A lot of people I’ve talked with over the years look back on their high school years with disdain, but I think that I had a pretty good experience. I was fortunate to go to a good school (with free blocks) with great teachers, had a solid group of friends, and was given nearly every opportunity to succeed. Sure there was teenage drama, and of course I have regrets: I wish I had taken more chances, made my way into more parties, and generally been less of a weirdo, but overall, high school was a pretty good experience.
Music wise….well, looking at my playlists from that time, I’d take back at least some of it, but not all of it.
Entering my Senior year, I was like any other 17 year old – a bit cocky, very stressed about the whole college admissions process, and confident that I had the greatest diversity of music on my iPod, and the best taste in music to boot. In retrospect, my taste at the time left a lot to be desired. The third wave (or fourth or fifth, it just went on and on) of post-grunge was still in full swing during the first part of my senior year in late 2008, so bands like Nickelback, Shinedown, Hinder, and Buckcherry were still very relevant and popular (how things would change for the mainstream in only a few months time) and like a fool, I latched onto those sleazy, guttural bands. I have a lot of nostalgia for these songs, but not much else. Memes aside, out of the four groups I listed, I might have the most respect for Nickelback at this point, which I guess is saying something.
But, a lot was happening at this time, as it does for most of us during our late teens. I was discovering new artists and bands, despite my reliance on CDs checked out from the library and getting songs from my friends on dial-up internet. I was expanding my taste from (basically) Green Day and getting more into alternative music from the Killers, Oasis, MGMT, Kings of Leon – artists with songs and albums that I still listen to frequently today. Add in a fair dose of pop-punk – Sugarcult, My Chemical Romance, the All American Rejects – and you had my musical taste in late 2008.
You can chop it up into sub-genres all you want, but let’s call it what it is. All male artists who produced relatively straightforward mainstream rock with arena rock and poppy elements, with the occasional acoustic ballad thrown in at the end for good measure. I’m sure my 17 year old self would question the notion of going for diversity, even just for the sake of trying it (he’d probably respond with something like “whatever, let’s play Guitar Hero” or “why’d you abandon your dreams?” – damn kid, you really know how to cut to the core). Maybe I focused on more male artists because a masculine voice just resonated with me more. Whatever the case, maybe if I had branched out a little more, or just listened to some female artists, maybe the whole trajectory of my musical journey would have changed.
I collected all the music I enjoyed at the time on this set of playlists, which I referred to as Zack’s Mix IX. It was a double disc affair, given to my friends for the holidays in 2008, consisting of one “louder” mix and one “softer” disc. I can’t remember exactly what their reaction was (“oh great, more music from this kid”) but I know that I felt pretty good about it. Looking back, it’s not all that bad, especially the back half of the first disc and the majority of the softer second disc, which avoids post-grunge in favor of anthemic arena rock and songs with sturdy melodies. It’s even strong in its sequencing, which is something I struggle with even to to this day – hey, good job me.
This collection would be the last real one I made during my high school years. Even though I had plans for a grand finale to the playlist series, it never came to be. I recall an email I sent to my friends asking for submissions to a collected “greatest hits of the friend group,” which in retrospect would have been an amazing time capsule, but never came to be because it involved way too much work on my part.
Specific things I remember about this time:
- The country going into the “Great Recession,” but that not stopping me from buying the latest Nickelback album at Newbury Comics. Not my finest moment.
- I had acquired my driver’s license earlier in the year – these songs are some of the first that I connect with driving.
- Downloading the newest All American Rejects album on one of the school computers and then burning it to a CD in school because I wanted it the day it came out.
- Looking at some old conversations from the time, it seems like I gave my friends four CDs for the holidays (this double-disc mix and another double disc one). So, I probably ended up burning somewhere around 40 CDs. Yikes.
And some songs that still get regular play from this mix:
- “She’s the Blade” – Sugarcult: A very underappreciated pop-punk band that had way too short of a career – this one still rips.
- “The Shock of the Lightning” – Oasis: I bought Oasis’ final album on a whim. Sounds absolutely humongous to this day.
- “Jackie Big Tits” – The Kooks: An unfortunately named, but brilliant upbeat acoustic strummer.
- “Here is Gone” – Goo Goo Dolls: A touchstone song on my entire musical journey. Relentlessly anthemic – one of those songs that sends shivers down my spine every single time I listen to it.
Check out both discs of this mix on Spotify below, and please, feel free to skip all the Nickelback.