This Used To Be My Playground, Part 17: Nine Inch Fails — You Want To What Me Like A What??

#133. “Closer” – Nine Inch Nails

#134. “No Excuses” – Alice In Chains

#135. “The Day I Tried To Live” – Soundgarden
For some reason, the summer of 1994 was a heyday for particularly grim music. Saturating the air were the negative vibes of “industrial” bands like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry (their 1994 offering was entitled Filth Pig. Indeed.) All the grunge knock-offs and second-generation shoegaze aided and abetted the general ambiance of doom. Which was fine by me. It matched my state of mind. I was in the grips of post-breakup grief, and things like the NIN magnum opus The Downward Spiral (“Help me – I’ve broke apart my insides/Help me – I’ve got no soul to sell/Help me – the only thing that works for me/Help me get away from myselfMy whole existence is flawed…”) gave it a voice.

The gritty Alice In Chains EP Jar Of Flies was also a favorite at this time, thanks to the song that may have summed up my feelings better than anything else. I almost wore out the CD on this one, so it’s worth quoting at length:

It’s alright…There comes a time
Got no patience to search for peace of mind

Laying’ low…Want to take it slow
No more hiding or disguising truths I’ve sold

Everyday something hits me all so cold
Find me sittin’ by myself — no excuses that I know

It’s okay…Had a bad day
Hands are bruised from breaking rocks all day

Drained and blue …I bleed for you
You think it’s funny, well you’re drowning in it too

Everyday something hits me all so cold
Find me sittin’ by myself — no excuses that I know

Yeah, it’s fine…We’ll walk down the line
Leave our rain, a cold trade for warm sunshine

You my friend …I will defend
And if we change, well I love you anyway

Get the picture, skipper?

The “hitting me all so cold” bit was cruelly ironic. I remember it as especially hot around that time, but maybe that was because my bedroom was in the loft-like upper floor of my house, and the AC struggled mightily to keep up with the blast-furnace heat of a northern California summer. The heat rose in tangible waves to my poorly insulated sanctum, with its sloping ceiling tucked under the eaves. In the room’s defense, it was big (bigger than the bedroom I’m currently sleeping in as an adult with a career), with hardwood floors, which gave it amazing acoustics. I had recently acquired a set of 70’s-era Panasonic speakers. They were chipped, flecked with paint and other mysterious substances, and missing their mesh covers, so the pulsating cones were exposed in all their throbbing glory – and they put out an awesome sound, which was needed to be crystal-clear audible over the whir of the elaborate network of electric fans used to keep the room habitable. A beanbag chair placed right in the sweet spot between those beauties provided my primary listening/sulking area.

Future Oscar-winner Trent Reznor and future desiccated corpse Layne Staley were all very well, but it was Soundgarden’s Superunknown that was truly the soundtrack to my summer of ’94. (Cry if you want to cry/If it helps you see/If it clears your eyes). I had bought it at the Wherehouse on the day of its release (March 8), but it didn’t have a real resonance with me until I’d had my heart ripped out and backed over by a Honda Civic del Sol (figuratively.) Almost any track from this album would work for the Playlist, but I went with the three of the five hit singles this monster spun off – “The Day I Tried To Live,” (noted here), “Spoonman” (see below), and “Black Hole Sun” (watch this space.)

When I wrote in my previous entry that I had never felt as alone as I had at that point, I wasn’t kidding. I had lost my high school friends through increasingly divergent interests, and the fact that too many of their invitations to hang out had been rebuffed because I was part of a couple and too busy doing couple-type shit. Although I had good times with Skot and Peyman working at First Run Video, Skot was now gone and Peyman was preparing to be gone, gearing up for his transfer to Cal Poly in the fall. The phone wasn’t ringing, and I was isolated, Howard Hughes-like, in my oppressively hot second floor bedroom – door closed, music blasting.

#136. “Rocks” – Primal Scream
Scotland’s Primal Scream were the chameleons of the British music scene. On their little-regarded first two albums, they veered crazily between two types of retro — the flower-power Byrds and the gutter-punk Stooges. They finally hit pay dirt by latching on to the burgeoning “house music” fad with the acid/electronica/dance album Screamadelica. On their fourth album, Give Out But Don’t Give Up, they changed sounds yet again, now attempting to re-create the boozy riff-rock of early 1970’s Rolling Stones and Faces. There was only room for one Black Crowes, so this move left the critics and Ecstasy-gobbling Screamadelica-loving club-rats cold, but proved irresistible to the Holy Bee. Urged on by their repeated chants of “get yer rocks off!” I decided to rejoin the land of the living.

