Back in the spring of 1986, I remember being excited whenever I heard a Beatles song on the radio, especially if it was one of my favorites like “Rain”. (The song in fact does show up on one of my ‘radio tapes’ from summer of the previous year.) Back then, the idea of a song being twenty years old felt like a lifetime ago, its release five years before I’d been born. When you’re growing up, songs like that just seem so…distant.
Here in 2023, the music of twenty years previous was the music I listened to in the basement of my family’s house while I wrote The Persistence of Memories, what made the mixtapes I’d play on my commute to and from the candle warehouse, what cds I’d buy at Newbury Comics in downtown Amherst. This is music that still shows up on my playlists, like Sleeping with Ghosts and Hail to the Thief and Absolution and The Matrix Reloaded.
I think about this a lot, now that I’m older and especially now that the history of rock music has expanded and evolved since its early days in the late 50s (at least when it was starting to be called that, at any rate). I read a lot of music histories and biographies these days and this sort of things slides into the consciousness of my mind.
The fact that I was around and paying attention when so much popular music history was made, from the late 70s onwards. That when I started paying attention to what was being played on the radio as a preteen, FM had finally sprinted past AM as the most popular radio band (around 1978), music videos became more than just a rare specialized form of promotion (late 1981), and so many of its players and originators were still around, still clubbing and still releasing music.
This doesn’t make me feel old, far from it. Quite the opposite. It makes me feel glad and lucky as hell that I’ve been around to witness as much of it as I have.
I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say about this down the road, but for now I’m just going to say that this is partly why I’m still as much of an obsessive music nerd as I am. Not for fear of missing out, but because I’m utterly fascinated by so much of this history as it’s happening. New sounds, new productions, new imagery. As well as the circularity of styles; the resurgence of shoegaze, the evolution of electronic music, the new generations of punk, and everything in between.
It’s been a while since I’ve listened to Delerium. It’s a not-quite side project of Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber of industrial band Front Line Assembly, leaning more towards ambient, almost new-agey electronica, quite the opposite of their harsh and twitchy main project. You might remember them from back in the 90s when they had a surprise hit with Sarah McLachlan and “Silence” — definite a song of its decade, complete with Enigma-esque Gregorian chant, grooving mid-tempo beat and dreamlike keyboards. That song and the album it came from (Karma) did in fact get a lot of play in the Belfry, and “Silence” does make an appearance on the second volume of the Songs from the Eden Cycle mixtapes.
The project is still active, sliding out an album every couple of years in between FLA releases. Their sound has definitely evolved some, but is still firmly anchored in that classic dreamlike new-age/ambient moodscape. The new album Signs, which just dropped earlier this month, is a stellar record that feels like a return to their best forms, with some quite lovely songs that fit perfectly here in Spare Oom and MU4. I’m quite happy to have them back on my Eden Cycle playlist again.
I seem to have finally caught a cold and gotten a fever for the first time since I started the Day Job last March. That’s actually a pretty good run! I’ve had a few days where I was running on fumes (these were usually the midday 11:30 to 8 shifts) but this is the first time in quite a while that I called in sick and taken the day off! I also have today off as well, and hoping that the cold/fever has already broken by the time this posts, as A also has the day off and we were planning on going out to do stuff.
Either way…going to take the rest of the week off and recuperate. See you next week!
This one’s a long one…a three-taper made in late Spring 1998 in the middle of my stint at HMV Records. This was kind of a transitional time for me — purging old personal drama, starting a brand new science fiction novel and writing more songs and poems, working down in the Belfry at night, going on long road trips, learning how to get rid of all that negativity from the first half of the decade. I stopped hiding and started living again, especially now that I could once again afford to do so.
This mixtape got a lot of play in my first car — a 1992 Chevy Cavalier I’d named the Mach V, in which I’d recently had a tape deck installed — and contains a mix from two sources: the current playlist of WFNX which I’d listened to constantly to and from work, and the extreme expansion of promotional copies of cds that I’d begun to acquire at work. Some songs are alt-rock radio standards today (Flagpole Sitta, The Way) while others are loved deep cuts (Playboys, Fall On Tears), Belfry regulars (God Lives Underwater, Superdrag) and soundtrack songs (mostly from Great Expectations, which I listened to on the regular).
