Hello Poobahs (wasn't that an old novelty song?),
My name is Jim Connelly, and I've always wanted to do this. Well, this and play Major League Baseball. And it looks like I might get a shot at doing that, too. Who-hoo! Thank you Bud Selig, thank you Marge Schott.
Let's get the demographic bits out of the way, first. I'm 32 years old -- which puts me in the older cohort of the fabled "X Generation". You may have heard about it recently. I'm part of the mid-80's college radio crowd that nurtured R.E.M., Hu sker Du, The Replacements, etc., and set the stage for the whole "alternative" (as in "marketed to Generation X") modern rock revolution for which I'm not sorry a bit. I like waking up in the middle of the night and hearing Liz Phair, Dinosaur Jr and Nirvana wham wham wham ona radio station actually making money on music I've been told all my life was uncommercial.
I'm also of European descent. Yup, one of them white males. I'm not angry, however, though I can get a little cranky right around meal times. Musically, I'm A Big Dumb Rock Guy, who likes a bit of everything, but naturally gravitates towards post-punk, cos I think that's where the best rock 'n' roll is being made. I've been writing for KADE, an "alternative" (as in "to be an alternate to") publication based outta my former hometown of Fresno, CA, from where I finally escaped this year.
I have no idea. I'm hardly an anti-video snob: some of my favorite singles are usually videos I've caught whilst channel-surfing, but I couldn't even begin to make value judgements on the videos separate from the actual songs they promote.
Jesus, what can you say about a year where Kurt Cobain, the Democrats and Major League Baseball all blew their brains out? Kurt's suicide, and the reaction to it, is a totallyunprecedented thing. There have been albums associated with a major rock deaths before --Let It Bleed, Street Survivors, Double Fantasy, Three-Way Tie (For Last) -- but the difference with Live Through This is that it wasn't created by the dead person, only influenced by him. And for that, Courtney Love is forever going to take a rash of shit. Of course, she stole from him -- for fuck's sake, wouldn't you? But never in a million words could Kurt have written the lyrics for it. His trick was to pile on a heart-shaped maze of non-linear phrases that ended up creating powerful image. Courtney just went straight for the nuts.
It seems that she's become a lightning rod for much of the rage and grief that people felt about Kurt's suicide. I mean, she's always been a polarizing figure: most strong women in this country are. But she was instantly yokoized, and whatever the state of their marriage or Kurt's mental condition or Nirvana the band, it always seemed to me that she got more than her share of the blame. And now, if you check out Internet areas like alt.music.alternative or alt.music.nirvana or even alt.fan.courtney-love, you see threads like "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA KURT COBAIN IS DEAD" and "WHY I HATE COURTNEY LOVE" which have been running for months and probably will go on forever.
If Nevermind (briefly) united a generation Sgt. Pepper-style , then the reaction to Kurt's death just showed how much we really hated even the thought of unification. The very manner of it: the ugliness of suicide, and the violent ways people react to others' self-negation, guaranteed that -- musically, at least -- we will never ever unite on anything again. The dream is over, indeed.
Which sucks, not only because I'm one of those "punk rock changed my life" guys who was jumping for joy as Nevermind stomped Michael Jackson and Guns N' Roses during Christmas break. I mean, I remember going to the dance night at the Fresno, CA niteclub I frequented, and watching in amazement how "Smells Like Teen Spirit" filled up the dancefloor when other actual DOR songs didn't.
It was a moment like a car crash, where you can look back later and say "There! There's where everything changed." It was just for a tiny window in time, when people would leave "We're not able to answer the phone, we're all out listening to our Nirvana album" as the outgoing message on their answering machines, but it existed, and all of the negation and bullshit about grunge and Time magazine cover stories and bad music to follow can ever take it away. Not even Kurt's fucking suicide can wipe away the fact that he made a difference in a lot of people's lives -- and a lot of those people hated him for it.
Those who hated him most, of course, were those from what he considered his scene, who hate the whole alternative rock = the new mainstream equation. A pox on those dickweeds forever.
