THiS is SOUND. Created by James Cassar.
Spinning More Yarn Than Eli Whitney, It’s Long-Winded Story Time!
I feel like I’ve already started a column with the nostalgic phrase “When I was eight or nine or some single-digit number from Y2K…” (Something like that, I’m sure). Well, anyway, repetition breeds comfort, so I’ll be your favorite Serta pillow as I lay this down. When I was nine, I had this pseudo-girlfriend. Yeah, I say she was half of a significant other because I’m pretty sure she only dated me for my Burger King hash browns, but it was glorious being smothered with juvenile affection like the Honey Smacks frog preferred his eponymous breakfast food covered in 2%. I remember when I graduated to Mighty Kids Meal two years premature (swag) and walked into middle school like Dwayne Johnson, ready to put the People’s Elbow on higher education. Then again, there was a time I realized that I was The Rock, and that I was stuck as the flavor-of-the-week Tooth Fairy. Win some, lose some. I felt like the gamble of my life was the day before ninth grade. Make it or break it, trick.
So, about three hours before my bedtime, like 3:30 or something, I called my dad and was playing the “woe is me” card like a World Series of Poker reject. My dad played along. He spewed something along the lines of “Geez, James, you need a medal. You’re the first guy to go to high school.” I still felt pretty wrecked about it, but that’s because waking up at 6:23 to catch a bus at the Clarkston, MI Park & Ride donning a forest-green polo and khaki pants pulled up to my bellybutton shot nerves like that dude in The Hurt Locker. I wasn’t disarming explosives, but I fired up my version of thebomb.com – MySpace – and posted a status. “New chapter. Let’s write this, dude.” Mood: hopeful.
The first day sucked. I envy Advisory and ‘get-to-know-you’ bologna that I’ve witnessed at Tuscarora, because at this school, that was about as scarce as a shiny red Gyarados at a Pokémon convention. I remember this blonde girl getting frazzled because I didn’t pass her the cardboard box of protractors, giving me the stink-eye with such intensity Pepe Le Pew blushed somewhere in his Technicolor garden. But the second day was better. I overheard someone talking about music: good music, not manufactured crap with more plastic than Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. (#realtalk)
I’m taking notes from some second-rate projector on Old Testament values and old-school chivalry, when I hear a kid to my left discussing the merits of vegan punk soldiers Rise Against. I mean, I went to middle school with eight kids who didn’t know quality tunes from their left elbows, but I thought the music scene in 2008 Michigan was akin to Amy Winehouse: dead.
Right around the same time I started getting serious with making mixtapes, I started making a list that would rival those pompous big-wigs at Rolling Stone (The Beatles are overrated. U mad, bro?):
The Top Ten Songs That Made Me Not Hate High School. Now updated for senior year. Bazinga.
James Cassar Presents Yet Another All-Inclusive Annotated Something That Makes The General Student Population Laugh, Cringe, Cry, or Fall In Love. Probably the Last One; I’m Gorgeous.
The Swellers: “The Best I Ever Had”
Available on Good for Me
Dude, if I had a movie that served as an adequate portrayal of my illustrious legacy, I’d have two requirements: I’d get full creative control (nobody likes a screenplay party-pooper) and this song would play in the end credits, after I’m curling up next to my wife (played by smokin’ hot musician Lights) at the end of an intense day signing autographs, eating pastrami, and punching terrorists. In all honesty, this song was found on my iPod playlist “Theme Music,” and it has kick-started several treks down to my locker right across from the elevator.
Jack’s Mannequin: “The Mixed Tape”
Available on Everything in Transit
Speaking of theme music, holy frijoles, this song matches my freshman and sophomore years to scary parallels. This piano-rock romp has one of the most killer ebony-and-ivory solos this generation’s side of Billy Joel, and because of my fascination with creating ‘mixed tapes’ – well, sorry, I mean CD-Rs mass-produced in bright-red Sharpie, it’s one of those tracks that accurately follow my life story. And me having a lackluster track record with girls that would put a male version of Elizabeth Taylor to shame.
