In 1999 I discovered an indie/punk band on my travels around Northern California called The Wunder Years. A perfectly monikered band for those who happened to grow up alongside the troubled (but very thoughtful) childhood of one Kevin Arnold dreaming of someday landing their very own Winnie Cooper. Regardless, this particular Wunder Years took their cues more from the likes of Jawbreaker than Joe Cocker- resulting in a near seamless blend of Kerouacan contemplation and road weary rock n’ roll.
Formed in Haywood, California, The Wunder Years sang about what it is like being lost in youth, finding one’s self on your travels, and growing up along the way. I for one thought that at the age of 18/19, it was the perfect accompaniment to those years— like the audio version of On The Road. Plus, they threw in a rendition of a Cars classic, which was very well done. Appropriately, the album was called Pitstops On the Road Less Travelled, released in 1998 on small indie label Tomato Head Records. And at the time, it felt right. I was living on the East Coast at the time and spent time driving on those endless Pennsylvania state roads that took me from Hershey chocolate factories, Pittsburgh, small towns, Amish country and everything in between.
This song, “Vacations/Separations”, in particular, felt like something you’d listen to as you drove those solitary roads contemplating whatever next chapter of life you’re about to write. It’s a slow build to the crescendo, at 6+ minutes, but it feels and sounds like a great obscure road song.
The Wunder Years would continue on for a few more years, releasing an EP titled Function Over Fashion in 2001 before calling it a day (you can check out a song from that EP from Side With Us Records).
In the years since, the band dissolved and the moniker was taken up by Pennsylvania pop-punk act The Wonder Years (who felt it wasn’t necessary to avoid copyright issues). This band, while at times seemingly energetic and youthful, is by far the lesser of the two. It’s a shame that they’re the band most people will associate the name to.
However, every time I listen to Pitstops on the Road Less Travelled I’m reminded of that time back in 1999. Sure, it’s a short trip down nostalgia road, but when the resonance is everlasting, like the tales of Kevin Arnold, we can watch and listen to stories written about growing up and feel as though they’re timeless.