Disc Doodles: So Much for the Afterglow
Everclear, in particular their album SO MUCH FOR THE AFTERGLOW, was a major part of my life in high school. I listened to the CD almost non-stop, along with SPARKLE AND FADE and their two SONGS FROM AN AMERICAN MOVIE albums, all the way up until I graduated. While there were a few other bands that had near equal representation in my teenage listening habits, Everclear, more than pretty much anybody else, represents a distilled memory of the person I was from 2000 to 2003. It may not be a surprise, then, that revisiting SO MUCH FOR THE AFTERGLOW served as a form of therapy, with me coming to a revelation or two about why I connected so much with Art Alexakis’ lyrics. Before I dive deep into the murky depths of my teenage psyche, though, Everclear’s music is a tantalizing paradox. The melody and rhythm is pop rock, with a hummable, happy sound that releases a rush of endorphins in my brain. Listening to the music brings back fond memories of walking around my neighborhood, discman in pocket, as I imagined what my future would be. Alexakis’ lyrics aren’t quite as happy. Many of his songs deal with struggles, perhaps autobiographical but also perhaps just him being a storyteller. Drug abuse, mental illness, poverty - Alexakis’ songs weren’t dealing with things that teenage Robert necessarily could directly relate to. The combination of pop-pep music and self-serious lyrics, though, is something that still appeals to me today. It’s emotional earnestness through a cinematic prism, where you understand that the world has challenges and strife but you also understand that, in the end, things will eventually work themselves out because happy endings are guaranteed. It’s a romanticized, and fictional, look at life, where struggle always breeds success. While neither I nor those immediately close to me were dealing with the struggles Alexakis sang about, I could transpose the basic themes to my own doubts, insecurities and worries, even if they were vastly more insignificant than the ones on the album. It fed me a false confidence. I was the kid who started smoking just to prove how easy it was to quit. Everclear enabled my cockiness and belief that I was going to be a success in life, just as long as I could get through this initial rough patch. Listening to the lyrics of songs like NORMAL LIKE YOU, I WILL BUY YOU A NEW LIFE, AMPHETAMINE, SUNFLOWERS and WHY I DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD, I think the ultimate appeal of Everclear’s songs to the teenage version of me - and perhaps, on some dark days, to the 35-year-old version as well - is the hero complex that Alexakis’ lyrics were drenched in. So many of the songs on SO MUCH FOR THE AFTERGLOW detail the singer not only pulling himself into a better life, but doing their best to bring a loved one with them. Whether it’s an emotionally wounded party girl that finds a second lease on life in the singer’s bed or a trouble making daughter that the singer sees innocence still present in, the songs are about a man being an emotional anchor to somebody in need. As a teenager, I was the one in need of an emotional anchor but admitting that was a weakness. Instead, I constructed fantasies where, when push finally came to shove, I’d be able to show the girl I had a crush on that I was the rock she had been looking for all along. It would be fair to say that I was no hero to anybody in high school. I struggled with relationships, I was wrecked with severe self-esteem issues and I would frequently let myself get caught up in daydreams about a chance to turn everybody’s perception of myself around, including my own perception. The songs of SO MUCH FOR THE AFTERGLOW struck a nerve with that part of my personality. I saw a pathway to love and to an emotional connection. I had to be there for somebody else so that they had no choice but to need me, like I really needed them. The psychological minefield that thinking represents scares me. I have sometimes feared that, if I had been born a few decades later, I might have succumbed to the lure of the Men’s Right or Incel movement while in high school. I know what kind of frustrated boy I was, lashing out at the classmates who ignored me in my fantasies but never actually doing anything to let them get to know me, or to get to know them beyond the caricatures I had invented in my head. SO MUCH FOR THE AFTERGLOW’s songs, simplistic in their portrayal of struggle, appealed to that part of my brain that romanticized being the emotional version of being a “good guy with a gun.” I may have been rejected now, but eventually I would get through the other side of this and “buy them a new life” or rescue them from a “marriage from hell.” I’m going to be honest - listening to the album today, I still love the songs quite a bit. SUNFLOWERS in particular remains a favorite. My brain is conditioned to respond to the music and I still respect the heightened maudlin nature of their lyrics. That said, I’m a much different person than I was eighteen years ago. I understand perspective and nuance and have a deeper understanding of myself. I’m in no danger of letting myself get caught up with the fantasies of swooping in and rescuing a girl from herself. I can listen to SO MUCH FOR THE AFTERGLOW and enjoy it in the way I can enjoy a melodrama, lathered thick with exaggerated melancholy but firmly detached from the reality I need to be in to be mentally healthy. LIKE A CALIFORNIA KING still rocks, though.