…in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.
Every time I hear some blowhard talk about how these children are too young to understand — be it gender, race, sexuality, or any other bugbear that scares the bejeezus out of conservatives these days — it always reminds me just how many movies out there have been made about those same children understanding just fine and it’s the closed-minded adults who aren’t listening or paying attention.
It makes me think of Over the Edge, that 1979 film with a super young Matt Dillon, about a small nowhere town where there’s nothing to do, the cops don’t trust the kids, and the parents refuse to understand why they’re acting the way they are.
It makes me think of Times Square, a 1980 film about two teenage runaways from opposite sides of NYC and how they’re both cast off, ignored and expected to conform.
It reminds me of Pump Up the Volume — a 1990 film with a whole lot of parallels to Over the Edge about, you guessed it, bored teens in a small town full of adults who won’t listen to them.
It reminds me of Permanent Record, a 1988 film about a teen’s suicide, his friends’ reactions, and the adults’ reticence about talking with them about it.
And of course, it reminds me of The Breakfast Club, the classic teen flick about kids figuring themselves out because the adults in charge are certainly doing a shit-ass job helping them.
They all have a similar theme: the kids might not be totally alright, but they’re trying as hard as they fucking can to make it through with minimal damage…all while dealing with Adults With The Best Of Intentions who obviously aren’t listening or paying attention.
I always think of those films (and soundtracks) when I see state leaders threatening to shut down any mention of the word ‘gay’, or passing laws essentially outlawing treatment for trans teens, or any other bullshit they’re on this week. It reminds me of being a teen and discovering nonconformity for the first time. It reminds me of not being able to truly be myself for fear of reprisal from adults or other teens.
And it reminds me of growing up as a teen, looking for answers but also knowing that the adults are going to give me what they think I need to hear, which might hurt more than help.
It’s coming up to the end of the year and the end of the semester, and I think it’s safe to say that I was probably in a reasonably good mood at this point. I say ‘reasonably’ because I knew I’d started wondering if I’d made the right decision in going to the college I did. I was still struggling with homework — I wouldn’t realize until much, much later that I had undiagnosed focus issues since probably 7th grade — and I was just wishing I could finish up this whole education game already. I’d already made some terrible 8mm film experiments that showed that I had interesting ideas and absolutely zero experience. At the same time, however, I started thinking that maybe those interesting ideas was where my creative strengths lie. I also took some radio classes that gave me some interesting ideas as well.
In the meantime, there was still a magnificent wave of great music coming out and I was certainly spending all my money on it.
The House of Love, A Spy in the House of Love, released 1 November 1990. Yet another album with the band’s name in the title (both named after the Anais Nin novel), this time collecting several b-sides and rarities. ‘Marble’, an obscure b-side, ended up getting significant airplay and an official promo video.
Pass the Avocados, Please (Being a Compilation of Manchester, Hip Hop and Other Atrocities) mixtape, created by C Tatro, November 1990. After foisting several mixtapes on my high school friend who was now in his junior year at UMass, he sent me this one in return. It’s a curious mix of tunes that we both loved, heavy on the Madchester with a dash of deep cuts. By the summer of 1991, I’d be responding with my own ‘Avocado’ mix.
The Trashcan Sinatras, Cake, released 5 November 1990. This Scottish band came and went in the US rather quickly, but while they were here, this particular album was a favorite of both music journalists and fans. Light and jangly and full of humor, this album is a joyful listen and I really need to play it more often!
The Beautiful South, Choke, released 13 November 1990. When the Housemartins broke up in 1988, two of its members went on to form this band and have a strong and vibrant career playing lighthearted, cheeky music with a string of British hits to their name.
Lush, Gala, released 13 November 1990. The first official ‘album’ by Lush is actually a compilation of their EPs and singles to date. “De-Luxe” was rereleased to promote it, and this album became a favorite for both critics and fans alike.
Madonna, The Immaculate Collection, released 13 November 1990. It took Madonna a surprisingly long time to release a greatest hits mix, and as was typical of her career, it wasn’t just a collection of her hit singles. Several of the songs were mixed into QSound, an attempt at giving the songs an aural 3-D quality. Two new songs were also added, including the trip-hop inspired “Justify My Love”.
The Sisters of Mercy, Vision Thing, released 13 November 1990. The last new Sisters of Mercy album to date (Andrew Eldritch still tours at this time), This one feels rather glossy compared to the gloomy First and Last and Always or the damp and echoey Floodland, but it fit the changing moods of industrial and goth. It’s definitely of its time.