No, it sucks because, at heart, I'm a musical populist. Or -- hee, hee -- a semi-populist. I like sharing music w/ other people as much as I like cranking it up by myself at home. I think mass acceptance can make you hear a song or album in different ways, often turning an average song into something special or a good record into a great one.
Of course, it works both ways: around here, we're setting up pools to see which hook from which 1973 single Sheryl Crow steals from next. Will it be the "Oh Carol" bit from "Crocodile Rock?" Maybe the horns from "Feeling Stronger Every Day?" The guitar riff from "Smoke on the Water?" Of course, eventually, she'll work her way forward in time to cop the sax hook from "Baker Street" and have a song which will be played on all radio stations simultaneously, just like "We are The World," which will be the b-side.
On the other hand, while I still find Dookie as a whole too derivative to excite me, the singles they keep spinning from it always sound great on the radio and MTV. Besides, the success of Dookie and Smash signify something more: that punk rock, like metal before it, has hit perpetual motion. There will always be another generation of disaffected, angst-filled youth to whom it all sounds new. This is good, because there always be bands who use punk simply as a starting point and transcend it, like Nirvana did, or Soundgarden does with their metal, but at the very least it means cool singles like "Longview" and "Come out and Play."
And at the heart of the big debate going on in my scene, the "I'm more alternative than you are" pissing contest -- which, truth be told, goes back to the moment people realized that punk wasn't going to take over the world 15 years ago -- is the battle betwe en the elites and the populists. Those who want to share and those who want to hoard. Of course, I'm not totally exempt from elitism: probably one of the reasons I chose "new wave" over Journey & AC/DC way back when was to distance myself from the rest of the people at my high school. But I always tried (unsuccessfully) to get them to listen to the Clash and Ramones, and I still loved Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin -- which is why I have to say I'm a semi-populist.
Meanwhile, the debate goes on, and the scene is polarized, and I doubt we'll be having any more moments like Nevermind for awhile.
And I'm really going to miss all of the amazing music he probably still had in him.
Hole -- Live Through This: I guess it all comes down to whether or not you believe Courtney's quid pro quo: "If you live through this with me, I swear that I will die for you." I wasn't sure I believed her until I caught her singing it at a local live radio concert just before Christmas. By the time the concert was over, I believed. Or at least I believe that she believes it, which is the real key. And its my album of the year, cos its the album that defined the year, this deep dark down 1994.
Pavement --Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: Do not be alarmed. What you are hearing is the sound of a great rock and roll band coming to terms with that fact. Like their sonically pixieish spiritual forefathers, their tossed-off craftsmanship is astounding. You get the sense that they can write songs like these forever, or not. Whatever. And since it was recorded and released before the year really exploded, it had the extra added bonus of truly being fun -- maybe the one true up all year. And I don't even think this is the total killer classic record they have in them. I can only hope they'll decide to let it out. And "Unfair" is my California new state song. I'm screaming: "The last psychedelic band, from Sacto, Northern Cal!"
Soundgarden -- Superunknown: Had you told me a year ago I'd think that the next Soundgarden album was a monumental record from start to finish, I'd have laughed you out of the room. But this is major. What a surprise. I even went back to the previous records to see what I'd missed. What I missed was a good metal band, but not the one which focussed like a laser for this album. That they went from good to amazing shouldn't be too surprising, however: after all, a garden is a place where things grow.
Nirvana -- Unplugged: Sigh. "Jesus Doesn't Want Me For A Sunbeam" is almost unbearably perfect, proving that the Vaselines were put here to provide songs for Kurt Cobain to sing. You also realize that the reason that Nirvana resonated so damn much wasn't his riffs or his melodies or even his words, but rather his voice. "Don't expect me to die for me." Fuck.
Guided By Voices -- Bee Thousand: Like searching for buried treasure. And I found a shitload. Recently, I've been reading on the Internet how -- after name-dropping them in every issue of SPIN this year -- writer Jim Greer, a self-described musical elitist, has one-upped Jon Landau and Dave Marsh and actually joined GBV as a bass player. If that's true, I can only wish Guided By Voices U2-like success.
