As Philip Seymour Hoffman-as-Lester Bangs says in Almost Famous, “Music, true music — not just rock and roll — it chooses you.” I’d like to talk about my experience with my favorite bands, in no particular order.
The first time I saw Harvey Danger was on a commercial for the first NOW: That’s What I Call Music compilation. I couldn’t really make out the song but I saw a chubby, tall, nerdy guy with thick glasses and a crazy mop of curly hair and I felt an immediate kinship with him. He felt like someone who could live in my sub division, a friend’s cool older brother who lived down the street. The guy’s name was Harvey Danger (I didn’t know they were a band then, and though I’ve never heard him talk about it, I wonder if Sean Nelson ever had a Hootie problem with kids calling him Harvey) The song was titled Flagpole Sitta, and I wouldn’t know what it meant until 20 years later. At the time, I assumed “sitta” was a term for a catchy pop song, like, “ditty”.
Though they’ve since expressed regret over not naming the song something more obvious, I’d say flagpole sitter is a perfect title in more ways than one, because the song balanced everything (sincerity and insincerity, commercial success and indie obscurity, youthful vigor and jaded cynicism) almost impossibly well. It still holds up today, with threads and articles and retrospectives still written about it nearly every year.
It wasn’t until my senior year in the fall of 2003 that I randomly heard Flagpole Sitta on the radio and realized how much I really loved everything about it. So I went and found their first album, called Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone? at Best Buy and bought it. I was struck by how little the rest of the album sounded like Flagpole Sitta. I also learned there was no one in the band named Harvey Danger.
I began researching them and my other favorite bands on the Internet, reading whatever few articles and interviews I could dig up on Yahoo or Lycos. There wasn’t much to go on, though I discovered Harvey Danger had not only a website but a second album that had been released several years earlier. There was a brief song clip that played on the intro page to their website. It had a lot of falsetto. I could not find the album anywhere in stores, but I did discover a music video for the first single, called Sad Sweetheart of the Rodeo. I remember the video took forever to buffer and I first heard the entire song in five second increments. I finally ordered the album, called King James…