The Cure, Mixed Up, released 20 November 1990. While us fans were all waiting for a new Cure album (it wouldn’t come for another two years), the band followed up the mega-selling Disintegration with a…remix album? Sure, why not? It’s a wild ride, partly a collection of already-released 12-inch extended remixes and partly an experiment with handing the tapes to producers to turn into something new. And somehow it works!
Buffalo Tom, Birdbrain, released 20 November 1990. This was such a huge hit in the Boston area that you heard it everywhere: on WFNX, WBCN, college stations…I think even hard-rock station WAAF played them for a while! It’s a great album, full of punky, folky songs written by fantastic songwriters.
Happy Mondays, Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches, released 27 November 1990. While the Mondays’ previous albums could be scattershot and a mix between a coked-out jam session and an aural car crash, this album saw them break through internationally with tight grooves, smart lyrics, sort-of-on-key singing, and an album chock full of excellent songs. The big hit “Step On” — another Kongos cover they’d kept for themselves — put them on the indie rock map and remains their most popular track.
Coming towards the end of the year, I started thinking about the various things that had changed in my life to date. I’d remembered entering 1990 thinking how wild it was to be entering the last decade of the last century of the last millennium, but I ended the year thinking maybe a little more close to home: writing new songs and getting better on my bass (and borrowing Jon A’s guitar now and again); approaching my creative writing in different ways; learning to rein in my rampant emotions and thoughts into something a bit more coherent and controllable; and maybe even thinking about who I thought I was versus who I actually wanted to be. It was around this time that I’d finally decided that maybe being the overly moody bastard wasn’t going to work for me for that much longer.
Whew! This one’s gonna be a long one. Something was in the air on both sides of the Atlantic come 1990, that’s for sure. The 80s MTV pop scene was dying a slow death (or at least its rock-influenced version, at any rate), and that left the playing field wide open for all sorts of rock genres to come sliding into people’s consciousness. This could be considered the golden age for alt-rock radio, especially now that stations like WFNX were leading the way in metro Boston and other cities were joining in.
And against all expectations, I actually had somewhat of a social life! It wasn’t all that active to be sure, but I’d met some cool people on my floor that I could spend time with instead of wallowing in self-pity in my dorm room, heh. We’d hang out in our rooms, go to all-ages shows on Landsdowne Street, watch Twin Peaks and compare notes afterwards, make goofy art videos, and so on. And I met this budding actor named Jon who lived just across the hall — not to be confused with the John who lived next door — who’d pretty much be my frenemy for the next four years. [More about which below.]
Buffalo Tom, “Birdbrain” single, released 1 October 1990. This Boston band had an extremely loyal local following and played the long game to certain success in the mid-90s. This single broke them locally with is chunky riffs and memorable lyrics. [And we Bostonians had a good laugh when we watched this video and recognized the shirtless guy in the back of the truck was shot in the Sumner Tunnel!]
Alien Sex Fiend, Curse, released 1 October 1990. Goth industrial weirdness rarely ever made it past its specialty shows and dance nights at Central Square in Cambridge, but somehow ASF’s “Now I’m Feeling Zombified” single made it to multiple playlists, partly because it was just so damn bizarre.
The Sisters of Mercy, “More” single, released 1 October 1990. After waiting multiple years for Andrew Eldritch’s next move, he surprised everyone by not only working once again with Jim Steinman for the single “More”, he also hired Sigue Sigue Sputnik/Generation X bassist Tony James to join the band. It might not be as epic-goth as “This Corrosion”, but it’s still a great song.
Miles Dethmuffen, Nine-Volt Grape, released 1 October 1990. This too was a Boston band and yet it was my friend Chris who introduced me to them from his seeing them at UMass Amherst. Somewhat similar to the jangly Athens GA sound, they didn’t stick around long, but this album did get some airplay here and there on college radio.
The La’s, The La’s, released 1 October 1990. …and here it is, one of my top favorite albums of all time, and I’m sure it’s on many others’ lists as well. Why is it so beloved? It could be the beautiful simplicity of its folky songwriting, its lost-in-time retro feel, its quintessentially British references, its occasional forays into light psychedelia and garage rock. It could also be that “There She Goes” was such a tremendous hit that you still hear it on several stations to this day. And yes, I still highly recommend having it in your collection.
Information Society, Hack, released 5 October 1990. InSoc’s sophomore album may not have reached the heights of their debut, and it may be slightly too long, but it’s such a fun listen that I love it anyway! It’s my favorite of their early records, and there are several great deep cuts worth checking out. This got some serious Walkman play for a number of years.
