Monday, December 13, 2004

Bent inside, you're twisted & unkind

Download: RAINY DAY "I'll Be Your Mirror"

WARNING: A tale of trying to make sense of boomer music in the early '80s follows (yawwwwn)

As a tweener, I was a super huge fan of '60s rock, across the board -- from the crappiest bands to the best. I'd been a fan since buying The White Album in fifth grade. I had so little of a sense of "taste" at the time; I thought you were just supposed to like all the '60s bands together, the way they were played on shows like "Psychedelic Sunday" on WSHE at the time. I don't think the term "classic rock" was in wide usage yet, but it was definitely already a dominant format in 1981.

I did dig some kinds of songs more than others; I realized I loved tunes that scared the crap out of me after maybe the hundredth time listening to "Helter Skelter" really loud. Every time Sabbath came on the radio, I'd scramble to tape record them, and the same was true for Iron Maiden though I never became like that huge a metalhead or anything. At the end of sixth grade, thanks to a strong recommendation in the 1978 book Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia, the only title about rock music at my local library, I got a dozen cassettes for a penny in the mail from the Record & Tape Club. One of those was The Velvet Underground & Nico, an album that just scared the shit out of me then.

I was 13 years old and instead of chasing girls at the mall, which if I were to be a kid over again is totally all I'd be doing, there I was sitting cross-legged on the floor of my suburban Miami roomlet (as there were 4 kids and 3 bedrooms I occupied a very un-private room right at the teenaged time when I was first experimenting with lots of drugs and abusing myself every chance I got -- I apologize profusely to all memebrs of my family because I know at some point you were just trying to use the shortcut from the hallway to the kitchen and you saw me doing something godawfulorother but really, I shoulda been given a more private room!!!).

Anyway where was I? Ohh yeah, there I was sitting on the floor, forcing myself to listen to the song "Heroin" over and over again really loud on headphones because it was so incredibly nihilistic and decadent (I know, duh) yet so weirdly beautiful. This song felt like a message beamed from another universe, that maybe I wasn't supposed to have intercepted, this crazy sort-of-adult world. I felt just exhilerated by this song, and eventually the whole album, that I'd read about in this book from the library but no one else at my fancy private school listened to this music, and as far as I knew I was one of like twelve people who even knew about it.

Later I realized this is exactly the response I was supposed to have to this album, aside from the fact that, being tone deaf and inept, I did not start a band -- though I did occasionally read dreadful 'psychedelic' poetry on top of crude tape manipulations I'd made at shows and poetry readings! Krikey.

I probably should mention that I've thought a lot about my own particular attraction/ repulsion to this song and the fact that I'd tried dope by the time I was 18 and was a junkie in my early to mid 20s and think the two are basically unrelated OK. I do know that it's from album covers that I got interested in visual art, and again I was just interested in all of it from the dreadful scarrrry Uriah Heep mosters to Warhol's banana cover and I think that today a lot of my cultural obsessions steer me back towards wanting to have that same general interest, a lack of expertise -- there are so many damn experts in the world, blogging and writing and writing about blogging, and the weird thing is I usually learn so little form experts as they seem so often far more interested in ego advancements or arguing terminology rather than just trying to turn people on to cool shit or trying to learn about it themselves.

I'm not doling out any hateration here, I swear. But I always get turned on to more music from my musician friends rather than my music writer friends. The music writer friends and I tend primarily to discuss the relative worth of the same records we all got sent for free or downloaded for free if we've fallen off of some lists, whereas the musician pals, and I include DJs in with musicians, they tend to be listening more deeply, more historically -- their listening is less based on trends, publicists, and release dates. Ack, but I guess that's totally obvious and what does it have to do with anything?!

Yes. Back to the reminisce. A neighbor kindly lent me his copy of the 1983 release Not So Quiet on the Western Front, and I flipped out on that, especially the song about putting your head in the oven! (OK maybe I was sort of a maladjusted kid) Within a month, this whole other world had opened up and I soon saw Black Flag in their crucial Dez-and-Greg-both-playing-lead-guitar-at-the-same-time lineup. It was tough for me to reconcile the '60s obsession with my burgeoning love for punk rock, which seemed rather ideologically and musically opposed to my hippie tendencies/ interests. I earnestly read unreadable books like Be Here Now at the same time I was devouring very readable but very boring scene reports from other culturally isolated places in Maximum Rock 'N' Roll ("Man, our scene sucks!" they all semed to say in unison.)

For a year or two, I had almost no one to guide me, no one to explain where this '60s stuff fell into like a continuum, a cultural history, and to see that I could in fact dig '60s stuff as well as contemporary alt-type stuff. Then I made a slew of older music geek pals by hanging out at record stores. Finally, Bill Ashton at the record shop Yesterday & Today turned me on to all the bands in L.A. who had a semi-punk/ New Wave-ish take on the '60s.

I felt for the first time like I really understood and even was part of a contemporary genre or "scene" of music when local bands like The Chant and the Psycho Daisies started to do the same thing. Somehow, despite having the lamest fake ID in the history of crime, I started to go to shows and never got hassled. "The scene" was small enough I guess, and I looked big for my age and was always with people in their 20s and 30s, which strikes as rather odd now that I am 36 -- I don't have any 16 year old friends! Later, thanks to Bill and the N.M.E., I glommed onto all the early Creation singles, too. So, the '60s was a prism I viewed so much contemporary stuff through. I remembr being most psyched about the Jesus & Mary Chain because they had a B-Side that covered "Vegetable Man," and the same goes with Yo La Tengo, whose first single had a crazy take on "House Is Not A Motel" on the flipside.

About the song: OK, It's not that great. It has to be the easiest V.U. song to cover too, easier than "Pale Blue Eyes" even, which R.E.M. covered around this time. And yeah, the whole mope-ass Rainy Day album, released in 1984, is/ was a bit of a disappointment, but for me it was great as avalidation of the '60s revival, done by my favorite cats (I ADORED the Dream Syndicate and Rain Parade and had such a crush on the Bangs/ Bangles girls): Susanna Hoffs, Steven Roback, Matt Piucci, Kendra Smith, Dennis Duck, Will Glenn, Vicki Peterson, Karl Precoda, Michael Quercio, David Roback -- not to mention engineered by the late and great ETHAN JAMES -- so I still listen to it with rosey colored um, headphones. This album is long out of print, to the best of my knowledge.

Posting this song is a prelude to a sweet Velvet Underground rarity I'll get up here soon as well as one of Ethan James' excellent recordings of medieval Christmas music.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

brother mang --- you have (what has amounted to for me & my musical exposures) the great & rare gift of weaving together a piece of music and your personal experiences with said piece so thoroughly and inextricably that i lose track of which is which. but in a way that encourages rather than precludes my own intimate and equally silly experience with it.

which, you know, is good. like i love the swan silvertones 'cause of you, but if i had a picture of you hopping up and down pop into my head every time i listened to 'mary don't you weep,' that would be, well, troubling. funny, but troubling.

4:38 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

My story of finding RAINY DAY is somewhat similar, I guess - heard the Susanna Hoffs tracks on college radio (I'd already fallen for the Bangles' 12" EP, which I will go to my grave defending as a great lost classic), bought the LP at my local mall, and loved the whole thing without ever having heard most of the originals. "Sloop John B" I knew, but at age 16 in 1983, "John Riley," "I'll Keep It With Mine," "Flying On The Ground Is Wrong" and even "I'll Be Your Mirror" might has well have been written by Paisley Undergrounders from CA. I disagree that the album's a "disappointment," although there's no longer as much need for it in this day of CD reissues...

4:10 PM  

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