Holes In Our Stories
A Guide To Listening
This album is dedicated to anybody who has put themselves back together after a terrible loss.
The conclusion of this album is that we see our lives as the movies we always wanted them to be only when we die and look back on them. Everything we leave unfinished can be beautiful and cinematic in retrospect. I made this album to not let go of the dream that there’s still a great adventure ahead of me. I will keep writing until it arrives.
There were so many times the last few years when I didn’t think this album would come into existence. I didn’t think I’d ever finish it, and I figured this story would be left on the cutting room floor with no resolution—just like those parts of my past that didn’t get their proper movie script ending. I eventually realized that no conclusion is the best one of all.
I’m happy and proud that this is now released into the world.
Cliff notes & a Map to the Metaphors:
Here’s an explanation of the general themes, motifs, and metaphors on Holes In Our Stories.
I will surely miss some things, but I tried my best for this to be comprehensive.
This is how everything connects.
OVERALL ALBUM SYMBOLS & THEMES
The album as a whole has a metaphor running throughout it about life being a movie. Life never becomes the perfect, movie-like experience we want it to be. Only in death, or at the end of our lives, can we look back and see everything through a new lens: one that is filled with all of the movie-like moments we always longed for in life.
A creaking door sound symbolizes my grandpa, usually in the afterlife. You hear this creaking door sound on Mourn in the pre-chorus and Wrinkles in the third verse.
“Always” on Mourn and Ending Credits symbolizes important people that have permanent meaning in my life.
Annie/Anne is referenced on Break Some Ice, Garden of the Ashes, Mourn, Neighborhood Saints, A Quarter Century, and Wrinkles. We had a cross-country romance that I believed was the great adventure I had always been waiting for.
I met Annie at a summer camp in Virginia which I attended to study songwriting.
My songwriting teacher at the camp was Andrew Rose.
Andrew Rose has an old song called “But I Neglected to Say” which Annie and I would often quote in order to keep in touch during the year after we met at camp. I credit Andrew Rose and this song for jumpstarting our relationship and helping us fall in love. In addition to teaching me songwriting, that’s how he seriously impacted my life.
My grandpa drove me to summer camp. Driving in a van with my grandpa, to camp and later to the airport to fly to visit Annie for the first time, made up some of our most unforgettable memories. I reference us driving together on Mourn and A Quarter Century.
The rainbow that a young girl gave me is referenced on A Quarter Century and Andrew Rose. At camp, we studied the Bob Dylan song “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” in which Bob Dylan is given a rainbow by a young girl. I make the analogy that Annie is the young girl in my story who gives me a rainbow and thus fills my life with color and happiness.
The grim reaper is referenced on Creases and A Quarter Century. It is a symbol of death.
I say that it’s crowded in heaven or paradise on Mourn, Neighborhood Saints, and A Quarter Century. This symbolizes the amount of people we’ve loved who have passed away. So many people have passed in recent years that it now is crowded in the afterlife.
The Great Adventure represents a perfect, fulfilling life that I’ve always been searching for. It is referenced on A Quarter Century numerous times and in my book countless times.
The idea of growing old or being an old man represents me looking back on my life.
Garden of the Ashes is the third and final piece of my Garden song trilogy. The first was Garden of the Gods and the second was Garden of the Angels.
The idea of burning down our relationship’s garden on Garden of the Ashes is also meant as a nod to Ray LaMontagne’s “Burn,” a song we studied at my songwriting camp.
Creases and Wrinkles symbolize the inevitable marks our lives leave on us as we grow up.
A page wrinkling or turning symbolizes a new beginning. This sound opens both Wrinkles and the outro song Holes In Our Stories.
My face being torn up means I have been ripped apart by grief, as it appears on the album’s front cover. This album is the story of me putting myself back together. On the back cover, my face is taped back together again.
Those rips also symbolize the tears or holes in my story that I have fallen into.
A bonfire represents my high school friends.
A lot of things take place in heaven/paradise/the afterlife. In Ending Credits, you’re arriving at the afterlife: a town we nicknamed “heaven.”
Only when our lives are done, and we reach our Ending Credits, do we look back on our lives and see them as the movie they were all along.
We all have holes in our stories, what matters is if you fall into them. Everybody has experienced devastating things that tore them apart, and that they never repaired, patched up, or properly concluded. It doesn’t matter that these things happened, it matters how much you let them affect your life.
INDIVIDUAL SONG SYMBOLS & THEMES
Break Some Ice
“A movie starts.” — coincides with the beginning of the album symbolizing the beginning of the movie of my life playing out. This begins with the start of the great adventure I’ve always been waiting for, which I imagined would finally take place where my old life and my last albums left off.
