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Cassette (Re)collection: 9

Posted by NumberSix , 27 October 2009 · 373 views

I drifted away from buying music for a few years during junior high, but reconnected at age 16 when interruptions in my circadian rhythms led me to discover the secret world of Post-Modern MTV.

I got my first job at the beginning of 11th grade because my family's expenses had become tight and even moreso because the owner of the nearest McDonald's franchise sent letters to all the honor roll students at our school offering them guaranteed jobs -- no interview, no concern about references -- at $3.85 an hour, fifty cents above minimum wage and higher than their standard starting wage. I couldn't refuse. My weekly $5 allowance was chump change in comparison. Despite the promise of real buying power, those earnings came at a price -- I also had to work 15-20 hours per week, while cramming homework into any available moments before or after work. Before the job, I'd been ingrained with a strict 10 p.m. bedtime routine. After the job, I was lucky to be in bed by midnight so I could be up again at 6 for school.

Over time I not only got used to my new nightly schedule, I also grew to enjoy it. Cable TV played a big part of that, and the largest part of that part was Post-Modern MTV, a half-hour late-night video block hosted by Tim Sommers, a friendly Bohemian with Robert Smith hair. The brave new world of "alternative" and "college rock" and "punk" and other now-interchangeable categories was unknown to me, having been subsisted on commercial radio for far too long. It wasn't long before Post-Modern MTV led me to Sunday night's 120 Minutes, four times the length and hosted by England's Dave Kendall, all hip and suave and cartoony and possessed of the most charming accent on TV. I can still hear his lilting voice in the back of my head, always the ecstatic huckster eager to hype the latest clips -- "TewNOIT awn Wahn Hahndrid ahnd Twahnty Mehnahts we'll hahhve a Waahrrrld Prihmeer Vidyo from Jaahn Weslih HAHDing!!!" You could see the extra exclamation points in his eyes, and feel him passing them on to you.

Wihlcome bahck to th' showw:

Counting Crows: I hold little regard for the easy-rocking ilk of The Fray, Dave Matthews, Blues Traveler, and all their slacker-spawn, but some unexplained part of my mind segregates August and Everything After from the rest for no apparent reason. When other singers whine, I tune them out; when Adam Duritz hits the nasal high points in "Round Here" and the technically aggravating "Mr. Jones" I stick around anyway. It's not as though I've ever danced to them. Maybe they've found a magic minor chord that unlocks the key to my subconscious. I understand why faster-paced tracks like "Rain King" and "A Murder of One" catch my attention, but why do I think the woodwind dirge of "Perfect Blue Buildings" is kinda lover-ly? Beats the heck outta me, but I just do.

My favorite Crows track from this era is on another tape, though -- the Geffen compilation DGC Rarities Vol. 1 (first and only in the series) holds one of their all-time best tracks, the snappy "Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman)". Beyond this point my Crows addiction weakened as subsequent albums underperformed. I do recall enjoying their performance of "Accidentally in Love" at the Academy Awards, even if Duritz and his dreads had both doubled in size by then.

Cracker: Camper Van Beethoven were fading out on the heels of "Pictures of Matchstick Men" by the time I began to tune in to their genre, but I was happy to follow frontman David Lowery on to his next band and their eponymous debut, chock full of plucky sarcastic folk-pop, especially in the double-shot of self-satire, "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now" and "This is Cracker Soul". If the alt-country subgenre had been invented only a few years earlier -- maybe if someone had convinced Uncle Tupelo to divide and conquer sooner -- Cracker could have ruled the world. Local hard-rock channel WRZX all but deified their most popular single, "Low" (from their second album), because it mentioned getting stoned (were there other lyrics? Yeah? They didn't care); beyond that, they dwindled out of the culture. Last I heard, Lowery was here in Indy several months ago performing an intimate house show in someone's basement. The Indianapolis Star ran a Sunday article about that new type of post-fame career, spotlighting local gigs by Lowery as well as by Pat DiNizio from the Smithereens. It's good money and low overhead, they say.

The Cure: Anyone who thinks the Cure ever recorded anything more powerful than Disintegration/i] needs to explain themselves. I traded up to a CD copy, so that semi-symphonic triumph (even though side 2 often puts me to sleep) is ineligible for this series. On cassette I only own Boys Don't Cry, a prized Goodwill find. I used to tour all the Goodwills on our side of town once every few months in hopes of uncovering little rejected gems like this. Usually it was a waste of gas, but one time I found a Cure album. It stays in my collection for that reason alone. Truth be known, I don't much like Boys Don't Cry -- this was released in 1979 while their signature sound was stilted and twee, before they learned how to use their extra synthesizer settings and subsequently rocketed to stardom with "Just Like Heaven". This album has contributed two tracks to later greatest-hits packages: the title track, which sounds like most of the rest of the album; and "Killing an Arab", a Middle East exercise track that received the wrong kind of notices.

The dBs: Like This was another Goodwill find, next in alphabetical order through the power of coincidence. I'd never heard of them until founder Peter Holsapple played alongside R.E.M. during their tours for Out of Time. I ran across his name in the dBs' entry in Ira Robbins' Trouser Press Record Guide and noted their name for future reference. It's harmless jangle-pop with obvious influences -- "She Got Soul" could be a Replacements outtake, while the country-fied closer "White Train" sounds like Neil Young's kid brother. Bonus points for the catchy yet tacky "Amplifier", a handclapping pep rally about post-breakup suicide. For better Holsapple, I recommend Mavericks, his 1991 joint project with former bandmate Chris Stamey, which I have on CD because "I Hear an Angel" is charming and "I Want to Break Your Heart" is kinda savage, as acoustic rock goes.

Dead Milkmen: If you don't already know them, there's no way in this age of YouTube dadaism and street-corner pop-culture overdosage that I can possibly convince you why the Dead Milkmen were ten tons of awesome, because so much of what I see around me on the Internet looks or sounds like something that wants to be a tenth as creative as they were. I have a dub copy of Beelzebubba whose anthemic "Punk Rock Girl" predated and outshone Bowling for Soup's "Punk Rock 101" by two decades and three degrees of coolness. I have a worn-out copy of Bucky Fellini that's pretty much pop-cult classic from start to finish -- riffing on the Beatles in "I am the Walrus" (not a cover), sneering at Elvis in "Going to Graceland", the silly danceable "Big Time Operator", the New Wave hate of "Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance to Anything)" and all the loony animals and roaring vehicles that occupy side two.

The next album, Metaphysical Graffiti, had their conceptually funniest cover (if you got the title reference and stared at the deceptively nondescript cover long enough) but suffered from a complete lack of songs about animals, and IMHO "Methodist Coloring Book" picked on the wrong denomination. Even so, any singer like theirs (whose ever-changing alias most frequently began with "Rodney") who can sing with all seriousness, "Morey Amsterdam could make a nice guy kill!" or incite an entire crowd to chant, "ERLENMEYER FLASK!" (it took me years before I finally deciphered that) or give a shout-out to left-handed lesbian midget Eskimo albinos must have something going for them. It wouldn't be until their following album, the major-label misfire Soul Rotation, that they jumped the shark and broke my heart. The latter had one listenable track ("The Conspiracy Song", a Dead Kennedys sendup), which I dubbed before I sent the album off to Goodwill. Quid pro quo.

[i][Next entry: a band I've never heard of before or since, and more mega-popular British alt-synth-pop.]

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