Songs of the Year — 1992

Have you come here for forgiveness
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head,
“One” , U2

Songs of the Year: “Smells like Nirvana”, Weird Al Yankovic; “One”, U2

Runners-Up: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Nirvana; “Under the Bridge”, Red Hot Chili Peppers

In the year that They Might Be Giants released Apollo 18, Alice in Chains released Dirt, Blind Melon debuted and Dr. Dre changed the world with The Chronic, I was listening to Weird Al Yankovic.

My 1992 was two different years—half of the year capped off a bright and happy boyhood. The other half portended a mopey, angst-ridden adolescence. 1992 was a year of transition whose boundaries can be sensed in the music I listened to and the technology that provided it.

I wore this cassette out

In one half of the year I was still analogue. At the zenith of my boyish geekness, a circle of friends and I (all male, of course) circulated copies of every Monty Python cassette and every Weird Al tape. The last cassette I ever bought was Off the Deep End. I wore that out by copying it, by listening to it while mowing the interminable lawn, and by rewinding and fast forwarding ad nauseam.

So, while the rest of the world was learning about the weather in Seattle and trying on flannel, I was doing my penance for geek heaven. I learned all of Weird Al’s polka medleys by heart. I knew every Monty Python sketch on tape. I think that my friend and I actually performed the “Lumberjack” sketch at a school assembly. Others were wearing Guns N’ Roses shirts and carrying skateboards (ridiculous things in a place with mostly dirt roads…); I sang about suspenders and a bra.

It isn’t that I disliked Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, I just didn’t care much about it. It didn’t mean anything to me (yet). Now, Weird Al’s parody was a different story altogether. The tracks on Off the Deep End were the best produced of his career; the parody sounded like the original. In addition, the lyrics seemed, to me, to be witty and just juvenile enough (animal noises? Check.)

They (definitely are) Giants

“Don’t call me at work again no, no the boss still hates me / I’m just tired and I don’t love you anymore / And there’s a restaurant we should check out / where the other nightmare people like to go/ I mean nice people, baby wait, / I didn’t mean to say nightmare” from “They’ll Need A Crane”
Lincoln, 1988

One band’s music spans three decades of my life (and threatens to last even longer). They Might Be Giants, the geek rock originals, have a strange staying power. Few bands put out music that is so readily recognizable. Despite this, I don’t actively listen to the band frequently or play the part of a fan to any great extreme. Most playlists I make include one TMBG track, but weeks can go by without the two Johns passing my thoughts.

Not your typical rock stars

TMBG—Johns, Flansburgh and Linnell—are like friends who keep popping back into my life or relatives I genuinely like but never spend enough time with. Too much of my own musical awakening has their albums for soundtracks. So many of their songs call up strong memories—and always good ones. From simple memories like staying up late to catch their performances on Conan O’Brien to celebrating their success with the theme song for “Malcolm in the Middle” to the more specific moments below, I cannot deny them.

“She’s an Angel” (They Might be Giants, 1986)—I am in two places at once. In the auditorium at my high school where a friend has used this song as the backing track for the credits of his documentary (and I am floored by the contrast between verse and chorus). I am also in my room, listening to the song again and again as I moon over a girl (and I say ‘a’ because this scene could be (and was) recycled).

“Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” (Flood, 1990)—I am at “geek camp” where the counselors have perversely organized a dance for adolescents who are beyond awkward. We are cynical enough to mock “Jump, Jump” by Kris Kross, too self-conscious to approach the opposite gender, only to be suddenly liberated into a strange frenzy of joy running in circles when this song comes on. Soon after, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” comes on. The scene suddenly and irrevocably changes.

TMBG function for many people (well, for a geeky set) as a gateway band from the safe rock of our parents, from show tunes, and from gag music. When I was young, my musical world was dominated by the narrow tastes of my parents and the church (with the exception of a brief flirtation with NKOTB). When my lack of coolness began to first dawn on me, I remember trying to fit in—by memorizing “U Can’t Touch This” and “Ice Ice Baby”. It was Weird Al Yankovic cassettes copied from friends that I first wore out on my father’s Panasonic personal tape player (followed by, unsurprisingly, every Monty Python cassette). The first ‘rock’ album I wore out was Flood.

