Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You’re so fucking special
I wish I was special
Songs of the Year: “Creep”, Radiohead; “No Rain ”, Blind Melon
While 1993 was a year when I definitely started thinking more deeply about music and about why I liked what I liked, it was also a year when I started to display my most common (and annoying) characteristics: contrarianism and, for lack of a better term, obscuricism.
So, it is easy for me to list the major artists from this year that I didn’t get into. I ignored The Smashing Pumpkins; I was dismissive of middle of the road alt-rock bands like Gin Blossoms, Candlebox, and the Counting Crows. I got on the tailend of bands like James. I didn’t care a bit for Nirvana’s In Utero. I bought Pearl Jam’s Vs. the day it came out but only listened to it a few times. Strangely enough, bands like The Crash Test Dummies caught my attention.
Now while music history shows look back to this period with unmeasured bliss, we shouldn’t forget how much crap there still was: “Insane in the Membrane” by Cypress Hill was a top hit; Bon Jovi somehow got away with “Bed of Roses”; and we all had to wonder what Meatloaf wouldn’t do for love. Nevertheless, in comparison to earlier years, there was some great music on the radio.
I tried to stay true to the music I had learned to love the year before. But, betrayed by U2’s almost unconscionable Zooropa, I went back in time to bands I had missed out on when I was too busy loving NKOTB and M. C. Hammer. 1993 is when I bought and consumed Doolittle and Surfer Rosa. I immediately fell in love with the Breeders’ Cannonball. But the two songs that best encapsulate 1993 for me are “No Rain” by Blind Melon and Radiohead’s “Creep”.
I first heard these songs while riding home in a friend’s minivan from theater practice. My best friend—the previously mentioned Lead Singer—and I were immediately floored. I can think of the road we were on, the yellow color of a dusty dusk, and the smell of the river approaching. We demanded more. We surfed the radio for hours. We called into to various stations. We waited and were consumed.
Now, my native cynicism should have braced me against the commercial push behind these artists; I should have rebelled against their constant play on MTV; my contrary nature should have rejected songs that were so unequivocally embraced, but I seem to have been defenseless against these tracks. I cannot think of a time when two songs that were so different simultaneously gripped my attention so forcibly.
Where “No Rain” is bright, brassy, and optimistic, “Creep” is self-deprecating, dark and unclear. One is hard to sing; the other is easy to imitate but hard to sing truly. One invites harmonizing; but the other invites a ghoulish singalong. The video of the former was playful and memorable; the latter was of a simple performance (although I can still see Tom Yorke’s scowl from the video). Whatever the reason, I bought both albums after hearing the singles once. And, most surprisingly, both albums turned out to be really good.
(Pablo Honey is a phenomenal alt-rock album; “Been Thinkin’ About You” is Radiohead’s best (and only?) love song; I have not really liked a Radiohead album since (I know, heresy). Blind Melon is one of the better hard rock albums of the 1990’s; “Change” is one of the best rock songs of the decade. I don’t know why it was never released as a single).
While the sonic field and feeling of these songs are different, the schizophrenia of my love is best illustrated through the lyrics. Where Shannon Hoon croons “I just want someone to say to me / I’ll always be there when you wake” he evokes the simple and optimistic dream that I think most of us share at some level. The dancing electric lead over the acoustic rhythm leaves you to believe that this is far from too much to ask. But Yorke’s self-deprecating “When you were here before / couldn’t look you in the eye” speaks to the lie of Blind Melon’s promise.
These two songs, along with being musical complements, exhibit complementary sentiments. They are each one half of the one reality that is and was the state of being in an uncertain place, of being uncomfortable, of being in-between. In 1993, there were moments when it was bright, when I was, in some figurative way, dancing in a field and hopeful that someday I wouldn’t be alone. But there were also nights when I was sure I wasn’t good enough, or just not fucking special. Radiohead may have been satirizing such sentiments. Blind Melon may not have believed what they were singing. But I did. Sometimes.
Now, brother: I know you must remember something of this year. I read the entire Dune series while listening to these two albums, over and over and over and….