You see us as you want to see us…

…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.

WIS Presents: The Boston Years XIV

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.

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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.

Treasure Hunting: Figures On a Beach’s “Evil”

I mentioned a few weeks back on my Twitter feed that I’d finally found a song that had been eluding me for nigh on THIRTY years. This is by far the oldest and most elusive song I’ve been looking for to add to my collection, and now it has pride of place in my mp3 library.

What is this song, you ask? Well, after the band’s self-titled second album that dropped in the summer of 1989 (which featured the great underrated single “Accidentally 4th Street (Gloria)” and a fun cover of BTO’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”), they recorded a track that sounded quite different from their usual poppier style: darker, moodier and heavier.

“Evil” seems to be about An American Werewolf in London from the werewolf’s point of view, though it’s never quite made clear, other than passing references and a “waah-hoooo yeah” near the end hinting at the ubiquitous Warren Zevon song. It also samples a few lines of dialogue from Hitchcock’s The Birds which, per vocalist Anthony Kaczynski in a brief email chat I had with him back in the mid 90s (!!) was the reason it was never commercially released as they could not get the clearance.

I’d only heard this song on WFNX, its demo delivered personally by the band to the Boston area alternative rock station, and I never had the chance to tape it when it came on. I’d also heard it once live when they played for free at the Hatch Shell in the summer of 1991 as a double bill with The JudyBats. (Kaczynski was shocked that I remembered that show when I mentioned it to him.) Other than that, it showed up once as a track on a cassette-only “unsigned bands” promo. I distinctly remember seeing it once at Nuggets in Kenmore Square and stupidly never picked it up.

…and for thirty years, I looked everywhere for it. On Discogs, where that promo tape was for sale at a ridiculous price. On YouTube, where no one had posted it. On questionable mp3 download sites, none of which had it. Every now and again I’d do a passive sweep, never expecting to hear it again.

Until a few weeks ago, when I found that someone named Dave Stawecki had ‘remastered’ it with the band’s permission back in 2021. I played the video, and the memories came flooding back: listening to it in early 1991 while at Emerson, living in the Charlesgate dorm and trying in vain to record it and missing it every single time. Sitting on the grass on the Charles River Esplanade, handheld cassette recorder in hand in an attempt to get a live recording. Going to a few record conventions and none of the vendors knowing anything about it.

And now, thanks to a quick visit to a site that rips audio from video into mp3, I now have it in my music library, where I can hear it any time I want.

I still have a list of songs and albums that have eluded me over the years, but I have to say this one was high on that list and I still can’t believe it took me three decades to locate it. That’s one song to finally cross off my bucket list!

WIS Presents: The Boston Years XII

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.

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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.

WIS Presents: The Boston Years XI

July came and went and the most I remember is that it was a hot one, with a few storms here and there. Most of the time I’d be drinking tons of water and burning through AA batteries listening to my Walkman. Buying those weird Hawaiian Punch knock-off drinks. Listening to stupid jokes and hiding in the shade of trees. Falling off the back of the truck once when it pulled away from under me. Making mixtapes and mowing the back yard on my day off. Writing poems and lyrics and making future plans.

Not much else going on that summer, other than letting my brain clear itself of frustrations.

Gene Loves Jezebel, Kiss of Life, released 1 July 1990. In the 80s, this was a band you’d hear on John Hughes soundtracks (“Desire (Come and Get It)” is on the She’s Having a Baby soundtrack) but rarely would you get any crossover into the pop charts. Not so with “Jealous” which was a surprise hit for them. I tend to think of that song as one of the many from this year that helped break down that wall of commercial pop to let alternative rock in.

Mixtape, Listen in Silence IV: The Singles, created 1 July 1990. This one’s a mix of favorites from freshman year with a few 120 Minutes tracks and recent album deep cuts mixed in. Note that Faith No More’s “Epic” is on this one, a full year after its album The Real Thing came out, another breakthrough hit thanks to MTV giving it heavy airplay.

Alice in Chains, We Die Young EP, released 1 July 1990. This Seattle band’s debut EP laid out the groundwork for their swampy take on the emerging Grunge sound. I knew a lot of people who preferred them over Soundgarden, as they were less abrasive and more metal-meets-Led Zeppelin.

The Stone Roses, “One Love” single, released 2 July 1990. Following up from their funky single hit “Fools Gold” was another extended dance trip that may not have been as catchy or popular (at least not in the US) but reminded fans of their garage-psych influences.

Iggy Pop, Brick By Brick, released 9 July 1990. The Godfather of Punk broke through with this album, which featured radio favorite “Candy”, a duet with the B-52’s Kate Pierson. He’s still rocking (and acting!) to this day, but he never quite hit as high as he did here.

The Cavedogs, Joyrides for Shut-Ins, released 16 July 1990. Yet another Boston band signed to a major label! And just like the others, they had a huge local following that unfortunately did not reach much further. They were critical and radio faves, though, so you’d hear songs like “Bed of Nails” on Adult Alternative stations a lot then.

