Posts Tagged ‘Radiohead’

People give me things. Gift certificates, books, meals, ceramic corgi figures, opinions. On my 50th birthday, whooping cough. Recently, two people gave me a stack of CDs. Because one of these two people is my boss, I will refer to them by the code names I just invented: Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Thing 1 left the CDs on my desk. There in one neat pile I saw Thing 2’s testosterone-soaked, gasoline-fumed, 1990s adolescence: Stone Temple Pilots, Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., the Dropkick Murphys, and…Simon & Garfunkel?

The Best of Simon & Garfunkel
1999

This disc was in excellent condition, even though I had to rescue it from a plastic baggie, which I assume the Thing family brought home from a shopping expedition to Budlandia.

You could argue about the selection of songs in this lineup. What, no “Bleecker Street”? But the 20 songs that are here will impress you yet again with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s harmonies, which lock together like Legos, with Simon’s exact enunciation, right down to the final t and d of every word, and with the duo’s blending of folk and rock like peanut butter and chocolate.

On “The Sound of Silence,” Simon predicts Donald Trump (“And the people bowed and prayed/to the neon god they’d made”), while on “The Dangling Conversation” he writes a New Yorker story in 160 words that’s every bit as soul-killing as a fully inflated New Yorker story:

And you read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost
And we note our place with book markers
That measure what we’ve lost

“Homeward Bound” is a dues song. Most bands that sing about paying dues should be paying fines instead, but this one is perfect. Unlike other dues songs, “Homeward Bound” has a happy ending, because the viewpoint character is – well, it’s right there in the title.

And waiting in the middle of this platter we have “The Boxer,” one of the signature songs of the ’60s, with that chilling moment when we stand in the clearing with the fighter by his trade. The critic Tim Appelo once wrote that Paul Simon was our only songwriter literate enough to get writer’s block. I’d add Joni Mitchell. In fact, given the self-revelations and the experiments that have marked Simon’s solo career, I’d call him the male Joni Mitchell.

It’s not every album where you can sing along with the first 10 songs.

Radiohead, Pablo Honey
1993

The sum total of Radiohead’s musical ideas on their debut album would fit inside the walk-in closet of a Barbie dollhouse. I heard almost every note on this disc in the 1980s, on records by The Stone Roses, Dream Syndicate, and U2. Radiohead on Pablo Honey are like an alt-Monkees who turn on, tune in, drop out, and play sorta loud.

But attention must be paid. Track 2 is “Creep,” the male emo anthem of the ’90s and the call-and-response to Simon & Garfunkel’s “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her.”

Emily walks on frosted fields of juniper and lamplight. The woman stalked by the Creep floats like a feather in a beautiful world. She’s so fuckin’ special! Emily has honey hair (yum), and when you wake up beside her she’ll let you play with it. Unfortunately, our poor emo boy is not waking up beside his chick anytime soon:

But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo.
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here.

I’m sick of “Creep,” but when it comes on even I wait for the guitar that sounds like my neighbor trying to start his lawnmower with a pry bar. Radiohead improved as the decade went along, and I started to like them. I wouldn’t buy this thing, but lots of people did. Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes.

Stone Temple Pilots, No. 4
1999

Hello darkness my old friend. This shit is so heavy, it should be lead-lined and under glass at the Centers for Disease Control. That cover art is so bitchin’ – a white star on a black background – that David Bowie reversed it for his final album – a black star on a white background. These boys are so lawless, they began this set with a riff they swiped from Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well.” STP just doesn’t give a darn what anybody thinks.

Is it my job to disillusion you? Of course it is. Listen up, Hobbits: Stone Temple Pilots were four stuntmen hired by Soundgarden to play Soundgarden’s leftovers. It worked! In the ’90s, STP was more popular than multiple sex partners. If there’s an action-adventure movie of the past 20 years that’s aimed at teenage boys and that doesn’t have STP on the soundtrack, I don’t know it.

No. 4 also includes “Sour Girl,” with its heartbreaking refrain, “She was a happy girl the day that she left me,” which is probably why Thing 2 – who was a moody 15-year-old back then – bought this album. I’ve bought albums just to get one song, and though I wouldn’t buy No. 4 just for “Sour Girl,” I can imagine myself standing in an aisle at Music Millennium with the gift certificate somebody gave me in one hand and No. 4 in the other and considering it.

Note: STP can also play ballads that will make you cry over the smallness of humanity in the vastness of space and the infinity of time: “I Got You,” which is not a remake of the Sonny & Cher hit but a love song (to heroin). Simon & Garfunkel never got beyond parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

Dinosaur Jr., Ear Bleeding Country: The Best of Dinosaur Jr.
2001

Former punks who became underground alt legends and big guitar gods. Major street cred having this in your collection, Thing 2, and a strategic move to buy the best-of and get it over with. Dinosaur Jr. fought the big hair and shoulder pads of ’80s music and left us a catalog that rarely gets played on Classic Radio or college radio because, frankly, Depeche Mode are better.

