Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Good Songs XIX

Box of Rain – Grateful Dead
Would? – Alice In Chains
No Excuses – Alice In Chains
Low – Cracker
Loser – Beck
Killing in the Name Of – Rage Against the Machine
Me and Julio – Paul Simon
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover – Paul Simon
You Can Call Me Al – Paul Simon
New Style – The Beastie Boys
Verse Chorus Verse – Nirvana
Spin the Bottle – Juliana Hatfield
Mrs. Robinson – The Lemonheads
Into Your Arms – The Lemonheads
L.A. Medley – Jane’s Addiction
Been Caught Stealing – Jane’s Addiction
My Time – Jane’s Addiction
Rock & Roll – Jane’s Addiction
Sympathy – Jane’s Addiction
Fee – Phish
Linger – The Cranberries

If this playlist or mix tape had a smell, it would reek of Keystone Light or Milwaukee’s Best. This tape was created sometime in the spring of 1994 and it features a lot of the songs that my friend Archie and I would listen to while we sat in our dorm rooms, played cards or Sega Genesis and drank.

When I went to Merrimack College in the mid-1990s, the school was in a strange place. It was beginning a transition from a small Catholic college that didn’t have many students living on campus, to what it is now: a medium-sized Catholic college with a good amount of kids living on campus. There were advantages to attending a small college: most people knew who you were (which could also be a disadvantage) and the classes were smaller. But there were disadvantages; mainly the social life could be incredibly dull*. 

* Merrimack did have fraternities, but there was no need for them. Merrimack was located in North Andover and Andover, MA and both towns had laws strictly forbidding frat houses – not that it would matter, the rent for places in those two towns were astronomical. Many of the fraternity houses were located in the next city over: Lawrence. Freshman year, the parties were fun but as we got older, the parties became lame. The frat dudes didn’t want us there, which is understandable since we were guys. Who wanted more guys at a party? We’d end up paying $5 for a cup of skunky beer, which was refilled after you waited in line for 20 minutes, the cops would inevitably show up around 10:00 and we’d have to go home. After awhile, it wasn’t worth the trip to leave campus.

There were parties in the on-campus apartments, but we were sophomore guys and never got invited because, again, who wants more guys at a party? And most of my friends didn’t have the cash or the fake IDs to get into Boston bars. Therefore we had to drink in our tiny dorm rooms—which by the way, were dry, so we had to sneak our alcohol past resident assistants working the front door, days in advance*.

* I’m not even going to front and nostalgically say how sweet each beer tasted because you had to work to bring it up to your room. It sucked. There was nothing fun or romantic or cool about sneaking beer into your dorm room. Take this from a person who was busted doing this.

Archie had good music taste and we listened to a lot of Jane’s Addiction that spring – he was a big fan of the band. And I became obsessed with the group too, especially their first CD. Their first CD makes up a bulk of this tape and I’m surprised that I didn’t include “Jane Says” because I listened to that song a lot when I was a college sophomore.

Like I wrote about during the last entry, “L.A. Medley” hit me in a couple of areas: it comingled my old obsession (the Doors, most of the song was an “L.A. Woman” cover) with my new obsession (Jane’s Addiction), it was from a live bootleg CD (so exciting, so rare!), Perry Farrell was cool (he was the face of Lollapalooza) and the band had broken up (so I could wallow about missing them – I saw them play live twice in the coming years). Basically it had everything 1994 Byron was looking for in a group.

And I still think that 1994 Byron is right as Jane’s Addiction is a great group to listen to—especially their pre-Kettle Whistle/pre-reunion stuff. “Been Caught Stealing” was their break-through hit and was on heavy rotation on MTV back in the day. When I first saw it, the video seemed strange in that it featured a bunch of weird-looking people* ripping off food from a dimly lit and dirty supermarket. Added to that montage were quick shots of Farrell with nylons stretched over his head singing, which is an image that’s difficult to forget.

