The cover of A Great Big Pile of Leaves’ second record “You’re Always on My Mind” features many staples of youth culture: a pizza, a skateboard, a burger and a frothy mug of beer.
The record is a battle between the left and right brain. It’s a picture of adulthood drawn in crayon. It captures the in-betweens, those phases of life when a person exists in multiple dimensions, playing many different parts. It revels in juvenility, spitting in the face of those nondescript people in suits and ties telling you to grow up and be somebody that you’re not necessarily ready to be yet.
The track “Back to School” perfectly captures this inner struggle: “First day back to school and I’m sleeping. Trying to force myself to enjoy reading. I’m fixated on jumping garbage cans. I’m never in the present tense.”
We spend so much of our lives preparing for the future. We’re never really in the present. It’s school then school and more school until it’s time to plug your nose and dive into the deep-end ominously referred to as “The Real World.” But what if we enter “The Real World” and it’s terrible and stressful and we just want to crawl back into our apartments and watch cartoons and shovel snacks down our sore throats?
“Where did the summer go?” lead singer Pete Weiland croons on the chorus of “Back to School.”
A Great Big Pile of Leaves have always celebrated goofiness. Their first record “Have You Seen My Prefrontal Cortex?” features songs with titles like “Vampires in Love” and “Meet Me At the Mall, Bring Your Swim Trunks.” Their brash childishness is over the top but endearing.
“You’re Always on My Mind” melds the ridiculousness of their first record with a newfound maturity. The songs are still nutty, but they convey something heartfelt and true.
“I just love pizza so much. I’m choosing it instead of spending every moment trying to get ahead,” Weiland sings on "Pizzanomics."
The song ebbs and flows, coming to a soft, down-tempo moment before building and building. Drums begin to pound softly, and jangly guitar comes out of the woodwork. There’s supposed to be this bombastic climax, but there isn’t. The song fades slowly into nothingness just like its narrator.
But is nothingness all that bad? Is it better to be a functioning, but miserable, member of society? Or is it better to just be happy even if everyone around you is telling you that your lifestyle is objectively wrong? Is growing up worth it? Will it really fulfill you?
“You better wise up, and get good at networking. Or you’re never gonna add up to anything," Weiland sings.
We’re so obsessed with being something or someone, constantly looking over our shoulders to see if someone is gaining on us. We don’t want to be left behind.
This sentiment is echoed on the track “Pet Mouse.”
“Finally ready for settling, but everyone is up and moving out.”
We want to make sure we’re measuring up to the standards that society has set for us. We want to be successful, sure. But sometimes it seems like I only want to be mature and successful because people will judge me if I’m not mature and successful.
But success is relative. You can be doing kickflips in a Kroger parking lot in your mid-twenties and still be successful. You can skip networking events to eat 50 pizzas in 30 days if that’s what you’re into. “You’re Always on My Mind” has been such an important record to me throughout my life because it maintains the universal truth that the only person I have to answer to is myself.
And while recognition and smiling faces offering congratulations and kind words can be nice, those words really only matter if they’re coming from my own mouth.
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