Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sui Generis Alterno

Standing in the sun with a Popsicle
Everything is possible
For me, at least, the eighties were a musical wasteland.  I liked bits and pieces, from "Only the good die young" to Missing Persons to Talking Heads to John Kilzer.  But all in all, it was the musical low point in my life, and the time when music, to a large extent, lost it's premier place of importance in my psyche.  While the music itself just didn't seem magical or special to me, the associated culture, clothes, musicians and bands just seemed odious, artificial and contrived.  The rock n roll bands tried to be cuddly while the dance bands and art-rockers were icy and prickly.  The songs were often experiential rather than lyrical, and outside of Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne there was nobody writing songs that seemed to speak directly to me.

As the eighties transitioned to the nineties, I went through a lot of changes too.  I got married and moved to the Silicon Valley suburbs.  I started making serious money for the first time in my life.  I still listened to the radio in the car, but my commute was only a little over a mile through the tiny hamlet of Morgan Hill, and as a result I'd hear maybe six or eight songs a day.  Big changes were coming, but I was, at that point, only dimly aware of them.  Oh, sure, I spoke eloquently of Nirvana being the voice of a generation, earning that distinction by being the sound track to the Gulf War, just as James Taylor and Bob Dylan had been the voices of my generation and our war.  The radio played "Plush" and "Jeremy" endlessly, but I wasn't paying anywhere near enough attention to music to understand that they represented the leading edge of something new, fresh and amazing.

The last true rock n roll song I fell in love with was Cry of Love's 'Peace Pipe'.  The first song I ever actually heard called "alternative" was Soul Asylum's "Black Gold".  And then I heard Counting Crows "Einstein on the Beach".  And there it was - like flipping over a record - or a cassette if you didn't yet have an auto-reverse deck - everything was different.  In '92 I separated from my wife, and in a stunning moment of regret I realized I hadn't even owned a stereo the whole time we'd lived together.  I went out that weekend and bought a wicked Fisher Studio Standard setup, and before I went to work on Monday morning I'd already had the cops at my door on a noise complaint.  There was new music to discover and lost time to make up!

The next five or six years were, musically, the most exciting and satisfying of my life.  Every day it seemed there was new songs, by new bands, trying new things in different ways.  We had Beck and Bush, For Squirrels, Rancid, Dance Hall Crashers, Heather Nova, Alanis Morrisette, Cranberries - hell, even an unfortunate and painful, if blessedly shortlived exploration of big bands and zoot suits - so many musicians trying so many different things, even the commercial radio was a joy to listen to.  In a few short years in the '90s I had bought over a thousand CDs, many for one specific song and often by a band never heard from again.

Then, in the fall of '99, just as it was all coming to an all-too predictable end in a dumpster of cookie cutter hits from TLC, Backstreet Boys and Sugar Ray, Napster opened up the complete catalog of '90s alternative music in an earth-shattering breakthrough the magnitude of which is hard to remember now.  And as I was in the CD business at the time, I had access to all the tools and plenty of CD-Rs and recorders, and could go back and revisit all that amazing music once again.  Today, music from that period still represents at least half of what I listen to regularly, and considering my musical history goes back to the sixties that's pretty amazing.  I once again find myself in an era when I find the music anywhere from dull and pointless to actively annoying, so it's not like I'm falling in love with anything new.  But that magical moment in late '92 when the earth shifted under my ears and music became something new and fresh and joyful,  art to be embraced with passion and excitement, once again gives me hope.  At any moment, I keep telling myself, something like that could happen again.


  1. Totally. With eyes wide open...

  2. Speaking of New bands and Soul Asylum, check out my recent Facebook post. A new young band I discovered at Summerfest, and Pirner guests with them. Can't tell me there's not anything good happening now.

  3. Dave introduced me to Winona Ryder at a show in '93 or '94. I'm pretty sure she wanted me, but y'know, she was with Dave n shit...

  4. By the time you had clicked with Soul Asylum, mikey, I think I had seen them twice. The first time, I am pretty sure, was on the Hang Time tour in Shank Hall, a 300 person club.

    I didnt get to meet Winona.

    However, the LAST time I saw them was at First Avenue with the Figgs, another favorite band, opening. I DID get to meet Snag on that one, and he and his friends filled me up with Patron.

  5. Dave is, in a very real way, my favorite lyricist. Maybe poet is a better word. His clever use of language, playful and savage all at once, is just amazing. Nobody - No Body - is even close.

    From String of Pearls to Just like anyone to Without a Trace, he's just brilliant.

    "He sweeps everything under the rug
    And goes home to his kids and gives them a hug"