Out of most of the multi-tape mixes, I think this one holds up as one of the best. It’s consistent with only one or two filler tracks, and it contains quite a few of my favorite late 90s tracks.
[Only one track missing and not available on Spotify: Foo Fighters’ cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”, placed between Goldfinger’s “This Lonely Place” and Tonic’s “If You Could Only See”.]
Nothing all that new to say today, sorry. This week’s Day Job schedule has been kind of weird and full of mid-shift hours, and I’m trying to make it a new habit not to force myself through blog posts and writing sessions if I don’t have the time or the spoons for it. Being healthy and all that.
In the meantime, please enjoy this new tune from my favorite super-local band. That building on the album cover is about three streets away from my apartment, and I have walked past that red Karmann Ghia many times!
Conformity is a hell of a drug. I’ve said that before and I still stick by it.
Conservatives drafting up laws outlawing transgender care, targeting LGBT+ people with “Christian”-based hatred disguised as ‘moral concern’, outlawing drag shows, banning books, avoiding major health concerns by lying about them, bending the rules to gather more votes, chasing away the homeless instead of helping them, embracing gun culture to the point of pornography, refusing monetary assistance for those who need it, hating on anyone who isn’t cis and white and rich…need I go on? It’s like the fucking Reagan/Thatcher eighties all over again.
And they won’t listen to anyone telling them otherwise. Not that they can’t, but that they don’t want to.
We’re not asking for special laws. We’re not asking for preferred service. We’re not even asking for special privileges. All we want is the same thing the rest of you have. Just one bit of peace. And you won’t give it to us.
What the hell does this have to do with my music blog?
I think about this all the time these days. I mean, it’s hard not to, when several media avenues are filled with this bullshit. Again, forty years later. Same shit, different generation.
I’ve often mentioned how college radio opened my eyes and blew my mind when I was fifteen, when it became apparent that I was not going to fit in with the cliques and social circles of my small town. Even then when I encountered a style of music that resonated with me, I didn’t just connect with it, I took a deep dive. I’d obsess over discographies, get familiar with album cuts and b-sides, learn the band’s backgrounds. I read about the bands’ local fanbases, their inspirations and influences, and why they sounded like they did. That led me to other bands, other alternate ways of listening and thinking. I may not have physically latched onto the scene in the same obsessive way, musically or fashionwise, but mentally and emotionally I’d allowed myself a complete immersion.
That is to say, I’m pretty sure that unlike your casual music listener, I swallowed the whole idea of ‘the alternative’ fully and completely. I pretty much stopped trying to connect with the popular or the status quo. I could connect if I wanted to, but only when I wanted or needed to. [I will freely admit that I had to bow to the status quo for a few years in the 90s, mostly out of financial and emotional desperation, but that’s another story.]
I know many people who don’t take the spiteful evangelical right-wing conservative base all that seriously, partly because for a small but annoyingly loud base, they’re mostly all bark and no bite. I try not to take them too seriously myself by remembering that there are so many more people out there whose social mindset is calmer and more compassionate. It’s easy to slip into the feedback loop that there’s a constant WAR! going on (after all, this base prides itself on such hyperbole) that makes one want to fight back with equal vigor. I mean, this is truly a muddy, chaotic battlefield here, if we’re going to roll with the metaphor. Those at the sidelines might not understand how terrible it is in the middle of it all, and those caught in the middle might not notice how peaceful it is at the sidelines.
Over the years I’ve altered my point of view about all of this, partly because I was utterly sick of reacting to it all. Someone says or does something shitty, I respond emotionally, they double down, and so on. The feedback loop continues. It was taking me nowhere. It was physically unhealthy for me, and something had to change.
I had to remember what I’d learned in my youth: conformity is a hell of a drug. Why was I playing right into their emotional mind games? Why was I reacting every single time? I mean, let’s be real: I don’t have to play by their fucking rules. Never mind asking why I’d been doing so in the first place, because that’s not important. What is important is knowing that I don’t owe them the pleasure. I don’t owe them the satisfaction, especially if they’re spending all their time taking mine away.
It took me a fucking long time to figure that out because of so many social niceties and conflict avoidance issues drilled into my head over the years. It’s not only weird to admit I have that clarity now, but that I’d figured all that out decades ago, back when I was a moody-ass teenager with an obsession with alternative music and the lifestyle behind it. And I decided that considering that I already knew the answer, I didn’t have to dwell on the time wasted…I just had to pick up where I left off.
