The Bay Area is finally getting some precipitation! It’s kind of making me nervous about some of our plans over the next couple of weeks, but I can’t really complain all that much considering that it’s been very DRY these last few years. I remember when we first moved out here the winter months were always wet — when we moved out of our old place in October of 2009 the ground floor had suffered a bit of flooding from bad drainage — but after a few years it lessened. Here’s to hoping that we can turn that around in the future, yeah?
This one’s a long one, kids, even if it is just two months’ worth of music! We’re rolling off right to the end of my sophomore year and already things are changing. I think around this time I’d finally trunked my Infamous War Novel (for the time being, anyway) and started playing around with different story ideas. I’d written a short fun script for a film class, I’d shot the first of a few 8mm films (all of them terrible, btw) and a bizarre home video with a few of my dorm friends (probably my best work at the time, btw), and I’d gotten so much better at guitar and bass playing. And somewhere between all this, I had this crazy little idea about writing a Gen-X novel entitled Two Thousand. Things were indeed changing. Maybe for the better…?
Lenny Kravitz, Mama Said, released 2 April 1991. I remember buying this cassette at Planet Records in Kenmore Square on spec — I’d heard maybe two songs off it — and I was absolutely blown away by how brilliant it was. While his debut Let Love Rule leaned more on the funk and hippie rock, he decided to go full-out Flower Child on this second record. The funk was still there, but the psychedelia was a lot more up front. It’s still my favorite of all his records.
Massive Attack, Blue Lines, released 8 April 1991. When “Unfinished Sympathy” hit the alternative airwaves early that summer, the resounding response was whoa, what is this?? Most people I knew equated techno and electronica with clubs and hi-NRG dance beats, but they’d never heard this kind: moody and atmospheric with much darker tones and lyrics…yet still irresistibly danceable. The Bristol UK trip-hop scene had arrived. [Also, this video was indeed the one that inspired one for the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”.]
The Crash Test Dummies, The Ghosts That Haunt Me, released 9 April 1991. A few years before their unexpected hit with “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”, these Canadians dropped a curiously odd yet heartfelt album of sad folk and clever humor, and had a minor hit with “Superman’s Song”. It’s a lovely record that often gets forgotten.
School of Fish, School of Fish, released 9 April 1991. “3 Strange Days” ended up being the theme song of my first summer away from my hometown. The semester was over, the summer months had begun, and I knew almost no one in town. My college friends had all gone home, and considering this was pre-internet, it wasn’t as if I could chat with anyone else without incurring a ridiculously high phone bill. Strange days indeed, but it also gave me a lot of time to get my shit together. This album, of course, was one of my soundtracks for it.
Fishbone, The Reality of My Surroundings, released 23 April 1991. If I was going to go it alone, I was gonna need some music that I could crank the f*** up when things got tense, and “Sunless Saturday” was the heaviest song on my playlist. The whole album is a wonder of senseless fun, inner city turmoil, pain and injustice, and everything in between. It was Fishbone’s heaviest album to date (both sound and message) and it still blows me away.
Inspiral Carpets, The Beast Inside, 7 May 1991. The Carpets’ second album dispenses with the sixties-influenced pop and leans a lot heavier on the chunky grooves and jams. This is by far one of my favorite Britpop records because of it, by proving they weren’t just a scene or a passing fad with a grindy Farfisa organ.
This Mortal Coil, Blood, released 13 May 1991. The third and final TMC record doesn’t quite capture the reverb-heavy cathedral-like mood of their previous records — the 4AD label had already started expanding past its original signature style — but it still contains some absolutely lovely and tender covers and originals, including Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly’s take on Chris Bell’s “You and Your Sister”.
Curve, Frozen EP, released 13 May 1991. Not that long before the brilliant single “Fait Accompli” and debut album Doppelganger, Curve dropped three solid EPs (later to be collected on 1992’s Pubic Fruit) and the single “Coast Is Clear” that introduced many Americans to their strange yet alluring mix of sultry vocals, rumbling percussion and imposing walls of guitar.
EMF, Schubert Dip, released 14 May 1991. Like Jesus Jones, their hit single (in this case, “Unbelievable”) eclipsed everything else from the record it came from, but this truly is a fun, irresistible and addictive record. It was also the album of the summer, with several singles hitting the WFNX playlist and getting several repeated plays during a weekend trip to Maine with a few high school friends.
The Wonder Stuff, Never Loved Elvis, released 27 May 1991. This third album brought the band in a new direction, toning down the nutty humor of Eight Legged Grove Machine and the too-serious pop of Hup and letting them return to their more folksy roots. This record almost sounds like a Waterboys record, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Electronic, Electronic, released 28 May 1991. The idea of Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr recording together sounded like a brilliant plan: two Mancunians with a deep love for guitars and dance music. It takes the best of each musician — Sumner’s gift for melody and Marr’s ability to write amazing riffs — and turns out a bright and powerful summer record.
