Today is very, very important. For all of us. Things have happened on this day that have, and will continue, to shape how we live our lives in the years to come. There are times when one must stop and reflect on not only who they are, but who they were, who they will be, and even who they weren’t but may’ve been. And today is that day.
You know why today is important, and don’t ever forget it. People will try to sway you otherwise — try to lead you on that downward path to complacency and cynicism — but, by God, don’t listen to them. They would have you destroyed, to be nothing but a shadow of a shell of a whisper, one who devours the tabloid headlines while waiting in the long checkout line in the supermarket, only to be starved and guilt-ridden the next moment; one who sings the auto-tuned melodies of soulless Top-40 radio in the shower in the morning, only to have forgotten what it is like to feel loved by Wednesday afternoon. In other words, they would love to see only your complete and utter demise. You know of whom I speak, and you know they are ever present, lying in the shadows, waiting to leap out and steal everything you hold dear in life.
But this cannot be. There is always, always hope. And that hope can be called to mind today — and every day, for that matter, until our dying day.
Yes, my friends, today is the 11-year anniversary of the release of Flickerstick’s Welcoming Home the Astronauts.
The fire inside me remains undiminished today as it did those many years ago, as I eagerly awaited the band’s major label debut after winning VH1’s one and only season of Bands on the Run. In the months between the season/series finale and the official release — a period of great excitement and yearning I, and certainly many others, refer to as “the Great Weight” — with only the music video for “Smile” to satiate my unquenchable thirst for all things relating to this Denton, Texas band, my desire for a full-length, Tom-Lord-Alge produced grew at least tenfold with each passing moment. And while that period also boasted such impressive releases like Incubus’ Morning View, Nickelback’s Silver Side Up and Slipknot’s Iowa, none could compare to what I imagined Flickerstick’s long-awaited debut would be. But, as a young Telemachus patiently waited for his father to return home from his wild travels, so, too, did I faithfully anticipate this album. But, unlike Telemachus, I knew exactly when my hope would be fulfilled, a hope I could obtain at the nearest Best Buy on the first Tuesday of the month.
I remember that day well, as if it were today. I was in eighth grade, and among a handful of privileged Saint Francis Upper students to serve at an autumnal gathering for the elderly, held in the basement of Saint Patrick’s Co-Cathedral in Billings, Mont. While I poured fall-themed drinks and listened to various ladies telling me they wanted to “fatten me up,” my mind was elsewhere — on the music of Brandin Lea, Fletcher Lea, Rex Ewing, Cory Kreig and Dominic Weir. Once we bid them farewell, it was off Best Buy with my older brother, A.J., to procure that which had occupied the majority of my mind space since July. Surprisingly, we didn’t find it among the front-rack best-sellers (it was on the back rack, for some reason), but it didn’t matter. There it was, in our hands, purchased, and ready to change our lives with its power-chord glory.
On the way ho,e home in the November downpour, the A-major, delayed-jangled strains of “Lift (With Love We Will Survive)” pulsing through the Dodge Minivan speakers swallowed us whole in its awe-inspiring awesome-ness, followed by the driving “Got a Feeling,” then by the dramatic emotive of “Smile.” To say it was worth the wait would be severe understatement, and a damned injustice to what we had before us.
For weeks afterward, Flickerstick was all music-loving friends (mostly ardently Edward Longo of Omniataxia) incessantly poured over each of the album’s intricacies, from the two-fingered, interval riff of “Chloroform” the cryptic meaning of “Hey or When the Drugs Wear Off,” the shear length of “Direct Line to the Telepathic,” the riffage of “Beautiful,” the hiddenness of “Execution by X-mas Lights,” the opening bass line of “Coke.” All of it. From a personal standpoint, the songs served as the soundtrack of many a night being dropped off by a parent at a friend’s house, walking to a gas station to buy Mountain Dew: Code Red, playing ding-dong ditch on the way back, and getting picked up by that same parent before curfew. Those were magical times, and Flickerstick was the musical backdrop.
Alas, just as summer romances wilt and wither in the fall, and once-proud warriors become enfeebled with great age, so, too, did time ravage our love affair with Flickerstick. We didn’t notice it at first, but as we veered away from mainstream modern rock radio, our tastes drastically changed: Pink Floyd replaced Staind; Hella replaced Limp Bizkit; and nearly everything replaced Flickerstick. And even with the release of their second album, 2004’s Tarantula, the revelation that was Astronauts was all but depleted — a painful process finally cemented in the group’s 2009 disbanding, with no signs of reunification in the immediate — or any — future.
But let us not weep for times gone, for twilight of yesteryear. Rather, let us remember what was, what we know to be, and what we will know. Let us place our hope — our unabated, evergreen hope — in what cannot be shaken: how stoked we were when Welcoming Home the Astronauts came out 11 years ago. And while time and maturation may have slightly dwindled this collection in the present day, don’t let that detract from how you felt that glorious day, so many ages ago.
Today, do your civic duty and re-listen to Astronauts, and try to recreate the child-like joy you experienced for that briefest period of time. You can start here.
To conclude, an excerpt from “Smile”:
Your ship is high
And I don’t know if it’ll make it down
But I’m gonna try to slip inside
The mind of a clown
Thinking I can save them
Thinking I can turn a frown…into a smile
Into a smile
Whatever that means.
(Editor’s note: The previous version of this story stated it had been 12 years since the release, when it had actually been 11. Time flies, but not that fast.)