Three years is a long time…practically forever in Internet-land, but that’s how long it’s been since an entry has been made in this series.
If you’re to new to the site, and/or a shut-in with mobility issues, you can begin with Part 1.
Or catch up on the last few entries here:
When I first started these musical reminisces five years ago, it was intended as a quick skim through a few songs that I felt culturally encapsulated a very important decade in my life. Well…300 songs. The Holy Bee has always been an ambitious blogger. Ambitious…and verbose. The little capsule reviews of ‘90s songs and a few funny/sad memories to go with them swelled into a rambling autobiography, and it stopped abruptly at a particular time — the split between myself and my high school/early college girlfriend, Emily. I now realize that was the point to which I was writing. Once I got there, it was like lancing a boil, or vomiting up something that had sickened me for far too long. The whole damn thing was not about music at all, but about heartbreak. And when I purged, I lost interest in continuing.
Looking back on the first seventeen entries, I am both proud and somewhat embarrassed. I was honest — too honest, sometimes. I included some real names I should have changed, some incidents best left unreported, and some thoughts best left unexpressed.
So I’ve gone back and changed a few more of the key names, including Emily’s. Why? Anyone who knows me from back then knows the real name(s), of course, and those who don’t wouldn’t be aware of who they are anyway. But I’ve just grown increasingly uncomfortable typing those real names, especially the girls (now middle-aged women long past caring, but it still feels intrusive.) The only person guaranteed to keep his real name is McKinney. Leaving his name attached to my memories is my inadequate tribute to his legacy as a genuine character.
I suppose I could stop the whole thing right here, but I feel I should see it through. The web is littered with abandoned blog series, and I refuse to join them. There’s still a few stories left to tell, and even a little music to remember.
One thing that will make it easier for me to continue is that “The Nineties” as an era, not a set of calendar pages, really ended for me in late 1997, and that’s when this series will pretty much end (probably with a quick 98-99 epilogue). Your mileage may vary, but I think unfocused anticipation (fear?) of 2000 shortchanged the last few years of the 20th century. So, if I keep it brief, I can see the end of my Nineties from here.
Decades are much more of a cultural span than a rigid group of numerical ten-year blocks, overlaid with very personal associations for those who experienced them. Culturally, the decade known as “The Fifties” was much more than Jan. 1, 1950 to Dec. 31, 1959 (add one year to each of those for you mathematical sticklers out there.) It started with the Baby Boom and the Cold War just after WWII, and continued well into what the calendar told us was the 1960s. Depending on your point of view, the turbulent “Sixties” began with the assassination of JFK or the American arrival of the Beatles (the two events took place eleven weeks apart). The Sixties “era,” too, lingered into the 1970s. A recent book called What You Want Is In The Limo by Michael Walker made a good case for the cultural “Seventies” starting in ‘73.
…So my Nineties felt a little short. It got rolling only in late ‘91 when Nirvana shook up a bloated and complacent music scene, and ended for me in the fall of 1997, for a few reasons. 1) I discovered I was going to be a father in 1998. I would have to be a grown-up from then on. 2) I began feeling the autumn breezes on the crown of my head a little more than in previous years, and the contents of my hairbrush and shower drain confirmed the physical (if not emotional) aging process had truly begun for me. 3) I lost touch with the music that was on the charts and on the radio. It began targeting a different audience (younger and dumber, in my opinion), and I became [sigh] “hipsterized,” for lack of a better term — interested in digging for the non-mainstream, the obscure. What little was left of the musical mono-culture crumbled into sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, “event” albums that everyone owned (and even albums themselves) would soon cease being relevant, staring as they were down the barrel of mp3s and new ways to consume music. Not necessarily bad ways, just not Nineties ways. The New Millennium was already eating its way backwards. Like the Fifties, I feel the 2000s (“The Oughts”?) began a little early, and lingered a little long. In fact, have the 2010s established an identity — a “feel” — even now?