The Smashing Pumpkins, Gish, released 28 May 1991. Long before their forays into White Album-like excess, weird goth chic, multi-album navel-gazing themes and several drug-related dramas, this band put out a supremely mind-blowing album of grunge-meets-psychedelia.
Stay tuned for the summer!
This one reminds me of Silver Lake Cemetery. In that short summer between graduating high school and entering college, I got a job at my home town’s Public Works department and spent the entire season mowing the several local cemeteries. Silver Lake had always been my favorite because it was the biggest and most varied in landscape and we could take our time with it. We could easily find a quiet spot and hide for an hour if we wanted. It gave me a lot of time to think. I went through cases of AA batteries listening to my Walkman that summer.
I really love this one a lot; I played this one to the point of nearly wearing it out. It’s full of songs then getting airplay on 120 Minutes, WMDK, records picked up at Al Bum’s and Main Street Music, with a few oddities thrown in. I’d started it with the two first tracks on each side, requested from a friend’s music collection, and I built it up from there. The idea was for the first side to be upbeat and/or energetic, with the flipside being downbeat and/or moody. It wasn’t the last complete mixtape of my hometown teen years — the first Untitled gets that honor a few months later, which I’ll post here at a later time — but it does have that feeling of finality, which was deliberate, especially with that Smiths/Joy Division double-punch at the end. I was more than ready to escape this place and head out into the real world.
[Side notes: The Procol Harum song does stick out a bit, but the reason it’s there is because it was used prominently in the movie New York Stories which my friends and I had gone to see that summer. The GnR song sticks out a bit too, and that was because it had originally been added more as an add to my collection rather than an integral part of the mixtape, but it does kind of fit moodwise. The two Love and Rockets songs are in fact the very same song, played in completely different styles, fitting in perfectly with my upbeat/downbeat theme.]
Listen in Silence…The Singles II, created June 1989
1. That Petrol Emotion, “Creeping to the Cross”
2. Siouxsie & the Banshees, “The Killing Jar”
3. The Cure, “Babble”
4. The Smiths, “The Queen is Dead”
5. Soul Asylum, “Sometime to Return”
6. Love and Rockets, “Motorcycle”
7. The Cure, “Fascination Street [Extended Remix]”
8. Voice of the Beehive, “Beat of Love”
9. The Smiths, “Shoplifters of the World”
10. Camouflage, “That Smiling Face”
1. Guns n’ Roses, “Patience”
2. Talk Talk, “Life’s What You Make It”
3. REM, “The One I Love”
4. Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”
5. Julian Cope, “Charlotte Anne”
6. Ultra Vivid Scene, “Mercy Seat”
7. Love and Rockets, “I Feel Speed”
8. The Cure, “Plainsong”
9. The Smiths, “Reel Around the Fountain”
10. Joy Division, “Atmosphere”
Sorry for the lack of update today, folks. Need to focus on my writing and other projects right now. Hopefully I’ll have something next week!
Still adjusting to getting back into my daily schedule after spending a week and a half away from it! Our vacation was very relaxing and I even managed to get some great photography in as well. The drive there and back was a bit exhausting (150 miles north, about half of it on extremely twisty roads) but everything else was totally worth it.
I’m focusing mostly on my novels at the moment so the blogs have slipped into secondary position for the moment. Pretty sure I should be back to normal by next week. See you then!
Oof, that was quite a chore. I just spent close to six hours this morning trolling eight or nine different websites (plus a phone app) looking for COVID vaccination openings, but my diligence and French-Canadian stubbornness PAID OFF. I will be getting the first dose next Thursday over in Mill Valley, which is a shortish trip across the Golden Gate Bridge from here, with dose #2 TBA at the same place. WIN!
Anyway, I was planning on doing a Spare Oom Playlist March Edition post today but due to said trolling (and needing to get some work done later today), I’ll push it off to tomorrow. Thanks for waiting!
Walk in Silence, the mixtape series I’d started in 1988, was not the first mix I’d created (that goes to an unnamed multi-cassette collection from late 1982, taping songs off the radio and MTV), nor is it the first of the thematic mixes (that would be the noisy Stentorian Music from May 1988), but it’s the first one I’d made specifically to fit the mood I’d found myself in at the time. It was sort of a sibling thematic mix to the Listen in Silence mix I’d made in August, which was essentially “my favorite college radio tunes of the moment”. Walk in Silence, named of course after the first line in Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”, was meant to be more about dealing with my darker side. I was still feeling the sting of nearly all my closest friends having escaped our small town for college and the bigger world out there, and I’d made this to deal with that.
