On Jimmy Eat World and Finding Your Favorite Band at 37

Amy Fleisher Madden (Fiddler Records) reflects on age, obsession and fandom.

Although a tragic year in many respects (rest in peace David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen…), 2016 has undoubtedly been an amazing 365 days for music. So amazing, in fact, that our contributors weren’t able to cover every incredible release. That changes now. From Conor Oberst’s Ruminations to Kanye West’s long-awaited The Life of Pablo, from now until 2017, the Talkhouse will be honoring the records we missed this year.
– Brenna Ehrlich, Talkhouse Music Editor-in-Chief

I have a long history with Jimmy Eat World. Looking back, each of their albums is an absolute reflection of my relationship with music at the time. When Static Prevails arrived in my P.O. Box in 1996, I couldn’t wait to write about it in my black-and-white Xerox copied zine. That was twenty years ago.

This is the story of falling in love with a band, falling out of love with a band, and then finding my way back to them.

I grew up in Miami, Florida, which isn’t the southernmost city in Florida, but for touring markets it might as well be. So at times when “the scene” was stretched thin, bands often didn’t make the drive all the way down south. My solution — I kid you not — was to get in my car with my best friends and drive four, six, even eight hours north to go see bands live. Often, one of those bands was Jimmy Eat World.

I am reaching into the deepest parts of my mind for actual tour histories (note: someone please start archiving these things), but I can’t be one hundred percent certain of who toured with whom and where they went. I am pretty sure there was a Jimmy Eat World tour with Piebald, and Lazycain might have been the opener — but wow, it’s all so foggy now. The exact details might not even matter; the sentiment is the same: I’ve grown up with this band.

I won’t tell you that I lost my virginity listening to Jimmy Eat World.

And I won’t tell you that I lost my virginity listening to Jimmy Eat World. That’d be far too gross and intimate to share with the world. But if I did tell you that, it wouldn’t be a lie.

The last time I saw Jimmy Eat World in Gainesville, Florida (sometime around 1998), I gave guitarist Tom Linton a hoodie that I had made for my then fledgling record label, Fiddler Records, and he wore it on stage. That night I heard “Sweetness” live for the first time, although it still didn’t have a name. My long-distance boyfriend at the time had seen the same show in Kentucky and told them that they should name that song “Amy.” I didn’t care what they called it, but I was hoping they’d let me release it on a 7”. Little did any of us know, but “Sweetness” and “The Middle” were brewing in the ether to become the band’s biggest hits.

I’m not even sure if I know all the members’ last names, but their records are gospel to me.

Recently, when I wrote a novel about touring with bands, I cast Jimmy Eat World as the headliner. I think it only now just occurred to me how obsessed with this band I am. But it’s a good obsession…I think? I’m not even sure if I know all the members’ last names, but their records are gospel to me, the top three being Clarity (1999), Bleed American (2001) and Futures (2004).

I must admit, some time after the release of Chase this Light (2007) I took a little break from the band. That record didn’t hit me right, and then neither did Invented (2010) or Damage (2013), for that matter. And I’m not sure if it was the music or it was me, but I started wondering if there was a certain age that die-hard music fans stop falling in love with new records. I hypothesized that after the ripe old age of thirty-three, you just stop going insane for things you once went insane for. Not coincidentally, age thirty-three is when I sort of checked out of music.

I owned a record label that I had been running for ten years and I was done living and dying for bands.

I attribute this to actual adulthood, slogging it out at a mega-corporate job that I did not love, and trying to distance myself from who I was in my teens and twenties. I just didn’t want to be that person anymore. I owned a record label that I had been running for ten years and I was done living and dying for bands. No more late-night phone calls with insecure lead singers, no more spending every last dollar to promote a record, and no more piles of stinky dudes sleeping on my floor, in my kitchen, in my bathtub — you get the picture. I had given music everything I had to give and more and, in the end, I felt like I didn’t get anything back. I was wrong. Distancing myself from the world that shaped me was a necessary step toward figuring out who I am and who I want to be, but it was in the wrong direction.

I guess you have to go through that phase to discover that you don’t want it to end, so it won’t and it doesn’t have to. My mom used to ask me, “Are you going to be thirty years old climbing into vans with boys?” Disregard the icky van-down-by-the-river-pedo vibe of that question, but it always made me wonder, what the fuck will I be like when I get old? And oddly enough, I’m there, or here, rather. This is it. I am thirty-seven and still doing the same shit I did when I was sixteen.

I am thirty-seven and still doing the same shit I did when I was sixteen.

And, it turns out, I’m plenty grown up and doing fine. Despite throwing my hard-earned financial stability out the window and saying “fuck it all” to corporate America to try to make it as a writer (hey, hi), I am still a grown-up. I am seeking out new bands, going to the occasional show, and even writing about music (hey, hi, again). And right on cue, the new Jimmy Eat World record, Integrity Blues, was just released. It’s like their album cycles sync right up with my life changes.

I have to admit, I was a little worried how this record would hit me. I couldn’t bear another record missing the mark. Thank God, it doesn’t. And sure, you can argue that it hits me right because I’m back into music. I’ll take that argument any day, but I really think their latest effort, studio album number nine, is not to be missed.

Regardless of what it’s really about, when Jim Adkins sings, “Is it you or is that you with me?” on the opening track, I swear he’s talking about my musical conundrum. How did he know? All along I’ve been wondering IS IT THEM? OR IS IT ME? I’ve been so worried that I was incapable of loving new music, that I’d never get that overwhelming desire to listen to a record over and over and over like I used to — but I’ve found that feeling with Integrity Blues, and it’s glorious.

By the time you get to “It Matters” and Jim Adkins softly sings, “All I see is up-close magic…” into your refined, well-trained indie ears, you’ll get chills and remember why you love this band. You love them because when they play songs, it’s just for you. There’s no posturing, no costumes, no makeup and no bullshit — they just write songs for you, all for you.

People always ask me who my favorite band is, and I’ve never really been able to answer that. At times I’d say the Beatles because there was no chance I could work with them and risk ruining a friendship. Or I’d say Radiohead because, duh. But, now that I look at things, Jimmy Eat World is my favorite band. At age thirty-seven, I just figured out my favorite band.

Amy Fleisher Madden is known to some as “Amy Fiddler” because of the independent record label that she started at age 16, Fiddler Records. Her debut novel, A Million Miles, has fast become a fan favorite and is said to be one of the most accurate portrayals of life on tour with an up-and-coming band. She is currently living in Los Angeles, enjoying a non-existent winter.