Sweet Oblivion
Screaming Trees
1991

Unemployment has so many advantages that I hardly have time to list them all in. For example, I never got dressed today. I’ve been wearing my pajamas since last Monday. Or maybe the Monday before. For another example, I get to listen to as much music during the day as I want.

Yesterday I listened to Rhapsody’s Baroque channel for about four hours. The Baroque period ends with Bach’s death in 1750. I guess you can take it with you. The music of the Baroque era features clarinets, flutes, viols, lutes, and theorbos, and don’t tell me you don’t know what a theorbo is. Pete Townsend smashed one into his amplifier onstage at Leeds in 1966. I’ll bet Bach never did that.

When I decided I was about full up on theorbos, I switched over to what Rhapsody calls Essential Classical. The first artist was Beethoven. After four hours of Baroque serenity, Beethoven sounded like I was running for my life in a bowling alley. I still had writing to do and it was getting late. It was time for the Power-Thru.

Write like the big boys
The term “Power-Thru” was coined by Odd Todd, who literally wrote the book on unemployment: Hard Times, Soft Couch. Todd was referring to the common problem of how to finish a bag of chocolate fudge-striped cookies when you’re already full. I use Power-Thru to describe the process I undergo to kick-start whatever I’m writing.

In 1995 I went to work for a company that made computer games. Software deadlines were far more onerous than what I’d known in newspapers. I often had to lock myself away in my monk’s cell at midnight to get anything done, and when I did I came to rely on certain albums played very loud to ignite my creativity (which, in stubborn moments, felt as if I were thawing a glacier). One sure-fire fire-starter was Sweet Oblivion.

Describing Screaming Trees won’t make you want to listen to them. They popped up in Seattle during the grunge era. Critics said, “Screaming Trees are not grunge,” but if they’re not I sure can’t tell you what they are. Like most grunge outfits, their lyrics make no sense. I mean sometimes you get a song by Soundgarden or Alice in Chains and you can sort of tell what they’re on about, but you can dip into almost any Screaming Trees song and fall right through the looking glass, even on their one hit, “Nearly Lost You”:

I nearly lost you there
And it’s taken us somewhere
I nearly lost you there
Let’s try to sleep now

There’s a reason why Screaming Trees’ best-of collection is called Ocean of Confusion.

It won’t help to say that I can’t remember if I ever saw Screaming Trees on a stage. I remember a show I went to about 1990 where all four men in the band were wearing unbuttoned flannel shirts, but that could’ve been anybody. Two guys were rather large and one was kinda skinny; I couldn’t tell about the drummer. That fits their profile. The show was in Seattle. I want to say it was at the Gorilla Room, but that place had closed years before. So it could’ve been at Gorilla Gardens, except I’m pretty sure I never went there. This is starting to sound like one of their songs.

These caveats aside, let me state unequivocally how much I love this band and this record. The individual songs never attain greatness, but the overall effect of listening to Sweet Oblivion is like listening to Baroque all day and then getting hit in the face with Beethoven, except I know exactly what’s coming. Bowls me over every time. Gary Lee Connor’s guitar playing is not too little and not too much but just right. Mark Lanegan wields a baritone voice that, like Perry Como’s, never seems to work too hard but always makes itself known. (Lanegan has released several dark, spare solo albums. They remind me of Tom Waits without the laughs.)

Whenever I’m stuck on a project, I can go to half a dozen albums guaranteed to set me free. Sweet Oblivion leads the pack.

Cover of the week: The Slits, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
The three women in The Slits made up the weirdest rock act of 1979, and that’s saying something. For competition they had Gary Numan of Tubeway Army. Gary Numan pretended to be an android. He made David Bowie look like an investment banker.

Their first album, Cut, has two excellent tracks; one is their cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” A ton of artists have covered this one; Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and Creedence Clearwater Revival had early hits with it, and of course there’s Marvin Gaye’s version, which is a landmark of Western music. The Slits’ interpretation is not just a whole lotta fun, it’s…how can I put this…singular. Of all the covers I know of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” nothing sounds like this one.

I would’ve remembered these women if I’d seen them in person.

More me in The Nervous Breakdown
In my push to totally dominate this online zine, I’ve posted my second humor column. This time I take on Thor and other superheroes, tools, and general musings on life. When I posted yesterday, my neighbor on the front page was a woman writing about bondage and discipline. I suspect she got more readers than I did with my stupid puns about Thor.*

The Nervous Breakdown now has a contributor who is 16. The competition out there is fierce. I hope you’ll stop by and run up my hit count!

* I couldn’t work this one into my column: For Halloween this year I’m going as Thorsten Howell III.

Comments
  1. Tilda says:

    Steve, I never knew you liked Screaming Trees! They are my favorite grunge-era band…I saw them (for sure) at Bumbershoot (definitely) right before they broke up (I have a witness). It was after their prime, as well as at least one stint in rehab, but they were awesome.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      I thought everyone liked Screaming Trees. I’m always surprised to meet people who don’t…which means I’m always surprised. You are obviously a woman of exceptional taste. When you saw them at Bumbershoot, can you recall if it was before or after their last album, Dust?

      • Tilda says:

        After. They played almost that entire album. Did I mention they were awesome?

      • Run-DMSteve says:

        Did I mention that I never liked you?

      • Tilda says:

        After the concert, I found myself standing in line for a falafel next to Mark Lanegan. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he turned to me and said: “If there’s three things I dislike in this world, it’s trains, corgis, and the Boston Red Sox.” What do you think he meant?

      • Run-DMSteve says:

        Reminds me of the time I saved Spandau Ballet when they were attacked by a flock of Rhode Island Reds that had been enraged by someone playing “True” on a tape loop in their coop and when the guys found out who I was they got all excited and asked me for your phone number!

  2. Brent Simpson says:

    Good stuff here. It would be nice to blog about changing lyrics to songs. For example, instead of Vanilla Ice singing “Ice Baby to go”, change to “Fact Finding Mission to go” and start from there. it would be nice to make videos of your own in which you use your own lyrics

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      You’re in luck, Brent! http://www.kissthisguy.com has been running for a while and I believe they even made a book out of it. (The name comes from mishearing Jimi Hendrix sing “Scuse me/while I kiss this guy.”) Plus, a discerning Run-DMSteve reader such as yourself might enjoy the “literal” videos on YouTube of Billy Idol, Hall & Oates, and Bonnie Franklin (“Total Eclipse of the Heart”). Here’s “White Wedding”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmngLUtxwJM

    • James says:

      Just saying “Fact Finding Mission” doesn’t come out as a good lyric. It’s amazing how bad some lyrics are, and people don’t even seem to notice.

  3. Laurel says:

    Bach died in 1750, but who’s counting? I think he would’ve liked The Slits, but not Screaming Trees. He was kind of a romantic.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Obviously someone is not doing their homework, and I don’t mean Bach. Thanks for keeping me honest. Wait a sec — Bach almost lived long enough to meet Mozart? Is that like Buddy Holly almost living long enough to meet the Beatles?

  4. Accused of Lurking says:

    “Lanegan has released several dark, spare solo albums. They remind me of Tom Waits without the laughs”
    This is so funny I choked on toast.

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