Hindu Love Gods, Hindu Love Gods, released 5 October 1990. A side project between Bill Berry, Mike Mills and Peter Buck of REM with singer Warren Zevon, this album sounds more like rough jam demos than anything else, but it’s a super fun record that shows just how much the foursome love playing. Their Prince cover ended up getting some significant airplay as well.
Goo Goo Dolls, Hold Me Up, released 5 October 1990. Well before “Name” and “Iris” shot them into the stratosphere, this trio’s sound was more fun and punky, and this album was a favorite on college radio. It’s interesting to hear these early songs just to see how much they’d evolved.
The Charlatans UK, Some Friendly, released 8 October 1990. A Britpop staple that doesn’t quite fit most others in its genre, the Charlatans were more about the laid back grooviness of it all. This album sounds less like something you’d hear at the Hacienda and more something you’d hear on the boombox in your bedsit. Not that that’s a bad thing — this album is a mood that lets you relax and bliss out a bit.
Nine Inch Nails, “Sin” single, released 10 October 1990. The final single from 1989’s Pretty Hate Machine, the main track is one of the most tense and intrusive of Trent Reznor’s, hinting at what NIN’s future sounds would be. The true gem, however, is a wild and distorted cover of Queen’s “Get Down Make Love”, a b-side that ended up getting its own bit of airplay.
Ride, Nowhere, released 15 October 1990. The shoegaze band from Oxford dropped its debut album on both sides of the Atlantic to critical acclaim, and it’s one of the first albums that really helped the US experience what that “shoegaze” sound was. I remember this one being a big hit with a few of my friends that I worked with at the Media Center.
Blur, “She’s So High” single, released 15 October 1990. It all started here for this London quartet, kicking off a long and successful run of albums and singles that are still radio favorites. They were my favorite of the Britpop bands at the time, as they’d chosen to lean heavily on their creativity, their lyrical cheekiness and the fact that they wrote damn fine songs.
Lush, “Sweetness and Light” single, released 15 October 1990. There’s something about a high-octane one-chord song that resonates with me, and this is one of my top favorite songs of this particular year. This song also inspired me to play around a bit more with my songwriting, trying new chord progressions and musical directions.
The Pogues, Hell’s Ditch, released 19 October 1990. The last Pogues album to feature the increasingly intoxicated Shane MacGowan, this felt like a change of course for the band, where they began moving away from their Irish-folk sound and trying out more rock-oriented songs. It’s a bit of a mess but it’s also full of really great tracks as well.
Various Artists, Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson, released 19 October 1990. Another tribute album, this one shows just how odd yet still accessible Erickson’s work could be. This one’s filled with numerous indie musicians like REM, John Wesley Harding, Primal Scream, Butthole Surfers, and more.
Pet Shop Boys, Behaviour, released 22 October 1990. Their first new album in two years, it shows that PSB had evolved perfectly from mid-80s synthpop to 90s dancefloor techno, staking a claim on the scene for years to come.
Various Artists, Happy Daze, Volume 1, released 22 October 1990. Considered one of the first major compilation releases to focus on the growing Madchester scene, it’s a heady mix of indie pop that may not all be from the northern city, but would certainly have been played on the radio and at the clubs. It’s full of important singles by Happy Mondays, The Soup Dragons, The Wonder Stuff, Carter USM, and more. [I’m still not sure why Pixies’ “Velouria” is on it as it feels like a placeholder, but it doesn’t exactly ruin the mood, either.]
Morrissey, Bona Drag, released 22 October 1990. Not so much an album as a collection of his solo singles and most b-sides to date, this encapsulates most of his time with producer Stephen Street, and in my opinion probably some of his best work. This was one of the cassettes that got heavy Walkman play during my weekend train rides back home. It was kind of like living a bit of the past and remembering the time I spent with the Vanishing Misfits crowd, but without the self-induced gloom.
Every now and again in one’s life, you meet that one person who sets you off in a different direction, makes you rethink your life, inspires your creativity, and maybe even gets you in a bit of trouble. Jon A was that guy for me. I called him my frenemy early in this post because that’s what he was: He could be a really good sounding board and a caring person and get me to think deeper about my creative career, but he was also someone who didn’t quite understand what kind of person I already was. That can be good, if you’re looking for someone to inspire you to be better…but it can also be bad, when you have little self-trust and self-confidence. I had the latter, and whether he knew it or not, he saw how easily I could be influenced and leaned on that. He also had no idea what “I have absolutely no money and I’m broke most of the time” meant.
