I first heard Daydream Nation in 9th or 10th grade (circa 1994 or 1995). There was no super-hip older kid that told me to listen to it or anything like that. I was just an aspiring record geek and a Rolling Stone magazine article told me that if there had been no Sonic Youth, there would be no Pearl Jam or Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins. I loved Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins, and I sort of liked Nirvana. I think I listened to part of the album at a music store that used to be in Salt Lake where they would slice open CDs and let you listen to them. I remember the guy behind the counter seemed sort of amused at me listening to it, and asked me if I liked it. I said yes, even though I wasn’t quite sure what to make of what I’d just heard and I didn’t buy it. Eventually I ended up with a copy of Daydream Nation on cassette rather than CD, I’m not exactly sure why. Actually, I do know why. It was a special request Christmas or birthday present from either my grandma or my uncle, and they bought me the cassette. I love the fact that I got this album that way, they having no idea what kind of volatile substance they had just distributed to me. A kind of musical Improvised Explosive Device. “What kind of music is that?” I now remember someone in the family asking.
I found it frightening and beautiful. It sounded like back-alleyways, trashcans, drug freak-outs and the crazy grimy city, but at the same time interstellar, sometimes oceanic. My closest touchstones were Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland (particularly the epic “1983”) and Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring. It was definitely far beyond Pearl Jam, but I could see the watered-down influence. Getting smashed in the face by kids playing basketball, going home and blowing another amp. To me it sounded like about a million amps must have been blown out just to record the album. I think Kim Gordon scared me the most, with all her yelling and grunting and her “Come on down to the store”s. I never listened to that very last track. I thought she must be a prostitute or something. Remember I’m a Mormon boy from Utah, somewhat sheltered. But those ringing guitars and storms of feedback always kept me coming back for more.
I remember one time I was listening to it on my Walkman in World History class, and I had my friend listen to a bit of it. It was in the middle of one of those waves crashing/pastoral moments from “The Sprawl” or “‘Cross the Breeze.” I thought he might appreciate it, he’d gotten me into orchestral rock heroes Yes. But he just told me he thought it was boring. Obviously I played him the wrong moment. Oh well. You could easily accuse this album of being a lot of things: harsh at times, atonal, confrontational, grating at moments, inaccessible. But boring? No. But after that, I never shared this album with anyone ever again. Until today.
my adventures in Canyonlands.
New music is fun again. I first heard this album on the radio a few days before it hit stores. I was so surprised. I was listening to a local commercial radio station*, and the DJ said, “Tonight at 11 o’clock I’m going to play the new White Stripes album straight through.” I found a cassette tape and I recorded the thing. I felt like I was nine years old again, recording music off the radio. It was awesome. I listened to the tape a couple of times. I’ve always thought the White Stripes sounded good on tape. I guess they would sound great on vinyl, with their analog obsession. It was so nice to hear the album like that on the radio, with the DJ cutting in now and then to make comments and play commercials. It made it feel real and alive.
For a while I made a habit of downloading new albums off the clandestine album blogs as soon as they leaked, sometimes weeks or months before their commercial release. I always justified it by the fact that I wanted to hear if they were any good before I bought them, and that if I liked the album, when it came out I would buy it. And many of these albums I did buy. But there’s something about not having to wait and not having to pay, not having to interact with anyone in any way, that makes the event of hearing new music feel anemic. It’s not earned. It’s just some files on your ipod. The ritual of going to the store and buying the thing, the ritual of putting on the record or the CD, is gone. It becomes more important that you heard something first, rather than that you heard it well. Say what you will, I’ve come to feel that, in addition to being dishonest, stealing the music seems to cheapen the music. Well, I stopped it a couple of months ago, and I’m glad I did. I can wait. I can be patient and honest. No one was ever impressed that someone had heard an album first, anyway. And then, hearing music on the radio for the first time becomes a treat, too.
So, about the album itself. It’s the White Stripes, so unsurprisingly, it’s another interesting, solid effort that calls for instant rock album canonization. It has that energy of some of their early stuff, but it has more studio craft. And they finally found a way for Meg’s vocals to add to the equation: shouting! And spoken word. No pitchy, willfully awkward Meg songs here. I’d love to hear even more of her this way. At any rate, another great rock and roll record from America’s finest. And if you never liked the White Stripes and have no desire to start liking them, I don’t think this one is going to change your mind.