“Fingertips”—Apollo 18 (1992) I am at an after-party in a private school student basement after my band has played our first gig. I am talking to students, strangers,  from other schools. TMBG come up. Someone mentions how amusing “Fingertips” is (a track made up of samples or ideas of song ideas). One of us sings the first part of it; before I know it a group of 5-7 of us has sung through the entire song (all 20 segments). We start again.

Road Movie to Berlin” (Flood, 1992)—I am on a bus traversing Italy from Naples to Venice sitting next to an older girl who has been giving me seriously mixed signals during the entire tour. She is way too cool to like TMBG, I think, but something about the constant riding makes her think of this song. I sing it for her from beginning to end. We don’t kiss that day, but eventually we do. When we return to the states I learn to play the song on the guitar. I never end up singing it for her (the relationship ended quickly), but for a while, my band covered it.

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Thanksgiving Songs?

Not me, exactly

Yeah, Yeah. This is a re-post. Sue me. I’m busy flying home to Maine to eat too much and fall asleep with toddlers bouncing around me.

 

As we move into the end of November, we approach one of the most complex, over-determined, and potentially disappointing times of the year. The holiday season. What other period packs three major holidays, constant excuses for indulgences of all kinds, and some of the most memorable and execrable music of the year into 45 days?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a total curmudgeon or a Grinch. (Well, I may be a little bit of a Grinch. But I am not a Scrooge.)  There are things I completely adore about the holiday season.  Reuniting with family and friends is nice (even if at times stressful). Eating and drinking too much is not hard for me. But there are a few things about this time of year that drive me crazy.

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(Learning to) Learn about New Music

One might think (if one thought quickly) that, with all of the access to information provided by the internet,  it would be easy to learn about new music. This might seem especially true if we compare it to the way we used to learn about artists and songs (from friends, print magazines, fanzines, the radio, MTV). Each one of these categories could be hit-or-miss (a friend might have bad taste, certain artists could dominate the radio just as genres would dominate MTV).

Yet, we (or at least I) developed strategies for coping with these–you know which friends have tastes like your own (and the other friends might actually broaden your horizons); you can change radio stations or listen selectively to MTV (not that this is an issue any more since MTV no longer plays music). But today the situation is just damned overwhelming. I have been burned by algorithmic suggestions from Pandora, perplexed by “people who buy this also buy…” from Amazon, and similar (even less helpful) suggestions from iTunes store and the ironically named “Genius” app.

Continue reading

Thanksgiving Songs ?

Not me, exactly

As we move into the end of November, we approach one of the most complex, over-determined, and potentially disappointing times of the year. The holiday season. What other period packs three major holidays, constant excuses for indulgences of all kinds, and some of the most memorable and execrable music of the year into 45 days?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a total curmudgeon or a Grinch. (Well, I may be a little bit of a Grinch. But I am not a Scrooge.)  There are things I completely adore about the holiday season.  Reuniting with family and friends is nice (even if at times stressful). Eating and drinking too much is not hard for me. But there are a few things about this time of year that drive me crazy.

Continue reading

Songs of the Year — 1992

Have you come here for forgiveness
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head,
“One” , U2

Songs of the Year: “Smells like Nirvana”, Weird Al Yankovic; “One”, U2

Runners-Up: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Nirvana; “Under the Bridge”, Red Hot Chili Peppers
Honorable Mention: “November Rain”, Guns N’ Roses

In the year that They Might Be Giants released Apollo 18, Alice in Chains released Dirt, Blind Melon debuted and Dr. Dre changed the world with The Chronic, I was listening to Weird Al Yankovic.

My 1992 was two different years—half of the year capped off a bright and happy boyhood. The other half portended a mopey, angst-ridden adolescence. 1992 was a year of transition whose boundaries can be sensed in the music I listened to and the technology that provided it.

I wore this cassette out

In one half of the year I was still analogue. At the zenith of my boyish geekness, a circle of friends and I (all male, of course) circulated copies of every Monty Python cassette and every Weird Al tape. The last cassette I ever bought was Off the Deep End. I wore that out by copying it, by listening to it while mowing the interminable lawn, and by rewinding and fast forwarding ad nauseam.