The cutting room floor reference means that we have reassembled broken pieces of our old lives — such as people we physically lose, like my grandpa in this case — into new footage which comprises the movie we now see. The future is made up of fragments of the past. This continues the movie theme.
Referring to my twenties as The Roaring Twenties is an ongoing theme of mine. I first mentioned this concept in my song “The Window Seat.” Also, in “The Best Fears of Our Lives,” I talk about beating a Great Depression which historically followed the 20s.
Break Some Ice is written through the lens of a metaphor of being frozen. I felt like I was frozen in time the last few years, permanently stuck in the drama of my nineteen-year-old self while everyone grew up around me. I play with this metaphor throughout the song by making puns on my writer’s block thawing like a block of ice and imagining my adult experiences to be those of a child explorer floating across an ocean on a block of ice. My experiences make me an explorer by sending me to places I never could have imagined. They’re leading me to an “unnamed ocean,” somewhere that has yet to be discovered.
“I want to see you drifting.” — The conclusion of this song continues playing into the metaphor of being frozen but also implies that drifting in your twenties, or trying new things in your life without clear direction, is better than going nowhere at all. I want to see my listeners move forward in their lives because of my deep regret for having stayed stagnant for so long. If drifting is the only way to go, even if you do not know where you are headed in life, I want to see you drifting and no longer being afraid.
"New York where it always snows.” — This line references “NY where it always snows,” the title of an unreleased song that I wrote while living upstate and writing the beginning of this album.
“My unpainted bedroom walls.” — Around the ninth grade, when we had recently moved to a new town, my mom gave me paint buckets for my new bedroom and said I could do whatever I wanted with the walls. So I invited over two of my best friends and we scribbled lyrics everywhere. That’s the room you see on my first-ever album cover of ‘A Living Inverse.’ The walls remained that way for the entirety of my high school experience and always represented to me how walls would look in the room of someone who was experiencing a perfect coming- of-age adventure.
All of the “first time” experiences on Break Some Ice mirror the other first times on the album, such as the anthemic list from the chorus of Fingerprints. This also plays into the ongoing motif of starting over that runs throughout the album.
“Through the altitudes of gods.” — Annie is from Colorado, home to the Garden of the Gods and a land filled with mountains at very high altitudes compared to New York. Those altitudes are so high that they belong to the gods.
“I only see her when I travel through my albums, through my songs.” — Because we had a long-distance relationship, I used to only see Annie when I traveled to visit her. Now I only see her when I travel back in time through my old discography which holds our memories hostage.
“Trying on the costumes in my attic like they’re my grief.” I almost called this album Give Up The Grief.
“As I pass Molly’s house again.” — Often when I was living at home with my mom, I would pass my old high school sweetheart’s house and see the kitchen light on late at night. Her mom worked long hours as a nurse just like my mom. My imagination would jump to both of our moms not finding true love, much like how Molly and I didn’t work out, and I’d wonder if love is as faint for all of us as the faint glow of Molly’s mom’s kitchen light.
The Great Adventure is another term for the type of fulfilling, movie-like life I have always daydreamed of and searched for. As I face reality in my twenties and believe I still have not experienced this perfect adventure, I list off the challenging and heartbreaking aspects of real life as the “the pains that I take with the great adventure.” These pains include the fact that true love is so difficult to find, that loved ones pass away, and that it’s possible for anyone to get stuck for so long without moving on.
I went to Catholic school for eight years as a kid. It’s hard to believe.
My seven deadly sins don’t necessarily represent seven specific things. They simply represent
anything I loved that may have been misunderstood by others in my childhood, from my love for underground hip-hop to misbehaving in a strict elementary school environment. I once got sent to the principal’s office for swearing.
“Friends who got holes in their parachutes.” — Throughout the album, I explain the metaphor of holes using many different examples. People with holes in their parachutes are those who tried to get somewhere in life and failed, like myself from the perspective of my insecurities. This could also include friends who fell into drug addiction or other destructive paths in their twenties and therefore couldn’t fly.
“New beginnings, old friends.” — I am constantly looking for a way to look at my relationships with my old, lost friends in a new light. Who says it’s impossible for us to have second winds where we can know each other as something different?
“Old beginnings, new friends.” — Later in the song, I say the reverse of the earlier line. Who says it’s impossible to feel the same fulfillment with your new, current friends that you used to feel with the old friends you loved and lost?
“Hilltop Drive.” — Ghost’s old street. Ghost is my childhood best friend and a recurring character in many of my songs including The Book Report, Keep Your Friends Close, and The Glory Years.
