Sunday, February 3, 2013

Everybody's a critic, it's gettin' kinda hectic...

1996, maybe 5, but let's just say 96. 

Gianni and I are living on Arlington Road at the corner of Parkway in the heart of Camden. I won't say Camden Town, because that feels a bit '78, and besides, no one I knew actually called it that. This was the HEIGHT of Brit-Pop, and the newsstand beside the pub we lived above had the butcher boards bearing the news of the day, and on more than one occasion the headline was about Blur vs. Oasis. (I never chose sides, I was too obsessed with both to commit, and while What's The Story was worlds better than Parklife, I would have to say at the time it was the big O, though a year later when Graham Coxon caught wind of Pavement and Damon raided his CD collection, their self-titled LP blur was a a revelation and incredibly ironic, but not in a Beck sort of way, literally ironic - for just a year before the band who sang about milky tea, mods, country houses and epitomized all things Britannia were now mining Slanted And Enchanted and name-checking Spiral Stairs. Bug I digress.

Gianni was "dating" a girl. I couldn't tell you her name, what she looked like, her ethnicity or any one thing in particular about her, all I remember is that he was not in a good place and was busy in his room and had no time for her presence, so feeling dejected and bored she came to my room to say hello. I was busy myself, however my activities were of the recording variety and didn't involve aluminium foil. (Obnoxious spelling intentional). She knocks on my door and I push stop on my 8 track Tascam tape recorder, set down my headphones and reluctantly get up to see what she wants. She says hello, asks if she can come in. I say why not, hoping her stay is brief; after all, I'm currently in a relationship, so it's not like I have any business with his shunned girl other than listen to her complain about by best friend and bandmate for what I hope will be a minimum amount of time.

She tells me he's busy getting high and is ignoring her. I'm sure I nodded in acknowledgment and understanding while feigning interest in whatever she was saying, but the truth is I would have told her the bearded Italian from the valley was my gay lover if I thought she would leave me alone and let me record, but instead I listened. But being that she was British and not some rich girl from the valley (like the last one), she spoke in short terse sentences, nearly devoid of emotion, so the kvetching was mild and she mostly sat and looked around the sparsely furnished but very nice living quarters these two strange Americans inhabited. 

She had a Walkman, yes, a real life Walkman if you can believe, and mind you this was not only pre-"phone as media consumption device", but headphones were a curved piece of silver metal with grey-black foam over the ears, a far cry from painful white ear buds, and the only thing Dre was making at this point was music. I asked her what she was listening to and she said three words that looking back were sweeter than any three words a woman had ever said to me before; My Bloody Valentine. 

My interest was piqued, for all I knew of the band was the album covers I'd seen in the closet whenever I went to my record label and scavenged the bins for CD's to listen to or more likely, trade for the measly living expenses of a 20-something in the 90's. I remembered the CD art I'd seen beside The Flaming Lips, REM and Jane's, and I always remember digging the artwork and the font, but for some reason I thought it was going to be vaguely metal, so I'm pretty sure if I ever did grab it that the only time it was opened was when they checked to make sure it wasn't an empty case when I placed it on the counter at The Wherehouse. 

But this time I was interested, mainly because only weeks before, while doing press, a journalist in Paris told me that our band's live show reminded him of My Bloody Valentine, both in terms of sheer volume as well as the dizzying array of sounds coming from the samplers on stage and bass and guitar overtones. (Mind you there were zero musical similarities, but he was French and he made it sound convincing and cool, and yeah, we used samplers back then). So it was fresh on my mind when this sad looking cute girl sat on the edge of my bed with her bad posture (probably a contrivance to further this narrative, but it paints a more vivid picture) and her Walkman in her lap.

"Can I hear?", I queried? "Sure", as she handed me the Walkman, first rewinding it to the top. (I'm not entirely sure she did this, but I'm guessing she must have, as it was cued to the very top of the first song). 

I pushed play, and......
OK, wait.
I'm not going to do that thing.

I'm not going to do that thing where I tell you that the snare hit three times and my life changed.

I’m not going to do that thing where I tell you that the cacophony that followed was so powerful and all consuming that it was as if I'd mainlined Sgt. Pepper's, Pet Sounds and Houses Of The Holy all at once.

It would be pretentious to tell you that I actually saw and heard the music in terms of colour and this was as pink and hazy as the cover I would later come to know and love.

