I’m kind of a grumpy person and I get mad at things even if the aspects that make me mad aren’t the thing’s fault. A perfect example of the logical conclusion to this kind of grumpiness is growing to hate a song or movie or whatever because it gets too popular. It’s illogical and I acknowledge this. It doesn’t always happen and I was much more prone to this when I was a teenager. I didn’t stop liking Moonlight because other people saw it and liked it after I did, but I did begin to loathe Smashing Pumpkins. If your first favorite SP song was “Disarm,” I have no time for you.
As a person who fell in love with “Such Great Heights” the very first time I heard it, you’d think I’d feel this way about the song but I do not. Not only does everybody love this song, but the universe’s desire to make me tired of it went as far as featuring the original and cover versions in six thousand* different TV commercials. It was placed prominently in Garden State, a film that aged so poorly, of films released during my meso-adulthood it is only rivaled by American Beauty. It appeared in Veronica Mars, which is totally fine and appropriate, but ALSO in Grey’s Anatomy, a TV show I loathe so much, it pains me to even think about this (HOW is it still on TV?).
*The internet tells me that it’s only been four total TV commercials, two each of the Iron & Wine and Postal Services versions, but my guess is that it also shows up in the trailer for Garden State, which would bump it up to five. The UPS commercials in which they appeared were part of a series, so I’m sure they were played far too often, even though that only counts as one. This is too many for a song that’s only (yikes) 17 years old, so my point stands.
It is by any objective standard overplayed. And overplayed in terrible, terrible ways. I take this kind of intense, intentional commercialization pretty personally. I’m not entirely fascist about this, I know they gotta eat (though I’m not happy about it), but come on. MULTIPLE commercials? How could you do this to your own art? It’s not even the principle, it’s practical. Commercials are by nature annoying and repetitive. Why would you want YOUR SONG associated with such an awful thing? And honestly it’s one thing if it’s “Ocean Man” (by Ween). A fine song, catchy and composed well, but I don’t think it was ever intended to be a special, deep, meaningful thing for anyone (maybe SpongeBob), but it’s just a song. “Such Great Heights” is special. It *touched* me.
So, given all of this, the fact that this song is very fairly ranked at the #27 spot on my* list should speak volumes about how powerful this song is. I don’t remember where or why I first heard it, but I do know that I have always loved it. It was released in what I consider to be the second year of my actual adulthood or four years before I grew up fully, depending on what measure you use.
*Coincidentally, “Such Great Heights” is ranked in the #27 spot of Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest songs of the 2000s. I was curious, so I looked to see what their #1 was, and it’s “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley which made me laugh. Not as hard as seeing “Stan” by Eminem at the #11 spot, which hahahahahaha why is Rolling Stone still relevant?
I can’t tell you how sweet my memories are of that time. Pete and I talk about it a lot. We were living in our first apartment together in Westerville, Ohio, a northern suburb of Columbus and were engaging in the slow process of Figuring It All Out. If I’m being 100% honest, I think this was the period in which Pete and I truly fell in love with each other, which is why we think of it so fondly.
We met in 1996 on the little baby internet, and spent the entire first year of our relationship was mostly long-distance, save for a few really intense visits of a week or two at a time. He moved to Hawaii in the summer of 1997 and until we moved to Columbus in 2001, we were still kind of getting to know each other and learning how we wanted to be as a couple. When we moved in together, we really did team up and became really happy. This timeline, now that I think about it, probably explains why the music from this period makes me so fuzzy.
“Such Great Heights,” of course, leans into this because it’s a very simple, beautiful love song. It’s very much us-against-the-world/don’t-listen-to-the-naysayers. I mean:
They will see us waving from such great heights
Come down now, they'll say
But everything looks perfect from far away
Come down now but we'll stay
Yeah. Sorry! The trope of two imperfect misfits that are perfect for each other is tired but I dare you to argue that the glove doesn’t fit. TRY IT!
Musically--I can’t. The bubbly, quiet synth at the beginning is so soft and sweet. The way the well-meaning drum-machine track fades in, so as not to startle you? Oh man. The vocals are simple and nice and nothing to write home about, which is kind of perfect. God, do I love a song written in the second-person. It’s fucking intimate, isn’t it? Like the singer is letting you into a private world that’s so special you really shouldn’t be there, but they’re giving you a tiny glimpse of a really nice thing?
Pete and I got married in July 2003, the same year “Such Great Heights” was released. We ran away to Vegas to elope, but before I reached my wits’ end, was in the process of planning a wedding for the following year. One source of stress (of many), was what our song should be. I think we’d tentatively decided on the now-much-derided “Love Song” by the Cure. Now-much-derided because of the 2004 311 cover, so that would probably have fallen through. We wouldn’t have picked it because it was a then-current song and we were too cool for that, but in retrospect, “Such Great Heights” would have been perfect. Leaning into its ubiquity, when I make the movie of our lives, it will definitely be playing over our elopement montage.