Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World
The album that briefly was forced to change it's name because of 9/11 turns 22 years old in July.
As I sit down to write, I can't help but feel a sense of wistfulness as I remember my college days and the album that accompanied me through some of the lowest lows of that time – Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American. In 2001, I was still an undergrad at Boston University, studying business and faking my way through school on the way to a finance degree. I wasn’t focused and loved computers and communications and business strategy, but I didn’t have my courseload organized enough for a concentration. At the last minute, I looked at the landscape of what I had taken and realized that I could finish with a finance degree, and figured, “OK.” That’s not how you’re supposed to plan your future, but I didn’t know what I was doing. As I’ve discussed before, I was struggling with my self-image and the challenges of young adulthood. Then 9/11 happened and put all my trials and tribulations into perspective. I’ll get to that in a minute, but here’s some more about the person I never wish I was.
I was doing pretty well academically but was a mess emotionally. I had great friends, to be sure, but it was a confusing world that I didn’t really fit into. I was this midwestern rock and roll club kid with an edgy, vulgar sense of humor, and I was in a business school with kids who dressed up for class and greeted each other with double-cheek European kisses. I had a couple of casual female friends who would greet me this way too, and I did it, but I felt like the dumbest fraud in the world, moving my head from side to side. Make no mistake, I talked myself into it because I loved the attention and feeling accepted, but it was decidedly weird for a kid from suburban Cleveland Ohio.
I had crushes on different women, but I never knew what to do with it. I thought proximity and being funny would lead somewhere. I didn’t really know anything about depression at the time, but I was probably depressed. My self-loathing made it impossible for me to connect. When I did get attention, I didn't trust it because I couldn't see my own worth. And as I said, I didn’t know what to do next anyway. I don’t think I ever asked a girl out on a date my entire four and a half years of college. My lifestyle was far from healthy – eating, drinking, smoking too much, and living in a haze of negativity and sarcastic criticism.
In April, 2001 just a few months before Bleed American came out, I convinced some friends to go to the movies with me. I wanted to see Tom Green’s new movie “Freddy Got Fingered.” I absolutely loved it for being so ridiculous, vulgar, and nonsensical. Only after it was over did I realize how much my friends disdained it. One of my friends brought his girlfriend with us, which probably helps explain his reaction that I had committed a crime against the friend group for selecting that movie. He was half kidding, but you know, that means he was also half not kidding.
It was in this context that I discovered Bleed American, a collection of clean-sounding rock songs by Jimmy Eat World. The band members – Jim Adkins, Zach Lind, Tom Linton, and Rich Burch – exuded a clean-cut, not-quite-skater-boy vibe that starkly contrasts my existence. I found myself captivated by their music and yearning to be the person I saw in their promo photos – someone who seemed so far removed from who I was then.
Bleed American became an important part of the soundtrack, and its significance was only heightened by the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Bleed American was re-released as Jimmy Eat World after the attacks and techincally retained that name until 2008 when it was re-released with the original title.
9/11 was a huge deal in the world, obviously, but it felt even bigger in Boston than, say, in my hometown of Cleveland. I don't want to appropriate the tragedy or make it about me, but the fact remains that those planes took off from Boston, the city where I was living and studying. It’s easy to forget now that we know how it all played out, but we were terrified that those terrorists had stayed in our hotels, ate at our restaurants, and made it through our airport security. We weren’t sure if they had cohorts still in town awaiting a second phase of violent terror. Thankfully that didn’t happen, but that’s the backdrop where I’m walking around Boston with my Discman listening to “Sweetness,” “Your House,” and “A Praise Chorus.” It’s kind of odd to think of it like that today.
One song that resonated with me during this time was "Hear You Me," a somber, funeral-like ballad written in honor of two sisters who died in a car accident. Mykel and Carli Allen were fans of Jimmy Eat World and also in charge of the Weezer fan club. Weezer also wrote a song in their honor called “Mykel And Carli,” released as the b-side on the “Undone” single.
The haunting lyrics of the Jimmy Eat World song really stuck with me. I used to sing it over and over in the car. By myself, of course. "May angels lead you in / Hear you me my friends / On sleepless roads, the sleepless go / May angels lead you in," offered a sense of solace amidst the chaos. "Hear You Me" would go on to be one of the songs my wife and I both loved when we were dating, and I was making mix CDs for her. The fact that my future wife also appreciated miserably sad songs should come as no shock.
The album's magic lay in its simplicity. The melodies were infectious, almost instantly memorable. The title track, "Bleed American," was a standout example, featuring jangly guitars in the chorus and punchy staccato riffs in the verses:
"Salt, sweat, sugar on the asphalt / Our hearts littering the topsoil / Tune in and we can get the last call / Our lives, our coal."
"The Middle" became the band's breakout hit, reaching No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Modern Rock Tracks chart. Released as a single in October 2001, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the song's message of hope and perseverance struck a chord with listeners:
"It just takes some time / Little girl, you're in the middle of the ride / Everything, everything will be just fine / Everything, everything will be all right, all right."
The video featured partygoers in their underwear who treat clothed people like they’re strange. It’s pretty iconic from that era of MTV. Back in those days, a video could speak to you. This one spoke to me for sure.
For many people, I bet Bleed American is a top-heavy record, but beyond the top singles, it has a lot of magical moments. "If You Don't, Don't" is a standout song, with poignant lyrics that capture the uncertainty and longing of unrequited love:
"What's wrong baby? / Don't they treat you like they should? / Did you take them for it? / Every penny that you could"
"The Authority Song" is another great one.
If there's one criticism of Bleed American, it's that it doesn't finish all that strong. If you've read The Album of Record for long, you know that one of the themes of this site is that album openers and closers have to be great. It's an artistic necessity. Never put a throwaway track on the end of a record. You can get away with an intro track, especially if you nail the first real song, but it's a risk.
Having had the pleasure of seeing Jimmy Eat World live three or four times in the past few years, I can attest to their incredible energy and chemistry on stage. The consistency of their band lineup is truly remarkable, especially considering how often other bands experience member changes. It's clear that the bond between Jim Adkins, Zach Lind, Tom Linton, and Rich Burch is a crucial element of their enduring success.
This summer, I will fulfill a nearly lifelong dream by attending a Jimmy Eat World concert at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre. They'll be sharing the stage with Manchester Orchestra. As I look forward to this unforgettable experience, I can't help but feel grateful for the powerful impact Bleed American and the music of Jimmy Eat World have had on my life.
And if you haven’t seen them, I encourage you to do it. The coolest thing about Jimmy Eat World is how unembarrassed they are to play the songs that made them such a big band. Where some bands almost eschew their biggest hits, you can count on hearing at least three or four of the biggest songs from Bleed American at every show.