Archive for February, 2017


the-bends

“Anyone can play guitar and they won’t be a nothing anymore” – T. Yorke

It was the spring of 1994 and I had just finished seeing my first real rock and roll show (at least since coming of age).  It was Pearl Jam at the Cleveland State Convocation Center and the story of that life changing event will be told in full when (and if) I ever get to the entry for PJ’s Ten.  But I was there with the Artistic One, and immediately we ran into Lord Bacchus and Lightning 101 inside the arena, and after the show was over and we had all purchased our black bootleg concert T-shirts in the parking lot and had a slice at a nearby establishment, the Artistic One and I jumped in his mother’s blue Chevy Lumina mini-van (his family used to call it the Lumi), and we proceeded to have an experience not unlike the movie Judgement Night (a movie whose soundtrack is more memorable than the movie itself), minus Jeremy Piven of course (nobody died).  But we got lost driving around the east side of the Land for about two hours, which is especially idiotic of us since the freeway ramp to route 90 is literally a block from CSU campus.  But oh well, we were young and dumb and indestructible (and directionally challenged).

So we had a case full of CDs that we had just gotten from BMG and a cassette-adaptor that plugged into the tape deck and a portable CD player powered by the lighter jack, so at least we had music on this impromptu journey (C-town radio is sketchy at best).  By that point we were pretty much PJ’d out (we had listened to them all day, and then they essentially played every track off Ten and Vs plus all the b-sides at the show), and so we decided to branch out into some new material.  And the two albums I remember playing as we wound our way through the boarded up houses and abandoned factories were the Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, which is typically remembered as their best release, and Radiohead’s Pablo Honey, which was generally regarded as their worst album up until TKoL was released.  But at the time, I remember liking Pablo, even if it wasn’t that great.  It still had some really teen angsty defiance (“I am not a vegetable, I will not control myself!”) mixed with a keen sarcastic bite (“I wanna be, wanna be, wanna be Jim Morrison!”).  And I remember quipping that they need some original song titles, as Stone Temple Pilots (ugh) already had a hit with a song called “Creep” and Candlebox had a song called “You” on the charts (oh, the irony!).  But the main problem was Pablo is just kind of noisy.  Radiohead’s “three guitar attack” (remember when Radiohead used to play guitars?) essentially had strings ringing all over the place, and even though there was some Nirvanaesque crunch, it lacked Cobain’s precision.

Fast forward a couple of years, and Lord Bacchus and I had both moved down to the Bus to pursue our higher edumacations and as so often happened, we were spinning some tunes while we threw a few back on the weekend.  He was prolly living in the Briar Patch at the time.  Anyway, at some point he was like “you gotta check this out” and he put on the new Radiohead album (how he always got new tunes first, even before the days of digital file sharing, I still don’t understand).  But he put on The Bends and I just remember being blown away by the whole album.  It was totally unexepected…the little one-hit wonder Britpop band who had largely been overshadowed by Oasis and Blur had suddenly grown up and released one of the best albums I had ever heard.  The songwriting was light years ahead of where it had been on Pablo Honey, and while the lyrics were still pretty angsty, they weren’t teen angsty.  In fact, it resonated pretty well with the college life.  But I think the main thing was that the “three guitar attack” (remember when Radiohead used to play guitars?) had been refined with Thom playing acoustic rhythm, Ed playing electric rhythm, and Jonny doing leads and effects.  The ringing strings and general dissonance had been replaced (mostly) by just very focused and driven guitar work.  I liked it so much, Lord Bacchus dubbed it onto a tape for me (hey, I was a poor college student and I only bought CDs when I found them used) so I could listen to it back in my dorm room.

Eventually I must have bought it, and I must have bought it new because my copy doesn’t have a sticker on it anywhere.  And actually, there is some residue on the case from those stupid long white stickers they still put along the top spine of a new CD.  But regardless, it has remained a treasured album in my collection for 20+ years.  Personally, it is my 2nd favorite Radiohead album (most of the time, but from time to time In Rainbows sneaks up into that #2 spot) and I go back and listen to it quite frequently.  I even have the Collector’s Edition (I pretty much hate all the money grabbing re-releases aimed at my g-g-generation these days), and there are some pretty awesome b-sides and live performances on it.  And the My Iron Lung EP bears mentioning, as it also has some pretty awesome non-album tracks (and also starts the tradition of every Radiohead album having a companion EP).  Only OK Computer eclipses this album in my mind in the Radiohead catalogue, and even then the two are pretty close.  Ironically, The Bends wasn’t a commercial hit, and it didn’t have a hit single nearly as popular as “Creep”, but it’s a true masterpiece and it established Radiohead as a post-grunge force to be reckoned with.

Other lists: “Fake Plastic Trees” is #385 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  The Bends also clocks in at #21 on the list of the 100 Best Albums of the Nineties (even though it is above most of the top 20 on this list…way to be consistent Rolling Stone!).

