Kris pulled her 1978 Firebird up to the stoplight on Main Street and idled next to my car in the other lane. I reached over to roll down my window and talk to her, ultimately agreeing to her suggestion that I ditch my ’68 Plymouth Fury at the parents’ house and ride with her. Besides, my Mopar only had a factory AM radio in it, whereas her Firebird was equipped with a kickass Pioneer cassette deck that I helped install earlier that summer.
Looking back on our relationship now, Kris was what would be described as today as a “fuck buddy.” She was generous with her ride, her drugs, and her vagina. The fact that I maintained steady relationships outside of the late night encounters with her never seemed to bother Kris. Years later, of course, I learned that this wasn’t the case; the fact that I essentially used Kris during those high school years wasn’t lost on her. After I left my hometown for college, the time apart provided her with perspective to consider the dynamics of our relationship and realize that I was pretty much a complete dickhead.
I been through many times in which I thought I might lose it The only thing that saved me has always been music — Beastie Boys
Whenever I feel like I’m starting to slip over the edge of reality a little more than normal, it’s always been my thing to start listening to really crazy people in an effort to convince me that everything’s still okay.
So recently, I picked up Syd Barrett’s new “best of” compilation, and I downloaded a copy of Brian Wilson’s Smile as envisioned and mixed by a particularly enthusiastic fan. As great as these artists are, I still found myself lacking the usual comfort that these types of album tend to give me. I mean, Smile would have probably been a good album, but I no longer think it would have changed the world. Songs like “Do You Like Worms” and “Vege-tables” might sound cool, but there’s not much there to really connect to. I prefer songs about girls. And Syd Barrett let me down too. He ended up sounding like Ringo Starr singing music written by the Rutles. Effervescing Elephant? Come on! These albums weren’t helping me get through my rough times at all. What’s up?
Music is my savior I was maimed by rock and roll I was tamed by rock and roll — Wilco
And then along came an album that rocked my world. After dealing with some seriously heavy shit lately, I was turned on to an album that lifted my spirits in a way that only truly great music can. For me. Some people feel the true presence of God when they pray. I don’t feel that. I’m happy some people do though. It gets them through tough times, and they need it.
We all do.
And the closest I can get to that peace that passeth understanding comes from listening to exactly the right music at exactly the right time. On the way home from work tonight, I stopped by my local record store and picked up the Mountain Goats‘ All Hail West Texas. Then I listened to it closely as I folded laundry and cleaned the apartment. A few times I had to sit down and focus on it. I played the first song twice in a row like a teenage girl in 1986 playing “Somebody” by Depeche Mode over and over at the beach. No shit, I had to repeat the second song again after I played it too.
I thank God right now for John Darnielle and his Mountain Goats. I’ve been reading his site for several months now (thanks to Michael Goldberg), and am constantly amazed by his ability to write about bands I know I won’t ever want to listen to and still keep me interested. His own music is stripped and as lo-fi as music can be, recorded on a boom box in his central Iowa home. But it sounds perfect tonight.
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.