What’s the most important band for me when I was in college?
Let’s first establish, in the form of a short poem, what college meant to me:
It was the celebration of my youth
colored by independence
on top of the world
making moments last forever
letting it loose
living just for one tonight
everyone’s my best friend
girls….what can I say? I knew many
eventually the merry-go-round stops
got to wait for the next one and hop on it
music was the anthem of my early life
I kept finding all the rides
live it up!
Finding Meaning in College Through Music
No bands mattered to me quite like the ones I heard in college. I’m currently looking back at my college years (with a damn sty in my left eye) and reminiscing, trying to figure out which band was the most important and influential. But I am also looking around me right now. I’ve listened to a lot of bands in college and since then, I keep getting exposed to more and more. “Back in the day,” was not so long ago in a dorm room far, far away…
My first roommate, Eric, was heavily into death metal. He scared the living shit out of my mom and dad when he brought in his huge tower of devil worshipping CD’s. Dressed all sloppy with dirty long red hair and reeking of cigarette smoke. Eric had a presence that was screaming “Shock Therapy!” However, we both liked bands like Primus, Slayer and the soundtrack to the film “The Crow.” It had groups like Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Stone Temple Pilots, Helmet, and Pantera on that soundtrack as well as many more.
I remember that I also brought with me the movie, “The Crow” on videotape. That first weekend as dorm room buddies; we ordered a pizza, watched “The Crow” and listened to its accompanying soundtrack. We found ourselves connecting musically because we found common ground. Eric didn’t care for ALL my musical tastes and I certainly did not bang my head to Cannibal Corpse or Obituary but we managed to work it out.
You could say that my compact discs I brought with me to college were like my friends that I wanted to introduce to people. Some of them I let go of at used record stores and some I lost or got stolen from me. Still others stayed with me even up to this very day. But I did cherish “The Crow” soundtrack and movie. Not sure why I did so much. I even bought a t-shirt with “The Crow” symbol on it. I was apparently obsessed. Those tunes just hit the right nerves at the right time as I became exposed to great glimpses of an independent lifestyle.
I worked at a movie theater in the middle 1990’s and “The Crow” was the first film I got to see on my fifteen-minute break. Free movies were a benefit to working there. I loved that movie. But it was the soundtrack and dark atmosphere that pulled me in. Eric and I had that type of interest in common. However, that’s where our similarities pretty much ended. I am just the type of person that likes to explore my horizons deeper. College was that fun playground of multiple choices. So I eventually put my “Crow” addiction off to the side and began to discover new material.
As I met others on campus, my curiosity grew stronger with unique compositions. I started to make a lot of friends as the months passed. Bands like Pink Floyd, Monster Magnet, Tool, Type O Negative, Rage Against The Machine and Green Day began to consume more of my time. Even more than actually going to class. In the end, there was one single band that defined my college years absolutely the most of any musical group I heard during those days. In fact, every time I hear them, I get goose bumps.
How did I find this fantastic band you ask? Let me lay it out for you. I can trace the exact moment where this curious group of artists blew me away during my first college spring break. My best friends at the time, Tony and Matt, picked me up in an old rusty minivan one night for a joyride with a fresh sound playing in the background that was pretty awesome. Actually, for me it was in the foreground. Tony also made sure that I was paying attention to it by bopping and waving his arms around behind the wheel. Not that I recommend this, but he even stuck his left leg out the window. So I finally asked these idiot friends of mine, “What is this amusing music we’re listening to?” When I found out, I thought, “what an interesting name.”
There honestly has not been an alternative rock band that mattered to me more than Five Year Jacket. I was introduced to something special that changed my life forever. This band I heard instantly said to me, “It’s the perfect background music to any situation.” Continuing my story, the van broke down at the end of our evening “misbehaving” and we needed a ride home. So Tony called one of his buddies to come pick us up.
After 20 minutes or so, these two dudes pulled up in a car and picked us up. I was introduced to a man named Kevin, who was one of the guys in the car. He had intense blue eyes and was clean-shaven. The dark hair slicked back, the bomber jacket he wore and the cigarette hanging from the right corner of his lips all spelled out cool. Amazingly, he just happened to be the lead singer and guitarist of that band, Five Year Jacket.
I had no idea they were a local band from the Aurora/Sugar Grove area. They sounded like a group with hits on the radio. It was a mind-blowing experience. That was an evening that was truly meant to be. It was like a series of happy accidents. I made sure that I got a hold of one of his cassette tapes immediately. All of this just sort of happened out of the clear blue. There was no casual period of listening to them ahead of time. Just boom! It was like a volcano erupting and I was there in the middle of the lava.
I “got” their music and I don’t know how to explain it. It wasn’t musically or lyrically per say. It was like they were speaking this language I didn’t realize that I even knew. They spoke it brilliantly and fluently. When you had college majors that kept changing and your head was all over the map with the wild times that were filled with wonderful highs and astonishing lows you really appreciate a band that can stick with you through all of the emotions I have been through.
Five Year Jacket has been the soundtrack to some of the best moments that I have had not only in college but my life period. They have been with me on nights drinking with friends. Walking the streets of Naperville and downtown Aurora. Smoking cigarettes and taking nice afternoon cruises in my friend Josh’s car after class on Friday afternoons. Actually, Josh was with me at one my favorite gigs of theirs at a bar in Bolingbrook, he got all the guys to sign his newly purchased copy of their CD, “Hell For An Empty Heart.” I had the lead singer, Kevin, dedicate a song to me called “Undone” that reminded me of my first summer listening to Five Year Jacket with three good friends of mine at the time. We called ourselves the fab four.
I was falling blissfully in love with my life in 1995, which was my peak year for ingesting their terrific melodies and hooks. I don’t think I have ever been quite as happy as I was seeing them at the Thirsty Whale. There the four of us were, Tony, Kara, Pallu and I chilling out at this club and literally dancing to the groovy rhythm of the “Jackets.” Afterwards, we met up with the band at a Denny’s restaurant, I think, where for some strange reason, Tony was impersonating a woman wearing lipstick borrowed from Kara. Those were some weird times. I have this unusual but wonderful connection to them and I am not sorry for being associated with “artistic” or “eccentric” folks, while listening to music.
Five Year Jacket have also been the soundtrack of serious bouts of depression and they’ve lifted me out of panic attacks, “bad trips” and break ups. They kept me afloat when I didn’t know what else to hold on to. No disrespect to Kevin, but they’ve become that old sweater that I have worn so many times that there’s holes in the sleeves and it smells like YOU even when you take it out of the washer. They’re kind of like that. Even an old “Jacket.” I’ve had my favorites that I never wanted to let go of because they’re so friggin comfortable.
Over the past 18 years they have turned me into the man I am today, the guy with the sty in his left eye and a limp. Just kidding. No band, not even Pink Floyd, has quite the numerous stories and personal memories like these local guys that only my circle of friends can really appreciate. Eric didn’t “get” them but several acquaintances on campus enjoyed Five Year Jacket. I had that cassette tape with me constantly just as Linus did with his blanket. I played their songs at bonfires and at keg parties.
My last semester on campus, people were asking me left and right for a copy before I went back home. I arrived my freshman year with a “crow” and came home with a degree and a comfortable “jacket.” I had finally found substance in my college years through music. Thanks Kevin for being my friend, even on a social network like Facebook.
(Originally Published on September 8, 2012)