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Having fun.

posted Wednesday June 13th, 2012

I discovered the number one band in the country by accident.

I’m only a little ashamed to admit to you that I’ve been known to skulk around Anthropologie long after I’m done shopping so I can Shazam the store’s entire playlist. Hey, I’m in my mid-forties. I’m busy and I’m not particularly hip. I’ve got to find my music where I can.

Like in the hairdresser’s chair. I ran back to the office one day a few weeks ago to ask our music editor at New Times about this song I’d just heard.

“Oh yeah,” Jason said when I blurted out some lyrics. “That’s Fun.”

(Technically it’s “fun.” but that’s hard to make work in writing.)

Turns out, the frontman for Fun is a local guy, Nate Ruess, who’s made it on a scale no one from Arizona — not the Gin Blossoms or Jimmy Eat World or The Refreshments — has ever made it before. Fun’s big song, “We Are Young,” hit number one on the charts after it was in a Super Bowl ad and on an episode of Glee. The band has been everywhere all year.  

Who knew? Apparently everyone but me. Luckily Jason had an extra copy of the album “Some Nights,” which I stuck in my car’s CD player. That was early April; I haven’t taken it out since, although sometimes we listen to Fun’s first album, “Aim and Ignite,” to mix things up.

Fun is catchy and poppy and, well, fun. Ray really hates it (not surprising, for a guy who listens to Lamb of God) but both my girls adore it. Particularly Annabelle, who was immediately taken by the fact that Ruess writes a lot about his parents.

“That guy’s from Phoenix,” I told her. That’s all she needed to hear. She was fascinated, obsessed, hanging on every word. (Including the word fuck, which we decided she’ll just ignore.) And so when I heard Fun was coming to town, I knew that I had to get tickets. It had to be Annabelle’s first concert.

My first concert was Rick Springfield at the Arizona State Fair. He was pretty huge at the time, it was the Working Class Dog tour and all, but still. “Jessie’s Girl”? Nothing compared to Fun. I hope this is a night she remembers, for a lot of reasons.  

Like Annabelle, I’m totally in love with this band — and this guy. Their music — particularly the second album, which feels like a seamless anthem — is wonderful. You just don’t hear a young indie rock star sing so passionately about missing his mom, or about how he’s lived his whole life under the shadows of his father’s (specifics are never mentioned) illness.

We both love the song The Gambler, from Fun’s first album. An example of the lyrics:

It was the winter of ’86, and all the fields had frozen over.
So we moved to Arizona to save our only son
and now he’s turning to a man, although he thinks just like his mother,
he believes we’re all just lovers he sees hope in everyone.

And even though she moved away,
we always get calls from our daughter.
She has eyes just like her father’s
they are blue when skies are grey
And just like him, she never stops,
Never takes the day for granted,
works for everything that’s handed to her,
Never once complains.

It’s just lovely, but I didn’t realize til I was in the audience at Mesa Center for the Arts late last month that it’s more than that. After years of working really hard (he was half of the Phoenix-based band The Format before moving to New York City to start Fun) Ruess has finally made it – made it huge, Fun’s big hit will be played at every wedding and bar mitzvah for the next 20 years — and this was the first time he’d come home to play a big show.

Home.  He stood on the stage and the teenage girls (and Annabelle) screamed, but more than that, you could feel that this guy was home. He was clearly singing to his parents (somewhere in the balcony, it appeared), to his longtime fans, and to his hometown.

I’m not used to that. Several times during the show, Ruess addressed Phoenix — and I waited to be chastized. For SB1070, a crazy governor, a disgusting sheriff. Goodness knows we deserve it. But that’s apparently not what this guy’s about. He’s about love and family.

And he happens to be from Phoenix. 

How lucky, I thought, that I brought Annabelle. Don’t get me wrong, I want my kid to be cynical and to challenge her world, but I also want her to be happy in a way I never was, growing up in Phoenix. Maybe Nate Ruess wasn’t particularly happy at the time, either, but at least he has fond memories of growing up here.

I don’t. I spent my childhood dreaming about moving away. That didn’t happen, and in a lot of ways I’m glad — like Ruess, I’m convinced it’s all about family — but still, I have regrets. Two days after the Fun concert, I went on a rare solo trip to New York City. I saw friends, did cool work-related things, shopped, saw art, and mostly walked all over the city. It was magic, the New York I always figured I’d experience full-time as a grown up.

“If I lived here, it’s not like I’d be seeing a Broadway show and walking from the Lower East Side to the West Village and drinking at The Carlyle all in one week, right?” I asked my best friend, who moved to Manhattan after college and (pretty much) stayed.

She and her boyfriend looked at each other and shrugged. New York is their playground. That’s how they live. But they are in finance and I am in journalism and anyhow, as I wrote in a Facebook status update as I waited to board the plane at JFK, “Goodbye New York. I love you madly, but my heart is in Phoenix.”

It’s true, even though I started to cry after I wrote it. I don’t want Annabelle to live her life like that. I don’t think she will. Already she’s surpassed me in so many ways, maturity-wise.

Plus, she’s got Fun. Thank you, Nate Ruess, for loving Phoenix and not being afraid to say so. Thank you for making it big even though you’re from this podunk place and thank you to your parents, who must be pretty fucking amazing people to have raised a son with such a voice. A line from one of your songs is stuck in my head, and I hope it stays there, a reminder that geography doesn’t matter so much as what’s inside:

May your path be the sound of your feet upon the ground. Carry on.

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Tags: Filed under: culture, music by Amysilverman

3 Responses to “Having fun.”

  1. I found your blog through Robrt Pela’s blog, and love it.

    My parents moved us to Phoenix when I was 12. We moved away a few years later, but I came back at 19 and stayed another few years (carefree, happy years filled with going to concerts and parties and dancing in clubs with Robrt and our group of friends). Now I live in Melbourne, Australia, but some of my happiest memories are of Phoenix, and I’ve been known to wax poetic about the place to anyone who’ll sit still and listen.

    Perhaps it’s easy to say it from such a distance, with somewhat limited experience of the place, but I love Phoenix.

    WIshing you and your family every happiness,


  2. Thanks for sharing a different part of you in this post, Amy. It made me want to cry, maybe because it’s about music and the passion that music brings out. Love it. And that’s so funny about the f.bomb, because I watched Benny and Joon with Abigail the other day (pg), not knowing there was an f.bomb in it. I was shocked, and then just started laughing. Like she hasn’t heard it at school, right? I also just told her to ignore it ;)

  3. I can only daydream that somehow Nate Ruess stumbles upon your blog and reads your words about him. I gather they’d mean a whole lot more than any piece that may be written in the media. This is the ultimate compliment, and I have a feeling this kind of reaction might be the reason he does this for a living. I’d like to think so, at least.

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