Anyway — he’ll pop up multiple times in this series until about 1995. Last time I saw him was probably a month or so after I moved back home that autumn, and I’ve no idea where he’s been since.
Summer was winding down, and I’d come to the conclusion that maybe my problem was that I was trying to hold onto something — or maybe several somethings — that were no longer there. It wasn’t just my social life, either. I had to grow up and be more serious about my school work. I had to be consistent with my creative endeavors. And maybe that connection I had with my home town needed to be — well, maybe not severed, but at least loosened considerably. It was time to wrap things up and move on. Chris would host his second ‘fiasco’ party at his grandfather’s cabin on Packard Pond, this time with several of his college friends. I’d meet up with T once or twice more. And then it was time to go.
Jellyfish, Bellybutton, released 7 August 1990. Bay Area drummer/songwriter Andy Sturmer and keyboardist Roger Manning conceived a band that leaned heavily on 70s classic rock and XTC power-pop and added guitarist Jason Falkner and Roger’s brother Chris on drums to create one of the year’s most enjoyable and bubblegummiest albums. It’s a wonderful record from start to finish and highly recommended. [Music trivia: Roger Manning would end up working with Beck, Falkner became a respected solo artist, and Sturmer wrote pop gems for Puffy AmiYumi among others!]
The Heart Throbs, Cleopatra Grip, released 7 August 1990. Shoegaze meets dreampop in this echoey, meandering record that may not have contained huge hits, but it was certainly a lovely album to listen to on a warm weekend afternoon in late summer.
Extreme, Extreme II Pornograffitti, released 7 August 1990. A Boston band that did actually make it into the big time, this straight-ahead commercial rock band wore its heart on its sleeve for its ballads (such as the classic “More Than Words” from this album), rocked their audiences with party anthems like “Get the Funk Out” and even snagged me with a great acoustic sing-along with the single and album closer “Hole Hearted”. This ended up being their only hit album, but they’re still around and still going strong.
Deee-Lite, World Clique, released 7 August 1990. I totally wasn’t into the club scene at the time, but you could not escape the de-lovely fun of “Groove Is In the Heart” which got itself plastered all over creation, from alternative rock stations to pop stations to Top 40 stations and beyond. The entire album is a goofy and fun trip.
Pump Up the Volume soundtrack, released 8 August 1990. The Christian Slater film may not have been the biggest summer hit — it’s your classic “the adults don’t understand the kids” rebellion film on par with the ’79 cult hit Over the Edge, complete with amazing soundtrack — but it certainly lit a fire under me at the time with its themes of nonconformity, refusal to give in, and yes, even alternative radio. This was my go-to soundtrack for many months afterwards, and also got me to start investigating the discography of Leonard Cohen, whose songs play a significant part.
9 Ways to Sunday, 9 Ways to Sunday, released 13 August 1990. This obscure band, like Katydids, only got some minor airplay on Adult Alternative stations before vanishing completely, but there’s some really great deep cuts on this one. I’ve always loved the single “Come Tell Me Now”, which ended up on a few of my mixtapes.
Pixies, Bossanova, released 13 August 1990. I remember being at the DPW reading the Boston Herald when news dropped that this album was coming, and I bought it the week it came out. This is my favorite early-era Pixies record, and most of my favorite tracks of theirs are from this one. It’s their most accessible and cohesive album.
Living Colour, Time’s Up, released 20 August 1990. LC had to work hard to top their initial debut, 1988’s incredible Vivid, but instead of being bigger and better, they took a side-step and got funkier and jazzier. The blasting hard rock is still there — the jammy single “Type” and the bluesy single “Love Rears Its Ugly Head” for starters — are just as strong as the first album.
Mixtape, Untitled II, created 20 August 1990. This remains one of my favorite mixtapes I’ve made. It was made on the week off between leaving the town public works job and heading back to Boston (a choice I made on purpose as a mental buffer) and was played frequently while relaxing in my room, playing Solitaire and just letting the days go by. Most of the songs were from recent used record store purchases, WMDK’s playlist, and deep cuts of older albums and singles I’d gotten into. (There’s also a Flying Bohemians track on there that I’m extremely proud of.) It’s one of my best in terms of flow and mood.
Bob Mould, Black Sheets of Rain, released 21 August 1990. Mould’s second solo album saw him return to the harder, angrier sound he’d been known for, and though that may have turned off a few new fans, it’s a solid album that’s worth checking out.
Alice in Chains, Facelift, released 21 August 1990. AIC’s debut was a bona fide hit across the board and paved the way for even more bands from the Pacific Northwest to introduce the grunge sound to the world.