Creases in general is about getting older, which I have been fascinated with since I was a young kid. I have a song I wrote but never recorded called “Old Man” in which I first used the Creases lyrics. The end of that demo goes, “You’re still a young man if you can believe it, you just have creases all over you that look like streets, and they lead us nowhere.” From this, the current Creases lyrics were born.
I wanted a song about getting older on both the beginning and end of the album so that the whole album could feel cyclical, as if it covers birth, then death, then birth and death again, etc. in an infinite loop. Creases on the front end and Wrinkles on the back end balance that concept out for me.
The Grim Reaper has been on my mind since I was a child. The Grim Reaper is of course a way to personify death, which over the course of the album comes for my grandpa, my friends, my mom’s boyfriend’s mother, and ultimately me. I used to obsessively draw grim reaper cartoon figures in the fourth grade. I drew them so often that my mom got me a present for Christmas that year: sketch artist business cards which my grandpa had printed that included little icons of my grim reaper character on them.
“We ascend through rebirths.” — This is a real conversation my mom’s old boyfriend and I had at his mother’s wake. It had been a while since we had seen each other but I traveled home to be there. He told me I looked like I was doing a lot better since the days when we lived together. He said something to the effect of how his mom passing could be a rebirth for him in his life, and that it looked like I was experiencing a rebirth of my own coincidentally at the same time. I knew the moment he said it that it was going to end up in a song.
“I want to start all over my friend.” — The repeated ways I address a friend, like “where do we go from here my friend” on “Break Some Ice,” are intended to be a continuation of my music taking place from the perspective of letters. A lot of times the old friend I’m writing to is Annie, with the origin of this concept being the entire theme behind the album “Keep Your Friends Close.” Sometimes though, I am simply referring to whoever is listening to the music.
“We all had a golden ticket that wasn’t ours to cash.” — As I explain in my book, I naively always believed I would find a simple golden ticket that would take me out of my current life. I thought my cross-country romance with Annie was my golden ticket out. In reality, it wasn’t my answer to everything and wasn’t my ticket to cash. It’s important to be patient and wait for your own independent reasons to feel like your life is complete.
“I could see the whole world rotate from that ferris wheel in Iowa.” — On one of my trips to visit Annie, we went to a small theme park on a lake in Iowa and rode a ferris wheel that gave us a view of what felt like the entire world: the town, the lake and its boats, the forest, the theme park. This theme park and the evening I spent here always felt to me like a tiny piece of the coming-of-age adventure I constantly wanted to have.
“Never tie up your life with loose ends.” — Don’t let the unfinished things in your life become what you base your whole life on. Chances are the other people in those loose ends aren’t still waiting for you. In other words, don’t get hung up.
Lastly, the repetition of “start all over” is intentional, meant to symbolize how never-ending a process it is to look for a new beginning. I want to start all over in the sense of wanting to relive my old life and happy memories, but I also want to start all over in the sense of finally getting a new, clean slate in life without any baggage.
Garden of the Ashes
This song is the third and final installment in the Garden trilogy, with Garden of the Gods being the first and Garden of the Angels being the second. These songs began with a letter and a videotape of me performing a song I wrote and recorded for Annie with a lot of hidden meaning about my love for her. The voicemail you hear at the end of the first two Garden songs is her real voicemail calling me in response to that letter and song. I wanted to write this final song as a way of giving myself closure — at least our story can have closure in the world of my music even if it wasn’t afforded it in the real world.
“When we meet again, we will not be strangers anymore.” A nod to Garden of the Angels. Annie and I used to say we were Strangers because of our long distance relationship. I always imagined someday, even if death and the afterlife will be the first time it will happen, we would finally live close enough to each other to get a chance to not be strangers anymore.
Garden of the Gods is a monument in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Go visit it once in your lifetime. Here are the coordinates: 38.8784° N, 104.8698° W.
I used to think my love with Annie was timeless and majestic like the stone gods of the Garden of the Gods. I turned that into a metaphor to represent our relationship by playing with the word garden. Now, after burning for Annie for so long, our garden is nothing but ashes because it has burnt down.
The concept of burning is also an homage to a song that had a lot of meaning to Annie and me. We studied the song “Burn” by Ray LaMontagne in songwriting class at at the summer camp where we met.
I left out the word “cancer” which would be a natural rhyme to end the unfinished line in the second verse. Annie and I used to not say that word, as if it was superstitious, to not give it power. In Garden of the Angels, you hear me say “I would never say that word.” I didn’t want to break my promise.
“All the forbidden words that hit you first.” — Meaning when my grandpa got cancer, I felt like for the first time I began to understand the depth, meaning, and pain of a loved one having cancer which Annie had experienced years earlier.
Six word autobiographies were a game we played at the summer camp where we met, and they later held special, significant meaning for us. Years after writing them together at camp, we confessed our love for each other using six word autobiographies on mattress beds in my old bedroom sanctuary. I am revisiting that concept with the six words that finish the verse in my attempt to show how much our relationship’s impact on me has changed my life.
Miracle song: I always imagined one last song (or maybe a full album) about Annie would have miraculous power enough to bring her back. Of course, that’s not the case in reality. In the bridge of this song, I acknowledge that I’m clearly alone as I’m finally singing my one last miracle song. No one else is listening, but I will still write songs about it and burn for our relationship every chance I get.
A lot of this album imagines the afterlife and what things will be like there. It’s cloudy in heaven because of the sadness that fills the world when you lose someone, but it’s also crowded in heaven because of how many people we’ve lost. More on this later.
It also rained for about three days when Pops died.
On Mourn, I wanted to capture the sounds of a church. My grandpa was religious and loved
by the community enough to have both his wake and funeral in a small town church. It is a large building and there was an echoing, ghostlike sound to the services. I wanted to create the feeling of those days in that church with the background choir vocals and somber electric keyboard parts.
His battle with cancer lasted a very long time and was very tough. It only ended when the angels came to take him out of Orange County, New York.
I was a pallbearer at his funeral with my brothers and my cousins. Lifting the casket was both physically and emotionally a lot harder than I thought. I almost cried walking his casket down the aisle.
My grandpa drove me to the songwriting summer camp where I met Annie in high school and where I learned to write songs from Andrew Rose, thus changing my life forever. Our road trip down the east coast refers to this car ride. It felt like a coming-of-age journey.
My grandpa would say the rosary (and ask you to participate) every time you were ever in the car with him. We did this on our journey south to Virginia.
He was obsessed with listening to the AM radio traffic reports.
The “always” here is layered by numerous background vocals to tie into the one that closes Ending Credits and repeats throughout my book. “Always” represents people who deserve to be in my ending credits. I originally wanted to go much further with this motif but didn’t want to force it.
At 1:50, the creaking noise is a door opening. We used that same sound repeatedly throughout the album to symbolize my grandpa in the afterlife. You can also hear it on Wrinkles in the third verse when I spend a day up in heaven and see my grandpa there.
“Let’s mourn.” — I imagine myself in the future looking back on how we have killed so much time doing nothing with our lives because of the grief that kept us still. We look back and mourn our lost time in the same way we mourn the people who passed away and caused the onset of that grief in the first place. I was trying to capture this irony with my chorus lyrics.
My posture sucks.
The devils will take me out of Orange County because I’m not as good of a man as my grandpa was.
Just Wandering ’Round was the name of my grandpa’s weekly column in the local paper. When the devils come for me, they’ll find me Just Wandering ’Round again. I also refer to this on A Quarter Century.
Dying isn’t like the movies. Another example of the overall album theme that our lives aren’t the cinematic, coming-of-age movies we dream them to be.
Hugging him on his death bed. Pretty self-explanatory. My grandpa was so weak at the end of his days of being sick that I didn’t want to hug him too hard and hurt him. In retrospect, I wish I didn’t hold back.
My grandpa was a printer who ran our family print shop. Many of our memories together involve the print shop. My grandpa seemed to have permanent ink stains on his hands. I envision myself also dying with ink on my hands, meaning dying from my passion for music and writing. However, I want to go even further and die with blood on my hands, meaning to live such a passionate and adventurous life that it’s warlike, and the same blood that I will spill throughout my journey is that which I’ve inherited from my grandpa.
My grandpa came to many of my shows and rap battles and would photograph the events for the local paper. They buried him with his film camera.
There is a street sign named after my grandpa in his honor in Washingtonville, NY. Go visit it once in your lifetime. Here are the coordinates to John Spear Way: 41.430952° N, 74.178029° W.
Many people from our town have passed away since high school. I imagine them as the saints of our neighborhood.
This song comes right after Mourn to imply that my grandpa is one of our neighborhood saints.
Ghost and I, on Hilltop Drive, once jumped out of his second story bathroom window to go meet two girls late at night without us waking his family up. It physically hurt a lot to jump out of the window and land in his backyard. There was broken glass everywhere. I say that not every leap of faith in life needs to hurt as much as taking that one did.
I compare us sprinting through the woods behind Ghost’s house to sprinting through our late teen years and early twenties.
My dad really did once tell me that I might not know what home is in my early twenties.
After one of our friends died and we attended his wake, my high school buddies and I went to a local bar and shared a drink in his memory. Coincidentally, this was the day Everything Gets Old was released.
We used to have many bonfires together as high school friends. Bonfires symbolize my high school friends throughout this album and the good times we used to have.
“There’s no cure for being homesick when it hits your veins” refers to drug addiction which is a growing epidemic in our upstate town.
“I just hope I get the chance to start again.” — Just like on Creases, I hope I can start all over again. If not in life, then in death when the saints go marching in.
Throughout the song, I am mourning the death of our old lives as well as the lives of those we loved.
At the start of the second verse, I imagine myself and Ghost, years after jumping out of the window together, sharing bad news from the last few years that definitively shows our old lives and old adventures have started to die out. That adventure we once had has now gotten old or turned wise.
Some of the only times I saw my old friends during the years of my early twenties were at wakes and funerals for people we knew. I remember seeing my old Catholic school classmates at a wake, and being shocked that we were once kids who experienced first times together and now are experiencing death for the first time together. Everyone, no matter their age, is like a kid when they face death for the first time.
Those neighborhood wakes were extremely heartbreaking, silent, and cold. I saw my old friend’s face in a memorial room, seemingly trapped now forever in wooden picture frames.
When I die, disburse my body and soul and give a piece of it to each person who deserves to be in my ending credits: Alaska Sun, Anne, Regina, Kia Ro, Ricky who drew Becky from the Warm Shore in Ithaca, Elaine, Sam, my mom, and so many others.
My mom is very spiritual and for years would read my and my brothers’ fingerprints while sitting at the kitchen table. I joke that if she could really see inside the meaning of mine, she’d be able to unfold all of my pain. These experiences with my mom were why I wanted to name a song Fingerprints.
“When we get to heaven, we’ll know a whole lot of saints.” — We’ve lost so many people that we’ll already have quite a lot of friends when we eventually die and arrive in heaven. I first introduce this concept on Mourn by saying it’s crowded in heaven and I continue it on the next track, A Quarter Century.
Rest in peace to both the people we have lost and the lives that died inside of us. Both of them mark the loss of good people who left our lives.
A Quarter Century
This song cycles through the phases that have defined my life while waiting for the great adventure: young and reckless high school adventures, my long-distance relationship with Annie, the loss of my grandpa, and my own struggle to find my identity and place in the world. I am trying to make sense of life and death and I haven’t found the meaning of either.
This is my favorite song on the album. It was originally called Great Adventure.
I wrote this right before my twenty-fifth birthday. The album is supposed to cover my years before and after turning twenty five, so I reach a quarter century during the course of the album.
All of my friends are getting high and speeding up their heart rates, while I’m concerned with the speed of life and how it goes by too fast.
Sneaking out of the house refers to the scene with Ghost and I in Neighborhood Saints.
A captain of our friend group passed away and we all saw each other at the wake.
At seventeen, Annie gave me a rainbow that colored my entire life with vibrancy. This is a reference to the young girl who gave Bob Dylan a rainbow in a “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” which is a song we studied at camp. More on this later.
I used to refer to my room at my dad’s house as my sanctuary because it felt so peaceful. On beds in that sanctuary is where Annie and I spent many special moments and said our six word autobiographies.
In retrospect, the poetry and songs that I mailed Annie were probably pretty literal and their meaning wasn’t so hidden after all, hence me calling them black-and-white airport poetry.
I finally wrote our book. It’s called Revive the Great Adventure.
As you know from Mourn, my posture is bad and good posture symbolizes hard work. I hope Annie’s new boyfriend has posture as strong as the Colorado mountains.
I can draw Annie anything her heart desires — a sun, a sea.
Until our great adventure revives and starts up again, we will always be stuck in our separate, long-distance locations.
Just Wandering ’Round was the name of my grandpa’s weekly column in the local paper. I imagine him in heaven Just Wandering ’Round again, like I am in the second verse on Mourn.
My grandpa was a basketball coach for his entire life and ran a local program where kids could play recreational basketball at an extremely low cost. He also coached travel teams. My mom is an incredible basketball player. I imagine my grandpa telling his new friends in heaven about the teams he used to coach and how amazing my mom’s jump shot was.
I tell my grandpa that the town will name the streets after him, as it eventually did.
I helped my uncle write my grandpa’s eulogy when he passed.
My grandpa and I raced in his van on the highway to the airport for my first time flying alone to visit Annie in Colorado. We raced because we were late for the flight after hitting a traffic jam. As I explain in my book, I somehow made it there in time by sprinting past the airport security lines and from my grandpa racing so fast down the highway.
Once again, as on Mourn and Neighborhood Saints, I imagine heaven to be crowded because of how many people we’ve lost. I hope my grandpa can find somewhere else to go if paradise is too crowded for him.
I know he’ll find his place in the sun, because I see him in my shadow. I see him in who I am today, so I imagine that he has found his place in the afterlife where he is looking down.
I imagine the grim reaper catching up with me like I asked him to in Creases.
I have always told myself the big picture is going to unveil itself someday as if my whole life has been one huge parable. In reality, I know this is wishful thinking.
My footnotes — or the extra things that still bother me about my old life — still have cuts and need bandages. They haven’t been healed or resolved. No matter how big or small, they still haunt me.
I don’t feel like I am where I wanted to be on my twenty-fifth birthday, so it feels like the hand- me-down emotion from previous generations must not fit me.
It’s just a quarter century kid, you can’t be sick of it yet.
The great adventure doesn’t ever arrive.
This song plays with the metaphor of crime. Broken hearts and growing up are crimes. I first introduced this concept with the ending lines of The Window Seat, “Grand larceny, you stole my damn heart from me.”
The parking lot princess and the man in the moon represent an eerie, bleak suburban setting where a high school girl never found love but dances alone in a parking lot. The man in the moon watches her and doesn’t want to come out in the sky yet, because he wants her peaceful evening to never end.
For twenty four years, I’ve been leaning with my back against a car and my hands in my pockets and haven’t been taking action. All I do is write and dwell on the worlds inside of my notebooks.
My town has never had a prophet. Therefore, everybody thinks they are going to be the first prophet from our town. In reality, that’s nonsense, and I don’t want to pay it any mind.
I’ve been running from my first broken heart for so long that my legs are two aching limbs and I need a first aid kit to repair the bleeding.
I proudly showcase the first experiences I had that upset me by keeping my first broken bones out in the open beside me.
Due to the beginning of the cold weather at the start of autumn, color leaves my face and transfers to the trees which notoriously change color in upstate New York. My world gets more black and white the farther I get from my old life and old happiness.
A Quarter Century of our lives is packed into cardboard boxes, as we are moving on to a new era.
I am the suicide singer. I tried to give myself time to grow and to experience real life before writing a new album about it. Instead, it felt like I was sacrificing everything. The highs and lows are what define life.
I dreamed while not doing anything and standing still with my feet on cold bathroom tiles. Before I know it, I’ll be an old man at the end of my life waiting for my train of death to arrive.
Ever since I was a kid, I have mourned the loss of a sense of home. It began with my parents breaking up and was probably amplified by moving from house to house throughout my childhood. I try to acknowledge now that my old sense of home isn’t permanently gone and can be recreated if I discover a new place in my head that will provide that sense of happiness.
This song originally began as a real letter I typed on a typewriter and planned to mail Andrew Rose to tell him how much he has impacted my life. I explain this in detail in my book. This song is now my letter to Andrew Rose.
Andrew Rose is a folk artist who was my songwriting teacher at the Virginia summer camp where I learned to write songs and where I first met Annie. The camp is called the Young Writers Workshop, which is why this song is a letter from a Young Writer to Andrew Rose.
Andrew Rose gave me more than the ability to write songs: he gave me longevity with Annie. He performed his song at camp called “But I Neglected to Say,” and the lyrics of it became the mantra of our long-distance relationship. Before we admitted we liked each other, and we were still largely strangers, Annie and I would constantly text each other the lyrics: “I neglected to mention you’re on my mind, all the time.” I reference this lyric on Garden of the Angels.
The beat for Andrew Rose samples that song from 2009, “But I Neglected to Say.”
I wrote this song in my dad’s old house, the house I most associate with the idea of home. My family lived there all together when I was a kid. The house was being sold when I went to visit for a few last times and wrote my letter to Andrew Rose, pieces of the original lyrics to Mourn, and filmed a video for A Quarter Century.
I used the pedal steel guitar parts to capture the southern, country feeling of summer camp in Virginia.
As magical of an experience as camp was, I didn’t want to go back the second year because I knew it couldn’t live up to the first year. If I knew now that I would daydream about it for years to come, I would have gone back again.
My grandpa and I drove there in a Volkswagen van that he used for motocross racing.
Annie taught me how to “old fashion dance” on a coffeeshop floor at camp.
The sun rising for Young Writers has two meanings. On the last night of camp, there is a ritual where you stay up all night without sleeping and watch the sunrise on the lawn the next morning. We referred to this tradition as Dawn on the Lawn, which you hear me mention on Garden of the Angels in “to illustrate the dawn’s beauty when the lawn lit up.” Annie and I stayed up all night together and I largely credit this evening with giving our relationship a lot of momentum. Another meaning is that for people who are young and inspired and pursuing their dream of writing, the sun simply seems to rise higher than for the rest of society.
Some things are better left unsent. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told this to Andrew Rose or confessed my love to Annie.
We might both die young. In other words, Andrew Rose and I will live unpredictable lives as musicians, like poets who die young. Our songs will outlast us. I was named after the poet Dylan Thomas who died at thirty nine.
I fell out of touch with Andrew Rose and the other beautiful characters I met at camp in the years after attending. I wonder where he went and imagine him lost as an unknown traveler with only his guitar.
“May the light of a dead rock star take you home.” — We studied many great songwriters at camp, who I playfully refer to as rock stars. These included Bob Dylan, Daniel Johnston, Leonard Cohen, Regina Spektor, Ray LaMontagne, and so many more. I hope that Andrew Rose’s insight on these great writers can lead him to where he wants to go in life. Of course, this plays on the idea of how stars that are already dead still shine and we often wish upon them for the things we want.
Inside of my heart is the only place that time cannot change. My body will get wrinkles and creases but my feelings on camp, Andrew Rose, and the great adventure will remain the same.
The bridge of Ray LaMontagne’s song “Burn” always fascinated me. We studied this at camp. I reference it in Garden of the Ashes. This line has a double meaning for how the final evening’s sunrise tradition was so bright and warm that it could burn bridges.
Songwriting, which Andrew Rose taught me, is everything I know. I can’t type the letter to him because I only know how to express myself in song form.
The young girl who gave me a rainbow is Annie — she gave me happiness that lit up my life and filled it with color. This refers again to the young girl who gives Bob Dylan a rainbow in “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” which we studied at camp and I reference on A Quarter Century.
“We can live forever in the stories that we’ve told.” — Andrew Rose told an unforgettable, hilarious story on the final night of camp that was forty-five minutes long and as perfectly crafted as a stand-up comedy set. His story will live forever in all of our minds. I will have a chance to live forever in the story of my album that I’m telling in the present day. Our stories don’t get old, but we do.
This song marks the beginning of a change in the album, where I see my life as a fresh start and begin living in the present moment with the days of camp and my old relationship behind me.
“Promise me you won’t get wrinkles before me.” — I love you so much that I want you to stay young forever, even when I’ve grown old and life has passed me by.
I feel like I’ve slept through most of my adult life. On the days where I overslept, my time to pursue my dreams in the real world was much shorter.
I feel like I am the only person who has been left behind by life and my past, stuck in a younger version of myself while everyone else grows up. This younger version of me will never get wrinkles, so I implore the listener and the characters in the song to not move on without me.
The sky in Colorado seems to have its own unique shade of watercolor blue. This is the same color my face turns when I lose somebody and it reminds me of losing my first true love.
At 1:25, the door creaking noise represents me seeing my grandpa in the afterlife. This same sound effect appears on Mourn.
“Honestly, we won’t be here for much longer.” — Our lives aren’t going to last that long, so you should tell the people you love that you love them and try the things that terrify you.
I’m a nowhere kid from a nowhere town, which I also say in the second verse of Creases.
My friends and people I loved who have passed away will never get wrinkles, because they
didn’t ever get the opportunity to grow old. Therefore, by passing away, they fulfill the promise of not getting wrinkles before me. They get to stay young forever, and sadly, it’s only in death that they do.
If my friends did get wrinkles before me, I would be lonely for the rest of our lives because I’d be the only person who is stuck in one age forever. I mention myself being stuck this way on Break Some Ice and in many other places on the album. I am not alone in my permanently youthful perspective, however, because the people I’ve lost were frozen in time that way, too.
The Only Torn-Up Boy in New York
This song outlines all of the things that have informed the perspective of my music: a heavy heart, a broken home, memories that fell apart, my medicine drawers, and the parking lot imagery of the small towns of my childhood.
The saints of the summer originally was another name for Neighborhood Saints. I often felt guilty for not visiting my grandpa enough before he passed away.
A big idea can come out of a small town.
I felt like the only boy in New York who still lived at home during my lonely years after college.
New York never gave me closure on the things that haunted me.
I confessed my love to Annie in the original Garden of the Gods mailing package, but I must have had the wrong address because it didn’t end up the way I dreamed.
In my mind, I nickname the years in which I lived at home “grief season.” I lost my grandpa to cancer, lost friends and watched friends lose people they loved, and another family member of mine had cancer at the same time. This is what I mean by “the season of getting sick to your stomach.”
My face is torn apart from grief season, as it appears on the front album cover.
My soul used to be a protected, private place with a fence around it, but now it’s been vandalized and spray painted with graffiti.
The falling out I had with Annie caused an avalanche. I will let its lessons carry me through the rest of time.
“Adult lessons” is just a compound word of “adolescence.” I learned about adult-like things such as heartbreak at an early age.
We may never climb out of the holes in our stories that we’ve fallen into.
