Must’ve been mid-afternoon
I could tell by how far the child’s shadow stretched out and
he walked with a purpose
in his sneakers, down the street
he had, many questions
like children often do
Songs of the Year: “Hell”, Squirrel Nut Zippers; “Counting Blue Cars”, Dishwalla
Runners-up: “Friends of P”, The Rentals; “Lump”, Presidents of the United States of America
Honorable Mentions: “Good”, Better than Ezra; “You Oughta Know” Alanis Morrissette
Not every year is dominated by songs that came out in that year; in the same way, the memory of a year will rarely be dictated by the songs you would like to have listened to or even the albums you actually bought. 1995 was still the year of Alanis (before she felt the need to thank India); none of us cared that she didn’t seem to understand irony or why one hand was in her pocket.
(Best suggestions from my friends at the time: (1) she’s hiding a roach; (2) sex toy in her hand; (3) she has an old woman’s hand and if it sees the light of day she’ll suddenly become an octogenarian; (4) she doesn’t have a hand!)
I have written elsewhere about the memories contained by “Good” for me. When I think back to driving around the backwoods and suburbs in a Ford LTD station wagon, I remember this as one of the high years of the local alt-rock station. The song “Lump” played almost every hour (and it is a great driving song). Matt Sharp, of Weezer, released the underrated and exceptionally fun “Friends of P” (which has the magic combination of male and female vocals with a MOOG).
Either of these two songs could be my top song of 1995, but my year was dominated by two songs I barely listen to at all now. When “Lump” wasn’t on the radio, there was a good chance you’d hear “Hell” by Squirrel Nut Zippers. This song was entertaining, it was dynamic, but it was also part of a wave that I never really understood: the Swing fad of the 1990’s.
Now don’t get me wrong: Big Band music is fun, complex and engaging. I’ll even concede that Swing dancing isn’t a terrible thing. But how do such things happen? What was the impetus for this and why was it still going on years later? Because, as the chances were, the people who were dancing were not the ones who should have been.
(Isn’t that mean? Let the people fucking dance, you jerk. Confession: I went to a Swing dance class at least once with a ‘friend’ whose affections I hoped to alter…what a jerk.)
The bridge of “Hell”, so much catchier than the chorus, was simple, melodic and fun. We would sing along in the car; we would sing it at work; we would sing it at school. I remember quite clearly bringing a large group together for a picture and prompting them to sing a capella: “Now the D and the A and the M and the N and the A and the T and the I – O – N / Lose your face, lose your name, then get fitted for a suit of flame.” Cheers followed; repetition and hilarity ensued. Now, I know it sounds lame, my brother; but it was fun. And, at least in retrospect, it feels guileless and honest.
I didn’t buy that album. I don’t know why, I liked the songs but I just didn’t feel inspired to make a purchase. One album I did buy that disappointed was the debut of Dishwalla. I distinctly remember The Lead Singer reading aloud to me from Spin or something like that predicting that Dishwalla would be the band of the decade. The album had a few good tracks, but it wasn’t good throughout.
The lead single, “Counting Blue Cars”, lived up to the hype. I didn’t adore the song; I may have learned to, but circumstances made it hard. The narrator of the song tells about spending time with a child (what was with this band? Their other song was about not eroticizing our children), counting blue cars, when the child says “Tell me all your thoughts on god?” The chorus centers on that line and loops additional metaphysical questions around it. In retrospect, again, the song seems a bit lame and a tad creepy. But it worked.
Its working or not working isn’t why I remember it. In 1995 I had two close friends put into mental institutions (one multiple times) for suicide attempts and detox. More than once, I heard Dishwalla on the way to or back from surrendering my belt and metal objects to visit them. The long rides to the hospitals and the longer ones home were invaded by Dishwalla’s questions from children.
On one return visit, with a younger female friend in the car (this time a blue Ford tempo) we stopped on a dirt road and talked late into the night. I can remember the moonlight on the windshield and the crispness of the winter evening and early morning. We talked about the song, about our places in the world and our friends. My parents berated me for arriving home three hours later than expected.
I was close enough to adulthood to find the idea of a child asking me about god frightening but near enough to being that child to feel the simultaneous wonder and horror of contemplating what is and what isn’t. And, damn it, I was in a Blue car (which I wrecked a few months later while trying to drive and tend a pimple). I didn’t kiss that girl, that night or ever. But we corresponded for several years based on the stillness and expansiveness of that one evening.
Until she went to India. Seriously. Thank you. India. And Alanis.
Horrors of the Year:
Everything by Silverchair; Everything by 311
“Gansta Paradise”, Coolio: One of my friends who was institutionalized encountered an “inmate” who was eight years old. He did nothing but recite this song every day. During one family meal, he took his fork and started stabbing his sister. I don’t see any causal connection here, but the memory is true.