Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Good Songs XXIV

Tomorrow Never Knows – The Beatles
The Wasp (Texas Radio and the Big Beat) – The Doors
Battle of Who Could Care Less – Ben Folds Five
Six Underground – Sneaker Pimps
Celebration Day – Led Zeppelin
Manic Depression – Jimi Hendrix
The Distance – Cake
Devil’s Haircut – Beck
Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion – Grateful Dead
Fortunate Son – Credence Clearwater Revival
Fade Into You – Mazzy Star
Linger – The Cranberries
Run Like Hell – Pink Floyd
(Theme from) Shaft – Isaac Hayes
Red Mosquito – Pearl Jam
Supervixen – Garbage
Free Ride – Edgar Winters Group
Kids in America – The Muffs
Lump – Presidents of the United States of America
Seether – Veruca Salt
Nearly Lost You – Screaming Trees
Where Did You Go? – Mighty Mighty Bosstones

I created this mix in April of 1997 and this is my favorite one that I’ve ever done. When I finish with this blog series (only four more entries!) this is going to be the Good Songs playlist that I listen to the most. So instead of having one overarching theme, I’m going to write quick hits about each song/artist.

These quick hitters tend to be longer blog entries, so strap yourself in and get ready.

The Beatles – I like pretty much all of the Beatles music, as does most of the civilized world. But my favorite genre of Beatles music is their experimental, psychedelic stuff. I enjoy that the songs are a bit aggressive, unnerving and discombobulating all at once. There’s a mismatch of sound and lyrics that suggest drugs, but at the same time a lot of talent. I think that “Tomorrow Never Knows” is the best representation of that (though “I Am the Walrus” is right up there too). I can’t even imagine what a Beatles fan’s initial thoughts were when they heard this track for the first time. It must have been mind-blowing. To go from mop-topped pop singers to counter-culture revolutionaries in less than five years is amazing.

I think that the reason why I love the psychedelic era of the Beatles so much is because I was terrified of it when I was a kid. I remember watching "Yellow Submarine" is a very young boy (three or four) and almost crapping my pants. The colors were too bright, the Blue Meanies were too mean and the Beatles (who actually weren't voiced by the real Beatles) were strange looking with weird accents. When I was in seventh grade, my music teacher spent a month teaching us about the death of Paul McCartney. That scared the bejesus out of me too. More than it should have. When I read "Helter Skelter" there was a lot devoted to Charles Manson and his connection to acid-dripping Beatle albums. This was nerve wracking as well. I'm sure in my twisted brain, my new found love of the middle era of Beatledom was probably a middle finger to the wimp that was younger Byron. 

The Doors – I’m not going to apologize for like the Doors, I’ve done it enough. But whether you like the band or not, this is a really great track that’s a deep cut. You won’t find it on any Greatest Hits compilation and I think I’ve only heard it once on terrestrial radio (and I may be imagining that). I enjoy the imagery of the lyrics and I really like the way the guitar rises at the end of the song. This was from their last album and by this point in their careers, I think all of the Doors were tired. You can feel the weariness in this particular single (and the entirety of the album of “LA Woman”) however I think that weariness, that exhaustion added something special.

Ben Folds Five – I bought this CD (“Whatever and Ever, Amen” – such a late 90s title) with money from my first check from my first job out of college*. I finally had some money in my pocket and I remember thinking that I was going to buy a new CD every week and really get into music. That lasted two weeks. When I first played this CD it hit me that there was no guitar at all on any of the tracks and I immediately was pissed and put it away for a long time. But after rediscovering it a few years later, I realized that there are a lot of good songs here.

* Oh man, did I hate this job. I didn’t get a full-time position until ten months after I graduated, so I grabbed whatever I could. I did some stuff to make money in that time: delivered pizzas and substitute taught (the latter was a good gig). Becoming a fund accountant was not the path I was destined to go down. I didn’t last more than seven months.

Sneaker Pimps – this was the second CD (“Becoming X”) I bought after I got my first real job. This is the CD that my friend Ryan makes fun of me most for owning. And he’s not wrong to do so. Aside from this single, which I seem to remember was played a lot of WBCN in the spring of 1997, this is a dog of a CD. The only cool thing about this band is that their name comes from a Beastie Boys song.

Led Zeppelin – this is one of my favorite Zeppelin songs ever. You don’t hear it very much because it comes from a less ballyhooed* album (Led Zeppelin III) but man, is it ever a good song. The summer after I graduated college, my brother brought home an electric guitar and an amp. I don’t know how to play guitar, but I convinced myself that if I sat in a room and screwed around with a guitar long enough that I’d be able to play this guitar solo. It didn’t sound that complicated and really, how hard could it be. Apparently it was very hard. I don’t think I hit one note and gave up after 20 minutes.

* Ballyhoo is a great word. People should use it more.

Jimi Hendrix – speaking of 60s guitar gods, I haven’t said too much about Jimi Hendrix in these blog pieces. I think it’s because the way I feel about Hendrix is the way that one of the Gallagher brothers (Noel, I think) felt about the Beatles, “They’re just wallpaper.”* What he meant by this is that the Beatles were always around and he’s heard everything by them so much that the majesty of their songs just blended into the background. That’s how I feel about Hendrix. We’ve already established that I’m no guitarist, so his musical acumen is way above my head – though I know enough to be blown away by it. His music is everywhere, so I think I’ve heard most of it before. But he’s still awesome, he’s still Jimi fucking Hendrix. Out of all of his songs though, this is my favorite, bar none. I love the driving beat, the way it builds up and lets down. It’s a great tune. The worst CD I ever bought was a “bootleg” (and it wasn’t really a bootleg because I got it at Circuit City) where Jim Morrison “jammed” with Hendrix. It was awful. The sound quality was horrible, Morrison was completely bombed and Hendrix was messy. Maybe the 60s weren’t so great after all.

