The other day I was driving westward around 7:15 p.m., one hand on the wheel and the other on the iPod shuffle, pressing next every four or five seconds partly out of anxiety, partly out of getting fed up with the same old thing. I stopped on “23” to light a cigarette, then turned it up the volume and took it in.

The sun disappeared, slowly, throughout the song, behind the hills in front of me, at first all bright and blinding, then a coral-red glowing orb, then a peachy tint across the base of the horizon. It was a beautiful sunset – I don’t head west often, so I don’t this much – and this song was a perfect soundtrack to witness such a sight. Wistful and familiar, hopeful and just a little tormented. This song once sold me on “Futures” as an album and that Jimmy Eat World could make incredible music that wasn’t “Clarity” and still meaningful. I kept it on the whole time, and listened to the album from start to finish, followed by “Invented” and “Damage.”

That guitar riff is instantly identifiable, classic and clean and full. I love the atmosphere of the beautifully mixed in background chords, rising and falling and fading out just before the first verse kicks in. Same for the spacey, hazy,delayed tones at the end, it’s pure feel and restraint in the production and in the playing. I love singing this, too, because I think it’s one of Jim’s best recorded performances as far as JEW ballads go – like his voice before the final guitar solo, where he brings it up at the end of the last line – he is very good with the subtle changes, changing a note or two here and there to give it just a little more depth to repeated lines.

“I felt for sure last night

That once we said goodbye
No one else will know these lonely dreams
No one else will know that part of me

I’m still driving away
And I’m sorry every day
I won’t always love these selfish things
I won’t always live
Not stopping…

So much about this song is so sad, and yet, it’s incredibly wide-eyed and accepting. It’s straightforward and short – sometimes, we think good songs  must be incredibly deep and metaphorical, but this is a song that proves the most simple route is often the straightest, that the most direct phrasing can be the most effective. Especially when cloaked in so much dreamy production, the words could get lost if they were too busy.

“It was my turn to decide
I knew this was our time
No one else will have me like you do
No one else will have me, only you”

I remember hearing these words so fully, so clearly, back in high school. I was in a car the first time I heard it, too. Back then, 23 seemed ages away, I couldn’t even imagine what my life would look like but I knew it would be nothing like what it was. I’d be older, I’d be smarter, I’d have it all figured out. I’d have direction, and the consolation wisdom of experiences. Now, 23 is a memory, just as tangible and forgettable as being 16 was.

Not sure if I’m all that different, but I know I’ve grown some. I know in many ways, that’s for the better. But I also know old habits die hard. Still I love listening to this song today, as much if not more than I did back then. I think the more I hear it, the more I understand it – sometimes what we identify with in music or art is premature, and it is not until later in our life’s experiences that we can fully comprehend its meaning. It still resonates, maybe in a deeper, different way, one that weighs a little more heavy on the chest than just a sad pretty song by a band I listen to all the time.
When I was 16, I didn’t know what it meant to make decisions you consciously know will change your life. I didn’t understand the gravity of loving someone, or how difficult it can be to make them understand, or how easy it is to find someone else who does. I didn’t know what it was like to drive west, and not look back.
“Amazing still it seems
I’ll be 23
I won’t always love what I’ll never have
I won’t always live in my regrets

You’ll sit alone forever
If you wait for the right time
What are you hoping for?
I’m here, I’m now, I’m ready,
Holding on tight
Don’t give away the end
The one thing that stays mine

You’ll sit alone forever
If you wait for the right time

What are you hoping for?
I’m here, I’m now, I’m ready,
Holding on tight
Don’t give away the end
The one thing that stays mine…”

~23
Jimmy Eat World, Futures