Lately, I've been doing a lot of reflection on the summer of 2002. It was the summer after I graduated high school, my first summer driving more consistently, and a time of great transition as I was getting ready to move to San Diego for college.
I've also been thinking about my 10-year reunion that never or couldn't happen (at least without great effort) and the music of that summer has been hitting me closely. I listened to lot a punk rock at the time and thanks to KROQ, you'd hear a variety of pop-punk bands since folks were riding the wave of Blink-182's popularity.
Something Corporate, one of the many pop-punk bands emerging from Orange County, came out that year and released two singles. The first, "If U C Jordan" hit on radio right away since it was a nice kiss-off to high school and had a great video . But it was the second single, "I Woke Up In a Car" about being on the road that hit me a bit deeper and still does to this day.
From the minute those opening piano riffs start, I feel like I'm riding along with the band somewhere. It's a dreamlike intro and as Andrew McMahon sings that first verse, it's like the start of a new day.
"I woke up in new york city
from my sleep behind the wheel
caught a train to Poughkeepsie
and time stood still
she wrote me a letter from san diego
to qualify her luck
these flights connect through arizona
but i think i'll stay stuck"
Obviously it hit me because it mentioned my future home, San Diego, but I loved how they mentioned other cities. I may have been single at the time but I felt like I was singing that my friends and family telling them goodbye.
The music captured the nervous mood I was feeling before my move because it's just vocals and ambience. As if you're confident about doing this but you're still thinking about what you're leaving behind. Then that chorus comes in with the guitars/drums and it's just pure joy afterwards. My favorite part comes at the end.
"I've never been so lost
I've never felt so much at home
please write my folks and throw away my keys"
I know I felt that when I was going to a new place and yet I was embracing the opportunity. I may have been scared but at the same time, I was expanding my comfort zone. I often told Mom and Dad that when they left me at school, I wasn't scared and if I didn't call often, don't feel bad because I was enjoying myself in a new place.
I love the harmonies in the 2nd verse and the bridge, but this song is about the music and that chorus. That repeating piano riff. The breezy vibe of the music. It sounds like something that sounds like what you'd hear on the open road or capturing the excitement of a new day. At least that's what I hear.
It captured the feeling of being a road trip or standing before a journey. You might leave something behind and you're not sure if you'll forget but the joy of being on that trip is what's important. Embrace it with unbridled joy like McMahon does when he sings that chorus or the band jamming hard behind him. He has a great voice for pop-punk because it was light enough to invite you but still overwhelming enough to sing those hooks.
The song didn't blow up on radio but it became a personal anthem for that summer and I remember it breaking the ice freshman year in a few early meetings. It was sad when the band took a break later and McMahon later contracted leukemia soon after founding Jack's Mannequin. But I'm glad that the band is still on good terms and they've played a few shows over the last couple years.
10 years later, this song remains one of my favorites. I could've played it during my road trip last year and it would've felt as appropriate as it did in 2002. It's a rare punk song that's an experience for me to listen to. It's not just a song and that's what makes good, beautiful songwriting. Joy, excitement, nervousness and good energy all wrapped in one.
I wish the song would've blown up more on KROQ or national radio but the fact it didn't still gives me a personal feeling like "This is my song and I don't have to necessarily share it with others for it to be great." And whenever I'm driving, this will come on and I'll smile just like that 17 year old me that was heading to a new adventure for college.
*Here's a remix of the song by Adam Young aka Owl City for the band's 2010 greatest hits CD. I think it add more ambiance and fun without taking anything away from the original.