* Gallagher was full of crap by the way. I think he said this quote because he was sick of people saying that Oasis ripped off the Beatles. They kind of did, but so has everyone else. It’s not like they’re the first band to do so. People got bent out of shape over stupid things way too easily back in the 1990s.

Cake – The lyrics in this song capture some of my favorite imagery, “Assail him, impale him with monster-truck force.” With the staccato voice of lead singer John McCrea and the horns behind him, Cake had one of the more truly distinctive sounds of the 90s. Due in part to the opening theme song (a sped-up version of “Italian Leather Sofa”) of the criminally underrated animated series “Mission Hill” I went all-in with Cake and bought the entirety of their disc catalog in 2008. And I’m glad I did. They aren’t all gems, but there are more hits than misses. For some reason when I daydream about myself as an alternative comedian trying to make it in mid-90s Los Angeles, this is the band that I think that I’d be really into. I have very specific daydreams.

Beck – Early Beck is the best Beck and this is his greatest song. The screaming at the end is a nice contrast to today’s Beck, which is Sleepy Time Beck. This is a description I heard of him on a Jimmy Pardo’s podcast last week. The moniker is so appropriate that I’ve been dying for a chance to use it but no one really talks about Beck too much any more. Which probably has to do with the fact that he makes such boring music now – 2015 Grammy Award be damned.

Grateful Dead – My younger brother went to see the Dead when he was a sophomore in high school*, I should ask him if they played this song. The album version is just a few Jer-Bear hairs over two minutes. I wonder how long it would be live? I bet they’d stretch it out to 35 minutes. More on jam bands in the next entry, but spoiler alert: I hate them. A lot. Mostly because I’m not patient (or chill) enough to be in the music at that particular moment in time. Every time I go to a show, I wonder what’s the next song the band is going to play next. The Living Colour show that I went to two years ago was great because it was the 25th anniversary of  “Vivid” and they played the entire album from front to back, in order. No wondering!

* My brother and I shared the same parents, who were the same people who wouldn’t let me go to a Public Enemy concert when I was a senior in high school (chaperoned by some college friends) because concerts are “too dangerous”. Okay, mommmmm. God.

CCR – I like John Fogerty mainly because of his song “Centerfield”. Then I started listening to his CCR stuff and that’s pretty great too, especially this song. There is so much anger against the man in “Fortunate Son”, that if it was sped up, some masturbatory guitar special effects were added and there was a rap, Rage Against the Machine could have released it in 1998. I’m not sure if that came off as a compliment, but I guess you don’t have to be loud to write a proper pissed-off protest song.

Mazzy Star – I think that this would have been a terrific wedding song but my wife did not agree. The song that we chose, “The Way You Look Tonight” was a better choice (easier to dance to and recognizable to all in attendance) albeit a safer one. I wonder whatever happened to Mazzy Star? According to Wikipedia, they went on hiatus in 1997 and reformed in 2010. They are on Facebook, so check ‘em out.

The Cranberries – I’ve already gone on and on about them. No need to do so again. BTW, did you notice the playlist’s pattern: two classic rock songs, two newer rock songs. It all goes to shit after Seether though.

Pink Floyd – they were never one of my favorite bands. I heard them a lot because they happened to be one of my friends’ favorite bands and terrestrial radio loved them, but I never bought any of their CDs. There is no discounting how good they are though and of their catalog, this is the song that I like the best. It’s a bit faster than most of their other stuff and it’s a great driving tune. One of these days I’m going to make a great driving song playlist, only now I don’t have anywhere to go. When I do have somewhere to go, it’s usually with my kids and they abhor my music. Hate it like poison, they do. They’re so uncool.

Isaac Hayes – on a tape with a bunch of good songs, this might be the best. How could you not love this song? The thumping grooved bass, the chicka-chicka-wah-wah guitar, the pounding rat-a-tat-tat drum beat, the string section that busts in like the Kool-Aid Man. Add that to Hayes’ voice and who he’s singing about? Holy cow. If you are listening to this song while you’re making your way down the street, you’re not walking, you ARE strutting. You are the baddest motherfucker on the planet when this song is playing, it doesn’t matter what your life’s lot is. You CAN dig it.

Editor’s note: we have reached 1900 words right now. I am going to speed it up.

Pearl Jam – they’re probably my favorite “new” group. I put new in quotes because they’ve been around for almost 25 years. In any event, this is an underratedly great song of an underratedly great album. I thought that PJ was following Zep’s album trajectory: first two are incredibly popular and awesome, third one is not as well-received and the band bounces back with an all-timer for their fourth album.* But that’s not really the way it went for Eddie and the boys, did it? This is a deep cut, but it’s an all-time favorite song of mine (not just in the Pearl Jam category either).

* I even thought that “Present Tense” would be PJ’s answer to “Stairway to Heaven”. I may have been the only person on Earth that really tried to make this work. Retroactively, I feel like the girl (Regina?) from “Mean Girls” who tried to make “Fetch” a thing. “Present Tense” was definitely not a thing.

