Old 97’s: Nineteen
[purchase Fight Songs, because Amazon doesn’t appear to have the version of Satellite Rides with the bonus track]
With a theme like this, with literally an infinite number of options, I decided to simply go with the first appropriate song that popped into my head. And this one is doubly appropriate, with a number in the title and the name of the band, proving that sometimes it is better to not overthink things.
Back in 1999, we had great neighbors across the street, Wayne and Denise. They were interesting, smart, their oldest child and our daughter were friends, and, maybe best of all, their musical taste was similar to ours. (Fact—like fingerprints, no two people have the same musical taste.) One day, Denise gave us a copy of the Old 97’s new CD, Fight Songs, as a thank you for something that we had done. I have no recollection of what it was, but I do know that the CD, and the band, became huge family favorites (and not just because, as my wife says, Rhett Miller, the lead singer, is “dreamy”). And my family’s love of the Old 97’s has continued to this date—we have seen them a few times (and Miller as a solo act), most recently a few months ago when I went with my two kids (my wife doesn’t like standing at concerts) to see them open for the Drive-By Truckers. Sadly, our neighbors moved a few miles away, and although we do see them occasionally, I suspect we would get to spend more time with them if they had stayed across the street.
The music of the Old 97’s is a fusion of country and pop, fitting them squarely in the “Americana” or “Alt-Country” world. Critics seem to like their more country sounding songs, while their more pop oriented efforts tend to be more popular. But whichever you like better, you have to appreciate the quality of the songwriting and the literate, interesting lyrics, usually from Miller, who briefly attended Sarah Lawrence College on a creative writing scholarship before dropping out to pursue his musical muse.
“Nineteen” is a song that is more rock than country, like most of Fight Songs, and like so many great songs in any genre, it is about lost love. What makes it so poignant is that the narrator realizes that he made a huge mistake in letting his love go. He acknowledges that he was an idiot, that she was great, and that he misses just lying in bed with her. And his excuse? He was only nineteen, which is “not the age of reason,” a fact borne out by many actual scientific studies. The narrator doesn’t plead for a second chance; he simply appears to accept the fact that the train has left the station without him.
The Old 97’s are a great live band. Their energy on stage is incredible, and they are tight, as they should be, considering how much they have played together in their two decades as a band. Therefore, I have posted a live version of the song, released as a bonus track on the band’s next album, Satellite Rides. They didn’t play the song when I saw them earlier this year—I read somewhere that the band won’t play it anymore, but Miller will sometimes perform it solo.