I Hate Worrying About the Future: You’re Gonna Miss It All at 10

10 years ago today, Modern Baseball released their second album and changed the course of fourth-wave emo forever.

Music Features Modern Baseball
I Hate Worrying About the Future: You’re Gonna Miss It All at 10

When people talk about Modern Baseball now, it’s usually in a “you had to be there” kind of way. But “there” could mean any number of tangible or intangible places, ranging from the side of early-2010s Tumblr where live recordings of “Constant Headache” and Man Overboard’s “Defend Pop Punk” logo dominated dashboards, to the Philly house that the members of Modern Baseball lived in during the band’s early years—where you could see them play a basement show for just $3 or a picture of Michael Jordan.

Philadelphia remains a hotbed for DIY music and the communities built around it—thanks to artists like Greg Mendez, They Are Gutting A Body Of Water and musician/producer Heather Jones (of Ther and Sadurn). But now that streaming and social media have decentralized the act of creating and sharing music, there’s less emphasis on fitting in with a specific sonic tradition tied to a particular locality. It’s not like Modern Baseball and the host of other then-up-and-coming Philly-based bands that they played shows with have a ton in common besides being guitar groups who were in the same place at the same time—utilizing Bandcamp as a jumping-off point for getting their music out there.

Speaking of Bandcamp, Modern Baseball’s rise to popularity and their sustained fanbase doesn’t look all that different from fellow Philly artists like Alex G or Japanese Breakfast (or Little Big League before them), despite these acts sounding almost nothing alike. In some ways, Modern Baseball’s Philly connection felt more prominent than that of their indie rock loyalist counterparts—mostly due to their place-based lyricism, the city of Philadelphia being such a prominent backdrop to their public narrative, and the early cosigns they got from scene predecessors like The Wonder Years—who’d made the city such a major part of their band’s identity on songs like “Came Out Swinging” and “Logan Circle.” Today, discussions of regionality simultaneously feel obsolete and prescient, especially in emo, with individual bands adamantly repping their hometowns. Meanwhile on social media, fans are quick to slap the “Midwest Emo” genre tag onto any band with tappy guitars and shouty vocals, regardless of whether they’re from Philly or SoCal or Florida.

It’s hard to speak about a now-defunct band that was so central to a particular scene without slipping into starry-eyed mythologizing, especially a group that was A) as influential to the following decade of pop-punk and emo as Modern Baseball were and B) disbanded unceremoniously after just a few highly potent years together. Furthermore, it can be hard to speak on the lasting impact of a record like You’re Gonna Miss It All without feeling like you’re falling into the nostalgia pit with the masses, wishfully theorizing based on nothing at all about an alleged Modern Baseball reunion and coming off like one of those doomsday cults that predicts an impending apocalypse every six months.

Look, I understand the impulse to continue to mourn a beloved band and the simpler times that they’ve come to represent. I myself have spent many an evening watching grainy concert footage of Sports-era Modern Baseball shows and enviously listening to my friends who were lucky enough to see them live talk about how unforgettable it was. Maybe it’s just too easy to don rose-tinted glasses when looking back on a band who put out three good-to-great records in a row and dipped before the quality of their work ever had the chance to do the same.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the purposes that this kind of music serves—music made by and for young people (I realize that this is a vast and relative generalization)—and the way our love for the music that connected with us when we were young evolves with us as we mature beyond its target demo. I connected most with You’re Gonna Miss It All—and Modern Baseball’s discography in general—when I was in college, around the same age the band members were when they released their first two albums. It’s because of both of these interacting factors that You’re Gonna Miss It All feels like such a college album, to a cringingly earnest degree.

When I talk about my college-aged self now, I find myself falling into the pattern of treating her like an old friend I’ve quietly grown apart from—my wistfulness bearing the implicit understanding that, though we had some fun times together, it’s probably for the best that we don’t really hang out anymore. I’ll be the first to admit that the years in which I listened to You’re Gonna Miss It All most frequently were the ones where I was at my most academically intelligent but emotionally stupid, my booksmarts at diametric odds with my impulse control, my communication skills and my ability to read a room. I was also, like most people in their late teens and early 20s, profoundly insecure and judgmental, holding both myself and the people around me to impossible standards.

Listening to Modern Baseball’s catalog now, that’s how the narrative personas of both Bren Lukens and Jake Ewald come across a lot of the time. This is in no way an insult to either of their characters, or an attempt to psychoanalyze two people who I’ve never met. It’s not really a comment on them as people at all, but on their ability to tell stories about people whose good intentions often surpass the maturity and clarity required to follow through with them. Most of the fuck-ups chronicled in Modern Baseball songs are not the result of malice, but miscommunication.

