My Own Prison by Creed
We all listened to some things that ended up being kind of embarrassing.
While I was being exposed to the coolest music in the world in college, I always kept taps on the mainstream. I was at Boston University, and rock radio was still alive and well as the decade closed in on Y2K. In Boston, WBCN was still holding it down as a rock station. I believe it’s since moved on and became sports talk, not too dissimilar to what happened in Cleveland with 92.3 The Fan. But in the late 90s, it was helping make tastes as the world graduated from grunge and tried - sometimes awkwardly - to figure out what was next.
A glance at the charts from 1998 shows that we’re definitely in a post Nirvana world. The top songs include Pearl Jam’s “Given to Fly,” but it’s surrounded by songs like “What It’s Like” by Everlast, “Every Morning” by Sugar Ray, one of the most mid songs I can think of in the history of alternative rock radio, “The Way” by Fastball, and “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies. Metallica is there with a freaking song sequel, “Unforgiven II.”
There are some all-time-classics that will never be forgotten as well. “Closing Time” by Semisonic just fits too many life scenarios to ever go away. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” will pay the Rolling Stones and their descendants for generations to come. “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls was bigger than the movie it was in - City of Angels - and will continue to be, probably forever. Who could ever forget Natalie Imbruglia’s version of “Torn,” or “Flagpole Sitta”? And nobody will ever want to forget “Karma Police” or “My Hero.” I don’t even need to tell you the artists.
But it was a confusing time in music too. We listened to things and didn’t know how the story would end. If you were like me, you were buying and sampling lots of different things. A purchase wasn’t necessarily an endorsement in those days. You would buy things and as a collector, I rarely got rid of anything, but every now and then I would trade something in at the used record store. More often than not, I just put it on the shelf with the thousands of other CDs I purchased over the years.
One of those CDs was My Own Prison by Creed. That is a band that was dominant in 1998. They were all over the radio. They had hits with “One,” “What’s this Life For,” and “My Own Prison.” I admit fully that I was intrigued and bought this record.
It’s easy to look back now with embarrassment like we all should have known how the Creed story would end before it was even written. In the moment, Creed was this band that seemed to be paying very direct homage to Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and Tool. Yes, it was filtered and reimagined as arena rock, but you could hear it all in there. Was this a band that was going to help bridge the gap between what was and what’s next?
Spoiler alert. No. They were not that band. But honestly I didn’t know it at the time.
We were having an identity crisis where The Smashing Pumpkins followed up Mellon Collie with Adore after firing their drummer, Jimmy Chamberlin. Billy Corgan later talked about Adore as an album made by a band that was falling apart. There are a few good songs on Adore, but it defied the identity of that band as I had come to expect them with one of my favorite drummers in the world.
Alternative radio was filled with songs that just didn’t mean anything to me. I usually don’t like to get negative about things because I don’t want to shit on things that people love. However, for me, nothing could be less interesting than “Sex and Candy” by Marcy Playground or “Every Morning” by Sugar Ray. “Fly Away” by Lenny Kravitz is catchy as hell, but it’s disposable emotionally compared to his earlier work like “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over,” or even a saccharine “Believe.” Something about the vocal affectation of Days of the New was just unlistenable to me. Again, if you love it, cool. I’m happy for you. In that moment, I was pretty grumpy about most of what I heard that was a departure from what had been. It didn’t vibe with what I wanted.
I recently relistened to My Own Prison, and in hindsight, it sounds pretty meh. It took the best things about grunge and put it through a machine that shined it up and made it too clean. It sounds very of the moment and dated today, but not in the genuine way that Alice in Chains Dirt might sound. Or Undertow by Tool.
But that’s only in hindsight knowing how cheesy Creed would get writing arena ballads and prom songs like “Higher,” and “With Arms Wide Open.” But back in 1997, listening to an album that was being compared to Soundgarden, AIC, Pearl Jam, and Tool and knowing that these dudes recorded their first record for just $6000, and that it had at least four decent radio hits that sounded more emotionally charged than much of the other stuff being played, we just didn’t know.
The album opens with “Torn” which is still a decent song, despite the fact that it drones on for more than six minutes. It would have been a great four-minute banger. We would come to find out later that Scott Stapp isn’t a super deep guy, and we probably should have known with these lyrics.
The peace is dead in my soul
I have blamed the reasons for
My intentions poor
Yes I'm the one who
The only one who
Would carry on this far
Torn, I'm filthy
Born in my own misery
Stole all that you gave me
Control you claim you save me
“My Own Prison” was the biggest song on the record, and continues to have the most plays on Spotify. Of all the songs that Creed produced, this is the one that showed the most potential for what they could have become as a band. It showed decent range between aggressive rock and the more ballady stuff.
“Pity for a Dime” was maybe the best song on the record that didn’t get on the radio. I remember feeling like it was totally worthy of radio airplay at the time. This band was always able to write a hell of a chorus when they needed to do so.
“One” was another single for the band, but I remember not really liking that one even in the moment.
“What’s this Life For” was another pretty good single. It went to number one on the Billboard charts for rock tracks and stayed there for six weeks. It seems funny now, but this was the closing song the band played at the ill-fated Woodstock ‘99. They were joined by the Doors’ Robby Krieger, who had been with them as they covered “Riders on the Storm” and “Roadhouse Blues.”
None of this is to say that Creed is good or that My Own Prison stands up as a record. It’s more to say, we didn’t know what we didn’t know until the story was finished. It didn’t have to go the way it did. I wasn’t alone in checking out My Own Prison and thinking that this was a band that had a chance to take music in an interesting direction.
Instead, Creed gave us this Thanksgiving halftime performance with Scott Stapp mugging and lip-syncing, one of the most embarrassing moments in rock and roll history. They even interspersed the video clips of 9/11 workers to try and amp up the emotions.
So yeah, the Creed story ended…. poorly.
I don’t want to sit here on this site and pretend that I never delved into anything that ended up being embarrassing and bad. Sometimes I just embrace and defend what I loved, especially if I had the defense of youth for something like Air Supply. But you know, I have to talk about some of the music I bought and listened to over the years even if it feels like I’m showing my bare ass to the world.
Creed’s My Own Prison deserves context, but yes, me listening to it and telling you about it is like me showing my bare ass to the world.
And I leave you with a seemingly intoxicated Scott Stapp on a celebrity poker show. It didn’t have to go this way, but it absolutely went this way. Shrug.