In this new miniseries, Daily Music Writers reminisce on the best live show they’ve seen.
If there’s one thing you do in life, never let someone belittle the things that make you happy. Everyone has different bands, books, movies, memories, activities, art, etc. that get them through the day. I don’t even care if tailgating out of a pickup truck at a country concert (a dreaded thought for someone like myself) is your cup of tea, because that’s your one-way ticket to a smile. I won’t pretend to understand, but by all means GO and make that beautiful memory.
For me, it’s The Wonder Years, a pop-punk band from Philadelphia that barely fits in with my own music taste, causing the most paradoxical facet of my personality. Whether I like it or not, I owe a lot of who I am to this band.
On one fine afternoon, I opened Twitter to find what felt like the most personal of attacks within two connected tweets on my phone screen: “the year is 2016 and people are still getting hank the pigeon tattooed on them.” “yeah it might’ve crossed my mind when I was 15 and (The Upsides) ruled my life but hey there’s a reason u gotta be 18 rite?” For those of you unaware, The Upsides is the second album by The Wonder Years, and Hank is their mascot, two incredibly important symbols to me. So how could someone so blatantly belittle one of my personal lifelines?
At first, I became introspective. Would I outgrow The Wonder Years? Am I just immature? Is The Upsides actually a bad album!? These questions haunted me for all of ten minutes until I snapped out of my ridiculous doubt. This band’s music taught me that home is where you invest your happiness, and that isn’t something anyone can take away from you; ironically enough, The Upsides contradicts everything about the ideology presented in those tweets.
The Upsides is quite literally about the human desperation for positivity in the world, and it’s presented through multiple perspectives: a college student finishing their last semester, a touring band and even someone who usually has a shitty time in social situations. “I’m looking for the upsides to these panic attack nights,” yells lead vocalist Dan Campbell to ignite “Washington Square Park.” It’s a line that has caused a crowd to explode around me on multiple occasions, and I’ll never tire of the surge of energy that flows through me because of it.
This universal electricity connects not only the fans to the album but also the fans to each other. It has something for everyone, which is why it’s revered as one of the most successful works in modern pop-punk. Almost four years have passed since I first heard The Upsides, and I still put it on when I need a reason to smile about existence. I’ve made exhausting trips to see these songs live, and I’ve made friends states away all because of this music.
I recently took a weekend trip to New York City to see The Wonder Years perform two nights in a row at Webster Hall, and I was called every iteration of “crazy” by essentially everyone I know except for some of my best friends who met me there. I couldn’t stop listening to “Everything I Own Fits In This Backpack” before the trip because I quite literally could only bring my backpack with me on the plane. The way this album permeates my everyday life in the tiniest of ways has only solidified my happiness in irrationality. In Campbell’s own words, “I don’t make sense to anyone but my best friends,” and I couldn’t be more content because of the people who validate my insanity.
Long, retrospective introductions aside, The Wonder Years have consistently put on my favorite concerts of all time. The crowd crackles with excitement before they take the stage. When Campbell appears, a smile lights up every face around me at Webster Hall. During the slow burn of the opening verse on “Cigarettes and Saints,” my friends and I (and most of the time even strangers) all clutch each other to sing in unison before they launch me on top of the crowd to sing, “We’re no saviors / if we can’t save our brothers.”
These concerts have transcended simple experience for me and have become my pursuit of happiness. It’s these little moments of magic that cause my memories to sparkle in my mind’s eye, and I frankly will never become accustomed to such a perfect mix of emotion.
Yes, my personal upsides on this planet are literally The Upsides, all of The Wonder Years’ subsequent albums and, of course, making ill-advised trips to see them. Find your bliss, and hold onto it as tightly as you can. Get people to call you “crazy” over your passion, and laugh about it. Find people who will laugh with you, because it’s so worth sharing smiles and tears screaming your favorite songs at your favorite band.
It’s a beautiful thing to be able to grow with something, letting it encompass you in different ways along your journey. So the next time someone tells you to outgrow your happiness, you’ll know what to say. “I’m not sad anymore,” because I’ve been singing this line with The Wonder Years since I was 16 years old, and it’s one I’ll keep singing until the day I die.