Obsession, Insanity and Fanaticism

There’s a new article about Syd Barrett on Last Plane to Jakarta. As with the vast majority of John Darnielle’s writing, this piece is at times hilarious and insightful and celebratory and sad. He hits pretty close to home for me in one of his famous “footnotes” discussing the track, “Opel” which remained unreleased until 1988:

It was a great moment for music, but a terrible moment for obsessive people around the world. For years we’d wondered what might lay gathering dust on some London studio shelf or in a Cambridge bedroom — what hidden treasures, what lost masterpieces? When sub-par material is unearthed, there’s hope for us: perhaps someday we’ll learn to enjoy what we have and stop losing sleep wondering whether there are unreleased full-band recordings from the Birthday Party’s final, turbulent, incredible year together. Perhaps we will stop digging through the endless morass of the internet trying to find Joy Division bootlegs we haven’t heard yet. (There are none.) Then something like “Opel” turns up — a lost recording that confirms the possibility that the very best stuff is still unheard. There is no hope for us, my friends. We are doomed to our sad record-collector existences.

I’ve done my share of obsessing. And I can tell you that it’s not healthy. I’ve driven myself pretty close to the edge of some fairly Syd-like insanity over some bands in my day. And it’s bad. You end up burning yourself out after while. That’s why you’ve got to learn to take it slow. Take it easy. You gotta just get it under control. Can stop any time. I’m still a record collecting addict, but I’ve learned to manage my addiction.

I went through a phase in high school when I bought every Smiths twelve-inch. That was a difficult thing to do on a part-time dishwasher’s wages in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thank God for Vinyl Solution and Zak’s Diner, I guess. Herm at Vinyl kept that Smiths bin well-stocked and my Zak’s let me work just enough to buy my records. After I owned everything ever released (the elusive “This Charming Man” single was the final Holy Grail), I stopped listening to them. Almost completely. Only recently have I let them back into my life again. Slowly. And with an objectively critical ear. Johnny Marr’s production doesn’t sound nearly as perfect to me as it used to. It sounds muddy and overproduced a lot of times. You don’t really need twenty-five layers of guitar parts on one song, do you? And Morrissey’s lyrics which I once swallowed hook, line and stinker now mostly sound overdramatic and silly. But there are moments that cut through the nostalgia and still stand up on their own. “I Know It’s Over” is still a beautiful song. My man Phil is working on an extended feature about people’s continuing obsession with the Smiths. I look forward to seeing what he uncovers in the souls of all those people who are still feeling what I once felt.

5 thoughts on “Obsession, Insanity and Fanaticism”

  1. My three year obsession (89-92) with the Sugarcubes was the most pathetic time of my life. If anyone wants to buy some Icelandic 12″ vinyl, let me know. I’ve got albums by 80’s Icelandic punk bands that I bought soley because I thought someone associated with the Cubes was in the band. San, man….sad. Although one of my fondest memories was my 1988 odessey to Toronto with two friends. We traveled there on $40 each in a beaten Ford Escort just to see the Cubes play live at a bar above a fish market in China Town. I stood right next to the entire band on the sidewalk while they smoked cigarettes…..My Smiths obsession climaxed with the Morriessey/Phrank tour back in the early 90s. I blew hundreds of dollars on merch at that show. I had front row tix and I showed up with an armload of flowers. And I’m straight! I did get some of his sweat on me at that show, and I touched the edge of his cardigan at a record signing earlier that year. When I think back to that time i get physically sick. But, when I put in Louder than Bombs, and I cruise around in my yuppy mobile, I know why I loved that music so much. Scotty

  2. By the way, if anyone would like to discuss their Smiths obsession for my upcoming article, please email me at philwise AT gloriousnoise DOT com The article is coming along nicely and should be up next week or so. If you got something to share email me now!

  3. I always thought Morrissey was having a private laugh with a lot of his songs-like he was conciously trying to write parodies of Smiths/Morrisey songs. To me, ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ was hilariously over-the-top. I could be wrong, tho.

  4. The Syd Barrett reference reminds me of a business trip to England a couple years ago. I was in the company of a Pink Floyd fan who continues to be obsessive about the band in a way that you guys can relate to (i.e, the obsession, not necessarily Floyd. . .which brings to mind the question of where they fit into the whole “prog rock” argument, but I’ll let that digression go).Anyway, when we were in London, he (yes, Jeff, it’s Murphy) had our hosts drive by the Battersea Power Station so he could shoot photos. But what was more amusing is that as we drove north, we stopped at a few pubs in villages. And he’d ask the person behind the bar whether they knew Syd Barrett, hoping against hope that Syd would frequent the pub. The people in the pubs were uniformly disturbed by this fresh-faced American and his question.Of course, Syd may have been lurking in a back room. . .

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