Thirty Years On: 1991, Part I

The other day KEXP was celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of albums that had come out on 24 September 1991, particularly four albums that have become important classics of the alt-rock genre: Nirvana’s Nevermind, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, Pixies’ Trompe Le Monde, and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

But there was SO much more than just hearing “Under the Bridge” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on extremely heavy rotation, as the modern ’80s, 90s and beyond’ iHeart playlists will lead you to believe. This wasn’t just the year punk “broke” (which even then I thought was a questionable boast), nor was it the year MTV decided that their 120 Minutes playlist would suddenly also be their regular daytime rotation. It was a year filled will burgeoning Britpop, electronica, college-rock inspired pop, and everything in between. And weirdly enough a ton of it had an extremely positive edge to it. As young Gen-Xers finally given the stage, we’d just entered the first year of the last decade of the last century of the current millennium. When the clock ticked over to 2000 (yes, yes, I know…stfu, no pedants allowed on WIS), we thought and hoped everything shitty and broken in our lives to date would have been fixed by then. We were hoping beyond hope that several painful years of destructive Thatcherism and Reaganism and the Gulf War Live On TV would wilt away and we’d finally get our own and make things better. [It of course didn’t exactly work out that way despite our best efforts, but for a while I’d like to think we had a good thing going.] And our music definitely mirrored that, especially in the early nineties.

Let’s see, where was I in 1991? In college! Finishing up my sophomore year at Emerson with a new circle of friends, getting ever so slightly better grades, still holding onto a shaky long-term/long-distance relationship and already planning not to return back to my hometown for another summer. I was going to stick around in Beantown one way or another. I was consistently broke af and I probably wasn’t in the most stable of emotional places at the time, mind you, but I was bound and determined to get out of that particular rut one way or another. I signed up to work the summer at the college library and rented out a huge dorm room from Fisher College down the block. By the time junior year started, I moved in with a friend on Beacon Street and stayed there until August of 1992.

So kick back, kids, this one’s gonna be a long one! [I should probably create a Spotify playlist as well, come to think of it…]

The Judybats, Native Son, released 16 January 1991. Perky, quirky and catchy as hell. This was always a fun band to hear on WFNX, back before they leaned so heavily on grunge later that year. This is a very early 90s sound that was everywhere then: kind of inspired by REM’s poppier side, lighthearted and extremely melodic.

Pop Will Eat Itself, The Pop Will Eat Itself Cure for Sanity, released 22 January 1991. The Poppies pull back considerably on their noisy ‘grebo’ sound this time out and entertain us with club grooves. The samples are still there, but they’re more intertwined in the melodies rather than just blasting out of nowhere.

Jesus Jones, Doubt, released 29 January 1991. “Right Here Right Now” might be played to death and is most definitely a product of its time, but Doubt really is a fantastic banger of a record from start to finish. It’s relentlessly groovy and beat-heavy and translates well both on the radio and on the dance floor. It also sounds amazing in headphones, considering they were masters at highly creative sampling and sound production.

Material Issue, International Pop Overthrow, release 5 February 1991. Another classic album of its time that takes a page from the Replacements with its mix of jangly and wobbly pop and punk. This could have easily been released a good few years earlier or a decade later and fit in nicely with other current sounds.

Throwing Muses, The Real Ramona, released 18 February 1991. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Muses. They could slide between awkward and hard-to-grasp tunes and gorgeously pop melodies — sometimes within the same song — and they were also sort-of local, which was always a plus for me. [Boston’s music scene in the 80s and 90s was flipping AMAZING and I really should give it its own blog entry soon.] “Counting Backwards” remains one of my favorites of theirs.

The Charlatans UK, Over Rising EP, released 25 February 1991. After their lovely, psychedelic debut album Some Friendly, the Charlatans chose to prove that they weren’t just a flash in the pan Madchester group. This EP might capture some more of that signature sound, but it also hints at a darker and heavier sound they’d capture the next year on their sophomore album.

The KLF, The White Room, released 4 March 1991. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing “3AM Eternal” somewhere on someone’s radio, in the club or in the car. The duo’s musical and political shenanigans never really translated to the US, but this song and album did make a significant dent in the psyche of kids just entering their 20s. Its production is freakishly trebly — the bloop-bleeps, synth stings and PP Arnold’s blistering vocals are all pushed into the red — but that’s how the clubs loved it.