Garbage – I wrote a bit about them last week and as much as I loved the three singles from this first album (“Queer”, “Only Happy When it Rains” and “Stupid Girl”) I felt that this was the best of the bunch. This was the first song off their first album and damn it if they didn’t lead off with their strongest piece. Good for them. Those guys definitely knew what they were doing.

Edgar Winters Group – if you are paying attention to the Good Songs playlists, you’ll notice that I haven’t added too many songs from the Dazed and Confused soundtrack. This is the only that survived my “I totally wished I lived in the 70s, man” era. That’s because this is probably the best song and reminds me of my favorite part of the movie, when they’re all getting ready to go to the party at the Moon Tower. D&C is such a tremendous movie, I should watch it again real soon.

The Muffs – one of the best parts of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” was the soundtrack. And the same could be said for another Amy Heckerling directed movie about high school kids, “Clueless”.  I know that “Kids in America” was in “Clueless” and I’m pretty sure that it was also in “Fast Times”, but I’m not 100% about this. If it isn’t, it should be. Anyway, I think that the Muff’s version is one of the rare exceptions where the remake is better than the original. Sorry Kim Wilde, but we’ll always have Good Times roller skating rink in Salisbury, MA*.

* This song and Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” always seemed to be playing while I was skating around on my Pac Man skates with my green-sleeved 3/4 ‘s t-shirt with “BYRON” on the back. I thought that I was pretty damn cool.  

POTUSA – Ho, ho what a clever acronym! This was a delightfully weird song from a delightfully weird band (that came out of Seattle, naturally) that achieved some modicum of fame back in the mid 1990s. Videos from the Presidents of the United States of America was featured a lot on MTV back in those days, either for this song or their other strange ode, “Peaches”. They seemed to be strange because they looked like they were having fun and were in on the joke. Most rock stars in the 1990s never seemed to be having any fun. This is probably the main reason they didn’t last too long.

Veruca Salt – Man, did I have a crush on the girls in Veruca Salt. I’ve already written ad nauseam about me having a thing for girls who played in a band when I was a lad, but these girls were the top of that mountain. Too bad Dave Grohl had sex with both of them (not at once) leading to the band’s breakup. In the last year or so, I’ve been having a bit of a Veruca Salt renaissance and realizing that they are pretty decent band (“Number One Blind” may be in my top ten list of all time greatest songs). Last year I attempted to see them at a small club in Boston—the girls put Grohls behind them and reunited—but the show was sold out! Apparently VS has some fans. Good for them.

Screaming Trees – sadly, my only exposure to the Screaming Trees is this song, which was included on the “Singles” soundtrack. Number one, the name is amazing. It’s probably the best one to come out of this era. Two, I like this song a lot. There have been times where I’d play this song three or four or five times in a row. I’m not sure why I didn’t explore the band further. I should have.

Mighty, Mighty Bosstones – I am a clever one, aren’t I? Putting “I Nearly Lost You” back-to-back with “Where Did You Go?”, such a scamp I am. This is another track from the “Clueless” soundtrack. When I was making this tape, MMB were supernova and while I liked them a lot (Boston pride, I guess. Plus I remember them from a 1991 Converse All-Stars commercial, this is when the band only wore plaid) I was getting sick of hearing the same songs over and over again. This was a nice change.

This is literally the longest entry I’ve ever done. If you made it to the end, congratulations.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Good Songs XXIII

I Can’t Even Tell – Soul Asylum
Hurricane – Bob Dylan
Sex Type Thing – Stone Temple Pilots
Hey Joe – Jimi Hendrix
Connection – Elastica
My Hero Zero – Lemonheads
Disarm – Smashing Pumpkins
No Woman, No Cry – Bob Marley
Stand – REM
The Summer Wind – Frank Sinatra
The Maestro – The Beastie Boys
LA Medley – Jane’s Addiction
Linger – The Cranberries
Night of the Living Baseheads – Public Enemy
Love Rears Its Ugly Head – Living Colour
Fire Woman – The Cult
Cut Your Hair – Pavement
Warped – Red Hot Chili Peppers
I Will Follow – U2

This edition of Good Songs is a continuation of the last edition of Good Songs, complete with the TV Theme Songs* between every other song. It was created in the Summer of 1996 when I didn’t have much to worry about other than starting a career, getting out of my parents’ house, wondering if I’d ever find a girlfriend and battling the ennui of being done with school.

* I still can’t believe that I spent about $100 buying a bunch of TV theme song CDs. I mean I guess that I can believe it; I love television and this is something that I’d totally do (and in fact, did). But I’m not sure what I was trying to accomplish here. I wouldn’t play them at a party, that’s insane. I wouldn’t listen to them over and over and over again like a Beatles CD, that’s even crazier. Best case scenario: I’d listen to discs once and put them back on the CD shelf. God damn, 1996 Byron, you sure knew how to waste money.

Even though my birthday is in September—and for the most part I don’t like my birthday—I love September. Football starts, baseball season is coming to a head and as much as I enjoyed my summers, by mid-August I was bored and wanted to get back to school (both high school and college). Despite coming at the end of summer/beginning of fall, September has an air of regeneration and newness.

Going to class was enjoyable because of the promise of actually sticking to a resolution that you were going to “bear down this year and get back on track”. Playing on a sports team was fun because the weather was nice and you didn’t totally despise your teammates quite yet. Going to parties (usually outdoors) was awesome because of the weather and the fact that you actually had things to talk about. Not to mention that there were new girls to talk to; a whole class of new girls that just started school—girls that might not have any idea of who you are and who might think you’re cool because you’re older.