I’m not alone because all of New York and the tristate region is resting on my collarbone.
Blackout poetry involves crossing out everything besides the right words. I imagine myself drunk and lost and in a state of self-sabotage on my quest to see only the right words I’ve been searching for to compose this album.
“Here I am, another person torn up.” — Back in my memories before I experienced grief season, I felt like I was the only person who hadn’t yet been ripped apart by grief and heartbreak and other sad realities. In other words, I hadn’t gotten wrinkles yet. At the end of this song, though, I am starting to acknowledge that I am now torn up by life just like everyone else.
“This is how it feels to start something over.” — Like on Creases and Neighborhood Saints, I refer to my life now as starting over again. Putting myself back together has given me a new beginning.
We all get lost on our course, and a lot of people don’t ever find closure or find their way back to themselves. Now that I feel like I am on the path back to myself after being torn up, I feel as if I am the only boy who is alive in New York.
As a kid, I lived with my grandparents for some time and there was a “Simon and Garfunkel: The Concert in Central Park” poster on the back of the door to my room. I would fall asleep many nights dreaming of that poster, and now I am living out the concept of being “The Only Living Boy in New York,” a highly loved song of theirs.
Bones and Ribs
Aidan and I both experienced similar things in our time living in New York City, and so I asked him to join me on this song.
When you’ve lost yourself to a great extent, you can barely recognize yourself in the mirror. Aidan and I were both avid runners around this time in our lives, and we would each run feverishly along the East River or through the city in attempts to escape our current lives as we grew increasingly unhappy with the present time.
When you change who you are, you may wear different clothes, but you still have the same problems beneath them.
This song is about me trying so hard to block out loneliness in my life — through running, walking alone on New York City rooftops, looking for poetry in everything — that I strip away all of the happiness in my life and am left with only its bare-boned core: a skeleton of an old version of me.
By the end of the song, I am attempting to acknowledge that I have gotten older, but that it’s okay to change. I’m no longer the same kid I used to be.
The wind drives this concept home by reminding me of old relatives at family gatherings who pinch my cheek and tell me “you’ve gotten older, kid.”
“The times you won’t remember.” — Those people who were involved with impacting my life so much may not even remember the times that have been so important and dear to my heart.
“Still broken from the pain we had as kids.” — The chips in the bones of my skeleton first started in my childhood, and they continuously impact me today.
This song, of course, takes place in a movie theater.
The town we nicknamed heaven refers to death. I imagine myself and someone I love driving through the afterlife, and it looks a lot like a heartwarming small town.
The concept concludes the album: when looking back on our lives, we finally see them for the movie they were meant to be all along.
The bags under my eyes is a repeating motif that I have used on The Book Report, this song, and will use on a future song called Parachute Kid. It’s my mission in life to use every possible “bags under my eyes” pun in my music.
The “always” that repeats is a motif that first appeared on Mourn. It represents people that I’d want to be in the ending credits of my movie and have helped make me who I am. The person I love in this song deserves to be in there just like my grandparents do.
Everybody has moments in life where they wish they could close their eyes like children do during frightening movie scenes.
In the beginning of the song, we enter the movie theater under a marquee entrance, and in the end, we leave the theater under a marquee exit. That remains up for interpretation.
Holes In Our Stories
This outro is the album’s epilogue.
We all have holes in our stories. Everybody has experienced impactful things that never got repaired, patched up, or reached their proper conclusion.
What matters is if you fall into them. It doesn’t matter that these things happen, it matters how much you get lost in them.
This song cycles through all of the holes we now have at our present age: holes in our stories from general grief, holes in the wall from relationships that ended abruptly, and holes in the concrete where we buried those we have lost.
Anyone who doesn’t have holes in their story by now is alone, because everyone eventually needs to accept that some things in their life will not be given their proper conclusion. No one has a perfect story.
Missing Annie has evolved from longing for her to longing for the person I was when I was with her.
Our bonfires, also referred to on Neighborhood Saints, no longer burn as bright as they used to without all of our old friends being there with us.
We all have creases across our heads, tying back to the chorus idea on the song Creases: that we all end up with permanent marks of life’s impressions on us.
Where do we go from here my friend? This is the same question I ask on Break Some Ice at the beginning of the album. The album is supposed to exist in an infinite loop and this song closes that loop.
Rather than promising me you won’t get wrinkles and get older, simply promise me you won’t fall so deeply into the holes in your story again, the way that I did with mine.
The song ends with The Book Report riff. It’s a symbol of my story continuing. This is the melody that starts my albums Senioritis, Keep Your Friends Close, and There’s More To Life. On this one, it ends the album to symbolize a new beginning.
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