Anthrax, Persistence of Time, released 21 August 1990. This thrash-metal band had its own fan base for years, but in 1990 they took a quirky post-punk-meets-jazz track by Joe Jackson (yes, the “Steppin’ Out” guy) and turned it into a badass headbanger that gained them an even bigger following. Even Jackson himself began playing the song live at Anthrax speed because of it.
Jane’s Addiction, Ritual De Lo Habitual, released 21 August 1990. This record had both its fans and detractors, as it’s not as post-punk moody and gritty as Nothing’s Shocking; it’s a lot more experimental and maybe a little unhinged in places, and isn’t quite as cohesive. Still, it’s got some of their best tracks as well, including their goofy hit single “Been Caught Stealing”.
Cocteau Twins, “Iceblink Luck” single, released 28 August 1990. This band had long been known for their slow, dreamlike, reverb-drenched sound, but a new decade brought them a much brighter and perkier sound, starting with this surprise hit single.
Angelo Badalamenti, Soundtrack from Twin Peaks, released 31 August 1990. The soundtrack to David Lynch’s weird-yet-intriguing television show dropped just weeks before its second season started (and we still didn’t know who’d killed Laura Palmer yet), and its dreamy spookiness is some of Badalamenti’s best and most memorable work.
I’d return to Boston at the start of September with the plan of taking life a bit more seriously than I did the previous year. I had a new roommate I knew I’d get along with, new friends to hang out with, and a healthier outlook on my personal and creative life. I’d finally be taking film production classes (after several history and theory prerequisites), and seeing if I could create visually what I was seeing in my head with my writing. It may or may not work, but I’d finally have the chance to find out.
In retrospect, I think this was about the time that I probably should have ended things with T to spare us both the heartache and the long-distance frustrations (and the budget-busting phone bills). The both of us knew we had to move on one way or another, and I think we were both starting to move in separate directions. I can definitely see in a lot of my poetry and lyrics of the time that while I was mentally and emotionally in a healthier place, I wasn’t yet out of the woods, and that was primarily due to my refusal to let go of those last few threads keeping me connected to my hometown and my past. It is what it is, though…we’d soon have our mini-breakups, our missed chances and reconciliations for a few years more. And we’re still friends to this day, so at least we can both cherish that.
Don’t mind me, I’ve recently been hired part-time at a shop up the street and this week has been full of filling out forms, doing orientation work and all the fun stuff that goes along with starting a new job. It’s been almost exactly two years since I left the Former Day Job and *mumbletymumble* years since I last started a completely new one with all the aforementioned forms, orientation and fun stuff, so this week has been a combination of deja vu and curious excitement at getting paid again.
After some time avoiding my roommate and getting to know other people in my dorm who were more chill and less hipster — and occasionally heading home on the Fitchburg line train to get my head together and maybe meet up with T for an afternoon — I think I finally figured out where I was going. Or at least found a goal to aim for, at any rate. I may not have gotten the radio station position I wanted (that would come next semester) but I did find a work-study day job at the school that would bring many fond memories and calm moments.
The Emerson College library at the time was at 150 Beacon, a half-block up from our ‘campus’ center and the parking spot for the school shuttle. It was five floors and a basement squeezed into a former mansion — the only stairway that reached all six floors was the servant’s, where the old-school iron-gate elevator was — and it was the perfect place to hide if you wanted to study without being bothered by anyone. And down in the drafty and often chilly basement was the Media Center, which held a few classrooms, the music library, and a few a/v suites shoehorned in as well. That was my job for all four years plus two summers: hanging down there at its front desk, taking classroom reservations, setting up videos and 16mm films for the film teachers, and recording the daily newscasts for the TV teachers. It became my haven and my hiding place and one of my favorite places to be. To this day I still have occasional dreams about it, even though the building’s long been sold off and divided into condos.
Happy Mondays, Hallelujah EP, released 1 November 1989. This, I think, was my official introduction to what would soon become known as Britpop. I remember hearing this on WMDK one evening when I’d gone home for a weekend break, and the DJ was super excited about the ‘new sound’ coming out of England that was steeped in club grooves but still maintained its rock swagger. I instantly fell in love with its psychedelic grooviness and that it was just so out there, totally different from the moody post-punk college rock I’d been mainlining for the last few years yet not flippant and lightweight like most dance pop was at the time. While most alt-rock stations were looking westward towards Seattle, I was once again looking eastward towards London.
