Yo La Tengo were born in New Jersey in 1984. I was born in New Jersey in 1987. We first crossed paths in New Jersey in 2005. It was love at first listen. The twin soundtracks to my last year of high school were 1997's I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One (roundly considered their best album) and 2000's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (roundly considered the one to call their best album if you're trying to be contrarian). This was nothing like Bon Jovi, or the milquetoast ska and screamo my beloved home state tends to churn out. This was challenging, powerful, sublime music. Cruising around the suburbs, listening to Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley -- a married couple in real life -- lament about the trials and tribulations of love, while James McNew weaved his melodic bass lines around persistent drums, wailing organs, and Kaplan's trademark guitar freakouts, I knew I had found something special. This music felt real to me in a way no other band's music had ever felt.
First Loves, Musical and Otherwise
I went to Philadelphia for college in 2006, and my kinship with the band grew deeper. I immersed myself in 1993's Painful, their first truly classic record, and what was at the time their most recent release, the excellently titled I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. Having Yo La Tengo to listen to that first year away from home was at times like not really being away from home at all; when I was feeling down, all I had to do was pop in my earbuds, and I was back in the green aisles of the Garden State once again.
In October 2007, I met a girl. I met this girl at the First Unitarian Church on the eve of Yo La Tengo's Philly installment of their "Freewheeling Yo La Tengo" tour, which was billed as a special acoustic show, with the band fielding audience questions in between songs. We sat next to each other at the front of the church. I asked the band if there was anything they saw constantly written about them in the press that annoyed them. Without missing a beat, Ira deadpanned, "I don't know why everyone assumes that Georgia and I are married." It got a big laugh. After the show, the girl and I exchanged information. One month later, we shared our first kiss. A month after that, we were officially a couple.
After our one year anniversary, we saw Yo La Tengo again, this time in Montclair, New Jersey on New Year's Eve. Ringing in 2009 by watching my favorite band in the whole universe perform alongside the girl of my dreams and all of my high school buddies was almost too much. The band refused to acknowledge when midnight struck, instead just playing on and letting us all drunkenly bask in the shared glory. I felt supremely confident that the future was gonna be awesome.
And The Glitter Is Gone
But, as you might have guessed by now, especially if you've lived through a whirlwind college romance, that relationship wasn't long for the world. By 2010, we were just treading water. Many critics felt the same about my favorite band and their most recent release at that time, 2009's Popular Songs. It was all just more of the same. Something had to give.
When the end finally came, it felt very abrupt. We basically went from the centers of each others' universes to total strangers in the space of a single day. That winter, the snow pounded the east coast relentlessly. I spent most of my days too shellshocked to get out of bed. If I had to pick one defining moment from that period, it would be having to pull my car over to the side of the road one night, because the song "Big Day Coming" unexpectedly started playing over my tinny little speakers, and I couldn't help but weep uncontrollably at the line "We'll be on the outside, but we won't care/Because we're together in that somewhere." I was on the outside, but I felt totally alone.
Once the snow thawed, I decided that I needed a change of scenery to lift my spirits. My best friend from grade school and his older brother took pity on me, and offered to let me crash at their apartment for awhile. I took on a menial slave wage job at a movie theater a few blocks away to at least help out a little bit with their bills. This is how I found myself in Hoboken, the birthplace of Yo La Tengo.
Somewhere in Hoboken, things weren't going that well for Yo La Tengo either. They followed up the underwhelming Popular Songs with another gimmick tour, a sort of Wheel of Fortune-themed attraction that sometimes resulted in shows that were nothing but reenactments of old sitcom episodes. It was generally met with confusion and derision, even from devoted fans. And then came the announcement, just prior to their Hanukkah shows, that Ira had suffered some sort of serious medical scare, and would therefore have to perform sitting down. Sadly, no guitars were to be twirled over any heads that year.
Things Get Better
Yo La Tengo spent most of 2012 recording their most recent album, Fade, which was released on January 15th. It is a lovely album, easily their best and most focused since I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One. They've mastered a new sound, a bewitching combination of dream pop, alt-country, and vintage soul. These are the sounds of a man, and a band, who genuinely feel lucky to be alive, and are looking at the world with a new set of eyes. Fade is the album that unequivocally got me enamored with the band again.
As for me, 2012 is the year I finally became serious about pursuing my dream of writing about music professionally. It's the most rewarding decision I've ever made, and it sure beats cleaning up movie theater bathrooms. And as an added bonus, there's a new lady in my life, one who makes me extremely happy, one who I am madly in love with. We shared our first kiss after seeing The Feelies in concert. Later, I learned that Ira and Georgia first met at a Feelies concert back in the 1980s. Somehow that felt right to me.
Everything about Yo La Tengo feels right to me, just like living the life of a music journalist feels right to me, or winding down a day with an endless Law and Order: SVU marathon with my girlfriend nestled up by my side feels right to me. I can't explain why, and I don't really want to. All I know is, I'll always be perfectly happy as long as I have the sweet, sweet music of Ira, Georgia, and James with me here in my little corner of the world.