Category Archives: This Used To Be My Playground

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? Continue reading

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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 16: A Fantastic Voyage With Cousin Bob (Loser Chronicles, Vol. II)

“I have thought of fifteen hundred or two thousand incidents in my life which I am ashamed of, but have not gotten one of them to consent to go on paper yet. I think that that stock will still be complete and unimpaired when I finish these memoirs, if I ever finish them.” – Mark Twain.

It was one of those rare three-cigar afternoons of the early spring, and I sat mulling over my Great 90’s Playlist. It dawned on me that I seem to spend as much time thinking/writing about “This Used To Be My Playground” as I do crafting the content itself…

#127. “Selling The Drama” – Live

Every once in awhile, I am confronted with the question what it is, exactly, I’m trying to do with this particular blog series. It has taken an unplanned drift from pop-culture commentary to almost pure autobiography, and the songs that are ostensibly under review have an increasingly tenuous connection to the life events I’m writing about. If all of these musings and reminiscences were scribbled down in a personal journal, the question of purpose wouldn’t be raised. But I’m throwing all of this out there in a public forum, and for some time I didn’t have a satisfactory answer to my own question of “why.” What is the point of an autobiography of a non-noteworthy person? I am the opposite of the guy in the Dos Equis commercial…

…He has two kids…he drives a ten-year-old Corolla…he teaches middle school and watches Top Chef…he is…The Most Boring Man in the World. “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…I prefer…whatever’s on sale. Stay thirsty, my friends.” Continue reading

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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 15: Parker Lewis CAN Lose or, The Perils Of Clinging To Adolescence

“Alternative” music had become mainstream. What was the alternative to the alternative? Acts that were far more edgy than those that the record labels had decided were “alternative” began emerging into earshot around this time. The loopy, acid-fried Flaming Lips were not yet the untouchable critical darlings they would become in the next decade, but were rather a minor annoyance with this deliberately abrasive ditty that garnered them one-hit-wonder status in the MTV Buzz Bin. And there are those that will tell you they bought Pavement’s landmark Slanted and Enchanted the day it came out, but don’t believe them. About 50 people bought Slanted and Enchanted the day it came out, and you’re not one, I’m not one, and neither of us know any of them. I first heard Pavement the same way a lot of people first heard Pavement — observing their video for this song get shit on by Beavis and Butthead.

So…

Adolescence – even the late adolescence to which I was clinging at 19 – imparts a certain degree of emotional masochism. Sometimes it feels so good to feel bad, to paraphrase John Hughes (again). But in the early spring of 1994, I had very little to feel bad about. Hindsight tells me I must have had some subconscious inkling of a train wreck ahead. I created, and spent a lot of time listening to, a bizarre mix tape: An unholy mélange consisting of key tracks from Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Pink Floyd’s The Wall – and, uh, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 14: Bitten By Reality

#115. “Streets Of Philadelphia” — Bruce Springsteen
The Holy Bee used to love going to movies. In the early nineties, a typical evening-show ticket was between five and six dollars. Matinees dipped as low as $3.5o. I probably watched two movies per week in a theater (and that total increased in late 1995, when I began working at a theater and could watch films to my heart’s content free of charge. More on that later.) Whatever the “big” movie was in any particular week, I was most likely in attendance. December/January was especially busy, what with all the Oscar-bait. (The weeks just before and just after the “summer blockbuster” season are probably the worst movie months. I was one of the maybe two dozen unfortunate souls who saw Folks! in the theater, just because I wanted to “go the movies” that night, and had already seen the other seven films playing at the Cinemark Movies 8.)

Tombstone was the movie I was excited about around this time, and I made a point of seeing it on Christmas Day, but Philadelphia was the big, prestigious Oscar-bait movie of the December ’93/January ’94 season. Like many “important” movies of that era, I let it wash over me without forming any strong opinions one way or another. I was a “movie-goer,” not yet a true film fanatic. That’s one of many evolutions the Holy Bee would undergo through 1994-95. These changes also included moving from a detached admiration for the work of Bruce Springsteen to full-blown fandom. Bruce was going through a rough patch at this time. The E Street Band was on hiatus, and the reviews for his ’92 double album release were middling. The muted, synth-heavy ballad “Streets of Philadelphia” won the Oscar for Best Original Song and put Bruce on the road to revival. (I still like Tombstone better than Philadelphia, and you know you do too.) Continue reading

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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 13: Strictly 4 My R.E.A.D.A.Z.

I had been under the impression that my playlist followed the mainstream pretty closely, but clearly I was mistaken. Even as my memory faithfully recorded me as a tiny part of a massive movement — everyone blissing on the same tunes at the same time — cold, historical facts have proven me wrong. In preparing for this installment, I made the mistake of looking at the Billboard Top 100 Songs of 1993, and felt myself staring into foreign territory. Could this be my 1993? How could my memory be so at odds with reality? Nothing but mediocre soul, “New Jack Swing,” and novelty pop-rap as far as the eye could see. It seems like I heard none of it at the time.