The Stone Roses, ‘Fools Gold’ single, released 13 November 1989. Soon after the Mondays came another Manchester band, one I was more familiar with from its debut album released just a few months earlier. (I didn’t initially lump them in with the Britpop sound as they felt more like a post-punk/garage band hybrid to me at the time.) I instantly fell in love with the nine-minute 12″ version of this song for its blissed-out groove jam as well as its janky drum loop. This one often reminds me of my years working at the college library, as WFNX would play it quite often.
Morrissey, ‘Ouija Board, Ouija Board’ single, released 13 November 1989. Out of all his between-album singles of the time, I probably liked this one the best because it was just a simple quirky oddity squeezed in between the political ‘Interesting Drug’ and the overindulgent ‘November Spawned a Monster’. It’s a throwaway, but it’s a fun throwaway.
The Primitives, Pure, released 14 November 1989. This band’s second album lightened up slightly on the sugary flower-pop sound and leaned a bit heavier on the rock that drove their initial hit “Crash”. There’s some really great deep cuts on this album and I don’t listen to it nearly enough as I should.
Ministry, The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste, released 14 November 1989. The album between the college radio favorite The Land of Rape and Honey and the breakthrough Psallm 69 gets overlooked a lot, and I think it’s partly because it’s a ‘more of the same’ record, but it’s got some great tracks on it that got some major radio play on WFNX at the time. I tended to listen to this one on my headphones whenever my roommate was pissing me off too much.
Duran Duran, Decade, released 15 November 1989. Their first official greatest hits record was absolutely perfect collection of their hit singles in chronological order that proves just how amazing this band was throughout the 80s. Even if you had every album and single they’d put out, you wanted this because it was such a great mix.
The Creatures, Boomerang, released 22 November 1989. Siouxsie and Budgie’s side project away from the Banshees always focused more on the musical styles that their main band couldn’t (or wouldn’t) quite pull off, and this one delves deep into a lot of different styles like jazz and even a bit of flamenco. I got to meet the two of them at Newbury Comics in Harvard Square when they did a signing!
Severed Heads, Rotund for Success, released 22 November 1989. This was one of my most favorite finds during my freshman year, picked up used at Nuggets in Kenmore Square. They were one of those bands I was familiar with (thanks to 120 Minutes) but never owned anything as I could never find their stuff. I bought this only on the strength of having heard the single “Greater Reward” at some point, and I completely fell in love with it. This became one of my Walkman go-tos when I was heading home on the train for the weekend. The band isn’t for everyone, but this record certainly is, and I highly recommend it.
More to come — when the end of the year brings hope for change, however desperate it may be.
One month into my college years and of course I was already thinking, what the fuck have I gotten myself into? It was a perfect storm of harsh truths and brutal realizations: I clearly was not programmed for academia, or at least never properly trained for it (or, as I would figure out much later in life, unaware that I could find mental and emotional workarounds that would help me make it all work). People similar to my closest friends in high school (aka the Vanishing Misfits) were nowhere to be found in this school full of budding actors, writers and filmmakers already imagining themselves the next maverick auteur. Any creativity I tried to bring to the table was met with side-eyes and wincingly seen as hardly original. [And see, this is precisely why I eye-roll like mad whenever I see the latest theoretical discourse and debate on Twitter. Because I’ve already witnessed enough of this kind of self-aggrandizing horseshit for one lifetime, thank you very much.]
I can definitely see what direction I was heading in with the poems and lyrics I was writing at the time…I’d gone past the Cure-like gothic doom and straight into the unfiltered fuck-you of punk at that point. My other mistake here was that I’d used my long-distance relationship as an anchor to keep me sane. I always treated T with love and kindness, but damn I am so surprised she never slapped me upside the head and told me to grow the fuck up.
ANYWAY. I had a lot of shit to contend with, a lot of life lessons to catch up on, and a spiral of self-triggered depression to slide into. I always did my best to keep my head above water and found whatever distractions I could to keep me from getting any worse. And thankfully, the music was there to help.
Jesus Jones, Liquidizer, released 1 October 1989. No one really knew what to make of this band’s wild mix of industrial, dance and hard rock at first, other than it was noisy and you could dance to it. Most everyone’s familiar with “Right Here Right Now” but there’s so much more to this band than what you expect. Their first album is much more twitchy and aggressive but also a really fun listen.
Galaxie 500, On Fire, released 1 October 1989. Well before Dean Wareham started Luna, he was one third of this proto-quietcore band out of the Boston area that became the favorite of all the local college radio stations. Their spin was that their music often took on a hazy, almost psychedelic feel.