So, while the rest of the world was learning about the weather in Seattle and trying on flannel, I was doing my penance for geek heaven. I learned all of Weird Al’s polka medleys by heart. I knew every Monty Python sketch on tape. I think that my friend and I actually performed the “Lumberjack” sketch at a school assembly. Others were wearing Guns N’ Roses shirts and carrying skateboards (ridiculous things in a place with mostly dirt roads…); I sang about suspenders and a bra.

It isn’t that I disliked Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, I just didn’t care much about it. It didn’t mean anything to me (yet). Now, Weird Al’s parody was a different story altogether. The tracks on Off the Deep End were the best produced of his career; the parody sounded like the original. In addition, the lyrics seemed, to me, to be witty and just juvenile enough (animal noises? Check.)

They (definitely are) Giants

“Don’t call me at work again no, no the boss still hates me / I’m just tired and I don’t love you anymore / And there’s a restaurant we should check out / where the other nightmare people like to go/ I mean nice people, baby wait, / I didn’t mean to say nightmare” from “They’ll Need A Crane”
Lincoln, 1988

One band’s music spans three decades of my life (and threatens to last even longer). They Might Be Giants, the geek rock originals, have a strange staying power. Few bands put out music that is so readily recognizable. Despite this, I don’t actively listen to the band frequently or play the part of a fan to any great extreme. Most playlists I make include one TMBG track, but weeks can go by without the two Johns passing my thoughts.

Not your typical rock stars

TMBG—Johns Flansburgh and Linnell—are like friends who keep popping back into my life or relatives I genuinely like but never spend enough time with. Too much of my own musical awakening has their albums for soundtracks. So many of their songs call up strong memories—and always good ones. From simple memories like staying up late to catch their performances on Conan O’Brien to celebrating their success with the theme song for “Malcolm in the Middle” to the more specific moments below, I cannot deny them.

“She’s an Angel” (They Might be Giants, 1986)—I am in two places at once. In the auditorium at my high school where a friend has used this song as the backing track for the credits of his documentary (and I am floored by the contrast between verse and chorus). I am also in my room, listening to the song again and again as I moon over a girl (and I say ‘a’ because this scene could be (and was) recycled).

“Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” (Flood, 1990)—I am at “geek camp” where the counselors have perversely organized a dance for adolescents who are beyond awkward. We are cynical enough to mock “Jump, Jump” by Kris Kross, too self-conscious to approach the opposite gender, only to be suddenly liberated into a strange frenzy of joy running in circles when this song comes on. Soon after, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” comes on. The scene suddenly and irrevocably changes.

TMBG function for many people (well, for a geeky set) as a gateway band from the safe rock of our parents, from show tunes, and from gag music. When I was young, my musical world was dominated by the narrow tastes of my parents and the church (with the exception of a brief flirtation with NKOTB). When my lack of coolness began to first dawn on me, I remember trying to fit in—by memorizing “U Can’t Touch This” and “Ice Ice Baby”. It was Weird Al Yankovic cassettes copied from friends that I first wore out on my father’s Panasonic personal tape player (followed by, unsurprisingly, every Monty Python cassette). The first ‘rock’ album I wore out was Flood.

“Fingertips”—Apollo 18 (1992) I am at an after-party in a private school student basement after my band has played our first gig. I am talking to students, strangers,  from other schools. TMBG come up. Someone mentions how amusing “Fingertips” is (a track made up of samples or ideas of song ideas). One of us sings the first part of it; before I know it a group of 5-7 of us has sung through the entire song (all 20 segments). We start again.

Road Movie to Berlin” (Flood, 1992)—I am on a bus traversing Italy from Naples to Venice sitting next to an older girl who has been giving me seriously mixed signals during the entire tour. She is way too cool to like TMBG, I think, but something about the constant riding makes her think of this song. I sing it for her from beginning to end. We don’t kiss that day, but eventually we do. When we return to the states I learn to play the song on the guitar. I never end up singing it for her (the relationship ended quickly), but for a while, my band covered it.

Continue reading