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.