The Jesus + Mary Chain, Automatic, released 9 October 1989. Their third album (fourth if you count the b’s-and-rarities Barbed Wire Kisses from 1988) took them in an altogether different direction, seriously toning down the feedback and ramping up the beats. They kept the volume, though, and it ended up making this album a huge hit.
Lush, Scar EP, released 9 October 1989. It all started here for this band, a six-track record that took the time-honored 4AD sound and vision (dreamy melodies, heavy on the reverb, 23 Envelope cover, natch) and ramped up the volume. This was a label changing from its chamber-pop high and into a new sonic landscape. I remember hearing “Scarlet” on WZBC (Boston College’s station) for the first time and being completely blown away by it…I headed to Tower Records the very next day and bought the cassette!
The Blue Nile, Hats, released 16 October 1989. I remember my first shift at WECB, Emerson’s AM station (with the reach of just our dorms at the time), “The Downtown Lights” was one of the tunes on the rotation I had to play, and I absolutely fell in love with it. The band are kind of a peculiar mix of 80s adult pop sheen, smooth jazz and new wavey synthpop, but they pull it off wonderfully.
Erasure, Wild!, released 16 October 1989. Their follow-up to The Innocents was far more club-oriented and while it may not have been as memorable as some of their previous albums, it’s certainly enjoyable. Early in 1990 I saw this band for the first time at the Orpheum in downtown Boston and they put on an absolutely ridiculous and super fun show that I still think about from time to time!
Kate Bush, The Sensual World, released 17 October 1989. I was late in getting into her music (I didn’t own anything of hers until her hits collection The Whole Story) but I did get this one soon after it was released. It kind of reminds me of U2’s Unforgettable Fire in that I feel a sort of self-contained warmth when I listen to it. It’s a mature and low-key record that’s got some fantastic songs on it.
The Smithereens, 11, released 18 October 1989. The Jersey band’s third record (its name and album cover hinting at Ocean’s Eleven) is just as powerful and energetic as their previous — and they’re still downtuning their guitars a half-step here — but so many of these songs are just begging to be cranked up. [And if the lyrics to “A Girl Like You” sound familiar, it’s because the song was originally written for the John Cusack movie Say Anything but not used as it pretty much gave the entire plot away!]
Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine, released 20 October 1989. If there’s one album that bridges the gap between my life in the late 80s and what was to come in the early 90s, it’s this one. An album so full of spite, pain, depression and desperation that distilled what I was feeling at the time, all wrapped up in one record. And when they came to town in November to play on Landsdowne Street just outside Kenmore Square, I was there in the mosh pit, pissed off and needing to bleed it all out of my system. I would often return to this one album whenever I knew I was veering towards the darker side of my moods. And believe me, I returned to it a lot for a few years there.
Men Without Hats, The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century, released 30 October 1989. After the surprising popularity if 1987’s Pop Goes the World and its title track, the Hats followed up with another AOR-level popfest that might not exactly be chartworthy but goes in some really interesting and unexpected directions, including the pro-feminist anti-abuse single “Hey Men” and a fascinating cover of ABBA’s “SOS”.
The Psychedelic Furs, Book of Days, released 30 October 1989. The Furs closed out their stellar 80s run with a heavy, murky record full of tension and discomfort, but it features some of my favorite later-era songs of theirs as well, including the above. [TW: the video has a lot of strobe effects.]
I’ve been putting this off for years, and I think it’s high time: let’s take an extended look at the music that I listened to in my five years while living in Boston, from September 1989 to August 1995. That’s five years’ worth of music, so this one’s going to take quite a lot of time. Which is fine, because I’ve been wanting to revisit a lot of these!
Some of these albums will have good memories tied to them. Some of them won’t. Some of them will just be background soundtracks while others will have deep personal meaning. It was five rollercoaster years of good and bad, and I think it’s high time I made peace with them.
I started Emerson College in the fall of 1989, living on the third floor (room 306) of Charlesgate, the tall former hotel that sits on the corner of Beacon and Charlesgate East, just a few blocks east of Kenmore Square. This was back when the school’s campus — such as it was — was situated at the other end of Back Bay, at the intersection of Beacon and Berkeley. I’d take the school shuttle from one end to the other most days, but walking the length (just under a mile) wasn’t so bad either.
Mind you, I was going in with good intentions that may have been extremely rose-colored and innocently hopeful, and it didn’t quite turn out the way I’d expected. I was hoping for a cool roomie with excellent tastes in college rock and ended up with a somewhat rude hipster that merely tolerated me. I was trying to maintain a pre-internet long-distance relationship that I too often became overdependent on. My so-so grades remained so-so (most likely a mix of ADD-like distraction, depression and not really knowing how to study properly), and I was perpetually broke.