*I guess since they do sweet things like play White Stripes albums all the way through, I ought to give them credit. It was X96 in Salt Lake City.
Ah, the nineties, when the guitars were huge and squalling, and the self-loathing was too palpable and overdubbed to be true.
I am in the middle of this project of going back through my music collection and listening to everything I own. My basic rule for the project is that I basically can’t seek out any new music until I have listened to everything I already own. It started because I realized I tend to get stuck on a small handful of albums and listen to them compulsively, and then set them aside where they languish with all the others. I feel I need to make more use of all the resources at my disposal.
So right now I’m digging back through all my pre-teen and teen-angst favorites: Siamese Dream, The Bends, Pearl Jam’s vs., and so on. I’m greatly enjoying it, which surprises me because I haven’t listened to some of this stuff in years. I might need to get a copy of Weezer’s blue album just to keep the vibe going a little bit longer. Nirvana will have to wait awhile, though, because I’m just not in the mood for them. Maybe I’ll dig really deep and find the old Catherine Wheel. Do I still have a copy of Stone Temple Pilots’ second album? Because I suddenly have need of it again.
Want to follow the progress of my listening project? You can see it here. The general idea is that I start with the newest and work back in time. But I listen to whatever I want to listen to that I haven’t listened to yet.
ONE HUNDRED THINGS OF SOLITUDE ABOUT ME #2:
When I am in a used record store, it always makes me sad when I see one of my favorite albums sitting there for sale. I assume it means someone at some point bought the album, and then later turned against it. Of course in reality it could be that it was fenced, or someone was short on cash, or a multitude of other possibilities. But still, I always go towards that melancholic thought that some other person just didn’t enjoy the album to the extent that I enjoy it. It’s not the fact that someone doesn’t share my tastes that bothers me, its the thought of the betrayal, the rejection. What is it that makes us turn away from our former selves? Is it really just a change of fashion, or something more? Why do we decide we have “moved beyond” something? Do we actually change our tastes, or are we just trying to revise our self-definition through a change in what we consume? To what extent do we really like what we like, and really not like what we don’t like? Are we being true to our feelings, our thoughts? Have you ever gotten rid of an album, and then ended up re-buying it a year or two later because you realized you missed it? Because I have.
There is a very official-like feel to all of this. It is the last day of school and the first day of June. The teenagers are out in great numbers, toiling away at an incessant, diligent leisure. There is almost an urgency to their skateboarding, a purposefulness to their eating of breakfast burritos as they leave Molcasalsa and walk down the street, an expedience to their wandering around the park, a deep significance and poignancy to every kick of the hacky-sack. The weather could not be more appropriate: a hot, blue sky devoid of clouds; the slightest breeze. It feels as if all of it were intended to be filmed as a scene for a movie and these kids had been put up to it ahead of time, and I just happened to have wandered onto the set. There is a underlying fury to their recreation, as if they know that this time summer will only last a couple of days.
I, on the other hand, waste.
I did work on Tuesday and Wednesday, but that’s about it. No work, no play, just lump.
Tuesday I had a class of 1st graders who really weren’t that bad considering it’s the last week of school. I just had to keep dumping work on them, so that the potential riots percolating beneath the surface would not have the chance to bubble up to the top.
Wednesday was fun. I took a 2nd grade class at Eastwood at the last second because the teacher was too sick and couldn’t come. We walked as a whole 2nd grade a mile or so up Wasatch Blvd. to the bowling alley at Olympus Hills for a bowling field trip. I was so nervous at first that I would lose track of a kid or that some maniac driver would rip through as we were crossing a street, but soon I relaxed. The bowling itself was hilarious. The bumpers were up, of course, but even the light-weight balls are too heavy for most seven-year-olds. A number of kids developed what I would call a flopping method, where they would run forward with the bowling ball in both hands, hurling the ball onto the lane while simultaneously flopping themselves to the ground to prevent from crossing the line. Given the parameters of having the bumpers up, and having balls that are too heavy, it was a genius technique, and several boys were consistently getting spares and even strikes with this method by the close of the afternoon. I also loved how they started making up names for their bowling balls, such as “Meaty,” “Blaster,” and “Poo” (it was a brown ball). It was a slightly stressful but singularly fun day of substituting. I got to know the kids a lot better than I normally would have. It’s a lot nicer when you can just let them do what they do and be loud and themselves, rather than attempting to hold them down and keep everything under tight control. But now, finally, they are left to their own devices.