The Best Album Ever!
The last semester of my senior year of high school was a whirlwind. I had barely any classes, I had a job that provided me with enough money to buy gas. I had a sweet ’88 Oldsmobile. Not to shabby of a set up.
I was obsessed with music and went to shows with my friends Ace, Pytlik, Jason, and James nearly every weekend. During the week, my free time was often spent in the quest for the greatest band, the next great song. With Napster not yet available, especially to a kid with a 56k dial-up connection, the way to find new music was to cruise up to the nearest record store and peruse the shelves. With limited previews and a $15 price tag, buying a new album was a gamble.
You see kids, there was a time long ago with no iTunes. There was no Pandora. No Noisetrade. No Grooveshark. You had to trust word of mouth recommendations. One trick I found particularly useful was to scan the liner notes of my favorite albums and see what bands they gave shout-outs to.
So there I stood in the Citrus Park Mall with two CD’s in my hand: Do you know who you are? by Texas is Reason and Clarity by Jimmy Eat World. I seriously wanted a CD by a band with a three word name. Not seriously though. I would love to claim some mystic reason for choosing the CD I did. Like one of them began to float or had my name as a song title. But no such epiphany came. Instead, I looked at a sticker on the Jimmy Eat World disc that said, “Featuring Luck Denver Mint as heard in Never Been Kissed”. Well then Mr.Record-Label-Sticker-Maker, you had me at Drew Barrymore.
Seriously (for real this time), I bought the album because I thought (think?) Drew Barrymore was attractive.
I got out to my Oldsmobile, peeled off the shrink wrap, and was blown away.
The album does not begin with a sonic wall or a blast of guitars. Instead, it starts with a slow drone and a monotone chant. A monotone chant of haunting beauty. The line that is repeated in the first song is:
Lead my skeptic sight,
To the table with the light
I was hooked. I listened to the album twice through that night. No other CD found its way into my CD player for weeks. The album had tons of incredible songs and ended with a 15 minute jam.
Here are a couple of my favorite songs off the album:
Just Watch the Fireworks
About the same time, I was assigned a book in my one academic class, English. The book I was assigned was the story of two young boys, one a dwarf and the other his monied best friend in a fictional version of Exeter, New Hampshire. This dwarfish boy with a wrecked voice had concluded that he was the instrument of God. As the only vocal Christian (on his way to Bible College no less…) in the class the views of the characters were constantly challenging me. I would at times defend one, while others I would question others myself. Regardless of my feelings towards the specific theologies, the book would leave a lasting mark on me. I have read A Prayer for Owen Meany at least 8 times, and I am due to read it again this summer. My love for the novel is fodder for another post, another time.
But then, as the class was wrapping up, I was making my hour long trek to school in the morning the following words bellowed out of my speakers:
“Is tomorrow just a day like all the rest.”
How could you know just what you did?
So full of faith yet so full of doubt I ask.
Time and time again you said don’t be afraid.
“If you believe you can do it.”
The only voice I want to hear is yours.
I shall ask you this once again.
” I am but one small instrument.”
Do you remember that?
So here I am above palm trees so straight and tall.
You are smaller, getting smaller.
But I still see
The song was based on the climax of the novel. As much as the book would help me make sense of so much of my life, so would this song. I have listened to the song on the way to every graduation I have been a part of and on the way to my ordination.
I am pretty sure that Clarity is not the best album ever. Certainly not by any sort of objective metric. But it is the best album to me, and that’s what matters, right?