This September freshness wilted as the days got shorter, but whenever I think of a time being completely happy, content and full of hope, I’m usually picturing some time in September.

September 1996 was different. For 17 years, it was engrained in my consciousness that September is when I was supposed to go back to school. But it didn’t happen that year because I graduated college in May. School was over for me, summer had passed and I was unemployed and alone.

A few years before I graduated college, my friend Brownie and I were playing Sega and bitching about the women at our colleges—as guys are wont to do. His older brother, who had graduated from college that year, heard us complaining and said something to the effect of, “college is the best place to find a girlfriend; they’re all  your age, you have a ton in common with them, they’re in the same income bracket and they’re literally all around you. When you graduate, it’s hard to find girls with the same interests.”

That bit of information stuck with me and now that I was out of college, it scared me. I had no idea where to meet women*, for so many years scores of girls were all around me. Now I was back home and there was no one. And even if there was a woman that I liked, I didn’t have the confidence to speak to her (no job and living with mom and dad will do that to a guy), so I was in the moebius strip of wanting a girl, but not being able to talk to one**.

* There was a farm stand about a few miles from my house. One day after I went to the gym (I went to the gym a lot because I was so bored) I stopped there to buy a Gatorade. The girl who worked there was cute and I couldn’t get the nerve up to ask her out. So even though it was out of my way, I’d stop by there every day to buy a Gatorade all with the intent of asking her out. I’d pound the drink on the way home and throw the empty bottle on the passenger side, vowing not o clean up the mess until I asked her out. I dumped the bottles three weeks later, numberless.

** The college I went to was about a half-hour from my house and the bars where we used to drink were about the same distance. Thursday nights were the big bar nights and I had a lot of fun going to these holes-in-the-wall and blowing off steam. During the Autumn of 1996, it would be about 11:00 at night, I’d be lying in bed and I’d legitimately wonder if I could make it to one of these bars for last call. Just stop by have a drink, talk to old friends and see where the night took me. I’m glad I never did it because that would have been the worst mistake of my life. Just thinking about it now is embarrassing as hell.

On the first day of school I sat in my house by myself. My parents were at work, my brother was starting his college experience in Western Massachusetts and none of my friends were around. I felt lonely and useless, as if I should be going somewhere or doing something, contributing to the betterment of myself or society. At the very least I should be experiencing something cool, like traveling across country or bumming around Europe for a month. But I was too afraid to do either of those things by myself*. There was a lot of shoe gazing and pity partying.

* I wish I had more courage during that time in my life to travel more. It’s the one thing I regret most.   

I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself, ashamed that I was delivering pizzas without any direction. Fighting that feeling in my belly that it was time to go back to learning, that vacation was over until next summer. Looking back, the problem wasn’t that I was unsure about an unsettled future, it was that I had no schedule. One of the things that I like about school was that it was a structured environment; you get up, you go to class, you come home, you do homework, lather, rinse, repeat. I’m a person who abhors surprises and cherishes regularity. That September I was set adrift without any sort of roadmap. I’d try to convince myself that I missed the learning or I missed my friends (both true) but what I really missed was the day-to-day monotony. When every day is a vacation from the norm, nothing is really special.

To cheer myself up, I would drive to Hampton Beach with my dog and go for a walk. Since it was September, there was barely anyone there—even in the middle of the day. My dog and I would take long walks where I would glumly think about my future. The summer work schedule of 4:00 – 8:00 pm, so idyllic a month ago, was a cruel reminder of how pointless my life was. Eventually September turned into October which turned into 1997 and things got on track; I found a job, I moved out, the life of not being a student became normal. I guess that I grew up, but listening to these songs again brings me back to that time of complete and total uncertainty.

I know that Beck’s “Loser” is often held as the anthem for slackerdom, but Soul Asylum’s “I Can’t Even Tell” might be a better representation of that ethos. It has the same unattached point of view of the singer’s life mixed with a sense of frustration that Loser doesn’t posses. Loser seems proud of it’s title, while Soul Asylum lead singer David Pirner seems to be genuinely confused and unsure of what his life has become. This is confusion is seen from the singer osculating from accepting and almost celebrating his lot in life (“No one sees what I see, this is my blessing”) to wailing about his existence (“Is that what life’s about? I can’t even tell.”).

Yes, it’s typical 90s navel gazing wrapped in a clichéd “thoughtful” approach to the examined life and its minutia—this was the main theme for Kevin Smith’s first film “Clerks”—but at this time in my life, it felt as if this song was speaking directly to me. In the mid-90s, the intelligent approach to pop culture was always to be depressing, which is a simplified generalized statement, but it was true. The good bands sang depressing songs, good films were about depressing subjects, same with books and stand-up comedy were rants about how the world was completely fucked up. Even the fashion of the day was depressing, bulky sweaters and flannels for the ladies, same for the guys. The only thing that was still bright and shiny was TV, but that was considered a wasteland full of vapid, pretty people with idiot problems. Yes, there were plenty of other cultural touchstones that celebrated fun and enjoyment but it wasn’t taken too seriously. To be depressed meant you were thoughtful and serious and caring.

It’s no wonder I spent a good part of 1996 completely bombed or depressed.

