My first car had a tape deck. If I wanted to listen to music on my way to and from high school, I had to (A) create a mixtape of songs in my CD collection, or (B) pull out one of the few albums I actually had on cassette.
One such tape was Sparkle and Fade, the breakthrough 1995 album by Portland, Ore., rock trio Everclear. Equal parts grunge, punk and power-pop, Sparkle and Fade chronicled in confessional detail the broken homes and drugged-out loves of rust-throated frontman Art Alexakis. Sparkle and Fade went platinum thanks to the MTV hit Santa Monica, but cruising along with my cassette, listening to sides A and B front to back, I could sing along to almost every cut — the searing Heroin Girl, the beachy burnout ballad Strawberry, the wistful, hopeful Summerland.
So today, at age 33, I should be squarely in the demographic sights of the Summerland Tour, a '90s nostalgia package with Everclear, Live (Lightning Crashes), Filter (Hey Man, Nice Shot) and Sponge (Molly) that comes to the Mahaffey Theatre on May 30.
But then I studied the lineup more closely. Alexakis, who co-founded the tour, is the last member standing from Everclear's heyday. Ditto for Filter singer Richard Patrick and Sponge singer Vinnie Dombroski. Last year, Live replaced longtime frontman Ed Kowalczyk with new singer Chris Shinn. The songs may sound the same, but the artists performing them are not.
That's when I asked myself: Is there a limit to how much nostalgia I'm willing to be sold, without feeling like I'm being had?
Speaking by phone from Los Angeles, Alexakis says he's never heard Everclear referred to as a legacy act — that is, a band that has essentially retired from making new music and tours on the strength of its catalog.
"There are bands that go out and play nothing but the hits; that's all they play," said Alexakis. "REO Speedwagon and my good friend Kevin Cronin? They go out and they play the hits. Awesome. I would call them a legacy act."
Last year's inaugural Summerland Tour — one of the first tours to capitalize on a cresting wave of '90s nostalgia — starred artists who recorded some of the decade's biggest radio hits: Everclear, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Lit and Marcy Playground. But Alexakis and Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath, who co-founded the tour, had a falling out over how Summerland should evolve.
In February, McGrath told Rolling Stone that he's more or less content to tour Sugar Ray as a legacy act. "I don't want to name any names, but it's hard for people to realize they aren't a relevant recording act anymore," McGrath said. So this year, Sugar Ray formed their own '90s nostalgia tour with Smash Mouth, Gin Blossoms, Vertical Horizon and Fastball.
Alexakis knows nostalgia is a big part of why people will come to Summerland, and he's fine with that. "I don't have a problem playing the hits," he said. "As a matter of fact, it's in the agreement with the bands that they have to play the hits, and they have to play them like they sound; they can't do medleys or bring out a fiddle player."
Still, he believes Summerland should feel like more than just a cash-in. And he has a story that sort of explains why.
"In '96, when we were blowing up and had our first platinum record, Sparkle and Fade, we got offered to do a tour with Kiss," said Alexakis, who was 33 when the album was released. "I grew up as a huge Kiss, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent fan. And I was like, 'I'd love to do this!' Then I realized there was nothing new or cool about them except from the factor of nostalgia. And I turned that tour down. If they were still making music that excited me, I don't care if it was popular or not, I don't care if it sold records ... I'd be all about it. But they put the makeup back on to make money."
Odds are you haven't purchased new music by Everclear, Live, Filter or Sponge in at least a decade. But it's out there. Everclear's eighth studio album, Invisible Stars, came out last summer. Sponge just released a new disc, Stop the Bleeding. Filter's latest, The Sun Comes Out Tonight, drops June 4. Even Live is writing new songs with Shinn. "He really sounds like Ed; it's really exciting," Alexakis said.
"There's something to be said about having the balls to get beyond your fear of resting on your laurels and putting yourself out there with a new record every two years," he said. "That's something I respect in people, and that's something where me and Mark differ. He has no urge, last he told me, to put out a new record."
Conversely, "When we play Everclear shows now, people are singing the new songs, especially overseas," he said. "That tells me that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing."
At 51, Alexakis is the same age as Axl Rose and Jon Bon Jovi. Success found him later in life, and he's done his best not to let it go.
Everclear's follow-ups to Sparkle and Fade, So Much For the Afterglow and Songs from an American Movie, Vol. 1: Learning How to Smile, sold more copies and spawned poppier hits like Father of Mine, I Will Buy You a New Life and AM Radio. He has dabbled in acting and is working on a memoir. He wants to expand the Summerland Tour into different genres — swing and ska, perhaps, or hip-hop one-hit wonders.
As a touring artist, Alexakis said, you're selling more than just nostalgia — you're "selling yourself to people who want to buy. They want to hear those songs that they heard at one time, and to be able to take new music and get excited about it."
I'll admit, Everclear's fallen off my radar since high school, but I'll still be at the Mahaffey for next week's show, regardless of who's in the lineup. A few years back, I upgraded to a CD copy of Sparkle and Fade, and I still think the album holds up — only now, it's much easier to skip over all those songs that weren't hits. Songs, for example, like Summerland.
I just hope Everclear doesn't skip those songs, too.