It would be so terribly predictable if I told you I’d found my new desert island disc and the most important record of my generation, an album that would make Nevermind look like The Bay City Rollers on bad black tar and rendered them as irrelevant as Candlebox (I know the chronology is off, relax).

But I did do that thing, and I am pretentious, and I am predictable, and more than anything else, I am hopelessly sentimental.

What I must tell you, simply because it is the truth is that it felt like falling in love for the first time, that my entire conception of what an album could sound like had changed and rather than kick myself for being 5 years late all I wanted to do was lie in bed forever and listen to this wonderful, wonderful cassette.

Now that the 33 1/3 intro, the post-Pitchfork obligatory Christ like exaltation has been handled, I can state the facts:

After those 4 snare hits the music started on a song I would later come to know was "Only Shallow". I got as far as the vocals (24 seconds in) and pushed stop. 

I took off the headphones and calmly said, "Can I be alone and listen to this, please?", to which she replied, "Sure", got up off the bed, walked to the door and exited.

I stood, walked to the door, shut it, lay back on the bed, put the headphones on, rewound the cassette, closed my eyes, and pushed play.

I don't remember if it was the type of Walkman that would automatically flip the tape (raise your hand if you remember auto-reverse), or whether I had to physically flip it. I assume the girl went back into Gianni's room and vied for his attention, but I can't be sure, all I know is that I listened to the album front to back twice before I reluctantly gave the Walkman back to her along with the cassette which had just cracked open my 23 year old mind.

I don't remember when I went out and bought it for myself, I feel like I walked up to Camden Lock to the nearby record store only to find out it was sold out, but I can't be sure, and even then, I have no idea when I actually purchased it for myself, but regardless of when I got my first copy, I can tell you with 100% honestly and certainty that it was one of the most beautiful, pure, and stunning musical moments of my life and remains so to this day.

I am well aware of the fact that some "important" albums suck, how some "must haves" are overrated, and some "modern classics" are over hyped, but this is not one of those albums. Sure there are those who keep their hard copy on hand like a copy of Helter Skelter on the coffee table: a cultural signifier more than indicator of one's true taste, like having an Unknown Pleasures shirt before they sold them at Urban or a RHCP sticker on your bumper in '92, but that's more to do with the listener than the music.

The music is timeless, both in terms of how fresh it still sounds as well as it's disorienting and swirly nature, swaying in and out of time, all tremolo bar wobble and reverse reverb wash. The music is also  wordless, as no one truly knows the lyrics, and if they say they do they're lying. (Which is also what makes it such a truly unique experience in the context of modern rock and roll music, in that it elicits such great emotion and we feel a connectedness to the DNA of the songs purely through melody and texture and the words are whispered signposts that merely point in a general direction rather than tell you a story. We make our own stories from the sounds. Pretty heady stuff for a rock band that started out making fuzzy punky indie-rock).

I can be as cynical as the next guy when listening to or talking about music, but when I just lay down in bed, laptop on my chest, Beats By Dre strapped to my ears, and I pushed play, I got a similar feeling as when sitting on the edge of my bed in Camden. 

Sure, this time it wasn't a revelation, it wasn't a "game changer" (definitely the most overused term in relation to any media....apologies), on the contrary, it was familiar, warm, comforting, and it brought a smile to my face like seeing an old friend who moved away long ago but came back looking just like you'd remembered.

So as we all listen to and digest this new My Bloody Valentine record, "M B V", which was just released tonight, the first TRUE My Bloody Valentine album since 1991, as we praise, judge, debate in 140 characters, tag friends in battles and compare to the previous LP’s with the dry wit of a generation of cynics raised on cat memes and single origin espresso, as we play armchair Greil Marcus and fancy ourselves the Lester Bangs of our very own IP address, I thought I would share with you not my OPINION, but my experience as outlined above.

So when I pushed play on my Macbook and listened to the first song, "She Found Now", I smiled to myself.

It was all there. 

I played the song till the end, and as the second song started I pushed pause and wrote this. 

Whatever follows in the remaining 8 1/2 songs doesn't matter; the friend was back in town and made us feel just like they did when last we saw them, and to quote Lou Reed, "And it was alright".

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad to see that Camden MBV story in writing. It's been at least a decade since you told it to me. It's kind of funny, when I started reading this entry I instantly recognized the feeling overcoming me - This is that F'n MBV story!!! Sure enough-- though this time there was much more detail or my addled mind back then could only absorb so much and the rest had leaked out over time. Thanks for the vicarious ride again! -frie