Too Much Joy, Cereal Killers, released 12 March 1991. The TMJ boys were firmly entrenched in that ‘goofy punk’ style that had been a staple of college radio for most of the 80s, but thanks to a major label deal with Giant, for a few years they were able to sneak onto alt-rock radio with some super catchy and fun tunes like “Crush Story.” Later that summer I was able to see them live at the Hatch Shell!

REM, Out of Time, released 12 March 1991. After a super-long tour supporting 1988’s Green — their first major-label record — they followed up with an extremely glossy album that on one hand turned off more than a few IRS-era fans but on the other hand shot them straight into the stratosphere, all without a tour to promote it. Somehow a gloomy mid-tempo song with a strange southernism as its title ended up becoming their hugest hit to date…and still gets radio play to this day.

The Godfathers, Unreal World, released 12 March 1991. The last album of theirs to be released by Sony in the US, this album may not have gotten much airplay or promotion, but it was one of my favorites of that year and it got a ton of play on my Walkman. It’s not as angry as Birth School Work Death or as Johnny-Cash-bluesy as More Songs About Love and Hate; instead it leans more towards garage band psychedelia (including a powerful and badass cover of The Creation’s “How Does It Feel to Feel”) and it’s strong from start to finish.

Slint, Spiderland, released 27 March 1991. Considered one of the first important albums of the post-rock genre, this record was a hell of a headscratcher for some of us that had never heard this type of sound before, but those of us hanging out in the record stores and building up our college radio station’s library, it quickly became a staple. I used to play “Good Morning, Captain” some days during my WECB run because it was just so weird yet amazing.

*

More to come soon!

Mixtape: Songs for ‘Meet the Lidwells!’

I started writing Meet the Lidwells! A Rock n’ Roll Family Memoir during the summer of 2017, and like any other book project I’ve worked on, I created a mixtape for it. Surprisingly, for a novel that leans super heavily on music, there’s only one volume! Still, it’s not as if I could create a mix containing music that, y’know, doesn’t actually exist in real life.

Most of these songs are from the early 90s, which is when most of the book takes place, and are inspirations for songs written by the Lidwells in the book. I did choose to add a few then-recent songs as well just to balance it out, but for the most part these were all songs that I loved and listened to during my college and post-college years in Boston.

Some side notes:
–The prevalence of EMF hints at the poppiness of the early Lidwells releases, as they were more of an alternapop band at the start of the novel.
–A number of songs (and scenes) were actually pilfered from a trunked novel of mine called Two Thousand that I’d worked on in the 90s. The La’s track “Looking Glass” in particular was originally supposed to be part of the climax of that story but used instead as the “Listening” scene with Thomas talking about when they performed that song live. The remix of that Real People song (sadly not available online right now, it’s a banger) was also once part of that novel as a denouement scene.
–I added Belly and Veruca Salt to hint at what Amy and Hannah’s songs would sound like.
–The Stone Roses’ “I Am the Resurrection” is mentioned in the book as one of the main influences on The Lidwells’ first hit “Grapevine” with its stomping beat.

[SHAMELESS PLUG: The ebook is available at Smashwords for $2.99!]

SIDE A:

1. EMF, “Children”
2. REM, “Pop Song ’89”
3. The Real People, “Window Pane”
4. Belly, “Gepetto”
5. EMF, “Girl of an Age”
6. The Cure, “Friday I’m in Love”
7. The House of Love, “You Don’t Understand”
8. My Bloody Valentine, “Soon”
9. 9 Ways to Sunday, “Come Tell Me Now* *
10. Belly, “Now They’ll Sleep”
11. Matthew Sweet, “Time Capsule”

SIDE B:

1. Veruca Salt, “Seether”
2. The Black Keys, “Gold On the Ceiling”
3. Guster, “Barrel of a Gun”
4. Fenech-Soler, “Kaleidoscope”
5. Belly, “Super-Connected”
6. Matthew Sweet, “Girlfriend”
7. The La’s, “Looking Glass”
8. The Stone Roses, “I Am the Resurrection”
9. The Real People, “Window Pane [12″ Extended Remix]” *

* — Not available on Spotify

Favorite Albums: Think Tree, ‘eight/thirteen’

I never really got along with my freshman year roommate in college for various reasons and we rarely had anything in common except certain tastes in music. We both leaned heavily towards college radio and things alternative. He was quite a bit more into the indie scene than I was — he went to all the shows whereas I was just fine sitting alone on my bed with the headphones on listening to it — but occasionally our paths crossed and we introduced each other to different bands.

