Song of the Year: There, There by The Wonder Years

Before I heard their music, Pennsylvania-based pop-punk band The Wonder Years had a few things going against them. A pop culture referencing name, a singer that often calls himself “Soupy,” an album cover that features Cap’n Crunch making out with the Kool-Aid Woman. But 2013 was a year of change for me and a band with songs about people “born to run away from anything good” and the ever-shifting idea of home was exactly what I needed. Their newest album, The Greatest Generation, has a number of good songs, but the opener “There, There,” grabbed me more than any other.

The Wonder Years - The Greatest GenerationIt’s a simple story: a man recognizes his faults and apologizes. We may think it, but how often do we actually say, as Gareth Campesino did, “I know. I am wrong. I am sorry.”

These days, we’re either too eager or too hesitant to display our emotions. For every time someone tells their 500-person Facebook community how no one is ever there for them, there’s another who would never ask someone to be. We keep emotions in, knowing the Venn diagram of those who understand, those who care, and those we want to talk to has no overlap. No one wants to hear a whiner. We fear our Facebook friends will click “hide from news feed.” We fear our friends will stop calling. We know our therapist is only listening because she is being paid. Maybe you paint or write songs with titles like “The Devil in My Bloodstream” and “I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral” or self-indulgent blog posts that start as song reviews and transform into an outpouring of confusion.

Or we digitally flagellate ourselves. We display our hearts like bloodied bedsheets to prove our purity. To show that we too can feel pain, either to the coddling or eye-rolling (Either is fine. A reaction is a reaction.) of our amorphous “followers.” Often this is the publishing of those private songs or blog posts. Whispers projected through megaphones.

And so the message is never sent to the right person. We live our lives like a college playwright’s first scenes – filled with dialogue about our conflict, but never addressing the person with whom we have conflict.

Because conflict makes us “awkward and nervous.” I have an ex who I laughed at the first time she told me she loved me. She had said it with a question mark at the end. And she meant what she said, but the subtext was “I love you. Is that OK?” I’m not sure that ever changes. That’s why the only proper response is “I love you, too.” No kiss is passionate enough, no “thank you” is earnest enough to come close to a sufficient answer. Try Han Solo’s “I know,” and let me know how hard she slaps you.

We strive for honesty, but it’s not always appreciated. Even when you try to do the right thing, you’re going to piss someone off. Avoiding one fight starts a new one. Being there for a friend means abandoning another. Looking out for yourself upsets the entire world.

For me, “There, There” comes down to being relatable. The aforementioned Gareth Campesino also said “Four sweaty boys with guitars tell me nothing about my life.” Based on experience, I’m the opposite. Most of the bands that have meant something to me, The Smashing Pumpkins, Saves the Day, and now The Wonder Years, were just that – sweaty guys with guitars. I understand someone who feels sad, who doesn’t understand why the world works the way it does. What I don’t understand are self-empowerment anthems. I have no use for someone who “woke up this way … flawless.” Good for you. I woke up with a lazy eye, feet that turn out too much, thinning hair, and a weird birthmark in my ear. I know I am not flawless. And I don’t believe you look at yourself and see perfection. I don’t hear confidence, I hear self-delusion. People have flaws. They have mood swings. You may have four invitations on a Saturday night, but sometimes you’d rather lay in bed and look at the walls, lost in your head again. Someone who always has a smile on their face is a liar. At best.

Someone saying “Here are my problems. I am trying” has my attention. That second part, being accountable for our faults, makes all the difference. The closest thing I know to self-empowerment is Pantera’s ‘Becoming,” which is not about being perfect, but making yourself better. I know I struggle with empathy. That’s why I make jokes at bad times. That’s why I never know what to say when someone says they miss me. That’s why I need songs like “There, There.”

Thanks for reading.

And I’m sorry I don’t laugh at the right times.

The Wonder Years – There, There
You’re just trying to read but I’m always standing in your light.
You’re just trying to sleep but I always wake you up to apologize.
I’m sorry I don’t laugh at the right times.
I know how it seems when I always sing to myself in public. I babble on like a mad man.
I know how it seems when I’m always staring off into nothing. I’m lost in my head again.
I’m sorry I don’t laugh at the right times.
Is this what it feels like?
I’ve got my heart strung up on clothing line through tenement windows in mid-July.
I’m sorry I don’t laugh at the right times.
Is this what it feels like with my wings clipped?
I’m awkward and nervous.

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