College radio was indeed my oasis during my senior year, alongside those Sunday episodes of 120 Minutes. I was doing my damnedest to deal with the frustration of still being stuck in a small town. The sources of these mixtapes were equally from the records I’d bought from Main Street Music and Al Bum’s, vinyl borrowed from the local radio station I’d worked at, taped off WAMH 89.3 (Amherst College), or second-hand dubs of albums I’d borrowed from that same group of friends. I wanted to start making more of these mixtapes, now that I understood how to create a smooth mix, and more importantly, fit as many songs onto each side of a 90-minute tape with minimal leftover blank space.
I still remember opening up a new cassette from its wrapper and smelling that fresh slightly plastic scent. I was super careful with the boxes they came in and would buy empties whenever I found them. I treated these tapes just like I treated my purchased albums: I made sure they were wound correctly, had a readable label, and didn’t get worn out or erased. I rarely bought the fancy expensive hi-def brands — I usually stuck with the affordable and reliable Memorex dBS 90s — because I didn’t care so much about the quality as much as I just wanted the music itself as part of my growing library.
I cataloged these mixes in notebooks primarily so my friends could see what was on them if they wanted to borrow them. It’s only because of this that I was able to successfully recreate nearly 99% of my mixtape library digitally, missing maybe only four or five lost and unavailable songs total. I used the Walk in Silence theme off and on, and currently I make at least two of them a year alongside two Listen in Silence and end-of-year mixes.
I bring this up to personally thank Lou Ottens, who helped invent the compact cassette tape, who recently passed away at age 94. I used so many blank tapes over the years for so many things: mixtapes, recordings of jam sessions for jeb! and The Flying Bohemians, live shows, soundtracks for my novels, dubbed albums, and maybe even a few class lectures now and again. I completed then hard-to-find discographies of favorite bands. I will totally admit to spending food and lunch money on blank tapes. I’ve put scotch tape over those holes on the top to use actual albums nobody wanted as fresh blanks. I came across a blank or two recently while cleaning out and rearranging things here in Spare Oom. I have a storage box full of my mixtapes, a few I’d remade around 2000 but many of them still the originals.
And now I see that cassettes are making a comeback, believe it or not. Indie bands are selling them on Bandcamp. And Amoeba Records has a nifty little corner full of cassettes new and old.
Thanks, Lou. Your invention was a huge and important part of my life.
Yeah, I took more than just a week off, and it was for a good reason. I’m taking my writing schedule a lot more seriously right now as I’m working on two novels in tandem (again), and I want to spend as much time as I can on them. So how does this affect Walk in Silence? Well, as you’ve probably guessed (and I mentioned this earlier on WtBt), I’ll be blogging only once a week until further notice. In this case, WIS will be appearing on Thursdays only.
I’ve been adjusting my listening habits lately by shuffling between recent releases and old favorites. Finding a decent balance between the two instead of overobsessing over the latest record drop or playing the same five classic records over and over. I’ve been doing a lot of balancing lately, come to think of it. It’s high time I did.
This includes balancing my life on and offline. I’ve pretty much committed myself to listening to John Richards on The Morning Show on KEXP Monday through Friday almost without fail, and sometimes I’ll listen to the follow-up Midday Show with Cheryl Waters, but after that I try to close the browsers and get some hard work done. I’ll put on whatever music I’m in the mood for at that moment. Sometimes it’ll be a recent album (like Bob Moses’ Desire EP) and sometimes it’ll be a classic (like Beck’s Sea Change). I try to mix it up as much as I can so I don’t become a creature of habit again.
A lot of this is to do with my need to change my approach to a lot of things in my life. Yeah, I’m still doing that, bit by bit. Taking time for stretches and exercise. Avoiding static comfort. Experimenting with new ideas. Thinking things through differently. Not falling into passive habits. That sort of thing. Just…y’know, living life better. And keeping a good soundtrack for it all.
I’ve decided to take next week off for a few reasons: One, it’s my birthday on the 22nd. Two, we’ll be installing the new President (Version 46, now available with Vastly Improved Intelligence Capability) and I feel like celebrating that. And Three, I just want to get some offline creative work done and get myself caught up.
See you in a week!
Getting a job during the pandemic has been an interesting job in itself, to be honest. I know I’m not the only one looking for remote work, and I know I’m not the only one who’s getting up there in years looking for work, either. And in the meantime, I’ve been honing my creative skills to open up that market just a little bit more.
I’ve been getting the occasional employment agency reaching out to me, whether by email or by phone, to offer various positions. Some of them have been tempting but not in the direction I want to go…and some have been a hard pass (I’m looking at you, “the hours would be 7PM to 6AM PST”). And some have been tempting but end in “we’ve chosen someone with a bit more experience”.
Still — it does feel good to get a positive connection and potential position every now and again.