Think Tree was one of his favorites that he foisted upon me pretty early on, and I loved them immediately. They were a local Boston band that defied any easy description; they seemed to embrace the same gloomy semi-industrial sound of Nine Inch Nails (but without the apocalyptic nihilism), the off-kilter humor and weirdness of Butthole Surfers (but without all the body-horror jokes) and maybe even a bit of the musical ubernerdiness of Wire (but without getting too arty about it).

“Hire a Bird” was their first official single, dropped at the tail end of 1989, and it was a huge favorite of the college radio stations, as well as both WBCN and WFNX, who had always gone out of their way to champion any local band with pride. It’s definitely a weird song but it’s catchy as hell. Singer Peter Moore delivers his vocals with an affected hillbilly grampaw lisp (something he’d do for most of their first album and live sets), over a bed of Will Ragano’s acoustic guitar, Jeff Beigert’s popping percussion, and the samples and synths of Paul Lanctot and Krishna Venkatesh. The resulting din is so off-kilter yet weaves around itself so perfectly that it works. And surprisingly, the song is a highly poetic sermon about the dangers of environmental disaster, with a semi-hopeful ‘at least we’re trying to fix it all’ chorus. The final sample that ends the song, lifted from the football game scene in Robert Altman’s MASH and taken completely out of context to underscore the song’s theme (‘we are our own enemy’), was the icing on the cake.

It took nearly a full year for the band to finish off and release their first album eight/thirteen, but it was highly anticipated by the local fans and stations. Record delays are always a dangerous thing, because when they are finally released, the scene that the record would easily fit into often no longer exists in that form. There are so many excellent albums out there that never quite reach their full potential due to fans having moved onto the next sound or scene. [This, alas, would happen to Think Tree themselves when they spent nearly two years between this and their second album Like the Idea, which is great on its own yet failed to find interest in a scene now obsessed with grunge and Britpop.]

The songs of eight/thirteen feature the best of their live set of 1988-90, hitting all their heights and highlighting their car-crash style. Sometimes it’s serious and gloomy, other times it’s funny and poppy, sometimes it’s both at once. Songs like “The Lovers” are goth dance, while songs like “Memory Protect” hint at the sample-heavy clang of Einsturzende Neubauten or Test Dept.

I got to see Think Tree a few times live during my college years, and I firmly believe that was their best platform, as they put on a raucous, hilarious, and completely bonkers show every single time. You never knew what was going to happen, or what the hell Moore was going to sing or chant about next (he had a brilliant ability to riff a wild fire-and-brimstone sermon like a demented Elmer Gantry, especially on songs like live favorite “The Word”). They would sing about prehistoric monsters (‘Iguanodon’), strong women of the wild west (1992 single ‘Rattlesnake’) and the strangeness of religions (‘Holy Cow’, another live favorite with its wonderful chorus “you worship the thing that goes moo!”) and whatever else they could think of and make it sound both freakish and fun at the same time. It was like watching a band that would have fit perfectly on The Adventures of Billy and Mandy. Album closer “The Moon” (formerly the b-side to the “Hire a Bird” single) is a perfect example of this.

Moore has recently dropped a few Bandcamp releases from the band over the years, with two live rarities albums in 2020 and a demos-and-b-sides rarities album this year (fittingly, all of them dropped on August 13). eight/thirteen is still available for streaming and downloading elsewhere, though Like the Idea is still a bit harder to get due to it having been released on Caroline Records. Most of their songs are available on YouTube, alongside a few interesting rarities like a Dutch TV appearance. Moore would continue his musical career (and his musical oddness) under the name Count Zero and even popped up as a bandmate for Blue Man Group! This album does remain quite the oddity but it’s still one of my favorites from my college years.