Here are some quick hits before I hang myself with a guitar string:

The Lemonheads: I chose this song because Schoolhouse Rocks was something that I really loved as a kid. And without YouTube, this was literally the only way that I was going to be able to hear those songs again. I’m writing a blog series about a bunch of old mix tapes, so you know that I’m pretty interested in nostalgia. Here’s another example. And Evan Dando and Melissa Auf der Maur (one-time bassist for Hole) have a pretty fun give-and-take during this song. It’s bouncy, it’s sugary, it sounds like a lot of fun—like watching five straight hours of TV on a Saturday morning fueled by bowls of Trix and Lucky Charms.

Bob Marley: I already wrote about him, but I cannot hear this song without thinking of the scene from “The Office” (American version) where receptionist Erin (played by the awesome Ellie Kemper) emphasized the wrong words and added misplace punctuation to the song’s title, completely changing the meaning: “No, woman. No cry.” I’m sure that’s exactly what Marley had in mind.

REM: at first listen, this would be a song that I wasn’t too keen on. It was a little too shiny and happy for this person. But along came “Get A Life”, which was a TV show from the early 90s about a psychotic grown-man (the brilliant Chris Elliot) who lived with his parents and had a paper route and everything changed. “Stand” was the theme song for this TV show* and it beautiful juxtaposed what the show was about with the cheerfulness of the tune. I heard the song enough that I grew to like the song on its own merits.

* I was trying so hard to be so clever, a full TV theme song on a tape littered with TV theme songs? You rascal! Ugh.  

Frank Sinatra: this was before the whole “Swingers” fad swept the nation. I genuinely liked Sinatra, Dean Martin and the entire Rat Pack because it was so much different than what was popular during those days. My friend Brownie also liked them too and we’d listen to the Best of Sinatra while aimlessly driving around Amesbury in his 1978 (I think) Chevy Malibu. Once we took a ride with one of our friends to Hampton Beach and blasted it while cruising the strip. “We’re never going to get girls now,” my friend moaned from the backseat. You’re right Sluf, it was Frank Sinatra that was stopping you from getting laid that night. BTW, there is no doubt that this was my favorite Sinatra song because Martin Prince sang it on "The Simpsons". Man, I don't think anything has had more of an influence on me. 

Red Hot Chili Peppers: this is the only album that former Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro played on and it was a huge departure from RHCP’s normal funky, bass-soaked sound. I may be one of the only people who really enjoyed the hard, fast, guitar rocking direction of “One Hot Minute” because it’s universally ignored by RHCP fans. Bass solos can go straight to hell.

U2: this was U2’s first US single and I still think it’s one of their best songs. It’s not completely self-indulgent, it’s not overly serious, it doesn’t have something bigger to say; it’s just a good rock song. I don’t even know if Bono can write a song like this anymore (I seriously doubt it) but I wish that he would. Actually, strike that, I don’t wish that he would, I wish that U2 would just be done. There’s no need for bands to be closing in on 35 years of making music, that’s just overstaying your welcome.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Good Songs XXII

Strange Days – The Doors
Suzy Greenberg – Phish
Over the Hills and Far Away – Led Zeppelin
Only Happy When it Rains – Garbage
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite – The Beatles
Ants Marching – Dave Matthews Band
Run Through the Jungle – Credence Clearwater Revival
Glorified G – Pearl Jam
Theme from Shaft – Isaac Hayes
March of the Pigs – Nine Inch Nails
The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion) – Grateful Dead
Who Will Save Your Soul – Jewel
Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson
Supernova – Liz Phair
Free Ride – Edgar Winters Group
In Bloom – Nirvana
Is There Any Love In Your Heart – Lenny Kravitz
Kids in America – The Muffs
Unbelievable – EMF
Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd
I’ll Stick Around – Foo Fighters
Take the Money and Run – Steve Miller Band

I really didn’t want to graduate college. Like at all. My last semester of college was supposed to be my funnest, a culmination of 17 years of school, but I spent a lot of time dreading May 19 and worrying about the days beyond. I enjoyed Merrimack College, especially my senior year when I really liked the classes I was taking, loved where I was living and had a lot of fun with my friends. I had no idea what I was going to do with my English major (and Visual Arts minor!), had zero job prospects* and did not look forward to moving home with my parents.

* When I think of how I used to apply for jobs back in 1996, it feels like I’m talking about 1892. Every Sunday night I’d open the Boston Globe Want Ads, circle the jobs that I wanted, print out a cover letter and resume, stuff it into an envelope and mail it to the company. Sometimes, I’d open the Yellow Pages and send an unsolicited letter and resume to every publishing company I could find. Before companies discovered the ultranet, it was hard as hell to find a job back in those days.

I love my parents and it was cool as hell for them to take me back, but I had just spent the better part of four years living in close proximity to my best friends and didn’t have to answer to anyone. Now it was back to a world of free food, free laundry service and no bills to pay. Ugh, the agony.

My parents also were nice enough to buy me a car after I graduated school. I’m not what you call a car guy, at all. I use my vehicles to get from Point A to Point B and I honestly don’t care what it looks like, as long as it’s reliable. My first car was a light blue 1988 Ford Tempo that my dad (who was a traveling insurance adjuster) beat the hell out of before it was passed down to me. It ran, though not always at the times I wanted it to. So when I was able to get my own set of wheels I wanted something fast and I wanted something sportysomething that was the complete opposite of my personality. I got that when I purchased my 1987 Honda Prelude Si.

