“Utopia Parkway” 20th Anniversary

The other week as I read the liner notes for Fountains of Wayne’s Out-of-State Plates while importing it to iTunes (yeah, still do that) I realized the 20th anniversary of their album Utopia Parkway had come and gone this past April, and I hadn’t seen anyone mention it.

Below is a lightly edited version of the email conversation Cory and I had about it.

To: CK

From: HH

i just imported “out of state plates” into itunes, which i got for a dollar at the ku benefit sale for the school for the deaf, and realized we MISSED THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF UTOPIA PARKWAY IN APRIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

yikes. i’ve never told you this, but in 1997 “radiation vibe” was my jam. they played it a couple times on the alt rock station in lincoln, and i LOVED it and remembered the band, but didn’t buy the album back then.

what a crazy short career by today’s standards. totally a late ’90s career. eight years from debut LP to masterpiece to pop hit to b-sides collection and we’re outta here!!!!!!!!!!!

red dragon tattoo

it must be summer. troubled times. denise. hat and feet.

i ought to learn radiation vibe acoustic. that would be an awesome left-field set-closing/encore cover. if i ever did an acoustic gig ever. -h

To: HH

From: CK

Fountains of Wayne have/had the most bizarre career ever! Here’s their timeline woven in with mine:

  • 1996 – FoW releases their self-titled record with the hits “Radiation Vibe” and “Sink to the Bottom,” the latter of which is the song I hear that gets me extra-mega-jazzed on them. My friend Katie Rogerson lets me borrow the CD, and I ultimately buy it because it’s astoundingly good.
  • 1996 Part II – Adam Schleisinger writes the hit song “That Thing You Do!” for the movie of the same name. I love the song and the movie, my dad loves the song and the movie and even buys the soundtrack, and Wikipedia tells me Adam was nominated for an Oscar.
  • 1999 – FoW Releases Utopia Parkway, and I go absolutely insane. I listen to it over and over and over and over and over. “Denise” is great, “It Must Be Summer” is amazing, and”Red Dragon Tattoo” mentions Korn at a time when I had freshly given up my Nu Metal pretensions. I think I got the irony. “Troubled Times” is heartbreaking and perfect. “Valley of Malls” is the only song I ever skipped with any regularity, although “Hat & Feet” was hit-or-miss for me at the time. But sometimes I loved them both, just depending on my mood! I also loved “Laser Show” because I’m basic AF. The title song was my favorite, proving one again that the first song on most records is the best. It probably says more about me, but I think bands front-load it because they want you to pay attention, and so they put the best song first.
  • 1999 Part II – Nate and I go to an Oasis/Travis show at Universal Amphitheater at the Universal City Walk at Universal Studios, Hollywood. Sitting directly in front of us is every single member of Phantom Planet. Sam (bass) and Darren (guitar) come over and sit next to us and shoot the breeze for a while about the bands and music in general. They ask me what other bands I like, and I say “Fountains of Wayne.” Darren says, “We’re actually working with them right now on a song for our new record; Adam and Chris are producing it. Actually, they’re here tonight, just a few rows back.” (My head snaps without any coolness or subtlety so I can see for myself.) “Oh my God,” I say. Darren says, “We’re going to go chat with them between bands; you can come say hi if you want!”
    • 1999 Part III – Nate and I go say “Hi” to FoW. Nate is mature and says “Hello, I’m a huge fan, have a good night,” and I (in Teen Cory Fashion) start babbling and say “Well, my name is Cory Kibler from Ventura, CA and I think you’re doing an amazing job” while shaking their hands. They look back at me the same way Doug Martsch would look at me several years later after I say something similarly un-respondable.
  • 2003 – FoW somehow captures commercial lightening in a bottle for the second time (and in a way bigger way) with “Stacy’s Mom” and Welcome Interstate Managers. Obviously, “Stacy’s Mom” was their hugest song by far and got a lot of converts happening, which I love. The rest of the album is great; a little lumbering at 15 tracks, but there’s almost no filler, so I forgive them and listen to this terrific sprawling album all the time. “Mexican Wine” is amazing; “Stacy’s Mom” is just fine even after becoming background noise; “Hey Julie” or “Julie” or whatever it’s officially called is the perfect desperate pop-gem; “All Kinds of Time” grows on me in unexpected ways; more on these songs later.
    • 2003 Part II – In fact, Jamie and I listen to it on the way to/on the way back from that Built to Spill show in Lawrence I’d mentioned above.
  • 2003 Part III (2015/2016 Flash Forward) – I finally appreciate the true beauty of “Valley Winter Song” when my dog Annie and I (“Hey sweet Annie, don’t take it so bad…”) are snowed in at our townhouse in Aurora, and I just work from home with her on my lap while looking at the snow coming down in our Mountain Western town and listening to this song several times. Annie doesn’t live much longer. The song becomes that much more special.
  • 2003 Part IV – “Hackensack” isn’t just the greatest FoW song; it’s probably the best forlorn unrequited love song I’ve ever heard. The melodies, the guitar riff, the drums, the everything. Have you ever felt sorrier for a song’s protagonist/narrator in your life? This guy is (harmlessly, endearingly) delusional about a former crush-turned-star. He truly believes she remembers him, and that she thinks about him all the time. He assumes the heartbreakingly misguided and somehow noble task of waiting for her in Hackensack. Even if her career tanks (and we can tell that it won’t), he’ll be working shitty jobs and following her from afar and keeping Hackensack warm for her. He loves her for her, and he will never, ever forget her or stop dreaming of the day when she realizes he’s the one and he’s always been the one. He knows that she’ll find out that success and fame is temporary, but his love is eternal. Oof. Oof. This song is absolutely brutally sad and absolutely amazing. It’s outlasted “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” even, in terms of its power as a gut-punchingly heavy love song. Christ on a cracker. I wish I could have written this one.
  • 2003 Part V (2009 Flash Forward) – Katy Perry eventually covers “Hackensack” on MTV’s Unplugged (!!!!!!!!!)
  • 2005 – Out-of-State Plates. B-Sides and rarities, the quality of which is right up there with Changin’ Tires on the Road to Ruin by Superdrag and maybe even New Moon, the posthumous powerhouse rarities & demos collection from Elliott Smith.
  • 2007 – Traffic & Weather. I’ve heard it but still haven’t listened to it super hard because I’m scared of not loving it how I need to love it. I’ll listen hard today. On repeat.
  • 2016 (I think; 2017?) – Spotify tells me about Look Park, and my love of this kind of music is reawakened with tremendous force. And I guess I’d call FoW in the genre of power-pop-rock, except FoW are a genre unto themselves, and there’s no one else even sort of in there with them. They’re too clever, they’re too melodic, they’re too versatile. They’re like if Beck’s favorite bands were Big Star, The Zombies, and Left Banke.
  • 2019 (Now) – Howie emails me
    • 2019 Part II – Time is a flat circle; time to reread this email from the beginning!