Mixtape: Untitled VI

This one was made during my last summer living in Boston. I was living in a two-bedroom apartment with a Berklee piano student on Brighton Avenue in Allston and working full time at the old Sony Theater that used to be up near Assembly Square Mall in Somerville. (A half-hour commute by the T, so of course I listened to a lot of tunage there and back.)

A lot of this mix came from different places: used CDs from Nuggets in Kenmore Square, album dubs from friends, a few Columbia House purchases, and a lot of taping off the radio, mostly WFNX. [I know, I know. I should have saved my money for things I needed, but I somehow made it work.] The title Untitled comes from a mix I’d made back in 1989, where I’d made a really great tape but could not for the life of me come up with a decent title. Calling it such seemed to fit somehow, and that particular series became one of my favorites to make. [I am currently on Untitled XXV, made last October. I need to catch up and make another one.]

There’s a lot of peak 90s bands here, and many songs that were highly popular with the alt-rock crowds. It was what got the most play on Boston radio at the time, plus there were some great tracks dropped then. I’d been listening heavily to Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies, Soundgarden’s Superunknown, Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple and Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral at the time (among other things) and they’d pretty much become my personal soundtrack for the 1994-95 season.

I really like how this mixtape worked out, and I still listen to it from time to time. It’s not as adventurous as some of my other mixes, but it’s solid from start to finish and has some of my all-time favorite mid-90s songs on it. It also has a sense of humor to it; silly and lighthearted songs bump up against gloomy and angry songs, and each side ends in extremely short and funny filler. And in early 2003 I’d make a two-cd “reissue” of this mix featuring nine extra songs from the era that I’d loved but couldn’t fit on the original.

Bonus: That U2 song, which would be featuring on the Batman Forever soundtrack later that summer, had been recorded off WBCN in early April when it was world-premiered by DJ Carter Alan, a close friend of the band.

Untitled VI, June 1995

Side A:
1. Bad Religion, “Stranger Than Fiction”
2. Green Day, “Basket Case”
3. Live, “I Alone”
4. Pizzicato Five, “Twiggy Twiggy/Twiggy vs James Bond”*
5. Nine Inch Nails, “Closer”
6. Frank Black, “Headache”
7. Dig, “Believe”
8. The Flaming Lips, “She Don’t Use Jelly”
9. Alice in Chains, “I Stay Away”
10. Grant Lee Buffalo, “Mockingbirds”
11. Jeff Buckley, “Last Goodbye”
12. They Might Be Giants, “Spider”

Side B:
1. Blur, “Girls & Boys”
2. Danzig, “Cantspeak”
3. Ween, “Voodoo Lady”
4. The Afghan Whigs, “Gentlemen”
5. The Smashing Pumpkins, “Never Let Me Down Again”
6. Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun”
7. Nirvana, “All Apologies”
8. Stone Temple Pilots, “Interstate Love Song”
9. Blur, “Parklife”
10. U2, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me”
11. Bjork, “Army of Me”
12. Pearl Jam, “Bugs”

* – Not available on Spotify

Favorite Albums: New Fast Automatic Daffodils, ‘Body Exit Mind’

As I’ve mentioned before, I spent most of my college days in the early 90s skimming over the sounds of grunge, instead focusing on Britpop instead. And one band that very rarely gets its due is the Manchester band New Fast Automatic Daffodils. They were never directly a part of the Madchester scene, as their sound veered more towards guitar-driven post-punk than the psychedelic grindy-organ sounds of bands like Inspiral Carpets or the Charlatans, and Andy Spearpoint’s loud, growly vocal delivery was quite similar to The Wedding Present’s David Gedge. [In fact, Grian Chatten from Fontaines DC sounds quite a bit like Spearpoint now, come to think of it.] They were just as groovy and noisy as the rest of them, however, and had their own loyal following.

Their second album Body Exit Mind dropped in October of 1992, just as I was starting my senior year at Emerson and I had somehow landed the position of music director at our AM station, WECB. Our airwave reach was laughable, but that wasn’t going to stop me from pretending that the entirety of the campus (and anyone nearby) was listening in. I latched onto this record super quick and I put multiple tracks into rotation over the course of that year.