I know that we’re not talking a Ferrari or Camero, but that car was the first and only car, that I really loved. Jet black and fast as a rocket, my ride was essentially a two seater (the back seat was technically there but it was extremely tight) and with the seats being so low to the ground, I felt as if in I was in the most supped-up sports car. However, less than eight months after I bought it, I blew out the engine*, but after a new one was put in, the thing ran like a dream for years.

* This was to the only malady to happen to Jet Black (which is what I called my car--my first car was called Baby Blue [because I thought I'd get a ton of babes] my third car was called Norrin Radd because it was silver and Radd is the real name of the Silver Surfer. Yes, I know.), the first week I had it, I had to replace the driver’s side door when I jumped out of my car and forgot to put it in gear—the Dukes of Hazzard were on and I was pumped. The car lurched forward into my friend’s father’s boat and there was a massive hole in the door (the boat was fine). Apparently this was a thing with me and new cars because the very first day I had Baby Blue, I smashed into a DPW truck when I was too busy staring at a girl in spandex and not watching what was in front of me. I smashed the truck’s light and busted up my fender. Did I mention I took the car after my parents told me not to because it was without plates? Because that’s exactly what I did.

I did what any person with a new car and no job did, I delivered pizzas. And this playlist was the Good Songs tape* I created when I was bringing pizzas and subs to the fine people of Newburyport, MA in 1996.

* The only difference between this playlist and the actual Good Songs tape is that I included TV theme songs between every other song. The 90210 and a majority of the 70s and 80s crime themes were particularly awesome driving music. BTW, I bought five TV Theme CDs (they were kind of expensive too) one year because I thought it would be a cool conversation starter if a girl looked at my disc collection. No one ever mentioned them.

That summer was the best that I ever had as I either aimlessly floated around my pool on Fun Island (a gigantic yellow tube), played Wiffle Ball, went to the beach or watched TV until it was time to deliver pizzas from 4:00 to 8:00. After that, I went drinking with my friends. I do wish that I saved some of that money and went to Europe that fall, but I didn’t have the courage to go by myself, so I essentially threw the cash away. But this tape was the sound track of my summer. I think that there was a part two of this playlist, but I can’t seem to find it.

The song on this tape that sticks out like a sore thumb is Jewel’s debut, “Who Will Save Your Soul”. I am pretty sure that I chose this song mainly because I found Jewel extremely attractive because as a song, it’s not very good. The lyrics, the guitar playing; it’s all really basic and clichéd. I think that this was a hit because of Jewel’s story, she was a homeless in Alaska! and made her way to California where she was discovered and given a record contract. Or something like that.

People love stories like that and if they star a good-looking girl, even better. And I was caught up in that. I remember using some college graduation money to buy “Pieces of You” at Newbury Comics and trying really hard to like it. I thought that it might say something about me if I could like this album. But I couldn’t do it. I thought that it was terrible and couldn’t stand the over-serious writing, the elementary guitar playing and her voice wasn’t pleasing either. I didn’t hate Jewel, but by the end of the summer, I was pretty sick of her.

Another CD I bought on that Newbury Comics excursion was Garbage’s premiere effort, “Garbage”. Unlike “Pieces of You”, I thought that this CD was excellent. I loved how lead singer Shirley Manson’s voice paired with the rest of the band’s sound. It was sexy, it was unapologetic, it was really awesome. “I’m Only Happy When It Rains” was one of three popular hits from the CD (“Queer” and “Stupid Girl”), but the whole album is something that you should check out if you haven’t.

Their sound softened a bit over the years, but Garbage’s first album was something special. One of the things that were so cool about the group was how innovative it was, and with super producer Butch Vig (he was behind such bands as Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth, among others) it’s no surprise that Garbage had a sonic sound that was unlike anything on the radio at the time.

Pearl Jam might be one of my favorite bands of all time and I’ll probably write more about them in another entry, but I am conflicted about “Glorified G”. The first time I bought “Vs.” this was the one song that I came back to again and again and again. I liked the bouncy rhythm, the guitar riff, the lyrics were something I was interested in and it was just a good tune.

But one day my roommate was making fun of another friend of ours and he said something to the effect of, “Yeah, I bet that your favorite Pearl Jam song is ‘Glorified G’!” With the implication that GG was not “serious enough” for real Pearl Jam fans and was thrown on the CD to please teeny-bopper PJ followers. You know, the ones that don’t really get “Daughter”. In any event, that throw-away line from a long-forgotten fight, got to me and I never told anyone that I liked that song, lest they think that I wasn’t a true fan of Eddie and the boys*.

* Yes. This is something one contemplates when one doesn’t have anything to really worry about.

But my love for this song didn’t go away and I felt pretty bold putting this song on a tape that was going to get a lot of airplay. Especially in the summer with the windows and moon roof rolled down. But by then, I had a boxful of Pearl Jam bootlegs and if anyone attacked my fandom, I could show them my collection. “Would a teeny-bopper fan have Pearl Jam, live in Atlanta from April 1992? Huh?”

I’ve made my peace with the song (I’m still a supporter!) but during the last five or six years, the song has taken on a new meaning. The number one sports radio show in the state is “Felger and Mazz” and as far as sports talk goes, the show is okay. There’s your typical daily HOT SPORTZ TAKE but sometimes they can dial it back and have good conversation about the day’s event. The song that opens up every hour on the Felger and Mazz tape is a loop of the opening guitar rift, so when I heard it today I expected to be assaulted with a diatribe on why the Patriots are so cheap or why David Ortiz is a wimp or why the Bruins and Celtics are hopeless suckbags.