Dino’s singer/songwriter, J. Mascis, plays some Neil-Young-and-Crazy-Horse guitar but sings like a too-tired-to-live Art Alexakis from Everclear or Dave Lowery from Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. He can also invoke Bruce Springsteen, but I wish he wouldn’t.

Mascis’ overriding theme in most of his songs is his own incompetence, as in “Not You Again”:

If I say a word just stop me
Cause I really should shut up
Guess I’ll split now
Just forget you met me
Sorry I fucked it all up again

You think Simon & Garfunkel celebrated their own incompetence? If a girl wanted to leave them, they didn’t slink away, they refused to lose:

Oh, baby, baby
You must be out of your mind.
Do you know what you’re kicking away-yay?
We’ve got a groovy thing goin’, baby,
We’ve got a groovy thing.

Ear Bleeding Country doesn’t compare well with other underground acts of my acquaintance, such as Big Star from the ’70s or The Velvet Underground from the ’60s. But it sounds passable when you play it loud. Also, Dinosaur Jr.’s drummer, Murph, came from a band with a name that belongs in the Top 10 band names since the beginning of forever: All White Jury. That’s not nothing.

Sonic Youth, Murray Street
2002

The perfect record for a college kid like Thing 2 discovering his intellectual side. Better this than Jean-Paul Sartre. Been there.

Sonic Youth (there are only two heights in this band, tall and short) got their start making noises. Over time they made noises inside songs that approximated Western ideas of songcraft. They were a cult but they had hits, such as “Teenage Riot,” which I like though I wish it were a minute shorter because it’s actually kind of monotonous and anyway it’s nowhere near as good as The Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks.”

Murray Street has songs, song experiments, and the kind of noise that makes me wonder if something is wrong with my car. Actually, I was listening to this disc while driving and at one point I wondered if something was wrong with my car.

I welcome music that elbows you in the ribs and checks you behind the goal. I love Gang of Four. But G4 also knew how to write a song that I recognize as a song. I’m glad that bands exist who are willing to live on an edge, especially an edge I didn’t know existed. Sonic Youth never produced even one song as strong as “I Love a Man in a Uniform” or “Love Like Anthrax,” but I’ll bet they’re the perfect band to keep you company if you’re ever awake Wednesday morning, 3 a.m.

The Dropkick Murphys, Live on St. Patrick’s Day
2002

I hesitate to disparage Live on St. Patrick’s Day, because between songs a guy got up on stage and proposed to his girl (she said yes), plus the grandparents of one of the musicians were in the balcony one night and in their honor the band played “Amazing Grace.”

The Monkees were too busy singing to put anybody down, but I’m not.

Special D once summed up AD/DC by saying “they’re really annoying if you’re not drunk.” The Dropkick Murphys would transform her into Mr. Furious. Even I struggled to survive this set, the musical equivalent of one of those day-long corporate off-sites on process and collaboration with names like “Day of Engagement” (which are always followed by “Night of Extreme Drinking”).

The Dropkick Murphys are for people who love First Gen punk (The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones) exactly as it was played in 1979, but who also want some Irish flavor, shoutouts to the Red Sox and the Bruins, and a bagpiper, if he’s not too talented. Thus almost every Dropkick Murphys song sounds like an Irish Sex Pistols covering “My Way,” which was just fine with the 2 million people who today claim to have filled the Avalon Ballroom in Boston for the 2002 St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

Of the 173 songs and audience-participation bits on this record, I liked “Wild Rover.” “Amazing Grace” is funny. Their cover of Creedence’s “Fortunate Son” might’ve been good if they hadn’t assigned the singing to the one guy in the band who gargles with stove bolts.

They saved the real gem for the end, which makes it easy to find if you can only tolerate about three minutes of this crud: their reinvention of The Kingston Trio’s public-transportation classic, “Skinhead on the MTA.” Gone is the hapless Charlie, short 5 cents and wailing over his fate:

Skinhead goes down to the Kendall Square Station
and he changes for Jamaica Plain,
The conductor says, ‘Skinhead, I need a nickel,’
Skinhead punches him in the brain.

And just like that, we’re right back with the folk music! What Simon & Garfunkel couldn’t do with this kind of material.

That’s it for my plunge into the formative years of Thing 2, a man I met once for about an eye blink. He’s obviously a good sport, probably more advanced that I was at the same age (there’s nothing here to rival Three Dog Night), and I’m curious to learn what he listens to today. Please, not Coldplay.

Who I want in my book group: Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth.

Book I want to read: Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon.

Who I want on my side in a bar fight: The Dropkick Murphys. They palmed handfuls of darts 10 minutes before anyone knew there was going to be a bar fight.

Who I want as neighbors: Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. They don’t speak to each other, so I couldn’t invite them both to my birthday party unless I hired the Dropkick Murphys to provide security.