Where were we? Oh, yes. It was August 1994, and I was a mopey 19-year-old college student and video store clerk who had just been dumped. Wispy early attempts at facial hair came and went according to my whims. I was spending a lot of time holding down a barstool at Mahler’s coffeehouse, where the coffee was gratis thanks to the counterman Caspar (an old high school acquaintance), and fellow regular patrons Audrey (Caspar’s girlfriend) and McKinney were allowing me a semblance of a social life again…
Dissonance has never sat well with me, so whatever charms the work of Sonic Youth may have held for some were totally lost on me. A favorite trick of theirs early on was jamming screwdrivers between their guitar strings and guitar necks to make the most riotous clamor possible. Much like The Pixies, I’m pretty sure I was a few years too young to really be captivated by their originality when they first gained notice, and far too steeped in pop sensibilities to warm to them once I did hear them.
I know Sonic Youth are more complicated than their “noise rock” label, and sometimes between the echoing squeals and squalls, they’ll plunk out a perfect little nugget like “Bull In The Heather” — Kim Gordon’s breathy, somnambulistic vocals bounced off of a simple yet off-kilter martial drum pattern, all ensnared by whiplash guitars that came right to the edge of pure noise, but never crossed over. Another case of a song or video being too good to resist buying the whole album — and another case where I got burned by that course of action. Even Sonic Youth fans agree that Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star was one of the band’s weaker efforts.
I am probably of the last generation to make it through high school not only without the Internet, but without a home computer. I got my first PC in December of ‘93, and when we moved from Yuba City to the even smaller town of Live Oak twelve miles to the north the following August, the computer was the first thing set up in my new bedroom. I remember playing this album on the computer’s CD drive, the trademark Sonic Youth audio-clutter aided and abetted by the godawful tiny computer speakers, as I pieced together my bed frame and headboard, my bookshelves, and finally my entertainment center.
My new bedroom seemed to have a constant chill and dampness, even in the dog days of summer. It was a cinderblock, fort-like house, and my bedroom occupied a wing that was 100% shaded. I was also a fresh air aficionado and kept my window open all night. The air wasn’t exactly cool that time of year, but there was a little patch of Mirkwood just outside my window, and I inhaled god-knows how much tree fungus, seed pods, and woodland detritus each night. It was hardly surprising that after a few days sleeping in that room I had developed a horrid, raspy cough that I could not shake. (My dad referred to it as “kennel cough,” as if I had been boarded in a cut-rate doggie daycare.)
I wasn’t mourning the loss of Emily to the point that I wouldn’t have taken a flying leap at the first girl to show a modicum of interest in the wake of that particular flame-out. The natural (if not mature) knee-jerk response to rejection is to immediately start looking for someone else. If I can’t have her, then by God, I’m going to have…someone. I had to acknowledge for the last few months that Emily and I were together, she was making me miserable. Why not NOT be miserable with someone for a change? And as soon as humanly possible? (This is what I believe is called the “rebound.”)
So when Danielle walked into the video store one sweltering midsummer night, and immediately engaged me in friendly conversation, I was aglow. Thanks to Woodstock ‘94, I can pinpoint the night this happened — Saturday, August 13, 1994. Danielle was another face from the halls of high school. She was two years younger than me and had been in my French 1 class as a freshman, and I was a junior (having put off my required foreign language classes until my last two years, le cretin that I was.) That night she was a couple of weeks away from starting her senior year, and we talked through my break on the bench in front of the video store. The downside of this location was that every insect in a two-mile radius was attracted to the parking lot lights and bright neon of the storefront. Growing tired of swatting ourselves and spitting out legs and thoraxes every time we opened our mouths, she finally asked for my number and said she’d call. I had managed to restrain my coughing the whole time.
Guess what? She DID call. The next morning, or possibly early afternoon. I was still asleep. I returned her call, and between coughs, we agreed to do…something. This is where I wish I had started writing stuff down a long time ago. I can’t remember what we agreed to do. Probably nothing more than hang out and watch videos.