I was pleasantly surprised to not hear any of that.

Trent Reznor moved to 10050 Cielo Drive Benedict Canyon in Los Angeles when he was working on “The Downward Spiral”. You might remember that address as the home of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. And you might remember that a very pregnant Tate and her pals were brutally slaughtered by Charlie (no relation to Shirley) Manson’s zombie death squad in August 1969. The word “Pig” was written  in blood on a door of that particular house. You might also remember that the day after the Tate killings, another of Manson’s group mutilated Rosemary and Leno LaBianca. Before leaving the house, Susan Atkins carved the word “PIG” into the stomach of Leno with a fork.

Reznor wrote a song called “March of the Pigs”.

I’m not sure how I feel about it. I know that when I was younger I thought that it was cool that Reznor did this because it was spooky (okay) and anti-authoritarian and all that fight-the-power bullshit. But now that I’m a little older, glorifying a mass murder might not be the best thing to do. And I’ve read interviews where Reznor essentially feels the same way.

The song is still really good, I love the driving, industrial beat – it was a staple of any gym mix that I’ve made through out the years. But the sentiments behind it may be a bit off. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Good Songs XXI

Stop – Jane’s Addiction
How Many More Times – Led Zeppelin
Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver – Primus
Tomorrow – Silverchair
Waiting for the Sun – The Doors
Evenflow – Pearl Jam
Hey Joe – Jimi Hendrix
Root Down – The Beastie Boys
Fortunate Son – Credence Clearwater Revival
No Woman, No Cry – Bob Marley
Can’t Even Tell – Soul Asylum
Live Forever – Oasis
Stutter – Elastica
Where Did You Go? – Mighty Mighty Bosstones
Shakedown Street – Grateful Dead
Territorial Pissings – Nirvana
My Wave – Soundgarden
Sex Type Thing – Stone Temple Pilots
Rhinoceros – Smashing Pumpkins
Deeper Shade of Soul – Urban Dance Squad
Spin the Bottle – Juliana Hatfield

NOTE: After I got done posting Tuesday’s Good Songs entry, it occurred to me that I made that tape right before I left for summer break between Freshman and Sophomore years in college. So, technically that entry should have been listed as the 17th edition of Good Songs. I hope that this mistake doesn’t ruin the entire Good Songs experiment for you.

This playlist has a little bit of everything: classic grunge (Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden), classic rock (Led Zeppelin, the Doors, the Dead), 90s British Invasion (Oasis, Elastica) even some crap (Silverchair).

Even if you don’t remember the band Silverchair, you’ll probably recall their most famous song, “Tomorrow”. And that’s because of the infectious chorus, “You’re going to wait too, fat boy. Wait for tomorrow.” I’m not sure why the lads (and these were Aussie teens, when this song came out the lead singer was 15-years-old which accounts for the terrible lyrics) had to get so personal with the chorus, but maybe that’s why it was one of the decades most memorable. Or maybe because the chorus was just so awful.

When historians look at history’s eras and epochs, the most challenging thing that they encounter is finding a definitive moment when an empire ends. Many people agree that the ending of the Roman Empire was in the 4th Century when the Barbarians sacked Rome. Though you could probably counter that argument and say when the empire was split in two was the beginning of the end.  Or you could even point to the decades upon decades of insane emperors using the coffers of Rome as their personal band and its citizens as their personal concubine as a point when things went south. The point is unless you’re debating about the end of 80s metal era—and we all know that began around the time that Warrant busted out their first canister of AquaNet—determining when the milk goes sour is not easy.

When it comes to Grunge, many have argued that Creed was the Warrant of its day (or the barbarian horde) that destroyed 90s rock and they wouldn’t be wrong. That’s because most sane people hate Creed and love to blame stuff on them—personally, I blame Scott Stapp for ISIS. But for Patient X, you have to go all the way back to 1995 and Silverchair. Even Courtney Love, a person who can barely remember the Clinton administration, said, “So this young guy from Silverchair looks like my dead husband and sings like Eddie Vedder- how lame!” in 1995.* And guess what, she was right.

* I found this quote on a Silverchair fan site that was created using AngelFire. I love the ultranet, which is what my brother used to call the internet. But if I’m carefully maintaining an AngelFire fan site for Silverchair, this may not be the quote that I’d use. It kinda makes people think your favorite band sucks.

Silverchair isn’t the first grunge band that was accused of not being authentic (hello Stone Temple Pilots), but they were the first where the accusation stuck. And for 1995, that was a pretty big deal. After the Milli Vanilli and C+C Music Factory “controversies” of the early 90s, it was important for music acts to be authentic, or to at least give the appearance of being real. It didn’t just affect rock acts, hip hop artists were always touting their realness and where they came from. I don’t know whether Silverchair was or wasn’t “real” enough but I do know that they didn’t have another hit in them. After this song fizzled, they went back to a place where women glow and men plunder.

Speaking of poseurs, I’d like to tell you that I first heard Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” after I picked up a copy of “Natty Dread” from a second-hand record store. But I didn’t. I found out about this song the old fashioned way, by noticing that everyone on my freshman floor had Marley’s “Legend” and then running out to buy the cassette. Then, for a couple of weeks, I was “really into reggae and Marley” even though I had only one tape and a nickel bag.

I will say that I did not go the whole nine yards, I never bought a gigantic poster of Bob Marley smoking a spliff, nor did a buy a “drug rug” from the hippies selling overpriced crap in the Merrimack College quad. My only real crime was liking a greatest hits album.