Daft Punk: “One More Time”
Available on Discovery
More French than spuds and more electronic than T-Pain’s voice, Daft Punk was the soundtrack to my sister’s existence in my house in Michigan. It was freshman homecoming, and I was blending in to the too-flashy decorations until this song came on. Let’s just say a white boy danced, and it was frickin’ hilarious. You’re welcome, America, for this fine example of confessional columnizing.
Kanye West: “Good Morning (Intro)”
Available on Graduation
The Taylor Swift-Kanye West scandal is older than dirt’s grandchildren by now. I have this brother; maybe you’ve seen him around? His name is Sean, but for some reason people call him Rocky….”ADDDDDDDWIAN!” I’ll never understand that. He doesn’t sound like a horse punctured his tongue. Anyway, you can guess what song woke me up for quite a while. This one. I’ma let you finish….Really, I am. Just drop this in your Spotify and get transported to track one of Mr. West’s finest record.
Available on blink-182
I don’t know if I’ve alluded to this before, but I’m just going to go on record now and say I was in a band sophomore year, weirdly titled Cut Through Static. We made merch that only I wore, and our song titles ranged from “Eyes Like Stars*” to the broodish “Eleven,” which I wrote about eleven girls. (Desperation sucks.) Anyway, we opened Battle of the Bands with this poppy 80s throwback track and ended up taking gold. It pays off to listen to blink, I’m tellin’ you!
Chiddy Bang: “The Opposite of Adults” (big sampling from MGMT’s “Kids”)
Available on The Swelly Express
The transition from junior year to senior year was a big one for me, but I wasn’t scared or a dramatic brat or anything like that. My best friend Gabby Caulfield and I took off from Tuscarora in her Toyota and blared this song all around Leesburg. Of course, we were the opposite of adults, but we’re members of the highest class in the school – again. But we’ve got some real class that rivals Posh Spice. Nobody remembers her anyway.
The Who: “Baba O’ Riley”
Available on Who’s Next
There’s an episode of Robot Chicken that heavily lampoons Star Wars and uses this as the background to the main character’s lewd narrative. If I had a quarter for every time that after I scored high on a test, or finished the November edition of The Husky Headline for example, I made this song my victory tune. (Oh yeah, if you’re one of those lards who calls this song “Teenage Wasteland,” please culture yourselves).
Jimmy Eat World: “The Middle”
Available on Jimmy Eat World/Bleed American and pretty much every Guitar Hero ever made
I reviewed this full album in the print edition, but this Top 100 smash is definitely the most inspirational song of the lot. I moved here thinking I was either going to die or implode, because I sure wasn’t too thrilled about makin’ it big in Loudoun County. Well, this song got me through some pretty emotional nights. God, I’m such a girl.
Relient k: “The Lining is Silver”
Available on The Bird and the Bee Sides
There was a turning point in James’s sadsack saga in Loudoun County when I realized, hey, Five Below’s pretty cool for all the crap it produces and it’s nice that I don’t have to don uniforms every morning and wake up at 6:23 every day (#privateschoolwoes) – it got better. This song lives up to its title, and it’s pretty dern catchy. Kind of like my naturally good looks.
Angels & Airwaves: “The Adventure (Album Edit)”
Available on We Don’t Need to Whisper
If I made a compilation playlist of the most profilic and uplifting songs ever penned, I’d have to say that Tom DeLonge’s in-love-with-U2 side project’s epic takes the crown. To be honest, this could have summed up my entire high-school career, if it rocked backseat to my narratives and actions instrumentally, with me, ya know, being royally awesome. (If you’re wondering if this column is a chance for me to flatter myself, well, I guess I’m doing it as often as fat is slopped on a McDonald’s salad.) A big reason I wrote The Asphalt Diaries is accredited to this song. I was chilling at home, not amounting to much more than a junk-food receptable and a boy covered in odd trivia tidbits. Then I had this idea, “Holy Justin Bieber, my life can actually rock if I write this book.” It didn’t exactly go like that, but without this song packing adrenaline and helpful prose, I wouldn’t be the author of the greatest book of all time. Or the writer of this column.
This is Nostalgia.
This is Sound.