Archive for November, 2009

a magical mystery tour

November 6, 2009

“I searched through the pictures in a leather-bound book…”

Everyone has that one band, that one little coterie of demagogues, that have wormed their way into your defining fabrics and lodged themselves in your earthly identity. And everyone can tell me absolutely who that band is without hesitation. It’s the band with the songs that made you cry, and the songs that saved your life, to paraphrase one particular beloved of many. The stringly stirrings of the most austere of songsmiths, the final crashing crescendos of a composer’s cymbal, Holly’s hiccups, Bolan’s braggadocio. The band that released that album that entirely captured all your emotions at that particular supernoval coruscation; when all the tiny synapses in your head sparked at once and you knew, you just knew, that this was your defining moment. Hewn into the living rock of your very own Stone’enge.

And chances are, it’s probably quite a famous album too. But you definitely know what it is, right? Definitely?

Well, I’m not entirely certain I do. The teenage years, those infernal soul-destroying 7 years during which you are both monstrously reviled and revolted in equal measure, crestfallen over the loss of the paradise of youth, wandering blindly through Chaos to adulthood, those are the years in which you most likely found that special band. By default then it’s probably quite a gloomy album that really cleaves to you. But this is where my problem begins. Teenagers of the 60s, you had garage rock, folk, glam. Teenagers of the 70s, punk, prog, and that exciting new Wave. Teenagers of the 80s, NWOBHM, goth, alt. rock. Teenagers of the 90s, grunge, brit pop and emergent breeds of indie. And what do we get? Us teenagers of the late 90s/early 2000s, we get the gruel left over, that sludge at the bottom that nobody else really wanted, we got fucking nu-metal. Thanks, World. Thanks for making it so easy for us. Actually, I would have killed for Sludge.

Limp Bizkit and Staind were topping the charts. And an entire generation of children were tripping over their suddenly-greasy lank hair into teenagehood and falling into their rapacious hands. Emotionally stunted. Unbearably crass. Subtle as a sledgehammer. We can almost be forgiven for getting along so well with nu-metal. But whilst it gave us a temporary outlet, an excuse to squeeze the word ‘fuck’ like an erotic boil into the conversation as often as possible, a general disdain for the adult world, it didn’t give us anything enduring. No one has uttered ‘Durst’ or ‘Davis’ since about 2002, and if you have, why have you? We weren’t given that ready spark to help us through these years and define us. We had to find that spark ourselves.

Perhaps, in a way, that we were forced ourselves to look for these beacons of light, we worked harder than our parents and elders, and our special bands are all the more exceptional. I can certainly tell you now, without a moment’s hesitation, the bands that are my own, the me music; Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Tom Waits, The Cure, The Smiths, The Misfits, Eels – and more recently, through a friend – Neutral Milk Hotel. Of which, Nick Cave sits firmly atop the pile, though it is an extensive pile, and I’d find it hard to walk away with only one of the hundreds of bands that make up the greater landscape of me. I discovered Nick Cave around 17, but I finally got him at about 19 – understandably, he’s one you grow into as you read and learn and experience. By the law of our defining teenage band, does this disqualify The Bad Seeds?

The Cure I’ve been listening to for longer. Since 16. The Dresden Dolls, since 16 too. The latter were absolutely key to my teenage development; I believe they were – and perhaps still are – the band I saw live most often. Three times in various guises in three years. But both bands were heavily commandeered by the then-girlfriend, through me, but commandeered nonetheless. I wonder if this is why they never quite made it to be the singular defining band. Earlier, The Smiths featured heavily in another relationship, as you may except of moody teenagers. They were on constant play for at least a solid week after the inevitable break-up. But this is standard melodramatic Morrissey serenading the whole of teenagedom, not just me; Oh Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head… The memory of the song alone is enough to drive you wild for more Smiths, but, again, I don’t think I found myself any the more defined.

Interestingly, of all these potentials, The Dresden Dolls were the only ‘up & coming’ act. I caught them before they were hot, before they were scene. This made me feel good, and a band I could really claim for my generation – but no one I know would automatically associate me with them.

So it comes round again, is it acceptable to find your band at the very precipice of the teenage world?

This band, your band, is the one that is meant to stick with you forever from the moment you first hear them. I still love and listen to The Cure, The Dresden Dolls, The Smiths, and they all resonate for various reasons. but they just don’t feel like mine, which is more than enough to disqualify them. The Bad Seeds feel very much like mine, but were they too late? The Cure and The Smiths will most likely feature in thousands of other people’s top spots, testament to their far-reaching powers, and I perhaps didn’t rave about them enough to join in their ranks.

I started listening to music, properly listening, quite late. Post-primary school. At about 12 I started buying albums, at a rate which has steadily increased as I try to devour more and more music like some insane jukebox – and don’t believe in owning things digitally. If I allow a few years for my trudging through the miry swamp of early listening experiences – because no one discovers their favourite band straight away – that puts me at prime discovering age at about 15/16. Which puts me right back with The Cure and The Dresden Dolls (definite favourites at that point – and I still maintain that nobody writes a pop song like The Cure). Instead, then, of having a clear-cut epiphany in my mid-teens like all you stereotypes out there, my awakening came in stages – a trait I clearly display in morning routines even now.

The Cure and The Dresden Dolls opened up this great gothic crevice, and The Smiths afflicted me with a desire for it to be filled with words. A few years later, then, Nick Cave was set to pour perfectly into this abyss. And he’s firmly set. Like sombre jelly.


post-script; i would like you to all recognise the near-impossibility of undertaking this task, for every time you remember a band that you loved five years ago, you have to go and pilfer through their back catalogue, which steals minutes in the tens at a time.

to close, i present you with the sublime evidence of His mastery with words;

“And in my best shoes I started falling forward down the street,
I stopped at a church and jostled through the crowd,
And love followed just behind me, panting at my feet,
As the steeple tore the stomach from a lonely little cloud.”