Monday, February 15, 2010

Versus: 'Four Minute Mile' v. 'Something to Write Home About'

[Versus pits two of an artist’s classic albums against each other even if they’re stylistically different, because that “you can’t compare apples and oranges” bullshit is for people without balls, spines, or all those other things that separate us from the villainous jellyfish. This week's installment comes from guest contributor and Get Up Kids superfan Mike Pelone. We once covered "Better Half," from Four Minute Mile, together.]

Music is my life. It’s what gets me up in the morning, keeps me going throughout the day, and puts me to sleep at night. I can pinpoint certain times in my life and remember what albums I was listening to during that period. When I listen to them now, it brings me back to that place and reminds me of who I am and where I’ve been. When my cousin Joe asked me to write a guest piece for Picasso Blue I knew instantly what I wanted to write about- my favorite band, The Get Up Kids. Their first two albums, Something To Write Home About and Four Minute Mile, are widely acknowledged as two of the last great “emo” records and have spawned hundreds of bands that try to capture that sound. In this piece I will compare and contrast the two records and explain why this band means so much to me.

When I was 13 years old, I was first introduced to The Get Up Kids. A neighborhood friend of mine had just seen them open for Green Day on the “Warning Tour” and came home with a copy of Something To Write Home About. He burned me a copy and said, “Dude you’ve got to hear this band.” I can recall walking back to my parents house in the snow listening to it on a Walkman and from that first pick-slide in “Holiday” to that last bass drum hit in “I’ll Catch You,” I was mesmerized. I listened to that burnt copy so many times in that first two weeks that it started skipping, so I went out and bought a physical copy. That’s when I truly fell in love with the album.

I remember staring at the robots on the cover listening to records on their candle-lit turntable and thinking that it was the most amazing artwork I’d ever seen. The album covers every aspect of the teenage emotional experience pain, heartache, angst, anger, regret… They’re all represented on Something To Write Home About. The band jumps from gut-wrenching love songs like “Valentine” to triumphant anthems like “Ten Minutes” and “I’m a Loner Dottie, A Rebel...”. Matt Pryor’s vocals brought out feelings in me that I’d never felt. This was also the band’s first proper full-length with James Dewees, who is one of those great keyboardists who doesn’t fill the need to take over songs with his Moog, he just finds the spaces between where he can really bring the song to life. This album is their masterpiece and embodies everything I love about music.

After about a year of listening to Something To Write Home About every day, I decided to check out their first record, Four Minute Mile. I picked up a copy from Joe’s former place of employment the late, great Sam Goody in the Plymouth Meeting Mall. When I got home I popped it into my boombox and was completely taken aback from what I heard. It sounded like a completely different band had recorded this album. There were no keyboards, no huge production, no three-way vocal harmonies. In fact, I thought the record sounded like complete shit. Pryor can’t hold a note to save his life and his voice cracks about five times in the first three songs. The guitars and drums are sloppy and the overall quality of the record is so far from what I had spent the last year obsessing over with Something. After that first listen I put the CD away and it took me a long time to revisit it.

Eventually I came around and gave it another try and realized that this is their “punk rock” record. I read somewhere that they recorded it in Chicago on a weekend when drummer Ryan Pope had off from high school. Almost the entire album is recorded live and every little mistake can be heard. As I got older and went through a couple relationships, I grew to really relate to Four Minute Mile. Some of the lyrics on this record are something almost every teenager can relate to “Tonight / as much as I would like to / I can’t put my hands all over you” or “Am I asking too much to keep you at arms length” are classic examples. STWHA taught me about life but FMM taught me about love.

There are not a lot of things I can still relate to today from when I was 13 bad acne, N64, Blink-182... Those things don’t matter much to me now but The Get Up Kids still do. In 2005, The Get Up Kids announced after 10 years of writing music and touring that they would be breaking up. I was crushed. I was 18 at the time and had spent the past five years of my life obsessing over their music. I made plans with my friends to catch their last shows in Philly and Jersey and we had a blast watching our favorite band one last time.

When I was 19, I had two STWHA robots tattooed on both of my legs. I had just dropped out of college, been kicked out of my parents house and was working at a Wawa making sandwiches. I had developed a pretty nasty drug habit and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. The Get Up Kids were all I had. For the past five four years I’ve been struggling with an addiction to oxycontin and heroin. I’ve done things I never thought I’d do to get one more high steal, cheat, lie… you name it and I’ve done it. Throughout this whole battle, The Get Up Kids have been there for me. I just got out of treatment last month and have really been trying to stay clean this time. It is a constant, every day struggle but these two albums help me more than I can explain. Last month when I was released from rehab, I got in my car and drove around my neighborhood listening to Something To Write Home About on full blast. It was a better feeling than any bag of dope or pill had ever given me. It was the feeling of being alive.


Greg said...

Really great piece Mike, like reeeeally great. Thanks for sharing your personal life with us all in relation to these albums. While I've never had the hard times like you have, I can definitely related to albums meaning so much to someone. For me it might be Elliott Smith's s/t because that was the first album my then-girlfriend, now-wife burnt for me. Plus it rucking rules. Oh, and I would go with STWHA.

Anonymous said...

Powerful article, Mike. I don't really know you still, but I really respect you because this must have taken some courage to write. Hope to read more of your stuff on Joe's blog.

Unknown said...

Six years later, I'm seeing this. I know your bones have long since decayed in your coffin, may you rest in peace, away from the drugs that took your life. I wish I could show you what impact you have on me, being such an inspiration for trying to overcome your life struggles with music. You inspired my favorite band, and your story tying into your life brought tears to my eyes. I wish you knew which set of pills would kill you, so that you could have put them down and won your fight. You'd be so proud if you saw how far Dan has come because of your singular role in his life. I don't even know, but i love you. Thank you for saving my life as well as many other The Wonder Years fans. Rest in peace, angel, heaven holds a place for those who love.