Their self-deprecation is authentically unconvincing—scratch the surface of a sarcastic comment and you’ll find someone who cares so much it hurts. All the bravado and woah-woah choruses on “Charlie Black” can never really hide the comedown of “Timmy Bowers”—because, of course, “I’ve been living more like a fucking king without you” directly translates to “I’ve been living more like a piece of shit without you.” The record’s honesty lives in its inconsistencies, every attempt at detachment only hammers home the depth of its sincerity.

Take the hook that kicks off the record, Lukens’ assertion of selflessness that characterizes “Fine, Great”: “I hate worrying about the future, when all I wanna do is worry about everyone but me.” Is it protective distancing from one’s own emotions masquerading as genuine concern for the happiness and wellbeing of their peers? Does it have to be one or the other? When you’re that young and that insecure, is it even possible to distinguish the two? There’s a ceiling to Lukens’—and Modern Baseball’s—self-awareness, a sense of knowing enough to realize that they’re making mistakes, but not enough to know how to fix them, that makes the interpersonal pitfalls they encounter that much more cathartic and vivid.

Refreshingly enough for the genre that they’re working in—one historically rife with the vindictive and aggressive impulses of male songwriters—the anger laced into Modern Baseball’s songs doesn’t feel self-righteous or violent. They’re not out to punish women who they feel have wronged them or convince you of their own victimhood. More often than not, they portray themselves as no better than the subjects of their frustration and turn it back on themselves—Bren is not the only person guilty of selfishness or emotional dishonesty in the relationship that plays out in “Fine, Great”; when Jake Ewald takes the lead on the following “Rock Bottom,” you don’t need to wait until the final chorus to know that his eventual “fuck you” is directed at himself more than the ex that he’s singing about.

Even Ewald’s lampooning of a pompous asshole with loud, hypocritical, virtue-signaling opinions on the DIY politics on “Going To Bed Now” is done with the implication that none of us are completely immune to the same self-seriousness. Moreover, Lukens’s and Ewald’s shared tendency to internalize their anger rarely manifests in a sort of “woe-is-me” fashion that begs for self-pity and anti-accountability loopholes. In many ways, it’s why Modern Baseball’s music has aged better than a lot of their peers’.

In a much rougher draft of this essay, I described You’re Gonna Miss It All as an immature album, and qualified this admittedly bold statement by saying that I don’t think I would have described it as such five years ago. I then had to ask myself: Do I think that the album itself is immature, or am I just projecting my own insecurities—when what I really mean is that the version of me who first fell in love with this album was immature? Or am I using “immaturity” as a 10-foot pole with which to cautiously poke at this album because I don’t know how else to fit a record that I feel like I should have outgrown into my current circumstances?

I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that, after all these years, I still can’t help but crack a devious smile and start shouting along and finger-pointing like my life depends on it when I hear Bren Lukens sing “Bullshit, you fuckin’ miss me!” in “Your Graduation”—which still feels like it’s up there with tracks like “Getting Sodas,” “An Introduction to the Album” and the aforementioned “Constant Headache” in discussions of the most era-defining songs of fourth wave emo. I still speed-sing along “AndIcouldnotmusterthecouragetosayasingleword” when the false-start intro of “Apartment” cuts out and the drums come charging in. Lukens’ cheerfully nihilistic lines about skipping class and sleeping in on “Rock Bottom” still bring back fond (and some not-so-fond) memories I have of doing the same. I’ll still sometimes listen to “Notes” and “Pothole” on evening walks, appreciating the way Ewald’s lyrics in these tracks grasp at some vague, unknown maturity in a way I didn’t notice the first couple dozen times I heard them, or at least not in the way that I hear them now.

I think of how the early hints at the more narrative, folk-oriented direction Ewald’s songwriting would fully take years later with Slaughter Beach, Dog pop up throughout tracks like these, and on the first half of the group’s third and final album, Holy Ghost (released shortly after the first Slaughter Beach, Dog album). I think about how there’s value in art that, on the surface, seems juvenile—not in spite of the visceral reaction elicited when you think about your past relationship to it, but because of it. I’m glad that Modern Baseball existed, even though I don’t necessarily need them to exist again and know that they probably never will—definitely not in the finite and mythical-seeming form that they once took. I’m glad that they stopped making music together when doing so no longer felt right, that they grew up and that the rest of us grew up, too. I’m glad that the era in which they existed is frozen in time for when I feel like visiting a piece of my past (or something that sounds like it). I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

Listen to Modern Baseball’s 2014 Daytrotter session below.

Grace Robins-Somerville is a writer from Brooklyn, New York, currently based in Wilmington, North Carolina. She is pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Her work has appeared in The Alternative, Merry-Go-Round Magazine, Post-Trash, Swim Into The Sound and her “mostly about music” newsletter, Our Band Could Be Your Wife.

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