The great burden of being a Coldplay fan

January 16, 2013 

I don’t consider my love of Coldplay to be a guilty pleasure, though many others might.

After all, it’s been nearly eight years since a single joke in Judd Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” made being a fan of this massively popular British quartet seem about as cool as shopping at Walmart or as manly as having a ticket stub from Lillith Fair.

You know the joke I’m referring to. Let’s not revisit it.

In the months that followed, a time period in which I heard that joke no fewer than five times a week, being a Coldplay fan was more than a little insufferable, particularly for me, one of their most ardent and vocal supporters.

Each person who recited the joke to me did so with a kind of demented glee that suggested a belief that they were the first to crack on this unabashed Coldplay fan.

They were not.

My reaction probably wasn’t terribly satisfying. Their mean-spirited, unoriginal jab at my musical taste was usually met with a smile, a shrug and little else.

I’m not sure what they were expecting, but I was not about to renounce a band that produced some of the most meaningful music of my lifetime simply because it was in vogue, albeit momentarily, to think of it as soft or corporate rock.

I was, as I am now, undeterred in my love for the band and its big, anthemic arena sound, a love affair that began as a junior in high school when its breakout single “Yellow” was inescapable.

I can say with confidence and without shame or irony that it is, and likely always will be, my favorite band.

That doesn’t mean I can vouch for everything it has ever done.

Coldplay’s two most recent LPs, 2008’s “Viva La Vida” and 2011’s “Mylo Xyloto” are littered with songs I’d sooner forget about than hear again, but lodged between those duds are gems such as “Death and All of His Friends,” “Lost!” and “Us Against the World.”

These songs are overlooked, I believe, because there is no cache in praising something already beloved by millions around the world. Through no fault of their own, Coldplay has become big box rock ’n’ roll, and few people feel comfortable openly loving the big box.

But every generation needs a great arena rock band, like U2 or The Rolling Stones, and we have ours. It’s Coldplay.

Coldplay is a band you never would want to see in an intimate setting. Their sound never should be stripped down. I can think of few things more boring than seeing Chris Martin and Jonny Buckland strumming “Politik” or “Shiver” on acoustic guitars.

This is a band that begs to be seen in a stadium or a similarly cavernous venue in which you feel awash in a sea of thousands, a tiny speck engulfed in sound and light.

I’ve gone to their shows and been legitimately changed. I often found myself unable to find the words necessary to describe to those who not in attendance what they had missed.

I’m not sure whether Coldplay will ever be regarded as one of pop music’s most important bands, the way the Beatles are or the way U2 certainly will be, but their music has helped me feel, for however brief a time, less alone in this big, crazy world.

And that’s really all we can ask of the artists we love.

This week, in honor of my favorite band, a playlist made of my favorite Coldplay songs.

Oh, and if you think being a Coldplay fan is easy, try defending a band who releases a single called “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall.”

• “Shiver” — One of the first Coldplay songs that I remember really loving and one that perfectly captures the feeling of having a crush on someone.

• “Warning Sign” — A seldom-referenced song from one of the greatest albums of the past 25 years, 2002’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head.”

• “Us Against the World” — Drummer Will Champion lends some great vocal harmonies to this perfect little song from “Mylo Xyloto.” The bridge gives me chills.

• “Amsterdam” — Another overlooked song from “A Rush of Blood to the Head.” It really captures the piano-driven rock sound that has become Coldplay’s calling card.

• “Swallowed in the Sea” — Some of my favorite lyrics ever: “Oh, what good is it to live/With nothing left to give/Forget but not forgive/Not loving all you see.”

• “See You Soon” — A song that sadly never was released on LP but still is terrific.

• “Death and His Friends” — Jonny Buckland at his best. The guitar part at 2:19 always gives me goosebumps.

• “Fix You” — As I’ve written before, this is my favorite song ever. Wouldn’t change a note. Perfection.

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