Magnapop -- Hot Boxing: Oh, nothing really -- just a record full of great popsongs, bracingly played. And live, their enthusiasm boils over.
Sebadoh -- Bakesale: I'd probably like this even more if I could only understand more of the words.
Sugar -- File Under: Easy Listening: Bob Mould is god.
The Miss Alans -- Blusher: Confession time: these guys are from my home town, and close personal friends. And so what? I have a lot of friends who make music. None of their records woulda even come close, including earlier Miss Alans music. But this is big and psychedelic and keys on guitarist Manny Diez and his ever-changing bag o'tricks. And I'm not just saying that because he got me into the Big Star reunion at the Fillmore.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse -- Sleeps With Angels : At his annual Bridge benefit this year, Neil and Crazy Horse did almost this entire album -- pausing only to reclaim "Hey Hey, My My" -- acoustically. They even got away with a 17-minute version of "Change Your Mind." He just keeps rolling on.
Singles are difficult because of the record companies' recent habit of releasing promo-only singles to radio stations without bothering to release them commercially. Which makes economic sense: why get five or six dollars for the "Dignity" single when you can get 15 or 16 for the amazingly misnomered Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol III. Me, I'll just wait for his Unplugged to come out, and wonder if he's ever gonna write another song ever again.
1. Cut Your Hair / Camera -- Pavement. The problem is, of course, is that Pavement are rock and roll classicists coming from a scene that totally distrusts rock and roll. Which is the source of the tension that constantly threatens to pull their best music apart. They can't help what they love, nor can they help not wanting to follow their love and worrying about where it's taking them. On the b-side, they do what all hardcore early R.E.M. fans do: make up their own words.
2. Change Your Mind -- Neil Young and Crazy Horse. I thought he had a shot at an actual hit with this one -- pretty melody and harmonies for the single version, wrecked guitar for the album version. Either way it worked. And will continue to do so.
3. Loser -- Beck. What cracks me up about this being arbitrarily chosen as the poster song for the Backpack Nation is that ignores two simple things: 1) As the Beatles Live at The BBC reminds us, Boomer icon John Lennon sang the same damn thing 30 years ago, (though imagine the irony had he added the "so why don't you kill me?" tag), and 2) It's a joke! Hel-lo! Anybody home?
4. Black Hole Sun -- Soundgarden. "Captain, I've hit it with everything we've got, and it just keeps coming and coming. What are we going to do?"
5. Whatta Man -- Salt 'n' Pepa w/ En Vogue. Boy, talk about making you want to delay your orgasm!
6. Feel The Pain" -- Dinosaur Jr. Sick of "Don't Stop," J. Mascis writes a theme song for the '96 Clinton re-election campaign.
7. Zombie -- The Cranberries. Finally, Sinead puts out a single as good as "Nothing Compares 2U!" Though I wonder why I love the Cranberries steals like this and the perfect "Linger" (which sounded like the Sundays, a band that bored me to tears, very strange), and Sheryl Crow makes me reach for my remote.
8. You Don't Know How It Feels -- Tom Petty. First song on Greatest Hits, Vol II .
9. Superstar -- Sonic Youth. Irony dictated that this become Sonic Youth's first massive hit single, which woulda put an evil little twist in the endless "what is alternative?" debate.
10. What's the Frequency, Kenneth? -- R.E.M. While I find much of Monster up to R.E.M.'s usual standards, I don't think it's great R.E.M. And this year, of all years, I needed a great album from my once and future favorite band. On the other hand, it rocked where Zooropa thudded, and this single -- while no "Fall On Me" or "The One I Love" or "Man on the Moon," -- is great R.E.M. The fact that they continue to get respect from just about everybody is maybe the most heartening thing about this year.
I guess that's all. Thanks.
P.S. Has anybody ever thought of gathering all of the previous Pazz and Jop polls and putting them into book form?? I'd read it. Hell, I'd do it. What a primer it would be!
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This document last modified 05 July, 1995.
I was listening to Patti Smith -- Radio Ethiopia.