On the plus side? I’d brought my bass with me and practiced on that thing like no tomorrow. I used some of my spare time writing outtakes and comic strips. And I could easily head home for the weekend just by jumping on the train at North Station. That’s the one thing I remember the most during those years: those trips home to clear my brain and reset my mood, and coming back on Sunday evening refreshed for another round.
Love and Rockets, Love and Rockets, released 4 September 1989. Their fourth album was a distinct change from their previous three, veering away from the dreamlike acoustics and hippie psychedelia and heading straight for noisy post-punk of the Jesus & Mary Chain variety. While the teaser single “So Alive” — the first L&R single to hit the American charts and kickstarting an alternative renaissance just a few years before grunge took over — was a pure pop song, the rest of the album went from the anger of “**** (Jungle Law)” to the boisterous groove of “Motorcycle” and back. It’s an odd album, but it’s definitely a good one.
Camper Van Beethoven, Key Lime Pie, released 5 September 1989. This was kinda sorta CVB’s swan song for the 80s, as lead singer David Lowery headed off to form the very successful Cracker. (They didn’t really brake up so much as go on hiatus, sneaking out a few songs here and there on the interim.) This was also another good example of a well-loved indie band vanishing just as its popularity was rising and had joined a semi-major label (Virgin).
Soundgarden, Louder Than Love, released 5 September 1989. Well before Superunknown and even Badmotorfinger, these PNW guys were making their way through their original sludge-metal sound and heading from indie label SST to major A&M Records. It was definitely not in my wheelhouse at the time — I was still deeply immersed in the slightly less angry post-punk/college rock soundscape — but after giving it a few listens courtesy of my freshman year college roommate, it grew on me.
Big Audio Dynamite, Megatop Phoenix, released 5 September 1989. This can kind of be considered the last album of the first BAD phase, before the 1990 band member shuffling, and on its own it’s a stellar achievement. While it’s not as experimental as their previous records, every song is a banger and it remains one of my favorites.
Julee Cruise, Floating Into the Night, released 12 September 1989. It is fascinating how this project stemmed from David Lynch’s inability to snag the rights to This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren” for his movie Blue Velvet. A few years and a theme song for a truly weird TV show later, Cruise debuted with this absolutely glorious album of extreme delicateness. And “Falling” really is a lovely song, even after all these years.
Lenny Kravitz, Let Love Rule, 19 September 1989. Lenny’s first album was a huge hit on WFNX, its title track getting immediate heavy rotation. I was drawn to this album because it refused to be pigeonholed into one specific genre — it could fit just as easily on alternative radio as it could on pop and R&B stations — and his songcraft was absolutely stellar from the first song.
The Sugarcubes, Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week!, released 20 September 1989. Their sophomore follow-up to the career-defining Life’s Too Good suffered a little by being overly long and containing a few filler tunes, but in retrospect it really is a good album despite that.
The Mighty Lemon Drops, Laughter, released 20 September 1989. The follow-up to the band’s fantastic World Without End sounds more polished and mature, and contains some absolutely lovely tracks, including their biggest hit “Where Do We Go from Heaven” which has been described as their take on The Church’s “Under the Milky Way”.
Tears for Fears, The Seeds of Love, released 25 September 1989. Their third album, coming four years after their smash Songs from the Big Chair, led them in some new directions: psychedelic pop, and soul. “Sowing the Seeds of Love” borrows heavily from The Beatles, while the moving “Woman in Chains” is a stunning single that became one of their most popular later hits.
That’s quite a month to start off my college years, yeah? I remember I bought most of these up the street in Kenmore Square, either at Nuggets (back when they were in a musty basement) or at Planet Records just up the block. Suffice it to say, I knew that living right down the street from a shopping district that would certainly take all my money and then some was going to be a dangerous thing. Did that stop me, though…? Heh.
Stay tuned, maybe we might even make it to the end of 1989…?
I mean, aside from being busy writing the third act of Queen Ophelia and working on a major fix-up of Theadia and not having much time to focus on blogging this week, you might say I’ve been a little…irritated at a certain political party these last few days. A party that blocked a major voting rights bill last night and has been spending the last several weeks sending out anti-trans and anti-mask and anti-knowledge bills left and right for who the fuck knows what reasons. I could say they’re a party in their death throes as the shittiest of the members of that party have set fire to their own house with everyone still inside (and blamed someone else for it) just to prove a point, but…
I’m fine. Frustrated and angry and irritated as fuck, but I’m fine.