The Cure To Growing Older – A Musical Retrospective

I published this piece on my 19th birthday, just before my mom and best friend came down to my college campus to hang out and eat cake. It wasn't until later that evening that I logged on to check how the post was doing and saw messages from friends telling me that not only did the post get around, the singer of the band I was writing about wrote a response.

This is the piece I'm still recognized for in my career as a music writer. For years, Google would suggest "from under the cork tree" after anyone typed my name into their search fields.

Below I'm including the full piece I wrote, as well as the blog post Patrick Stump wrote in response. It has since been pulled from its original domain.

When I was in the 6th grade, things were far simpler than they are now. These things were undemanding in most respects, but growing more socially complicated by the day. Middle school was that time in my life when girls became attractive, attitudes changed, friends changed, and growing up truly began. I recognize the growth that began in junior high as a part of who I am. In conjunction with my social growth, came my newfound hunger for music.

I found the cure to growing older and you’re the only place that feels like home…

In my youth, I was heavily guarded by my parents in most aspects of life. I was a Boy Scout and church-going boy with straight A’s and soccer as an interest. I was a good kid. The kind my mother was proud of. I didn’t swear or get into trouble, I had good friends and made responsible decisions. My internet access was limited by dial-up, AOL child-locks, and previously determined web-browsing time. Middle School was pretty normal for me until something new came along. That thing was Chicago based, pop-punk band Fall Out Boy and they were not allowed. My first illegally burned album was Fall Out Boy’s From Under the Cork Tree and when I received my copy, I learned a few things.

I’ll be your best kept secret and your biggest mistake…

The first was that my friend Josh could not properly operate Windows Media Player. My copy of FUCT was missing track 1. For those who have heard “Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn’t Get Sued,” I’d appreciate if you didn’t play it for me when I’m riding in your car at high speeds or locked in a bomb shelter with you. It isn’t that I don’t like that song. In all likelihood, I’ve probably heard it. Upon hearing my tale, people have offered to send me the track to complete the CD. That’s, of course, very nice of them but you see, From Under the Cork Tree is still a very special album to me and my copy is complete as far as I’m concerned. Adding that unknown song to the beginning of it would ruin the feeling that I still get from hearing the first guitar rip on “Of All the Gin Joints in All the World.” My From Under the Cork Tree is only 12 songs long and that is how it will stay.

You only hold me up like this ’cause you don’t know who I really am…

The second thing I learned was that my mother is not a fan of obscure lyrics referring to sex and blasphemy. I recall a car ride with my mother that featured me sitting in the back seat (like I said, I was guarded) with my portable CD player spinning my incomplete copy of FUCT quite loudly. It was early summertime. During a pause in-between tracks (again, Josh sucked at Windows Media Player) I heard my mom cycling through radio stations as she usually does. Upon hearing a snippet of “Sugar We’re Going Down,” I immediately paused my disc and told my mother to go back to that song. Yes, I paused the CD that song was on to hear it on the radio. Back then, hearing a band you know about was exciting, not depressing. After years of listening to bands my parent’s knew that I didn’t on national radio, I finally had one on them! My mom went back to the station (Q 104.1 for any Akron/Cleveland area readers) and listened along as I watched her face in anticipation. Perhaps I hoped she’d like it and take me to a concert, or maybe I wanted her to know I was listening to something a bit more risqué than pop-country or Jason Mraz. Regardless, she listened, the song changed, and I went back to my CD.

I know this hurts, it was meant to (it was meant to). Your secret’s out and the best part is it isn’t even a good one and it’s mind over you don’t, don’t matter…

Upon returning home that night, My mom called me into the dining room where the computer cabinet was contained. Curious, I answered her call to find her looking at the lyric sheet for “Sugar, We’re Going Down.” This is when she asked me, “Jake, what do these lyrics mean?” I was 12, I had no clue. They were catchy and the music video had a deer-boy in it. That was enough for me. Hell, I thought Patrick Stump was British for a full year and that the singer always wrote the songs. I was in ignorant bliss. My answer didn’t appease my mother who had a concerned and irritated look on her face. This face remained as she told me, “I don’t want you to listen to this band anymore.” Luckily, my mom wasn’t aware that I had my coveted burned CD, so I continued my listening in secret. The songs were even better than before. Why? Well, that’s because I wasn’t supposed to have them of course. The “forbidden fruit” effect was placed on pop-punk music and thus, my departure from good boy Jake began.

