Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Christmas Miracle: The Tape Got Erased

[In the spirit of the season, I'm going to be dicussing music I listened to heavily during Christmas time in past years. Since I'd usually be staying at my parents' place, I only had a certain number of CDs I'd be able to lug back from the dorms with me. So there's some pretty crazy holiday listening that's taken up a lot of the past 10 years... here's a taste]

Nostalgia is a funny thing. Moments ago, I found myself getting nostalgic for an age when I liked something I have a hard time stomaching now. In college, after I got my first 4-track, I became a fan of Beat Happening.

It all seems so silly now, my enjoyment of their records. Some of the playing is good, some of it ain't, and try as I might, I can't find much negative in the way K Records built up a network that really embodied the "do it yourself" ethic that punk initially espoused, but turned its back on when Blondie and The Ramones and The Clash signed to major labels. I don't begrudge them that, but have to tip my hat to labels like K Recs and Dischord for REALLY DOING IT, you know?

That said, I find more than 75% of Beat Happening unlistenable. Heather's playing and thin singing were OK, and Bret's guitar playing and drumming were fine, and the whole thing would be a fine exercise in charming, shambling, and amateurish home recording if not for one thing:

Greatest 7" Ever

The "isn't innocence so cool look at us we're having a cakewalk I love summer and lemonade and the '50s and let's be wistful for a youth experience we were too young to have" schtick of one Mr. Calvin "The Beefcake" Johnson. The guy's not evil, I'm sure, but man, did indie rock cultivate a little cult of Calvin. Nearly everything on K is stuff I can't even listen to anymore (although the other half is pretty good), but man... I loved that shit when I was 19 or 20.

I'd walk around campus with my discman blaring "Black Candy" or "I Spy", digging the empowerment, feeling like I knew a secret that the emo/eyeliner brigade (which was still cool at the time), or the Elephant 6 crew (that's next week's shameful confession) didn't. Those I tried to convert didn't care, but that didn't matter since I could go back to my dorm room and my 4-track and record my own music. Most of which, upon review, was terrible. But it was the sense of doing it, like "these people are bad enough I feel better about my own primitive bashing"... I could do it too!

Of course, I came to my senses after immersing myself in that culture and realizing how fake it all was. You could apply my usual rant about how the hip cognoscenti only appreciate things on a surface level anymore, and that none of them could actually listen to something lo-fi and gnarly like the Cheater Slicks, Grifters, or Happy Flowers - just the fey, approved version. But man, at the time, it was what kept me making music. So thanks, K Records and Beat Happening, for tricking me into being inspired.

I'll leave you readers with this: our man in question once came to my office, where he was walking down the stairs and appeared to be staring at me with abject horror. I realized that it wasn't me he was looking at, but the Kurt Cobain action figure on my desk. Merry X-Men!

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