They first popped up on WFNX’s playlist in September with the single “Stockholm”, which surprisingly hit the Top 30 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart in the US. It’s slow and stark, but it’s groovy as hell with a lot of great memorable lyrics (“No monster me, sadly no saint either”) that get stuck into your head.

Our station also acquired the Bong EP that came out soon after the album, and its title track also became a station favorite. Yes, partly because of the title (har har) but the “Ha-why-why-why-whyyyy” chorus would get stuck in your head every time you heard it. And it’s the perfect lead-off track to the album.

The teaser single “It’s Not What You Know”, set the tone for the entire album: this isn’t a blissed-out groove band, this is a band with thoughts and opinions about life. This was a band that had dropped the Madchester rave of their first album Pigeonhole and got serious. The album focuses a lot about the irritations of Not Being Where You Want to Be, which in the early 90s was exactly how we all felt at the time.

Things speed up with the odd and skittering “I Take You to Sleep”, about a man caught between mental stagnation and religious awakening and the ensuing problems deciding between one or the other. It’s a man looking for inspiration yet falling prey to ignorance instead.

My absolute favorite song on this album, however, has to be “Beatlemania”: not only because it starts off with a great bass riff, not that its title references my favorite band, but also because it’s just so freaking driven from start to finish. It starts fast and STAYS fast, even during the quiet verses held up only by the drums and bass and the occasional strum of the guitar. It’s a slow-build song that gets stronger and louder as it goes and by the end of it, you’re left breathless. It’s a song that is meant to be played loud.

Even the deep cuts like “American Money” (a growly screed about tourism delivered in a very Wedding Present-like way) and “Patchwork Lives” (a meandering Blur-like dive into suburban decay), Body Exit Mind goes out of its way to be not just topical but experimental, often sliding into minute-long segues (some no more than a few clunky treated noises, others wild and noisy jams). It’s a trip from start to finish.

This is also one of the few albums from post-college Boston days that I still listen to, to any significant degree. While some albums are great but now feel dated, and others were so overplayed that I lost interest after awhile, this album never strayed all that far from my cd player. In fact, this is most likely one of the first albums that became a staple in my Writing Session soundtracks, often giving it a spin in my shoebox apartment as I worked on what eventually ended up being the Bridgetown Trilogy. It’s not one I play incessantly, but when I do play it, I still enjoy the hell out of it.

Favorite Albums: INXS, Welcome to Wherever You Are

For some people, INXS was that band that kind of slid into semi-obscurity after the mega-huge multimillion-selling album Kick from 1987. They followed up in 1990 with X which contained a few hits such as “Suicide Blonde”, “Disappear” and “Bitter Tears”, but they never quite hit the same heights after that ’87 album. By the early 90s they were an 80s rock band trying to compete with the oncoming 90s alternative rock wave.

In late summer of 1992, they released what I think is their best 90s album, Welcome to Wherever You Are, and it’s often one that get the least attention of their later career. It’s a band growing out of their old sounds and styles and trying out new things.

The album was preceded by a teaser single, “Heaven Sent”, which features the band sounding gritty, playing loud and loose, the complete antithesis of the glossy tracks on X. Back in my college days, Boston’s alt-rock station WFNX picked up on it and gave it a decent rotation as it fit in nicely with their current playlist of grunge, Britpop and late post-punk. The follow-up single in the UK and Australia was the groovy singalong “Baby Don’t Cry” which also received local airplay here in the States.

Welcome to Wherever You Are is all over the place, but that’s a part of its charm. The production also has a distinctly early-90s quality to it, heavy on the treble and distortion for maximum loudness. There’s the bouncy New Jack beat of “Baby Don’t Cry” as well as the funky Madchester beat of the US follow-up single “Not Enough Time”, which is my favorite track off the album. It’s got a laid back mid-tempo groove and a smooth delivery that makes you want to move. (It’s also got a fantastic slow build to a glorious coda, and you know how much I love those.)

They didn’t completely ignore their own tried-and-true styles, however. Even with the tense beats and trippy feel of “Taste It” (complete with video that most definitely did not get airplay on MTV in the US due to its, er, sexiness), there were hints of the classic INXS seeping through. The gorgeous ballad “Beautiful Girl” (featuring backing vocal from none other than U2’s Bono) could have fit anywhere on their last three albums and really should have been a hit single for them.