Are we growing up, or just going down? It’s just a matter of time until we’re all found out. Take our tears, put ’em on ice, ’cause I swear I’d burn the city down to show you the lights…

I’ll admit that FOB was not my first banned artist. Rap was an absolute no-go in the Tender household and my friend Jimmy was a big Eminem fan. I listened to Slim Shady’s music every time I was there while playing Duke Nukem, Grand Theft Auto, and a plethora of other blood-filled first person shooters. The difference here is that I was listening ONLY because I wasn’t allowed. Rap wasn’t my thing. Granted, everyone has a rap phase, but the semi-censored Curtain Call never stood up to the lasting influence Cork Tree had.

They call kids like us vicious and carved out of stone. But for what we’ve become, we just feel more alone…

From Under the Cork Tree was the first CD I listened to on repeat for days, months even. It was the first album for which I memorized all the lyrics, inflections, and harmonies. Fall Out Boy was the first band I learned all of the members names for. Patrick Stump was my “favorite singer” for at least 2 years. I joined AIM chat rooms and sought out others who listened to FOB. I didn’t like those pretentious assholes who didn’t like anything after Take This To Your Grave. I now recognize that I’m one of those assholes, but I still fume when some of my favorite records are so easily discredited by ignorant semi-listeners.

I’m the first kid to write of hearts, lies, and friends, and I am sorry my conscience called in sick again, and I’ve got arrogance down to a science. Oh, and I’m the first kid to write of hearts, lies, and friends…

From Under The Cork Tree transformed me from book-worm to music-nerd. I began to seek out related and unrelated music and bands. My library grew, my media player changed (WMP, MusicMatch Jukebox, and finally Winamp), and my focuses changed. From this album on, my conversation starters turned to be band/song based, my friendships started revolving around similar musical tastes, and my music library’s correctness took precedence over my homework’s. Without Fall Out Boy’s influence in middle school, I would have never taken that leap into alternative music and my favorite artists today may have never found their way into my ear canals, I would most definitely not be writing this or any other music-related article or review. From Under the Cork Tree is one album I will always cherish and it’s due credit. After all, without it, you’d have never read this.

We Liked You Better Fat: Confessions of a Pariah

by Patrick Stump

There’s this really nice piece at by Jacob Tender that a friend forwarded me today. It’s about how important Fall Out Boy’s album “From Under the Cork Tree,” was to him. After reading it though, nostalgic and well-written as it was, I really found myself more depressed than anything. It’s a complicated feeling, one that I’ve been incapable of explaining to anyone and have them fully understand. In spite of this though, I suppose I will give it the old-I-didn’t-go-to-college-try:

Tender had one line that really hit home for me. I related to it in terms of my feelings towards other artists, but I also winced at the profound implications it touched on in my own professional life:

“I didn’t like those pretentious assholes who didn’t like anything after Take This To Your Grave. I now recognize that I’m one of those assholes, but I still fume when some of my favorite records are so easily discredited by ignorant semi-listeners.”

The reality is that for a certain number of people, all I’ve ever done, all I ever will do, and all I ever had the capacity to do worth a damn was a record I began recording when I was 18 years old.  That I can live with. That’s fine and fair; I have those records in my collection that seem to stand out far above the rest of my favorite artists catalogues (and especially for artists in whom I only have a passing interest). I suppose there’s nothing wrong in thinking I’m at a point in my life where it seems I’ll never catch up: If anyone’s going to appreciate the work I’m making, it won’t be until long after I’m done doing it. Again, this is fine: I’m insanely lucky to even imagine anyone ever appreciating anything I ever do, let alone in real time. Countless artists far better than I have only achieved posthumous acclaim. If I am to be obscure and financially unsuccessful, there’s nothing disheartening in that. The thing that’s more disheartening is the constant stream of insults I’m enduring in my financially unsuccessful obscurity.

Fall Out Boy’s last album Folie A Deux was our most critically panned and audiences openly hated it (it was also our poorest selling major label album even if one adjusts for the changing music economy). Now, that’s not to say it didn’t have its fans, but at no other point in my professional career was I nearly booed off stages for playing new songs. Touring on Folie was like being the last act at the Vaudville show: We were rotten vegetable targets in Clandestine hoodies.

That experience really took the wind out of the band’s sails; It stopped being fun. I suppose I’m just not that thick skinned. So perhaps it was even more ill-advised when I went out and did something I’d always wanted to do; make my album and have it released by Island Records [my solo record Soul Punk]. I coincidentally happened to achieve another goal which was to lose the weight I’d been carrying around since a month-long drinking binge after a bad breakup. Those accomplishments were happy things. Living in the moments of achieving them were perhaps among the happiest in my life.

