You see, Amanda was a girl I met in an AOL chatroom when the internet was just barely becoming a commonplace thing in people's homes. I even think they were AOL hours provided by those free CDs they'd send to everyone in the mail. Anyways, I was probably somewhere around 13 years old, perusing what I thought was the extent of the entire internet--a couple dozen chatrooms categorized by interest. Poking around in the "Music" chatroom, I was looking for someone--anyone--who had recently also had their minds blown by the brand new Jimmy Eat World album, Static Prevails. My young ears had yet to even hear the word "emo" and I'd yet to discover any other bands who sounded anything like what Jimmy Eat World had just concocted. So I was wandering blind, basically. But I eventually ran into Amanda, from Michigan.
After we'd established a shared love for Static Prevails I discovered she lived in or around Detroit. She was a couple years older than me so she told me about some of the underground bands popping up in Michigan, gave me some more band names to look up (which is how I discovered Mineral, The Get Up Kids, Sunny Day Real Estate and Jawbreaker), until eventually she wanted to just send me a mix tape. A fucking mix tape! Yes, children, we really did that as kids. She slipped a cassette tape into a padded envelope and shipped it to Arizona.
So on this mix tape were some real gems: Karate, The Descendants, Smoking Popes, The Great Detroit Riverboat Race, Texas Is the Reason, Christie Front Drive... But there was this one song--the first song on Side B--that I couldn't shake from my mind and I had no idea why. The song was not pleasant to listen to. It didn't make me shake my booty. I could hardly understand any of the words. Yet, somehow, I wouldn't stop running it over and over in my head.
It was "220 Years" by Hot Water Music.
Relative to Jimmy Eat World's record, it was far less polished and much harder to listen to. I'd never heard such a sloppy, reckless, and utterly passion-filled recording. They seemed to sacrifice quite a bit of their musicality to pure emotional expression--but without the immaturity of the punk bands I had started to get into, like Guttermouth, Rancid or Against All Authority. HWM just did it with an intangible sophistication. They harbored a much more introspective rage--one that was just as personal to its fans as it was defiant to its oppressors. Rather than sticking it to the man, their lyrics encouraged decidedly more positive angles of individuality such as self-discovery, exploration, community, art, hatred, love, etc. For instance, another song from Fuel for the Hate Game, "Turnstile", gives us these great lines that sound punk as hell at first, but that eventually reveal a deeper side:
Raise your voice in swells, find your meanings, then
Use the signs inside to relive and relive again.
No point in holding back with what you're holding,
No matter it be shit or it be golden,
Foundations shift, they're still shifting,
We set up, we set up our falls.
And instead of politically-charged songs of rebellion, HWM took the punk anthem formula and, instead of lines about riots and authority figures, they took it inward and repeated powerful strains like "Live your heart and never follow"and "Caution, the solid ground that you're on will slide from under you."
Needlessly to say, I quickly jumped on board the Hot Water train. It was a lonely train for a long time because I didn't learn how to actually connect with other HWM fans until my late teens, and by that time the novelty and underground special-ness of the whole punk/hardcore/emo thing were obliterated by being accepted by popular culture. But I continued to love their music. As people say a lot, because it's absolutely true, their songs got me through a lot. As melodramatic as teenage issues sound, it's possible I wouldn't have made it through those years without HWMs music, lyrics, overall outlook and attitude.
But alas, here we are. It's 2013 and Hot Water Music has played, broken up, explored side projects, reunited, and released several more albums over the last 15ish years. I was lucky enough to follow their career the whole way, thanks to the internet--but I may never have started listening in the first place if it weren't for Amanda putting "220 Years" on that first tape. I haven't spoken to her in approaching 20 years now (holy shit), and the tape lost its playability long ago, but it's a gift I was able to take and really do something with--so for that, I thank her, wherever the hell she is.
Come see Sun Ghost perform Hot Water Music, as other local acts play covers of NOFX, Bad Religion, and Propagandhi, at the Crescent Ballroom in downtown Phoenix. Details below: