Listening Lately: Operation Ivy

Sometime a few weeks ago, I realized it was the 25th anniversary of the release of Energy, Operation Ivy’s only studio album. Really, this idea just suddenly entered my mind, apropos to nothing (did I use apropos right? I always want to use that word and am never quite confident I’ve used it in the right context).


I went to find it in my iTunes catalog, and realized it was it was lost in the great hard drive crash of 2009, and I had never replaced it. I couldn’t believe it had been five years since I’d listened to the album, and was comforted when I remembered the last time I’d heard it have been at my friend Greg’s house in 2011. It had been Mister BS’s birthday weekend, and a big group had stayed and barbecued, and Greg’s air conditioning had gone out and we’d been so sweaty and miserable listening to records and drinking warm beer (and margaritas for me) and having a blast. Greg didn’t realize I had ever been into punk rock, and was surprised I was such a fan as to demand we listen to all 27 tracks on his 1991 re-release version. We’d become friends my junior year of college, when I had mostly outgrown punk rock.

I’d fallen in love with Operation Ivy my freshman year of high school, mostly because I had a huge crush on a senior on the debate team who was also in a local ska band. I (still) have two t-shirts with the album cover. One worn, with paint on it, and a newer (smaller) version I bought when they discontinued the style.

But it hadn’t just been my crush that drove me to punk rock. I’d really loved the short, intense songs and the political, counter-culture lyrics. I always preferred bands with a political message. I loved Anti-flag and Bad Religion. But my favorite was always Operation Ivy.

It’s not that I’m particularly hard core. I had my Hot Topic phase, where I wore band t-shirts and no makeup and dyed my hair random colors and was thin and poor and actually worked at Hot Topic. But I also had a Gordon Lightfoot and a Kenny Logins phase, a Boyz II Men phase and a Mariah Carey phase. I never had good taste in music until I started listening to Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead in junior high, and I was still doing the Macarena with my dad at my uncle’s wedding (there are pictures).

But unlike Radiohead, which I still listen to constantly, I hadn’t pulled out my old punk rock album in years, but for whatever reason, I was struck with an intense, unbidden desire to listen to Energy. When I didn’t find it on my iTunes, I went through all my old CDs that I’ve thought of throwing away a dozen times, and actually found the black and white disc, but it was scratched so badly it wouldn’t play. Instead of finding the songs online or downloading the tracks, I checked the library’s catalog and discovered we did in fact own a copy. It was checked out. I put a hold on it. The album came in last week, just as I was ready to drive to my weekend class.

It was the first really, truly warm day of spring, and I popped that disc into my CD player (which is more complicated than it sounds, and requires tweezers) and rolled the windows down and headed for the highway, speakers blaring.

listening to Operation Ivy's Energy on the 25th anniversary of its release

And what a rush of emotion. Memories of driving in my old Mustang with no destination and it not mattering because gas was only 87 cents a gallon. Images of a time when just a few words could change my whole mood. A time when the freedom to drive with no where to go and a radio blaring was all the freedom I needed.

Sound system gonna bring me back up
One thing that I can depend on

Memories of a town I couldn’t wait to escape.

No (no more)
No (bad town)
No more bad town


That teenage angst about not being understood.

Yelling in my ear, you try to control me
yelling in my ear, you look but you don’t see

Pleas to take warning, but stand together in unity.

listening to Operation Ivy's Energy on the 25th anniversary of its release


And, wow, was the music just as good as I remembered. Hard and fast and fun and everything that a warm Friday afternoon should be, whether you’re fifteen or thirty or seventy.

It was ten years after they’d recorded the album that I’d found it, and latched on to it, and fashioned so much of my identity around those sounds and those words. Fifteen years later when I discovered them again, and realized how different and still the same the version of me I am today is when compared to my teenage self. I also (re-)discovered how this album says it all in just over a half an hour of raucous guitar and the odd horn behind insightful and moving lyrics.


Is there an album you discovered from your teenage years that still resonates with you today?


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