“Music is the soundtrack to our lives.” This quote is attributed to Dick Clark, but I guarantee some writer is still receiving residuals for selling its rights to him. Of course, there is some truth to the little saying. Certain songs bring back memories, whether it be that summer you were forced to listen to Barenaked Ladies “One Week” endlessly at work (you poor sap) or the Homecoming dance where you danced with your crush to Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take the Girl” (worst song ever, right?). But never before have I had an album bring back emotions like Sunny Day Real Estate’s “Diary” recently did for me. I’m not talking emotions that are associated with a sad memory – simply emotions. Let me explain…
I first heard Sunny Day Real Estate’s “Diary” back in 1994, when i was an insecure 15 year old kid. My brother, who ignited my love of indie music long ago, brought home a copy of “Diary”. Often I discover new CDs in Nick’s room, which I’d listen to while playing “Madden 95” on the Sega Genesis (I discovered some of my favorite bands of all time during those Madden Marathons including Dinosaur Jr, Fugazi, and The Afghan Whigs). Of course, “Diary” ended up being one of those discoveries, a CD I soon played so much that it eventually earned battle scars in the form of scratches and fingerprints.
I would go on to buy every CD that Sunny Day Real Estate released or were remotely associated with including their side project The Fire Theft and Jeremy Enigk’s solo albums (I originally discovered Foo Fighters first album before the Mento’s craze, not due to Dave Grohl, but the involvement of Nate Mendel and William Goldsmith). But I never bought “Diary”, for reasons I can’t explain. I’m guessing I figured I could just listen to my brother’s copy, but even when he moved out, I never made the move to buy the actual CD that helped me through my high school years.
Yes, that CD helped me, in a strange way I suppose. As a teen, and even into my early 20s, I was a pretty morose mother fucker. I lacked confidence, and often connected to music that matched that helpless mood (let’s just say Nine Inch Nail’s “Fragile” was on an endless loop during the fall of 1999). In high school, the music that toked my insecurities was Sunny Day Real Estate’s “Diary”. The music seemed so purely plagued, within the raw guitar licks, the earnest lyrics, and of course Enigk’s piercing vocal assault. I sat in the dark listening to “Diary” on many occasions; yes folks, I was emo before emo was cool. Even though the music helped build upon my sadness, in a way it helped me face my anxieties.
For Christmas this year, my brother Nick bought me the re-mastered version of “Diary”, which is really a gem when you add in the huge book of background information on the creation of the album, not to mention how much clearer the music sounds. Driving back to Texas after my two weeks in blizzard country, I put “Diary” in and was instantly sent into depression. I had no reason to be sad. I’d just been with my family, an act that always rejuvenated me. Yet, Jeremy Enigk was back to his old tricks, stirring up the bits of adolescent sediment that still lingered inside of me. It was probably the first time I had listened to the album in ten years, and as a result, all those emotions of that lonely kid came rushing back. All in all, life had been good to me as of late, but the power of the music wouldn’t let me get off that easy.
In some strange way, I enjoyed that sinking feeling in my gut. Why would I enjoy such a masochistic act? I’m not quite sure. Maybe it was a purging of built up frustrations, or maybe it was just nice to revisit the feelings I struggled with as a teen. Whatever the case, this album plays as a reminder of where I’ve been. If you’ve never experienced “Diary”, don’t be frightened. Whether you are an emotional mess like I once was, or a stone-cold automaton, you’ll find pleasure in this band’s early offering. Sunny Day Real Estate went on to release some great albums, but none of them ever compared to “Diary”.