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.

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