I’m a Loner Dottie, A Rebel: How The Get Up Kids and Pee Wee Herman Changed My Life

1999 proved to be a pivotal year for me.  I graduated high school in June and started my first semester of college a couple months later.  But the transition from high school to college does not standout as the biggest life-defining moment from that year.  It was really my “discovery” of a band called The Get Up Kids that made that year so memorable.

After hearing them at a college party in November, everything in my life related to music took an abrupt turn. The Get Up Kids and Pee Wee Herman (you’ll get the reference in a minute) opened the door to a music world I never knew existed – music not on the radio.  After peaking in that curious-looking door, I jumped in head-first and have never looked back.  More than any other band, The Get Up Kids re-defined music for me.  Even bigger than music, my life soundtrack from 1999 onwards has had The Get Up Kids on repeat. 

In November of 1999 I attended a college house party where, of course, everyone pretended to enjoy the buffet of Zima, Ron Rico rum, and shitty light beers.   The music at the party was powered by a large desktop computer, hard-wired to twin towers that doubled as speakers.  The entirely underage crowd was listening to the popular radio music of the day. 

My reign as the best introvert at every party always crumbles when under the influence.  In this case, as 2 Bud Lights turned to 6, the social butterfly deep down inside me began to flap its wings – I actually started talking to people I didn’t know. 

I ended up talking to a guy named Matt, who was one of the renters of the house.  He had a guitar on the wall – a standard college-issued Epiphone he probably got at Guitar Center for $100 so he can play “Tubthumping.”  I had started playing guitar a couple years prior, so we talked about guitars, which led to a discussion on bands.

He said, “oh man, you HAVE to listen to this band – they have a song called ‘I’m a Loner Dottie, A Rebel.’ “   

I responded with “you mean like the line from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure?”

After affirming the reference to Pee Wee, Matt put a stop to DMX and played “I’m a Loner Dottie, A Rebel” from a band called The Get Up Kids.  I am still convinced Matt only liked the song because of its title.  It IS a clever title, after all. 

But I was mesmerized with the music.  I loved it.  The drum intro, the octave-heavy guitar, and especially the opening lyrics of “come tomorrow, I’ll be on my way back home.”  He played it again.  I had never heard of The Get Up Kids because they weren’t on the radio – at least not in Dallas/Fort Worth.

I went to Blockbuster Music the next day and found the song as track 9 on an album titled Something to Write Home About.  By this point in life, I had graduated from a Nissan Pulsar to a Chevy S-10 featuring a sweet flare-side.  Based on my album listening history, I expected to just skip to “I’m a Loner Dottie” 30 seconds into the first song. 

For the second time in my young life, I listened to an entire album cover-to-cover on first listen.  Every song was incredible.  Every song was catchy.  The lyrics were relatable.  The singers weren’t dramatic.  They didn’t end lines with unnecessary groans like Scott Stapp.  The guitars matched everything else perfectly.  Now, when I say I loved the guitars, we aren’t talking about Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen guitars.  But for the first time, I heard octave runs that were just as instrumental to the songs as the power chords.  The guitars and keyboards played simple, yet noticeable arrangements that, simply put, didn’t sound like anything I had heard before. 

I followed the musical trail of breadcrumbs from Something to Write Home About to their previous album Four Minute Mile. 

Again, every song was incredible.  I thought to myself “there HAS to be other bands like this as well.”  Yep, there were. 

There are so many bands and record labels to mention, but Jimmy Eat World and Saves the Day rose to the top alongside The Get Up Kids.  Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity and Saves the Day’s Through Being Cool also were released in 1999.  I listened to both of these albums cover-to-cover on first listen.  What was happening?  I had never experienced this before – an amazing lineup of amazing music and albums NOT ON THE RADIO in such a short period of time. 

I had grown accustomed to listening to albums with one hit song surrounded by what I categorize as “I guess we should record 9 more tracks” songs.  Over the course of the previous 6 years, I had listened to one album cover-to-cover on first listen and that was Foo Fighters The Colour and the Shape. Yet in a couple months, I had listened to three incredible albums cover-to-cover. 

I got goosebumps the first time I heard Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity.  When Jim Adkins comes in with “Lead my skeptic sight” towards the end of “Table for Glasses,” it still gives me the chills 20+ years later.  Almost like I am hearing it again for the first time. 

Jimmy Eat World is best known in the general public for “The Middle,” the hit single off their 2001 Bleed American album.  But before “The Middle” there was Clarity, one of the most incredible albums I have ever heard.  Footnote: listen to/watch the live version of “Goodbye Sky Harbor” if you get a chance. 

Now, back to TGUK, because I could also go on and on about Clarity, Saves the Day, and all the other bands from Vagrant Records, Deep Elm Records, Doghouse Records, Jade Tree Records, Drive-Thru Records, etc.

The Get Up Kids put me on this path of listening to music that wasn’t on the radio.  I didn’t become one of these “if you are on the radio, you are a sellout” person.  I just happened to begin listening to bands that just so happened to not be on the radio, for the most part.

In addition to inspiring a new taste in music, TGUK unintentionally provided some of the most memorable moments and events in life.  In chronological order:

  • I joined a band in college.  We all had a common love of bands like The Get Up Kids, Hot Water Music, and Jimmy Eat World.  We were called Soviet Space and we did alright.  We had a decent presence in the Dallas-Fort Worth music scene, and our biggest claim to fame was being accepted to play SXSW in 2002. We made the Austin Chronicle’s SXSW “sleepers” list, which I am very proud of, even though the Chronicle didn’t like Fort Worth too much.It was also clear to our critics where our inspirations came from.In addition to influencing our songwriting, we often covered “Ten Minutes” from The Get Up Kids and “No Sensitivity” from Jimmy Eat World during our live shows.
  • One of the most memorable nights in college was going to see The Get Up Kids at a place in Dallas called The Door.  The venue’s air conditioner broke.  It must have been 95 degrees outside, but The Get Up Kids played an awesome sweat-laden set.   I lost my voice singing along loudly to every single song. 
  • We went to see The Get Up Kids live, again. This time they were the opening act for Green Day. We went to the Bronco Bowl in Dallas. Unlike The Door experience, the air conditioner worked, but we also had a freshly recorded cd in hand. While The Get Up Kids were playing, one of my friends (the drummer in our band) went to the front of the stage and yelled for the attention of guitar player Jim Suptic. He looked up as my friend tossed our cd to Jim Suptic. After catching it, I vividly remember Suptic placing the cd on top of his amp. I have no idea what happened with that cd, but that was a really cool moment, regardless. Also, we left before Green Day came on.
  • My wedding reception ended with “I’ll Catch You,” the last song from Something to Write Home About
  • A few years ago, I found a website called Downwrite.  What an amazing concept!  You can commission singer/songwriters to write customized songs for you.  I went to the site, and low and behold there was Matt Pryor from The Get Up Kids listed.  Naturally, I commissioned Matt Pryor to write a customized song for my wife’s birthday.  To all the people out there looking for a unique gift for your significant other, YOU ARE WELCOME!!!! 
  • A couple years ago, I went to see The Get Up Kids in Austin at a venue called The Mohawk.  My friends and our significant others had been drinking all day, using Uber of course, before arriving at the show.  This was an amazing day and night.  I sang every word to every song, like I was 20 years old again at The Door in Dallas.   

FYI, through The Get Up Kids, I “found” bands like:

Jimmy Eat World, Saves the Day, The Promise Ring, Hot Water Music, Hey Mercedes, Braid, Alkaline Trio, American Football, Texas is the Reason, Hot Rod Circuit, Thrice, Rocket from the Crypt, Boys Life, Jawbox, Hum, Sunny Day Real Estate, The Ataris, The Anniversary, Against Me!, The Appleseed Cast, Cursive, Mineral, The Casket Lottery, Cross My Heart, Glassjaw, and so many more.

There are not many bands that stand the test of time.  Bands and music come and go in our lives.  But there are certain bands and/or songs that hold (and will forever hold) a special place in our memory.  The Get Up Kids is that band and “I’m a Loner Dottie, A Rebel” is that song.

 I can’t imagine life without the bands and music that stemmed from my first listen to The Get Up Kids, and I have Matt from the house party in 1999 to thank for all of this.  To Matt from the house party, wherever you are – thank you!

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