When I finally emerged, blinking and mole-like in the mid-July sunshine, I was at loose ends. I was starting a new social life from scratch. Luckily, I soon discovered good ol’ Skot working at a hole-in-the-wall Mom & Pop video store in a strip mall. It was as if I hadn’t seen him in years, when in reality, it was more like five months.

He had an apartment, and it was now that I felt the first stirrings of desire to have a place of my own as well. His roommate’s name escapes me – he was a butcher’s assistant in the meat department of Food 4 Less – but he vacuumed (with carpet powder) every day, carefully wrapped the drip catchers under the stove-top burners in foil, and dried his whites on a clothesline on the back patio. Skot said it was like living with his grandmother. One of the other things I remember from hanging out at his apartment was a single CD that kind of blew my mind.

It was a compilation of Chess blues artists on a budget-line MCA album originally issued on vinyl in 1963 called simply, The Blues, Vol. 1a mere 12 songs by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Hooker and others of their ilk. It was absolutely revelatory. The sound had all the primitiveness of DIY punk, and all the rawness of an exposed nerve (Little Walter’s overdriven harp and Hubert Sumlin’s guitar were always deep in the red and threatening feedback). And it was blues, so I certainly relished the lyrical sentiments at that point in my life. Skot kept saying he was someday going to spring for the lavish 4-disc box set Chess Blues on display at Camelot Records at the mall. I ended up getting it before he did (if he ever did.) I was now a blues aficionado. Not that fancy, jazzed-up Chicago shit with the horns. I loved primitive blues. Delta blues. Moaning in the moonlight. Lifelong Obsession #1 for this entry.

Skot also took it upon himself to repair my love life. Over the last two years, I had encountered many young women in high school and junior college with whom I felt a slight spark, but could not pursue them because I was already in a relationship. Said relationship now over, one summer afternoon, Skot announced we were going to track some of those young women down and put me “back in the saddle.” He squeezed some last names out of me, and began cheerfully flipping through the phone book, calling everyone by that name, as I curled up on his (beautifully scented) floor, crippled by equal parts embarrassed agony and glee.

“Hello, does by any chance ****** live there? Oh. Ok, sorry to bother you.”

Next person by that name in the book.

“Hello, does by any chance ****** live there? Oh. Ok, sorry to bother you.”

I could never in a million years have been that bold, and I don’t know what we would have done had we actually contacted one of our targets. Set up some kind of sad date, I guess. But we struck out. He also wanted me to take a shopping trip to Sacramento to pick him up some cologne that was only available at a certain store. The shopping companion he arranged for me? A drop-dead gorgeous 21-year-old employee of the Underground record store that he was friends with. Fire-red hair, alabaster skin, and a bell-like voice that liked to sing Sam Cooke songs. Dreamy. We streaked southward at ninety miles an hour in her Volkswagen Beetle as she blithely told me she lacked both a license and insurance. I don’t know what Skot expected would come of this, and I appreciated his insanely optimistic efforts, but the ingenue in question had eyes only for Skot, and the Holy Bee’s little 19-year-old nerdy self never felt more like a monkey in a sidecar in his life.

#137. “Spoonman” – Soundgarden

Let’s see… “Spoonman”… another track from the great Superunknown. How do I connect it to my next little vignette? Spoons stir coffee!

This Used To Be Mahler’s

Lest we forget, the mid-nineties was the height of the Great Coffee Shop Boom. The Friends gang and its devotion to “Central Perk” would make hanging-out-at-an overpriced-café-with-bad-art-and-big-cushions a legitimate societal phenomenon when their show debuted that coming fall, but they were reflecting the trend, rather than leading the way. Every street corner, even in Yuba City, boasted a coffee shop by the middle of ’94. I began hanging out at a place called Mahler’s on D Street in Marysville. Laboring behind the counter at Mahler’s was a friend-of-a-friend. Caspar* was a close companion of my high school associate McKinney, the fireplug-sized loudmouthed eccentric (he resembled Elroy Jetson with Tourette’s) I have written about a few times already.

Caspar had grown up on various Air Force bases throughout Europe. When he would pal around with McKinney junior and senior year, he kept his blond hair piled high in an annoying Morrissey pompadour, wore bizarre golf knickers that exposed a generous length of argyle sock, and tooled around in a second-hand 1970’s model Porsche 915. Before I knew his actual name, I used to refer to him as “Hitler Youth Boy.”

In the year since graduation, he had toned down his Euro-trash style, and was now usually clad in a Primal Scream (Screamadelica) t-shirt and simple cargo shorts. The blond pompadour rode a little lower (and, I noted with a chuckle, had already begun to thin noticeably at the temples), and he seemed a great deal less pompous as he schlepped mochas behind the counter at Mahler’s. Though he never lost his touch as a world-class know-it-all and self-proclaimed master of many dark arts (when I first watched the American Office a decade later, I was convinced the writers had spent some time with Caspar, and created Dwight Schrute as an affectionate tribute), as I wore a Norm Peterson-style groove in the corner barstool that summer, I found him a congenial conversation partner and a sympathetic ear. His girlfriend, Audrey*, whom I had known in high school much better than Caspar (she was the object of my friend Anthony’s affections way back in Part 2) often joined us, slurping down free coffee and commiserating.