And that’s the thing that sucks about “Legend”, everyone has it in their music collection and everyone is judged by it. But at the same time, it’s a really great greatest hits album and it was a jumping off point for a lot of people to get into reggae. That’s not a bad thing. 

I’ve written a lot about how women took a more assertive role with their lyrics during the 90s, but I think that Elastica’s “Stutter” is a great example of that. I can’t think of too many songs about impotency, much less one that’s as catchy as “Stutter”, but Elastica was able to take a topic that no guy (or even girl) would openly talk about and then sing about it from the female’s perspective. And it wasn’t a mopey tune about how it was the woman’s fault. The dude got drunk and couldn’t get it up and the women from Elastica were pissed because they were ready for action.

Another song on this tape that was about female empowerment was Juliana Hatfield’s “Spin the Bottle”. The difference between this song and “Stutter” was that Elastica took control of the situation while Hatfield’s song juxtaposed the chance of entering into a sexual relationship with her crush through a child’s game with her straight-forward thoughts. “She is such a sucker he (her potential paramour) don’t want to fuck her.”

Again, in an institution where women are traditionally ornaments, it was exciting to get a perspective from these “ornaments”. There was a lot of jokes made in the 1990s about the “sensitive male”, the guy who was the antithesis of the “fuck first, ask questions later” tradition of how a man should act. And that perception seemed to be true as rock stars and other male celebrities tended to care more about women’s feelings (at least publicly) but what wasn’t as highly reported* was the way that women also took control of their perceptions too, turning from shy violets to a person with opinions and perspectives.

* And yes, there was that one overly-cartoon character of the big-boned woman, usually named Roxanne or Big Bertha, who was loud, obnoxious and took what she wanted. But that’s not Hatfield or Elastica lead singer Justine Frischmann, they were “regular” women who wanted to be treated fairly.

The popular tide was turning and women were being looked upon as the rational ones, the intelligent ones, the ones who used reason to handle problems. Guys were starting to become the cavemen, the dingbats, the person who wasn’t in control of their emotions. In the coming decades, other media followed suit as the man-child (think of the main characters from most of Judd Apatow or Adam Sandler movies, or the male stars of most CBS sitcoms) took center stage. Father no longer knew best, but he did know who all the characters in the Mos Eisley Cantina were. 

The tables were being turned in the 90s and it wasn’t just in rock. I can remember feeling uncomfortable when Salt N’ Peppa were at their peak. They were doing what men were doing for years, turning the opposite sex into mere objects. But this time, I wasn’t the one doing the ogling, it was women and they were looking at dudes who were in far better shape, packed more in the pants (according to Salt N’ Peppa) and who could “fuck like a volcano” (which is an awesome line from Liz Phair’s hit “Supernova”).

It wasn’t until sometime later did it occurred to me that women were probably insanely uncomfortable in 1980s when videos from David Lee Roth or Whitesnake or practically any popular band had a gigantically chested, over-sexed, impossibly hot bikini model frolicking over a car (“Here I Go” video) or on some “nerd” (“Hot For Teacher”) or with pastry (“Cherry Pie”). As a pubescent boy, I loved those images. As a father of two girls, I wonder what it did to the sanity of the girls who watched those videos every day.

I’m not saying that the rampant sexism in the 80s (and earlier) was wrong, it was a part of its time. And I definitely did not choose these songs for this tape because it made some sort of feminism statement. If that was the case, there would be a lot more Tori Amos on this tape and that would be the worst. What I am saying is that when females finally grabbed control of the conversation and discussed sexuality and relationships openly and honestly (girls get horny? WHAAAAA?) the music started getting better.

Hiding behind clichés, demureness and innuendo like Madonna* or the Bangles or the Go-Go’s is childish and silly. Authenticity and realness, the two words that folks coming of age in the 90s hold so dear, are what moved records and influenced minds back then. And that openness (or appearance of openness) is what ruled.

* Madonna as a “feminist icon” is so overblown it makes me sick. She’s just not. She’s a sexual icon, there’s no doubt in my mind about that, but she played to the most base stereotypes of what a woman should be and how a woman should act. So she wore a pointed bra and kissed a girl? Who gives a shit. That stuff wasn’t done to make a statement, it was done to sell records – which is fine, she’s in the entertainment industry. But don’t tell me someone who unironically referred to herself as a “Boy Toy” or who defined by whom she happened to be sleeping with is the Gloria Steinem of the 80s and 90s. Christ, Cyndi Lauper was more of a feminist than Madonna.

“Stutter” and “Spin the Bottle” were the opposite of Stone Temple Pilots’ “Sex Type Thing” which was a song done from the perspective of a male rapist. Rock music is littered with many depictions of women as nothing more than sex objects and STT is an aggressive continuation of that tradition. Let me state that I don’t think that just because you write and record a song from the perspective of a rapist, it makes you a rapist. According to Wikipedia, lead singer Scott Weiland said that he wrote the song after an incident where his girlfriend was raped by three football players.

I’m not sure why he wrote it from the point of view of the rapist though, seems like a strange choice for Weiland to make. Another interesting tidbit about this song is that it was their first single off of Core (their debut album) and their first video to be run on MTV. In a 1993 interview with Rolling Stone, Weiland was angry that he had to defend himself as anti-rape just because he wrote a song sung from a rapist’s POV that was the debut single off his band’s first album.

Quit being so rapey, STP, Jesus.