2003 was significant for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it was the year in which my older son graduated from high school then started college at Butler University. The other reason was that the HSE boys track team was becoming formidable. Not a bad year for a guy who also turned 40 at the same time.
Like I said earlier, Graham was the first family member since my maternal grandmother to attend a college other than Ball State. And, as I stated earlier, they both attended Butler. That university was a good fit for Graham in that it was small and held him to a high academic standard. He actually graduated in four years, which is uncommon these days. Unfortunately, it took him nearly another decade to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. But, that happens to be common with the men in my family. Now, he has a great job, a great wife who he met at Butler and a budding family.
As far as track was concerned, we had turned a corner in 2003 and were being recognized by other coaches and programs as an up-and-coming program. Much like what happened at Alexandria after three years with the program, HSE won the school’s first Hoosier Crossroads Conference championship, and their first track team conference championship since the Eighties. Finally, we were beginning to be on par with the girls team who were a state power. It was so rewarding to watch these kids work hard to gain respect from other teams in the state. We were no longer a laughingstock. In three short years, the number of boys in the program had grown from 20 to 80 and would peek at 120 in 2005, my last year with the program. The cool part was this success was now an expectation and not a goal.
What I enjoyed the most about the track team was they liked to do their team warmup exercises while listening to music. Of course, any music the guys submitted had to be edited of “bad” words. And, like all teenage boys, they gave me a CD with a mix of songs, none of which had been edited. Of course, I was blasting it on the stadium speakers, when a F-bomb was dropped. I ran back up the bleachers to take that CD off, but not before 4 more F-bombs had been transmitted across the campus. When I got up to the press box and changed the CD to a more appropriate choice, I walked out only to see the boys and girls teams literally rolling on the track in hysterics over watching my reaction. That was the bonding moment of my team, as well as both teams, which made both programs stronger.
Fortunately for us, the conference meet was at HSE. We were favorites to win the championship, but we had hardly ever been intimidating as a group. Well, that night the guys were unusually quiet at the team meeting, and none of them were on the track when the other schools began to arrive. The only thing I ever told them was that good teams acted confidently whenever they arrived at a meet. They were focused, and something about the team made everyone else watch that team get ready for the meet. I had them watch other ranked teams, both boys and girls, to see how they acted at these invitationals. That night at the 2003 HCC Conference Track Championship, my HSE Royals lined up at the 100-meter dash starting line after the last school arrived. Then, one of the guys pulled out an old boombox, cranked it and started playing Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” as he held the box above his head. The team then walked down the homestretch of the track in front of the grandstands playing that song over and over. The confidently walked around the track to the backstretch until they reached the spot where they had set up their tents for a team camp. Once they put down their equipment, they began an impressive warmup. Those guys had set the tone for the meet and had proceeded to intimidate all of the other teams. Of course, they backed up the entrance with a dominant performance, and they never looked back again. They had arrived, much like the team in Remember the Titans, on their own terms.
And, here is some of the music we were listening to that year.
50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2003). It had been nearly a decade since a new rapper had been this hyped, reminding people of the days of Snoop Dog or Nas arriving on the scene. This was a massive album that year. So much, that my black athletes all gave me a speaking lesson in how to properly say 50’s name (they told me to speak more street and less like a hick!). As far as rap debut albums, this one ranks up there with the immortals like Snoop, Nas, Wu-Tang and Biggie. Eminem was the album’s executive producer, and that made 50 raise his game to mythic proportions. This is a landmark album.
Amy Winehouse – Frank (2003). When Amy Winehouse arrived on the scene with this stellar album, she was unfairly being compared to Macy Gray, only because they both based their music in the jazz, R&B and soul of the past mixed with hip hop of the present, as if they were both an equal mix of Billie Holliday and Lauryn Hill. The difference between the two women was that while Gray’s music had the life sucked out of it by studio perfection, Winehouse had a band of excellent musicians who used loose arrangements that let the music breath and allowed for soloing. On Frank, you can hear Winehouse attempting to come to terms with her talent and vision. While everything had not yet come together, Frank is so original that it pops when compared to the other music of 2003. This woman is a dynamo vocalist and songwriter.
Beyoncé – Dangerously in Love (2003). It is true that Beyoncé was being groomed for the moment – a solo career. After all, she was always presented as the star of Destiny’s Child. But, I truly don’t believe anyone outside of her camp was quite ready for the quantum leap she would make as a solo artist. She went toe-to-toe with her future husband on the brilliant song “Crazy in Love,” which was her clearly stated theme for her solo career. She was going to be a tough, independent diva who was not going to be afraid to take artistic chances. An in retrospect, this was just the beginning.
Fountains of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers (2003). The power pop/pop punk album of the year, if not the decade, the Fountains of Wayne finally put together their immense promise into one helluva album. Of course, “Stacy’s Mom” is rightfully the hit to remember, but the rest of the songs are just a focused and full of hooks. Outside of their fantastic work on That Thing You Do soundtrack, this is Chris Collingwood and the late Adam Schlesinger’s finest artistic moment, as the toned down their goofball side and played up their melodic brilliance.
Jay-Z – The Black Album (2003). If I had a dollar for every time an artist stated their were retiring after a particular album or tour, I would be a very wealthy man. This time, Jay-Z was going around saying this album was the last time he would be spitting his stellar rhymes over his dope beats. If it were so, then Jay-Z was going out on top. Jay even showed that he could out rock Kid Rock with “99 Problems” that samples Billy Squier thanks to producer Rick Rubin. Plus, the rest of the album is Jay-Z challenging himself musically, with a little genre hopping. Of course, Jay would be back soon enough with more classic material in the near future.
Kings of Leon – Youth & Young Manhood (2003). Back when the Kings of Leon first burst onto the scene with this album, they were a group of three brothers and a cousin who had been raised with a traveling preacher. The young men were musical prodigies, so an uncle took them under his wing and exposed them to the greats of rock music. Quickly, the band absorbed these influences while creating their own unique blend of rock with a touch of southern rock mixed in for good measure. They were like a stripped down, punkier version of The Black Crowes that were lighting the critics’ collective fire. This was a promising debut.
Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003). Finally, Outkast became the big commercial success everyone had expected the duo to become for years now. Their blend of all things hip hop, soul, Motown, blues, funk, R&B, rock and pop became all the rage with this Grammy-winning Album of the Year, the first for a rap group (Sorry Eminem! The Marshall Mathers LP truly deserved to be the first.). And, no one could escape the hits “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move,” though they both sound as fresh today as they did 17+ years ago. Not their masterpiece, that goes to Stankonia, but a terrific double album all the same.
The Darkness – Permission to Land (2003). The music world just seemed to be ready for a band that took all of the best parts of glam, metal and hard rock and wrapped it all up in a millennial’s post-modern point of view. All the great stuff is there, from nods to Sweet and Queen to power licks from Judas Priest and Def Leppard. The Darkness was bringing the fun back to rock music just in the nick of time.
The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003). The hard rock/heavy metal groups of this era were all pretty much influenced as much by the dark arty sounds of King Crimson and the musicianship of Rush, as they were by the sheer ferocity of Metallica and Pantera. But, what The Mars Volta did was step things up a notch by blowing it all up beyond stadium proportions to outdoor rock festival proportions. This band is not for the weak of heart.
The White Stripes – Elephant (2003). This album begins with the now-ubiquitous riff of the decade of “Seven Nation Army,” which is a warning that the duo is going to deal with their new-found fame in a different manner altogether. Now, they were turning up the Zeppelin-esque sounds to 11 and heading full force into the blues. This album remains the masterpiece of the band’s illustrious catalog, as its themes continue to resonate through the ages.
Warren Zevon – The Wind (2003). Zevon spent his last few days on this Earth working with his favorite musician friends that he developed throughout his career on an album that would ultimately help him deal with his impending death while maintaining his sarcastic view on life. This is a brilliant statement from a dying man.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell (2003). It must have been nearly as fun to have been a twenty-something to live in NYC during the early part of the 21st century (after 9/11, of course) as I imagined it to have been during the mid-Seventies. The music scenes of both time periods were fertile and innovative, though the more recent one was built upon the foundation of the previous one. So, after The Strokes came the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who were a bit more abrasive in their sound but came packing the same melodic hooks as well. This debut is a thrilling listen, especially since the whole band’s aggressive sound is grounded by the earthy vocals of lead singer Karen O. Once again, this band set the bar too high for them to ever live up to their major label debut.
That’s a wrap! See you next time as continue our trip through the years up to and including 2019. Peace.