So when I went out into the world to show off the self I felt like I was happiest and most comfortable being, I suppose I knew there would be the “Haters” [I loathe the clumsy/insufficient word but it seems the most universal]; The elitists that would always prove impossible to please.  I had always been prepared for “Haters,” because there’s never been a moment since I graduated high school where I haven’t been the guy in “That Emo band.” First said emo band was dismissed as third rate pop-punk played by hardcore kids…a pale imitation of Saves the Day. Then we were swept up in the emo backlash [I really didn’t know we were an emo band…that’s not what the word meant a decade ago]. To this day my favorite writer at will occasionally take swipes at my band as one of the worst things to come out of the 2000’s. We were a (albeit funny) running joke on an episode of Children’s Hospital.

Those examples of “Haters,” were people who never liked me (or at least never liked my music) and, by all rights, never really should. Such is the way of things. Different strokes for different folks as it were. What I wasn’t prepared for was the fervor of the hate from people who were ostensibly my own supporters (or at least supporters of something I had been part of). The barrage of “We liked you better fat,” the threatening letters to my home, the kids that paid for tickets to my solo shows to tell me how much I sucked without Fall Out Boy, that wasn’t something I suppose I was or ever will be ready for.  That’s dedication. That’s real palpable anger. Add into that the economic risk I had taken [In short: I blew my nest egg on that record and touring in support of it] the hate really crushed me. The standard response to any complaints I could possibly have about my position in life seems to be “You poor sad multi-millionaire. I feel so sorry for you.”

Quite right, I still have access to enough money to live on in order to avoid bankruptcy for at least a few years as long as I stick to my budget, but money really isn’t everything and it never was. Perhaps those are the words of a privileged man who doesn’t really know what poverty really feels like. Again, that would be a fair rebuttal; I wasn’t raised rich, but lower middle class upbringing in early 90’s Midwest US of A is still a far way from the bread line. Still, there’s no amount of money in the world that makes one feel content with having no self respect. There’s no amount of money that makes you feel better when people think of you as a joke or a hack or a failure or ugly or stupid or morally empty.

This of course isn’t Tender’s fault. He never said anything negative and indeed only said great/supportive things. I guess I’m just angry because he illuminates why I’m a 27 has-been. I’m a touring artist and I feel I’ve become incapable of touring anymore with any act…whether I were to go out as a solo artist or do some Fall Out Boy “Reunion” [nope: Still never broke up] or start a new band…there will still be 10-20 percent of the audience there to tell me how shitty whatever it is I’m doing is and how much better the thing I used to do was. Not only that, but that 10-20 percent combined with whatever notoriety Fall Out Boy used to have prevents me from having the ability to start over from the bottom again. I can’t even go back to playing basement shows. As the saying goes: I couldn’t get booked at the opening of a letter.

It’s as though I’ve received some big cosmic sign that says I should disappear. So I’ve kind of disappeared. I know a lot of you have wondered where I’ve been. I’m sure others of you are disappointed to hear I’m still kicking around somewhere (kidding…sort of). But the truth is wherever and whoever I am, whoever I am whenever I release whatever release is my next, whoever said recording is recorded with: I will never be the kid from Take This To Your Grave again. And I’m deeply sorry that I can’t be, I truly am (no irony, no sarcasm). I hate waking up every morning knowing I’m disappointing so many people. I hate feeling like the awkward adult husk of a discarded once-cute child actor. I’m debating going back to school and learning a proper trade. It’s tempting to say I won’t ever play/tour/record again, but I think that’s probably just pent up poor-me emotional pessimism talking (I suppose can be excused of that though right? I am the guy from That Emo Band after all).

I’ve managed to cobble together some work…I’ve been moonlighting as a professional songwriter/producer for hire and I’ve even been doing a bit of acting here and there. I have no interest (and evidently that sentiment is reciprocated) in performing music publicly any time soon but as I’ve said I’m sure that will happen when it happens. I have been debating releasing the unfinished follow-up to Soul Punk. We’ll see what happens there. Still no word on Fall Out Boy…I know Joe’s working on his new record and Pete’s mixtape just came out so I don’t expect anything on that front in the near future. I, as always, would be super psyched to do the band again though. I’ve been watching a lot of Downton Abbey and I’ve finally caught up on the Office. Friends have been turning me on to all the records I’ve been too busy to listen to over the past couple years.

I do suggest reading Tender’s column if it sounds interesting to you; He’s a great writer and it’s a fun/relatable little story regardless of who the band is within it (film adaptations of Nick Hornby novels should be proof of that).