After the expectoration-punctuated phone call, I retired to my darkened lair. MTV had been providing continuous coverage of Woodstock ‘94, the music festival celebrating the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock. Bear in mind, this was not the infamous riot-rape-fire Woodstock ‘99 that killed the whole Woodstock thing dead. No, the most outlandish incident that went down here was a massive post-rainstorm mud fight during Green Day’s nine-song, thirty minute set. The one thing the original 1969 Woodstock had in common with its sequel was filth, and people wallowing in it. This was what was on my screen when I turned on my bedroom TV. I’m pretty sure I watched the whole thing go down live.
In the wake of losing Nirvana, Green Day was rapidly becoming the band to express whatever it was I was feeling. My overall mopiness alternated with flashes of rage and resentment. Green Day, particularly the songs on Dookie (a title even they’re embarrassed by these days), particularly “Basket Case,” gave all of this a voice.
My confused and confusing attempts to rebound were not among my proudest moments. But she did ask for my number (he said defensively). She did call the very next morning. And then acted kind of surprised and thrown off when I began the full court press. But why…why would she take such initiative if she wasn’t interested?
My guess is she thought she was dealing with a sane, balanced person, who was maybe up for a little no-pressure hanging out.
She didn’t know the peanut brittle can she was opening was a joke, crammed full of springy snakes.
Growing up is an interesting process. Middle school, for instance, has incredibly diverse levels of development. As Matt Groening put it in one of his Life In Hell comic strips, at that age some are still playing with dolls and some are brand-new mothers. Age 19-21 also has a pretty wide range of emotional progress. Some are deep into college or even starting a career, living on their own, and collecting experiences. Others wish they could stay in a cozy nest, 18 forever. A few sad cases stay that way for the rest of their lives. Most, thankfully for the world’s future, are finally jolted out of it.
My first major jolt came with seeing Caspar & Audrey’s “space.” Audrey had been kicked out of her parents house not long before. Not for anything she did, just because “it was time.” With nowhere to go, she moved in with Caspar and his dad. The couple occupied the lofted master bedroom suite upstairs, treating it like a mini apartment-within-an-apartment. Caspar’s dad (known to us as “Dud”) was hardly ever there, and when he was there, he remained seated quietly in his La-Z-Boy downstairs, dispensing wisdom, Buddha-like, in his undershirt and black socks. He also kept the liquor cabinet “unlocked,” with a wink. Better we do it there than go out and get into trouble. Prowling the premises, dispensing random sock attacks, was the black-and-white kitten Cujo, so named due to his psychotic viciousness.
On my very first visit to Caspar & Audrey’s pad, the sophomore album by Courtney Love’s band Hole was blasting from their stereo. The album had been released a mere four days after the death of her husband, Kurt Cobain. Its title (Live Through This) and lyrical themes were seen by many as a psychic commentary on the suicide. (“Psychic” because, of course, the album was written, recorded, and titled months previously.) Live Through This alternated in the CD changer with KLF’s acid-house classic The White Room, Enya’s Shepherd Moon, R.E.M.’s Out Of Time, and Chris Isaak’s San Francisco Days. That I can remember. Other, massively more important, details are long gone. That’s how my brain works. I remember thinking that as a duo, C & A had pretty eclectic musical tastes.
Then the jolt. I remember trying to describe it to my co-worker Peyman the next day, and failing to convey how what I saw impacted me, because it was such a trivial thing. Caspar & Audrey’s primary decor was laundry. Enormous, landfill-sized mounds. Clean and dirty. It was everywhere. You had to clear a space to sit down, even if you were sitting on the floor. And here’s what got me. It was intermingled. His and hers. They had reached a level in their relationship I never even got close to. I knew they were living together, but it was seeing the laundry that somehow made it real, and made me realize what I was lacking. The sight knotted my stomach for a second or two.
On a late August day in Mahler’s, Caspar popped the question. It was time to move on from Dud’s. Would I like to split an apartment with him and Audrey?