* Looking at the video now, the people weren’t really strange looking, they looked like folks you run into every day. Twenty five years ago, that looked “strange” because MTV was wall-to-wall beautiful people. On MTV, a person with normal body proportions and regular facial features looked grotesque and odd.

When grunge and alternative music exploded, I don’t know if Jane’s Addiction ever really got the mainstream credit that they deserved and that’s probably because they weren’t in the spotlight for too long. Both them and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were both LA-based bands that didn’t kowtow to the glitzy, hair-metal music that was popular at the time. Their sound wasn’t as polished, it was a bit more funky and sludgy at the same time (if that makes sense). The guitars were still fast, but the song lyrics were a bit more thoughtful, a bit more real than anything that Poison or Motley Crue were putting out at the time.

Jane’s Addiction broke up just a hair before the alternative music wave crashed into the mainstream. If they had stayed together, would they have been as popular as the Red Hot Chili Peppers? I don’t know. But it is interesting to think of a world where the RHCP broke up in 1991 and the JA kept making music together for over 30 years.

The Paul Simon tracks aren’t me thinking that I was Merrimack College’s answer to Lorne Michaels, but those songs were the ones that we listened to most when we were drinking. Now that I have children, “Me and Julio” has taken on a different connotation. The song was included on “The Muppets” (the Jason Segal remake – which was actually quite excellent) and my kids begged us to listen to this song over and over and over again. A request my wife and I complied with because, this song is awesome.

The Nirvana and Beastie Boy tracks are from an album called “No Alternative” which collected many of the best acts of the day—there was at least one song from every one of my favorite bands (Beasties, Nirvana, Soundgarden, the Breeders, Matthew Sweet) at the time, except for Pearl Jam—and the money was donated to AIDs relief. The Beastie Boy song is a live version of “The New Style” and the Nirvana cut is one of the “hidden tracks” that bands used to do back in the day.

A hidden track referred to a song being at the very end of the CD. It was never listed on the track list but sometimes, if you let a CD continue playing after the end of the last song, it would pop up. Sometimes, you’d have to listen for up to 20 minutes to get the hidden track, which was annoying (and scary – if you forgot that there was a bonus track) as hell, but it was a precursor to DVD Easter Eggs.

I told you that the 90s were a magical time!

It’s not often that something lives up to your imagination, but for one brief speck of time: I felt as that I had correctly foreseen my college experience. I made it through high school with decent grades, but I never studied for one test (aside from chemistry – God, I was terrible at chemistry). My philosophy was: I paid attention in class, I took notes, I did the homework; if I didn’t know the material at that point, then studying wasn’t going to help me. This is the rationale of a very lazy person.

However, I knew that college was going to be a different ball game, as I’d have to get serious and study because things were going to be much more difficult. The summer before college started, I was lying in my bed thinking about going to school outside of Amesbury for the first time and I began romanticized about late-night walks home from the library after cramming for a test. I had seen this scene a million times in countless movies about college and it seemed so cool: broken pencils and balled up papers, coffee cups stacked to the roof, the tell-tale signs of a person working his ass off to get a good grade. There was something very satisfying about it.

Fast forward to December of my freshman year, I was through studying for final exams (quick aside: not as glamorous as I envisioned!) and I was on my way home. It was snowing, but not very hard, there was a nip in the air and I was listening to the Cranberries “Linger” on my Walkman. And as I was walked down the street lamp-lined path to my dorm, it occurred to me that this was how I pictured this moment many months ago. Maybe not exactly, but the feeling of accomplishment that I imagined was exact. I felt good that I actually studied, I felt like I accomplished something, that I was finally becoming a responsible person.

After coasting through life and not really giving a shit, it was an amazing feeling that I did care.  

I once read that the sense of smell is linked most strongly to memory. But I think that a close second is your hearing, because every time I hear “Linger”; I feel that chill in the air, the snow falling gently on my face, the feeling of solitude and that sense of pride that one gets when they work hard and they’re prepared for the next day’s test.

As I was listening to that song this morning, I thought things may not be that great today, but they will be better tomorrow. It always is.   

No comments: