Saturday, March 19, 2016

Songs from the Sideshow

I've been watching the HBO show Vinyl since it's debut on Valentine's Day. On paper this is the perfect show for me: it's set in 1973 and is about a record company trying to find its way after not selling to a larger company. Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger are producers and Adam Rapp (a Pulitzer Prize finalist and brother of actor Anthony Rapp) is a writer on the show. They have permission to use all this great music, from the New York Dolls to Lou Reed to R&B classics and jazz masters. It should be my favorite show but it's not. Instead, Vinyl has become my new show to hate-watch. I haven't figured out how such a good idea could be executed so terribly. Paste has been doing a fantastic series of articles on the most ridiculous things that happen in each episode; at least it's not just me. I guess I should look on the bright side and enjoy John Cameron Mitchell's Andy Warhol (it's oddly mesmerizing), the fact that Mick Jagger's son James looks a lot like Richard Hell, and the Big Star reference on the last episode. In all seriousness though, the New York Dolls did not cause the collapse of the Mercer Arts Center. I love "Personality Crisis" (especially the yowling) but this is not the song of building collapses.

Instead the show has made me hyper-nostalgic for both the mid-1970s (a great time for music - check out Will Hermes's book, Love Goes to Buildings on Fire if you really want to experience everything that was happening at the time) and the 1990s, my second favorite decade for music. If you look at both periods, the amount of music and the variety of genres and musicians is staggering. 

I miss the 1990s. I know, I know nostalgia is only cute on occasion so long as it doesn't veer into the maudlin or a "get off my lawn" rant. But I really do miss the 90s. I started high school in 1993 so I spent my teen and early college years in the thick of it; what a time it was. I miss the chunky shoes and getting the Delia's catalog in the mail (and never ever buying anything because I have never been nor will I ever be a size 2) and buying peasant skirts and super uncomfortable cotton Mary Janes at Georgetown Cotton (any other DMV-ers remember that store?). I miss old school Urban Decay colors that were shocking when they were first released. I miss decent sitcoms and videos on MTV. I miss mix tapes and Blockbuster and shopping at Tower or Kemp Mill. I miss the feeling of witnessing something new and inventive when it came to music and scenes. Hell, I even miss flannel and boys with unnecessary long hair that always seems to be in their eyes (I'm looking at you Reality Bites era Ethan Hawke).

It's not entirely Vinyl's fault; I have to give credit everywhere credit is due. I've been listening to the local classic rock station a lot recently and in the last month or so songs by Weezer, Radiohead, Nirvana, and Cracker have all been played in a pretty strong rotation. Songs that were popular when I was a freshmen in high school are now on the classic rock station alongside Zeppelin, CCR, and the Beatles. I don't know how to feel about this. My friend, Emily, also experienced this recently but seems to be taking it in stride. I am reverting to my sullen, teenage self. All I want to do is sit in my room and listen to music all day or drive around listening to Soudgarden and Better Than Ezra and not doing anything worthwhile. But I didn't do that yesterday even though I really wanted to; I went to work and acted like an actual adult. Sigh.

I'm also reading Sara Marcus's book Girls to the Front about the Riot Grrl Revolution. In high school I worshiped at the altar of Tori Amos and Smashing Pumpkins and listened to a lot of musicals. And 90s soundtracks! It doesn't get any better than a 90s era soundtrack. I didn't listen to bands like Bikini Kill or Bratmobile or Sleater-Kinney (or the other awesome girl-fronted bands that came out in the 90s) or musicians like Liz Phair. I really liked L7 but didn't know anyone else who did (and they were only tangentially considered a Riot Grrl band). I liked Sonic Youth, rare for my high school, and I loved REM (so did the girls from Bratmobile). It wasn't until college (1997/1998) that I expanded my musical tastes to include the Riot Grrls and metal and goth bands. Freshmen year I lived in the dorms and traded mix tapes with a girl who lived across the hall. I'd send her Green Day and REM and sixties music; she'd send me Liz Phair, Rasputina, and Metallica.

One of the tapes she made me (I still have several of them although I have no way to listen to them now) was called "Songs from the Sideshow" and included an inordinate number of Canadian bands. I had the thought that if I ever had a band, this would be one of our album titles. It's also a perfect snapshot of 1998:

Of course there was cover art too. That's how we mix tape makers roll.

The tape doesn't include all music from the 90s but I've always felt like this tape summarized the decade pretty well (it's missing hip hop, rap, and a boy band or pop princess). There was so much music coming out that was good and innovative and different; how could you possibly know it all? It was also impossible to listen to some of it without looking back to what had come previously like New Wave or 70s era punk. There was, particularly in rock and punk of the 90s, a wink to the 70s and 80s without being a mimic or copycat. People expected you to know bands and understand music history. I seem to recall getting into a very heated discussion with a guy that claimed he loved Metallica but hated Led Zeppelin. Seriously? That doesn't even make sense. Looking back on this now, I have a feeling it was less about the bands and more about the fact that a girl knew more about rock music than he did. Girls to the front, gentlemen, girls to the front.

Of course I did what I always do when I get in these kinds of moods; I made a mix tape (or CD or playlist - whatever you prefer to call it). The mix includes 116 songs spanning the entire decade including everyone from Salt-N-Pepa to Lisa Loeb to Nirvana to Mother Love Bone and everyone else in between. It ended up as six CDs and I didn't even include everything I could or should have included. I even involved my brother in this endeavor asking him to bring me CDs I didn't have so I wouldn't have to give iTunes more of my money. It's epic and makes me happy, driving along singing along to songs with lyrics permanently etched in my brain. 

I guess it's all part of getting older. Eventually I will be that old chick at a concert with her "goth who likes unicorns" fashion sense, telling the story of when I saw the band back in the 90s when they first came out and how great they were before they sold out and how the music was so much purer back then. I'll say the exact things that piss me off when I go to shows today featuring bands and musicians from the 70s. The "kids" behind me will roll their eyes and judge me. I'll be a funny story they can tell their friends over micro-micro brews and cocktails with artisanal ice.

Until then, if you need me, I'll be over here listening to Chris Cornell in all his glory and wonder singing this song right here:

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