Ch-ch-changes: The fan favorite vs. the critical darling!  Even Radiohead is affected by their own success, this album falling one spot from its original position at #110 due to the critics pushing Kid A up to #67.

My favourite track: “Just”

Honorable mention: “Fake Plastic Trees”

Show: “Street Spirit [Fade Out]”

Quote 1: “You do it to yourself, you do, and that’s what really hurts is you do it to yourself, just you, you and no-one else.  You do it to yourself.”

Quote 2: “He used to do surgery for girls in the eighties, but gravity always wins, and it wears him out.”

Quote 3: “Blame it on the black star”

Quote 4: “Nice dream.”

 

 

loaded

“The whole world’s comin’ to an end, Mal!” — Mickey

It was late summer back in 1994.  I had gradiated from Olde Genevieve, but college hadn’t started yet.  I was in a dawg haus with my girlyfriend’s parents from which I was never destined to emerge.  Nevertheless, we went to the movies one night.  It was a strange crowd.  One that never really hung out together.  In addition to me and the Drama Queen, the Artistic One and Top Gear were with us.  Now, to this day the Artistic One and Top Gear remain polar opposites on the electromagnetic spectrum, so yeah, it was weird.  But we were all out to see Ollie Stone’s latest controversial flick, a little ditty named Natural Born Killers.  It was supposed to be uber-violent and edgy, kinda like a modern A Clockwork Orange.  And usually that kind of thing would have been right up the Artistic One’s alley, but for some reason he didn’t take to it and he stepped out to smoke a ciggy.  And strangely enough, so did the Drama Queen, even though she didn’t smoke.  But it kind of got my proverbial goat, ’cause I had this weird vendetta against cigs since mi padre died when I was a wee lad, so it put me in a bad mood.  And it was just me and Top Gear watching the movie, and he was pretty much hating every minute of it.  So about halfway through (right about when Mickey and Mallory go into the drugstore to get the snakebite juice) we all bailed.  Which is okay…the second half of the movie is rubbish anyway.  But it was just a strange night, and it wound up being the last movie the Drama Queen and I would ever see together.

The connection here is that the song “Sweet Jane” features very prominently in the movie and on its soundtrack.  In fact, it’s sort of Mickey and Mallory’s theme and it comes back several times in the movie when ever they have a romantic scene.  But it’s not the Lou Reed version of the song, it’s a cover done by the Cowboy Junkies.  And all through college I used to love that version of the song.  Its mellow and soothing and the slide guitar just relaxes my mind and the la la section at the end takes me to another place.  Actually, the entire NBK soundtrack is killer (forgive the pun) and features tons of really great songs.  It was pretty much hand selected by Mercer, Pennsylvania’s favorite son and was Trenton’s first foray in cinema music (he’d win an Oscar later on for The Social Network original score).  And “Burn” may be the best non-album NIN track.

But as good as the soundtrack is, the movie pretty much is crap.  Even Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr. can’t save it.  And that’s despite being written by my favorite auteur, Quentin Tarantino (sort of).  As the story goes, after Tarantino had dropped out of high school and was working at the video store, he wrote three scripts: True Romance, Natural Born Killers, and Reservoir Dogs.  Well, he wanted to make Dogs himself, so he sold the other two to finance it.  True Romance wound up being made by Tony Scott (who changed the ending), and Oliver Stone picked up NBK.  The thing is, he completely rewrote it…so much so that QT asked to have his name taken off it (he still gets a story credit).  Now, I’ve read the original script, and its basically a crime drama (much like the rest of QT’s early work).  But Stone decided to make it a media statire and his transparent moralizing ruins the film.  And the 8 million cuts are bizarre and fairly obvious (“hey look, it’s Mickey’s inner demon!”).  Its sort of an attempt at 90s psychedelia, but it doesn’t work and it hasn’t aged well.

So I picked up this album a year or so ago at the east side Half Price Books that used to off Brice Road (it recently moved all the way up to McNaughten).  They were playing it over the sound system while I was browsing, and when I got up to the register I asked how much it was and the clerk said $6.99 American and I said “I’ll take it!” (probably without that much enthusiasm).  As far as the music goes, I dig the songs Lou Reed sings and not much else.  Doug Yule just really doesn’t do it for me.  But hey, at least Nico was long gone by this point.  Actually, Lou Reed was gone too by the time this was released…on to a stellar solo career (minus that one collaboration a few years ago with Metallica…ugh, that record is terrible!).

Other lists: “Sweet Jane” is #342 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Ch-ch-changes: Even the Velvets are not immune to the critical darling that is Kid A and drop one spot from their original position of #109.

My favorite track: “Sweet Jane”

Honorable mention: “Rock & Roll”

Quote: “Then one fine mornin’ she puts on a New York station, she couldn’t believe what she heard at all.  She started dancin’ to the fine fine music, you know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll.”