[Side note: I will always equate this song with the radio commercial for Cambridge Soundworks that WFNX used to play in late ’92 into ’93, which used the instrumental opening as its music bed.]

Interestingly, one of the downfalls of this album — aside from it being from an 80s band and released during the initial relentless wave of Nirvana, Metallica, Soundgarden, and all the other grunge and metal favorites of all the bros out there — was that they chose not to tour for this album. Instead they would let the singles run the course while working on the follow-up album, 1993’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts. That particular album went further in the direction of attempting new sounds to fit in with current styles, but alas did not quite nail the landing; it’s got some fantastic singles (“The Gift” is a powerhouse track that demands top volume, and “Please (You Got That…)” is great bluesy fun with Ray Charles duetting) but overall it feels a bit disjointed and out of place. Despite this, they’d continue touring and releasing a greatest hits compilation, but not re-emerging with anything new until 1997’s Elegantly Wasted, which was a fine return to form but unfortunately their swan song with Michael Hutchence, who died later that year.

All told, listening back to this album now, Welcome to Wherever You Are is truly a fantastic album that just happened to be out of place with everything surrounding it, including the rest of the band’s discography. Some of its singles do still get airplay now and again, but more often than not you’ll hear something from Listen Like Thieves or Kick instead. It’s a deep-cut kind of album that really deserves another listen.

More on Revisiting the 90s

I can easily divide up the 90s on a musical and personal note: the college/post-college years (Jan 1990 – Sept 1996) and the HMV years (Sept 1996 – Sept 2000). And I often do, because I approached my listening habits according to how much money (or more accurately, how little) I had in my coffers at the time. The former was filled with mix tapes of things recorded off the radio, dollar bin raids at the various used record shops I frequented, dubs from friends, and the occasional splurge when I really should have been paying a bill. [I’ll totally own up to that. But they were of course few and far between.] The latter was filled with meticulously crafted mix tapes of things bought at a discount from my store, freebies, even more dollar bin raids, and, erm, maybe a few dubs surreptitiously made in the back room of the store? The music of the post-HMV years, aka the Yankee Candle years, would be informed almost entirely by Newbury Comics. I’m pretty sure I singlehandedly kept them in business then. But that’s another post.

Personally, I would say the personal delineation is around the same time, and surprising no one, was informed by financial reasons; I was finally able to pay off overdue bills and stop deferring my student loans. I would also posit that it was also the time I got my shit together and started my writing career on a much more serious level. Whatever worked to dislodge myself from the spiral I’d found myself in. And once I found myself in a better mental and emotional state, there was no looking back.

I couldn’t listen to those early 90s years without feeling a sense of failure. I could have been such a better student. I could have applied myself better. I could have done this, I could have done that. Giving into my moodiness and lack of self-esteem far too often. So it’s with no surprise that I avoided obsessing over that era here at Walk in Silence for quite a number of years. The HMV years were much more positive, not to mention directly tied in with my Belfry years writing The Phoenix Effect and the Bridgetown Trilogy.

So why now? Why am I picking up these pieces? Well, it’s been three decades on, and I’m in a much better place. It’s time for a bit of closure on a lot of things related to that time. Make peace with what I couldn’t achieve, and celebrate everything else I’ve done since. I’m listening to these albums and singles the way I’d wanted to in the first place: without all the extra baggage. Experience them as the creative endeavors they are, and if I’m lucky, learn to appreciate them a hell of a lot more.

Updating the mp3 players

I’m ridiculously picky when it comes to updating my mp3 players. I currently have three, which I’ve acqured over the years: a Creative Zen Mozaic, an older SanDisk Sansa Clip, and a newer SanDisk Sport Plus. Do I use all three? Yes, of course I do! Normally I tend to have them filled up with specific themes or sounds; the Zen is usually reserved for new and recent releases plus the Beatles discography (because come on…do you know me?) while the Sansa Clip has older favorites.

Now that I work in an office again (grumble grumble), I’ve been putting all three to good use throughout the day. I don’t have direct access to my music library unless I use up a significant amount of phone data via our Plex server, so I make do with the old-school travel-sized players.