Ever since Audrey was unceremoniously tossed from her parents’ home around her nineteenth birthday (they didn’t believe in “keeping adult birds in the nest”), the couple had been shacked up with Caspar’s dad (affectionately known as “Dud”), but were in the market for their own place.

#138. “Longview” – Green Day
Like McKinney, Caspar was once a member of the YCHS Choir. Nowadays, this type of person is popularized by shows like Glee, which celebrates choristers’ “uniqueness” and “quirky individualism,” but I’m here to tell you that in real life, they’re just damned weird, and not in always in a pleasantly goofy TV-show way. Clannish, cliquish, and addicted to drama, they only seemed to date and socialize with each other, which resulted in an incestuous little closed-off society, similar to those found in the more remote Appalachian “hollers.” Some of the ambitious ones went off to universities, leaving the more socially crippled and lame that remained behind at Yuba College to close ranks still further. Their creepy little touchy-feely coven also spilled over into and tainted the college drama department, which played a big part in my not pursuing the interest in acting I’d had back in high school. Both Caspar and McKinney had left the choir fold after high school — and thus had a shot at a normal life — but one night I was invited along to a Yuba College Choir party by Caspar. At a nondescript apartment of an unknown chorister, I came face-to-face with Lifelong Obsession #2.

It wasn’t love at first sight. Hell, I didn’t even finish it (gasp!). But I did have my very first beer on July twentys
omething, 1994. It was a Miller Genuine Draft, which Caspar assured me was the closest American mega-breweries could come to European-style lager. (I have since had reason to doubt this assertion.)

The Green Day album Dookie was the soundtrack to this particular party, and it played over and over. I bought it the next day. Its tuneful, pop-punk songs about moving out of your parents’ house (“Welcome To Paradise”), neurotic self-pity (“Basket Case”), and total slackerdom with a healthy dose of self-pleasure (“Longview”) definitely hit a nerve.

Another party
attended around that time was at the home of Stacy, the first person hired after me at the video store, relieving me of my status as “new guy” and inheritor of the “Trainee” name tag. Stacy could have been twenty-three, or she could have been forty. No one could quite tell. She lived out in the middle of nowhere with with a fellow cat-obsessed spinster — her mother. She invited all of us co-workers to a shindig she was throwing in her barn/garage somewhere between Marysville and Gridley. None of us wanted to go, but neither could we stand the thought of her sitting alone in her barn surrounded by snacks no one would eat. We formed up a guilty, reluctant carpool and headed her way. “Longview” came on the radio on the way out, and I remember being impressed that they played the uncensored version (I guess it was late enough at night.)

#139. “Big Empty” – Stone Temple Pilots

Upon arrival, it was about as bad as we expected. Triscuits and ping-pong in a poorly-lit equipment shed. I had my second beer of the summer (a Michelob), and finished it this time. We caught occasional glimpses of Stacy’s Mom (ha!) as a Mother Bates-style silhouette in a bedroom window. Stacy owned nothing resembling decent music (Michael Bolton and Jon Secada were her faves), and only a cassette player from which to play anything. We all checked our pockets for random cassettes, and someone came up with a cut-out promo copy of The Crow soundtrack. The Crow was one of the first “serious” comic book adaptations, and was a dark, nihilistic, incomprehensible, headache-inducing buzzsaw of a movie notable for killing off its star Brandon Lee in an on-set accident (meaning he didn’t have to sit through the final product like the rest of us poor bastards.) Its equally stupid soundtrack was immensely popular throughout the seedier side of Yuba City/Marysville. I’m sure many a batch of meth was cooked up to the sounds of Machines Of Loving Grace and Helmet barking away in the background. When STP’s “Big Empty” is the most listenable item on the menu, you know you’re in trouble.

I was now on the prowl for that elusive third beer. As always, to be continued…

Not their real names. If they should read this, they’ll certainly recognize themselves, and anyone who knows me well knows who they are, but why run the risk of embarrassing them as I dig up all this old stuff?

1 Comment

Filed under Music -- 1990s, This Used To Be My Playground

One response to “This Used To Be My Playground, Part 17: Nine Inch Fails — You Want To What Me Like A What??

  1. Pingback: This Used To Be My Playground, Part 18: Never Bring Laundry To A Mud Fight | Holy Bee of Ephesus

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s