I can recall of a music video helping catapult a band to success. I guess young people in underwear will do that.
For my money, “A Praise Chorus” was the jam. Super lyrics and a lot of fun to sing along to. Try not to join in, “crimson and clover…over…and over.” Plus, if this song doesn’t inspire you to get off your ass and do something with your youth, I’m not sure what will!
In the autumn of 2004, Jimmy Eat World released their fifth studio album, “Futures.” Featuring a bit less gloss and more complex guitar work, I fell fast. As the band matured, it became evident they were going for a more sophisticated sound, but the underlying aggression was still bubbling under the surface.
The lonely illuminated phone booth on the album’s cover made it difficult to determine if “Futures” was about the past or present. Songs like “Futures, ” “Pain,” and “Nothing Wrong” are truculent, while “Drugs Or Me,” “23,” and “Polaris” feel more like a space odyssey. But “Work” and “Kill,” two songs seemingly about escape, remain my faves.
Futures’ 11 songs deliver 50 minutes of highly-listenable music with zero excuses to skip a track.
The 2005 EP, “Stay On My Side Tonight,” contained three new tunes, including “Closer,” a track that always gets me hyped for the wah-wah-pedal-effected, blistering guitar solo ending. The song embodies the Jimmy Eat World spirit of straddling multiple worlds, yet none at all.
From this point on, I appreciated Jimmy’s ability to produce new music consistently, delivering a new album every three years or so.
The irony is not lost on me: the band that captured my heart by delivering an unpredictable and diverse sound has maintained my love by producing dependable and easily-identifiable music at a steady cadence for over a decade. Just don’t call it “mature emo.”
“Chase This Light” – 2007
“Invented” – 2010
“Damage” – 2013
“Integrity Blues” – 2016
“Surviving” – 2019
All solid albums with standout tracks on each. And 2021 brought about “The Phoenix Sessions,” livestream events where the band played the “Surviving,” “Futures” and “Clarity” albums in their entirety.
Jimmy Eat World’s latest track, “Something Loud” is out now. And, yeah, of course it’s good.
As many of us age out of music that once defined us, we’re forced to wrestle with the question, ”What changed? The music or us?” When it comes to me and Jimmy Eat World there is no question that we are growing together, while staying true to who we are…who we’ve been…and who we will always be.
This post is a salute to Jerry Rubino and all of my fellow human beings who profoundly impact life without ever knowing it. Go out there and turn a kid onto some new music; they might thank you decades later.