Lately I’ve been playing around with a new possible writing project (no promises yet) in which I sort of decided its soundtrack would be the music of the early 90s up to the early 00s. Why? Good question, but I won’t go into detail just yet. Suffice it to say, I’m going to start listening to these albums for first time without equating them to the Bridgetown Trilogy. I’m not doing it on purpose, it just happened that way. But in the process, I’m getting to revisit these songs with fresh ears and no prior influence.

But more importantly, I get to revisit these songs without the emotional attachment I’ve long had with most of them. I’ve written so many blog posts about those lean post-college years, and about the music I listened to during that time, but this time out I’m finally giving them a spin without getting caught up in all the personal drama. I’m listening to them in the context of what was going on in the world during the time of their release. [I suppose in a way you could say I’m purposely not making it all about me this time. Heh.]

Also, it’s kind of fun to revisit some of these songs and albums that I know pretty well but haven’t visited in ages. In particular, I’ve been making it a point to revisit some of the mainstream pop albums I enjoyed — the downside to being so into alt-rock is a habitual avoidance of all things pop — and getting something new out of them. It’s to the point that I’ve been tempted to do another visit to Amoeba Records’ dollar bin to find more of those albums that passed me by.

And who knows — maybe I’ll rediscover a few tracks that flew under my radar!

I saw the decade in…

[A little something from my daily words that I wrote the other day…]

I’ve been listening to more music from 1990-1992 again, because why not? I’m still a bit fascinated by this era, where the sounds have grown larger than (and out of?) the college rock scene, but before the giant wave of Britpop and grunge. The music is lighter, less moody, even kind of positive in a way. It’s sort of like the early Beatles, or the early hippie scene, where it’s working from its surface, or perhaps from a more honest core, before the moods and the darker drugs and the hyped-up scenes came in.

I was on the back end of my freshman year at Emerson and just starting sophomore year, torn between the escape of my small town and being tied to it. It’s the era of the happier times and looking optimistically into the future. The end of the Cold War and the start of the Middle East wars — the first war televised In Real Time that Generation X could watch, bringing a lingering horror that we could possibly be dragged kicking and screaming into it whether we wanted it or not. We had Bush I in office which was essentially Reagan II, more of the same conservative bullshit. But we knew better…we could go further.

We were fighting with our blood and our emotions to break out of the old bigotries and passive ignorance. But it was also the era of great creativity: the new independent movie directors. It was an era of our generation deciding we were sick of the exhausted tropes and music-by-numbers and took a page from what we knew: our own takes on REM and The B-52s and French New Wave and so on. We were nerdy artists and we were having fun riffing on our own creations, knowing full well that we could now get away with it. In short: we were coming of age and we realized we’d had voices of our own. We were irreverent. We were saying fuck the world, let’s do it ourselves if they won’t help us. We were a generation that was seen as an amusing sideline

Out of the mire of my freshman year (and that frustratingly slow last summer working for the town barn) came a much healthier and more positive outlook. I’d grown past my attempts to fit in with the alternahipsters (I was just too square for them, I guess?) and relearned how to gravitate towards the people who would become close, if temporary, friends. There was a positive vibe coming across, despite the situations we often found ourselves in. I wrote some of my best songs to date, created Murph, worked on multiple screenplays for classes. And I listened to even more music than before, because I had so much more access to it: I had WFNX and WBCN and all the college stations (including my own) and I had all the record stores I could shop at.

It was a strange time, as I was indeed seeing the decade when it seemed the world could change in the blink of an eye. And it often did, slipping into so many different subspaces and subgenres before we could even notice it happening. I stayed within this positivity because it was so much needed at the time. I let myself open up to a lot more people. I started opening up my mind a bit, let myself experiment with different ideas and thoughts because I could trust myself now. What I started thinking about, feeling, doing at that point in time, that was when I first let myself go further. Let myself find out who I might be underneath all of this, without all the barriers and without having to put everyone else’s needs before mine.

That was when I chose to stay in the city the coming summer. I knew that going back would have been going in the wrong direction. I had to go forward, live a different life. I was poor as fuck and I spent most of the summer eating bad foods and barely scraping by, but I was bound and determined to break out of my old shell. I’d crash and burn (and spectacularly at that) just a few years later, but it at least gave me a direction when I could start over again.