More moving-in music! Just over a month after setting up a new living space to the dulcet tones of Sonic Youth, I did it again. This time the accompaniment was Sheryl Crow’s album Tuesday Night Music Club, out for a year but only now gaining traction. “All I Wanna Do” featured Crow’s Dylanesque talk-singing, exquisite steel guitar licks, and a slinky guiro. (Want to add an extra level of sexy to your song? Throw on a guiro.) “All I Wanna Do Is Sheryl Crow” became the alternate lyrics sung by the male occupants of the new apartment.
OK, now this part is weird…
If you recall, ex-g.f. Emily had also made an attempt at independent apartment living earlier that year, quickly aborted due to homesickness and a deeply peculiar roommate (all this was described in Part 16.) Not only would Caspar, Audrey, and I be moving into that same apartment complex, but it would be the exact same apartment. Good old #814. The peculiar roommate was long gone, and I really hoped she didn’t leave any of her scabies behind. (Not kidding. See Part 16.)
The complex itself was in East Marysville, inexpensive bordering on seedy. Practically attached to the parking lot was a BP 24-hour mini-mart, which we were delighted by (rather than recoiling in horror, as would be my reaction today.) It would be just the three of us on the lease, but we were augmented by two “unofficial” roommates — Dan, who, in exchange for keeping our cupboards stuffed with non-perishable food items pilfered from his job as a campground attendant, was allowed the couch and the hall closet. And of course, McKinney came and went with the breeze, bouncing around between multiple parents, step-parents, and other friends, but always ending up two or three nights a week in a sleeping bag on our floor when he had pissed off everyone else.
In addition to all of us going to community college, Caspar worked at both Mahler’s and Jack-In-The-Box, Audrey had been at Baskin-Robbins since her sophomore year (her scooping muscle looked like a length of garden hose had been implanted in her wrist), and I schlepped VHS rentals. Between the three of us, we could just make ends meet in a place of our own. Here’s what $375 a month got you in 1994…
Two bedrooms, one bathroom. Typical cheap-apartment shag carpeting, and lots of veneered plywood cupboards and peeling linoleum in the kitchen.
The living room featured my big walnut entertainment center, crammed with audio-visual equipment that could kindly be called “vintage.” My ‘70s Panasonic speakers were on either side of the lumpy, sheet-covered couch, lifted off the floor with milk crates (of course) to minimize noise complaints from the apartment below.
The dining room contained a table used more for piling random crap than it ever was for dining, and the surrounding walls had a Pulp Fiction poster on one side (after its October release). The other wall was dominated by a calendar and massive dry erase board, to keep track of our work shifts and class schedules (we were not 9-to-5ers), leave snide or passive-aggressive notes to each other, and record our copious phone messages in the days before cell phones. We tried a beaded curtain to divide our main social area from the hallway, but Cujo kept pulling it down.
C & A got the master bedroom, which they quickly decorated in their laundry motif. The walk-in closet became an office/computer station. Caspar had dial-up AOL and could do e-mail, newsgroups, and discussions, but nothing recognizable as the World Wide Web just yet. I had the smaller bedroom to myself, with my own little stereo and PC, which was used only for writing college essays and playing Doom.
The bathroom was a particular disaster, as you might expect. You know those huge 5’X4’decals they stick on the windows of fast food places? One of those was the primary decor of our shower. We washed our hair next to a big orange sign advertising Jumbo Jacks for 99 cents.
The balcony was the smoking area and had two low-slung lounge chairs and a tiny hibachi grill. None of us were truly committed smokers, so it was done more because we could. My smoke of choice was the fragrant Djarum clove cigarettes, a few times a week. After being blown away by the Dennis Hopper/Christopher Walken scene in True Romance the next year, I briefly became a Chesterfield man. (All cigarettes were dropped in favor of Swisher cigars by ‘96. I remained a connoisseur of cheap liquor store cigars for the next fifteen years, ultimately ordering them online in bulk, before finally putting them aside not too long ago.)
3400 words. Four songs covered. Yeah, the next 157 songs will burn right by…