Pixies, “Velouria” single, released 16 July 1990. The Boston band that did make it, and make it BIG at that, dropped a preview single for their next album, Bossanova, that would drop in August. This song definitely signaled a slight change in their sound; gone was the noisy abrasiveness of Surfer Rosa and the quirky weirdness of Doolittle, with more melodic tracks than before.

The Soup Dragons, Lovegod, released 19 July 1990. This Scottish band was a somewhat obscure indie favorite on Sire Records with a small following, playing groovy 60s-influenced rock, until they too were bitten by the Madchester bug and created a wonderfully trippy Britpop album full of great songs. The Rolling Stones cover “I’m Free” became their signature hit.

Jane’s Addiction, “Stop” single, released 25 July 1990. After almost two years after dropping their biggest album to date, 1988’s Nothing’s Shocking, Perry Farrell and the band returned with a twitchy funk-punk single that would preface their upcoming album. These new songs held a new tension so fierce that people wondered what was going in the band. [It would, in fact, implode after Farrell’s brainchild, the first Lollapalooza tour, finished.]

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As was typical for years, music releases were usually kind of thin on the ground in terms of big names. Summer was made for the single — which was still a decent selling if somewhat flailing format at this time — and for the radio hit. But things would pick up again in August, once the kids started preparing for their return back to school or college. And in this new era of chart pop that would soon (and finally) embrace alternative rock as a significant source.

Spare Oom Playlist, March 2022 Edition

It’s the end of the month, so it’s time to feature What I’m Currently Listening To once again! More good stuff from bands old and new — this year is definitely turning out to be a great one, just as I’d hoped!

Letting Up Despite Great Faults, IV, released 4 March. This band returns from its hiatus with more fun jangly, shoegazey indie pop that feels so relaxing and joyful. This is definitely a record that’ll show up on my writing session playlist!

Stereophonics, Oochya!, released 4 March. This Welsh band is still going strong after twenty-plus years with moody and melodic tunes that don’t quite fit into just one style.

Nil├╝fer Yanya, Painless, released 4 March. I discovered this singer on KEXP and I am totally in love with this record, especially the single “Stabilise”. One of my favorite records of the year so far.

Bob Moses, The Silence in Between, released 4 March. These guys come back with yet another great indie-synth hybrid record that I know I will constantly replay. So many great songs on this one!

(G)I-DLE, I Never Die, released 14 March. This K-Pop band returns with a full album of tunes that don’t always rely on their regular dance-pop style, even sliding into snarky rock such as on “Tomboy”.

Stabbing Westward, Chasing Ghosts, released 18 March. After an extremely long break, Christopher Hall resurrects his band and it truly sounds like he picked up where he left off, with their signature gothy alt-metal aural attack. Well worth the wait.

Charli XCX, Crash, released 18 March. Smooth synthy dance-pop similar to Robyn, full of catchy tracks including the single “New Shapes”.

The Clockworks, “Endgame” single, released 18 March. NEW CLOCKWORKS WOOOO! And they’re coming out with an EP on April first!!! My favorite new band!

Pinch Points, Process, released 18 March. Another one of those ‘never heard of them, let’s give them a listen’ bands that’s totally in my wheelhouse: twitchy angular punk that sounds like they’ve been listening to X’s Los Angeles. Good stuff.

PLOSIVS, PLOSIVS, released 18 March. Another favorite of the year, REALLY digging this record. I recently described them as a sort of bouncier, punkier Interpol, with really interesting melodies. “Broken Eyes” is a huge favorite of mine at the moment. Also, my favorite band name of the moment!

Bauhaus, “Drink the New Wine” single, released 25 March. The original goth foursome return with a new Exquisite Corpse-style song, each member providing their own segment with only a drum loop tying them together. (Just like their b-side “1-2-3-4”, actually.)

Placebo, Never Let Me Go, released 25 March. This band may have mellowed a little over the years, but their songs are still strong and vibrant.

Sevdaliza, Raving Dahlia EP, released 25 March. Following up from 2020’s delightfully odd yet catchy Shabrang is an EP further expanding on the singer’s electro dance grooves and disturbing visions.

Wallows, Tell Me That It’s Over, released 25 March. Fun SoCal low-energy indie pop similar to Cayucas.

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Next Up: April promises to be full of stellar new releases as well from the Chili Peppers, Jack White, Lucius, Fontaines DC, Wet Leg, Hatchie and more!

WIS Presents: The Boston Years I

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.

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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…?