The status quo and the rigid conformity and the hatred and the ignorance and the bigotry will always be there, unfortunately. It’ll come and go, just like any other cycle of life. The most we can do for ourselves is to remember that we don’t have to play by their fucking rules.
I’ve just finished reading Bono’s book Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story and I have to say it was quite enjoyable. He’ll be the very first to admit that he can be honest and compassionate as much as he can be the biggest irritating doofus (in public, no less). I found him to be not just intelligent but quite humorous and a huge dork as well, which only made him more endearing. And that most of his time in between U2 albums has been spent on high-level activism.
Sure, people have polarizing feelings about him. Partly because he’s so flipping ubiquitous at times, but that he and his band have always had Something To Say About Certain Things. And then there was the “forced download” of their Songs of Innocence album that got certain people up in arms (he takes full blame on this in the book, by the way).
Still, it reminded me just how much I love this band. I actually do remember seeing the “I Will Follow” and “Gloria” videos on MTV in its early days and became a fan early on. I fell in love with the Unforgettable Fire album for its unique songs and sounds. I remember so many of my college classmates going apeshit over Achtung, Baby back in 1991. I remember loving Pop even when the label rep told my record store manager it wasn’t all that great. I remember finally getting to see them live for the PopMart tour, even though I’d been wanting to see them since the mid 80s. And yes, I was one of those people who downloaded the $200 iTunes collection The Complete U2 back in 2004.
I’m thinking at some point I should do a deep dive of this band again, revisit their discography and remember why I love the band so much. And yes, I am looking forward to their new release that comes out next month, Songs of Surrender, which revisits forty classics and deep cuts and tries them out in new ways as a tie-in with Bono’s book. [I only found out the other day that there’s also going to be a tv special on Disney+ the same day called Bono & the Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, in which the two tour their native Dublin. Yes, I’m looking forward to that as well.]
So yeah, don’t be surprised if I do a bit of posting about them in the future!
Dang, how are we on volume 27 already? Or more to the point, how are we not at a higher volume, considering I started the series in 1988? Heh.
Either way, I’m happy to return to making mixtapes more consistently again. I’ve made it a point to give my listening habits a bit more breathing room — and paying attention once more to when a song or album catches my attention, and letting my brain latch onto it instead of just flitting onto the next shiny. I know it’s helping that I made that choice on purpose to tie in with my MU4 novel project, but the real point was to reconnect with why I love to listen to music so much. I’d lost track of that for a while.
[Note: One song is missing from this Spotify version of the mix, “Splinter” by Chatham Rise, which sits between Miss Grit and Beck as track 9.]
Yes, folks. I am old enough that I remember the iconic and extremely low-budget (most of it seemingly spent on tinfoil) video for A Flock of Seagulls’ song “I Ran (So Far Away)” being new on MTV and loving it to bits. Never mind that the non-instrument props are from whatever they had in the studio’s back closet, this was taking the idea of music video to another level. They were part of a British wave of, well, New Wave. Distinctly pop yet heavily steeped in fashion, science fiction and even a bit of doom-and-gloom. It took Cold War darkness and tension into unexpected and highly creative directions.
This past week, the band dropped a Deluxe edition of their first album, a three-disc collection of a new album remaster, single mixes and b-sides, several BBC radio sessions, and even a short live set. The remaster itself sounds amazing, given that it’s not always easy to give a synth-heavy sound a warm feeling. The remaster gives the album plenty of breathing room and clarity for each performer. And Paul Reynolds’ distinctive guitar work, similar to that of U2’s Edge with its soaring and extremely melodic qualities, sounds crisp and clear.
The rest of the album may have its filler moments, but it also contains some bangers such as the singles “Space Age Love Song” and “Telecommunication” as well great deep cuts “DNA” and album closer “Man Made”. I highly recommend giving it a spin!
I’m not entirely sure if it’s my weird work schedule last week that threw me off, or that I’m just trying to avoid doing the hard work needed to get through this frustrating patch, but I’m having trouble focusing on MU4 again lately. And that needs to be fixed. I’ll hopefully have something up on Thursday!