The Bargain Bin

The Bargain Bin: Sunny Day Real Estate’s LIVE

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Working at a record store taught me a tragic truth; no matter how much you love your favorite albums, they’ll never be as popular as they deserve to be. Each month at Merry-Go-Round Magazine, I dust off some long-overlooked records, revisit my pretentious past, and explore how this music forever etched itself into my history. Eventually, all your memories get marked down and thrown into The Bargain Bin.

I’d read somewhere that Soul Coughing had opened for Sunny Day Real Estate on an early tour. I was the only middle school kid I knew obsessed with collecting any music that was Soul Coughing or Soul Coughing adjacent. Shudder to Think was also on the tour, though I imagine their name sounded too serious for me to check out at the time.

I flipped through the CD racks at my local record store and settled on DIARY because of the smiling Fisher-Price Little People standing around a toaster on fire cover. It seemed weird enough, and if they played something akin to that slacker electro-jazz rock I loved so dear, then I would be all in. I popped the disc into the CD Walkman I’d rigged through a tape deck of the stereo my Dad gave me after he bought himself a new system. 

Then one of the greatest album openers of all time blasted through those blown speakers.

— 

Emo wasn’t a term I would hear for another couple of years, so as far as I was concerned, DIARY was just loud guitar rock, which didn’t usually do much for me. But there was something about the guitars screeching, the drum fills, and the singer’s voice so high and hard to understand. Strained, at times, but still hauntingly beautiful. It would be a while until I listened past track six, but everything up to that point was golden.

Open in Spotify

The next time I convinced my dad to drive me to the record store, I picked up the only Sunny Day Real Estate CD they had: LIVE. While imperfect compared to Sunny Day’s studio records, the tracklist plays like a greatest hits collection. The sound quality isn’t always perfect, and Jeremy Enigk’s voice sounds strained at times, but there isn’t a bad song on it. “Guitar And Video Games,” “Rodeo Jones,” “In Circles.” Hit after hit after hit.

I took LIVE with me to my first boy/girl party the following weekend. We were all huge nerds, so there wasn’t any booze or debauchery—the closest thing to that was if a couple held hands or forgot to leave room for the Holy Spirit while we all played MARIO KART 64. (Though once I danced on top of a chair to Beck’s MIDNITE VULTURES after drinking too much Mountain Dew.)

A few kids always brought their CD wallets filled with CD-Rs of songs their older siblings downloaded off Napster. I couldn’t stand most of the bands they liked—Creed, blink-182, Lifehouse, etc. They all liked bands that honestly weren’t weird enough for me. They were jealous when I told them my dad took me to see Primus because Incubus was the opener. Come on. But DIARY had loud guitars, so I put it on to impress them. The response? Silence. I ejected the disc as I felt the rejection deep in my soul. I was the outcast among the outcasts.

Open in Spotify

By high school, the emo wave hit, and I scored a few points with Blu for already knowing who Sunny Day Real Estate was when she opened up a browser to The Emo Game, a free cartoony flash game some guy made for the scene kids on MySpace. The whole emo thing sounded like a bunch of bands that wished they were Sunny Day Real Estate, which wasn’t enough of a hook for me. I moved on to better things but always kept LIVE in steady rotation.

— 

Until a few months ago, I thought the pandemic would be the final nail in the coffin for attending live concerts. The risk didn’t seem worth the reward, but when Sunny Day Real Estate announced a stop in St. Louis on the Midwest leg of their reunion tour, I purchased tickets the moment they went on sale.

On show night, we ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in at least a decade. He told me he was there because I burned him a copy of LIVE our junior year of high school, and he’d been a fan ever since. It felt good to know that record had impacted someone I forced it on, even if it didn’t happen with those other nerds.

Jack Probst
Jack is a freelance pop culture writer living in St. Louis, Missouri. His writing has also been featured in Pitchfork, Paste Magazine, CREEM Magazine, NME, and The Riverfront Times. He appreciates the works of James Murphy, Wes Anderson, and Super Mario. He also enjoys writing paragraphs about himself in his spare time.

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