’90s Song of the Week: Candlebox’s “It’s Alright

“I can see things so clearly through tear-stained eyes – the side effects of time in all our goodbyes – and it’s alright.” –Kevin Martin, “It’s Alright”

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I spent countless college classes drawing eyes just like this.

“It’s Alright” is the lead single off Happy Pills, Candlebox’s third studio album. Candlebox is was one my all-time favorite bands, but I don’t know that “It’s Alright” even falls in my top ten of Candlebox songs. I suppose that’s another entry for another time. The record was released in June of 1998, that magical summer between my senior year of high school and freshman year of college. Consequently, though the eponymous Candlebox (featuring the band’s 1993 breakout hit “Far Behind”) and 1995’s follow up Lucy sold better, Happy Pills is far and away a more personally significant marker in my life. It and Dishwalla’s And You Think You Know What Life’s About (released in August of the same summer) were are the soundtrack of my first year at Loyola Marymount University.

If we consider Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is”, Bon Jovi’s “Never Say Goodbye”, and pretty much anything Journey and Chicago recorded in the ’80s as rock ballads, and if we accept that Aerosmith evolved the form in the ’90s with the songs “Crazy” and “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing”, then “It’s Alright” is the logical iteration of the form for a kind of post-grunge genre that had an even shorter lifespan than grunge itself. Which is a long way of saying it’s a song about a love lost then found layered over muted then soaring vocals and guitars.

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I shudder to think what kind of incriminating nonsense might exist on the internet had the smartphone been invented before my time in college.

Next year, I will have been out of high school for 20 years. There are any number of expletives I would like to shout as I think on this fact, but while they might feel good for a few moments, none of them will change the fact that it’s true. I am old.

As I wrote earlier, “It’s Alright” isn’t one of my favorite Candlebox songs, but it’s fitting for what I’ve been feeling for a few weeks. Every  year I teach seniors who are on the cusp of their own college journeys. Naturally, I can’t help but think of mine. Only it’s gotten increasingly more difficult to conjure those memories. I can’t be alone in this, and I am sure I have written this before, but college feels like it happened to someone else. Sometimes in my memories, I appear in the third person, as if that’s the kind of distance that’s been built up over time. I’ve been reduced to an NPC in my own life story. Nothing will ever be as new and illogical but therefore amazing as my freshman year of college. None of my experiences since then have mirrored it and as such, time has made that era seem like a dream or an anomaly.

When I sat and thought about what the lyrics at the top of the page might mean, I was struck by the paradox to open. How could he see clearly through tears? Well, because he’s not really seeing anything. The memories are so vivid that he’s not talking about literal sight. And maybe that side effect he’s talking about is that all he has to do is think about, imagine those tender moments and goodbyes to get those tears going. But it’s alright. Because really, what can he do about it? The only thing any of us can do: try our best to keep them alive in our memories. If I hear “It’s Alright” or any of the other songs off Happy Pills and And You Think You Know What Life’s About, I am triggered. They help me get back to an incredible place I have trouble finding on my own.

But I know now. This is how it works. Time removes the tracks behind me as I stand at the front of the train laying down sections of new track.

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