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part III)

ELO effectively broke up in July of 1986 once Jeff Lynne’s contractual obligations were over, and he spent the next several years working closely with many of his musical friends as a producer. His biggest project was with ex-Beatle George Harrison on his 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine. George himself hadn’t released a record in five years (the last being 1982’s meandering Gone Troppo) and what better than to introduce his new sound with someone who knew exactly how his former band sounded? It definitely has Lynne’s signature sound all over it, but it only complements Harrison’s new fresh sound. It was a huge hit and remains a favorite — and its first single “Got My Mind Set On You” still gets occasional airplay. Its second single, a nod to Harrison’s younger years in the Beatles, is a perfect mix of Harrison psychedelia and Lynne dreaminess.

Harrison enjoyed the success of his album and had been planning to record a b-side with a few of his musician friends, including Lynne, but the end result was so fun and radio-friendly that they made a full album together under the name The Traveling Wilburys alongside Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. Lynne and Petty were the youngest in the group and it must have blown their minds to be working so closely with their musical heroes. They would record two records together.

But Lynne was only getting started. He’d also worked with Orbison solo on his Mystery Girl album, Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, and wrote several songs for others. And in 1990 he released his first solo album, Armchair Theatre, and in 1991 he worked with Petty again with the Heartbreakers album Into the Great Wide Open, which became one of the band’s biggest sellers.

And then he got to work with the Beatles, his favorite band ever.

In 1994, when Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reconvened to work on the Anthology project, they’d had in mind that they’d record some new music under the hallowed name — the first new music by the band in twenty-five years — and Lynne was a perfect choice. He knew and understood their sound and could co-produce it without stepping on anyone’s shoes, history or egos. The plan was to take three songs that John Lennon had written and recorded in rough demo form in the late 70s, with Yoko Ono’s blessings. Two songs were recorded, “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love”, and both were huge hits and added to the official discography.

Lynne would keep busy through the rest of the decade continuing his production and songwriting work, with the likes of Tom Jones, Roger McGuinn, Joe Cocker, and Paul McCartney on his Flaming Pie record.

Meanwhile…the rest of the band did not disappear from view. Drummer Bev Bevan, bassist Kelly Groucutt and violintist Mik Kaminski created their own version of the ELO brand with Electric Light Orchestra Part II, with vocals provided by Eric Troyer. While not exactly a chart success, they did retain the classic pop-with-strings ELO sound, and the albums are worth checking out. Bevan would leave the line-up after the second album, but Troyer and Kaminski have continued the project under its new name, The Orchestra, which is still alive and thriving as a touring band.

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Coming soon: Part IV, in which Lynne revives the ELO name once again, with several compilations and new recordings!

Outside Lands This Weekend

This year’s Outside Lands looks to be a bit more of a sedate affair this time out, mainly due to the changes in schedule and availability of bands, and after this weekend’s weather we’re hoping it doesn’t turn into a Glastonbury/Bonnaroo washout. On the other hand, the choice of bands is quite eclectic and inclusive this time out! Here’s a few bands we’re looking forward to seeing!

End of Year Thoughts I

As with everyone else, I too have had a bit of a weird 2020, pandemic notwithstanding. I started the year in a foul mood due to a Former Day Job situation, a distinct lack of productivity in my writing (partly due to said situation), and on top of that, I was finally letting myself process a lot of personal issues so I could move on. We flew to New England to visit friends and family on one of the coldest late winter weeks in March. The pandemic did play a significant role in my leaving the FDJ at the end of that month, setting me off on a long stretch of unemployment on the one hand, but a renewed burst of creativity as well as a much needed mental and emotional clarity on the other.

I listened to a lot of music during that time, surprising absolutely no one. The internet radio dial (so to speak) has been permanently stuck at kexp.org, causing any commercial radio listening in the car to feel pathetic and bland in response. I’ve listened to new music on Fridays occasionally downloaded the albums I wanted. I gave my writing process — and the listening habits that often go along with it — a critical rethink as well, spending some time not writing or worrying about productivity. And after a few months, I finally allowed myself to return to the music and creativity with almost no strings attached.

It’s been a long year, and of course I’ve started this month by looking back on all the albums, EPs and singles that have dropped since January. So many release dates changed, tours cancelled or postponed, performances livestreamed. The music industry changed a hell of a lot because of the pandemic. Some of it for the worse, but some of it for the better; it caused a lot of bands and clubs to do a massive rethink in order to survive. A number of bands like Crowded House, Elbow, and even Seatbelts, utilized communications platforms normally used for business to synchronize themselves and perform in the safety of their own homes. In a dark and uncertain time, there was a cloud of determination and creativity that kept things going.

I’m not sure when this uncertainty is going to end, or the pandemic for that matter, but with certain changes in the air, some of them long-awaited and positive, we can move on and even evolve. I’m very curious as to how 2021 will treat us, creatively and productively. Things are definitely different now. The pandemic (and the election, let’s be fair) changed things just enough that I think it gave society a bit of a nudge out of its complacency and stasis. Will it continue in this manner? Who knows, but I’m pretty sure it will at least have inspired enough people to make the next couple of years interesting in a good way.