I mean, I was expecting to run across the Twin She-Beasts — Whitney and Mariah — in my little journey, and felt those shrill harpies could be safely ignored. But, oh, there’s Janet. And Mary J. And Vanessa was still around? That minx. And just who the fuck was “Shai”? Shanice? Silk? SWV? And how were they clunking up not only the Top 100, but the Top 40? In the end it doesn’t matter, because they were all faceless and interchangeable, but how did I not at least know them as names — then or now? I thought I was on top of things. Peabo Bryson. Jade. H-Town. Paperboy. Robin S. All names on the ’93 chart, and names I heard for the very first time as I sat down to write this. I was initially stunned, then ashamed. They must have been blasting from passing car stereos, the jukebox at Round Table, the pink Barbie tape player of the little neighbor kids, and over the speakers at Camelot and the Wherehouse, my homes away from home. I somehow missed it all.

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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 12: Skipper Joe And Me, Running Through The Barrio…

[Author’s Note: Good God, I’m really starting to think of myself as some kind of Mickey fucking Spillane with all the novelistic bullshit this feature is starting to peddle. All I can say is, if you’re not into it, I’m sorry, thanks for sticking with it this far. If you’re just into the music and the YouTube clips, simply scroll down to the end. I’ve linked this site to a lot of other things over the summer, so if you’re new and want to start from the beginning — and why wouldn’t you — go to April 2009 for Part 1.]

Late August, 1993 — The manager of the video store sat enshrouded in a permanent fug of blue cigarette smoke. Basics. Two more packs rested on the desk. He could have been forty, he could have been sixty, his appearance betraying no hint of anything beyond a middle age where appearance is no longer a going concern. His tinted aviator-style glasses and drooping porn-star mustache were topped off by a truly heroic, unselfconscious Afro, the likes of which had been unseen on a white man since 1975. He jabbed a nicotine-yellowed finger at my resume.

“I liked your introduction letter,” he said. Which was a damn good thing, because the Employment History of the resume was a bit of a wasteland. The manager, Joe, had made a career out of managing small retail establishments — a Men’s Wearhouse in Pomona, a 7-11 in San Luis Obispo — and I’m sure he’d given many neophytes their first shot at cash-register jockeying. My letter, written in an embryonic, eighteen-year-old version of the chatty, verbose prose you’re reading right now, was my only chance to differentiate myself from the pimply herd.

Skipper Joe (as it turns out, a Navy vet) confirmed he’d like to have me “come aboard,” and thus began my introduction to the great dysfunctional family dynamic known as “co-workers.” As he popped open the door, great clouds of Basic smoke billowed out as if a pile of Christmas trees was burning somewhere in the depths of the manager’s office. Joe ushered me out moments before my blood turned into a sticky sluice of nicotine and tar. Continue reading

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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 11: Whoomp! There Goes My Summer

#89. “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” – Lenny Kravitz
#90. “No Rain” – Blind Melon

First day of summer! The noonday sun tried desperately to penetrate my bedroom blinds as I slept off Grad Night, but it was all for naught. My room remained dark as a tomb. If it wasn’t for the fact I had a hip-pocket full of Wherehouse gift certificates and graduation cash, I would have slept another two or three hours. But I crawled out of bed and drove to the Wherehouse, where I bought Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek & The Dominoes, the Who’s double album Quadrophenia, and two albums of more recent vintage: Blind Melon’s self-titled debut, and Lenny Kravitz’s Are You Gonna Go My Way.

What a burn. Loved, loved, loved the Kravitz title song, so I bought the album…and there were no other good songs in evidence. Not a one. I would repeatedly fall into this trap until the dawn of the mp3 age. Kravitz would go on to never make a good song ever again. I deduced later that he never made any good songs before “AYGGMY,” either. I guess that proves that even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in his life.

The Blind Melon album fared much better. Known mostly for the massive hit single “No Rain” (and its iconic “Bee Girl” video), the rest of the album was solid and unpretentious, and has held up surprisingly well. The same could not be said of its follow-up, 1995’s Soup. Lead singer Shannon Hoon was a notorious drug ingestion machine, and it’s too bad the atrocious Soup was his last statement to the world before he went tits-up. (Note to aspiring musicians who are considering acquiring a My First Drug Habit kit: Drug use doesn’t always result in an Exile On Main Street or Appetite For Destruction. More often than not, it results in Soup.)

By the by, there’s nothing more boring than watching someone else negotiate to buy a car. While Emily was taking seventeen hours to trade in her old Datsun Z for a new Honda Civic del Sol at some point that June, I wandered over to the Underground to spend the last of my graduation cash on Primus’ live debut Suck On This, and Nirvana’s 1989 Sub Pop debut Bleach. Em’s new vehicle reflected her decision to eschew college for the time being and enter the full-time workforce as a medical records clerk for Chico Community Hospital. A real, adult-type job. The beginning of the tiniest crack in our relationship foundation. But she celebrated by buying me the Kinks’ Greatest Hits and the book The Films of Sean Connery, so it was all good. For now.

#91. “Two Princes” – The Spin Doctors

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Most Overplayed Song of 1993! Featured on movie soundtracks, movie trailers, a video that by federal law was played twice per hour for ten to twelve months, and as background music on dozens and dozens of MTV shows, including The Real World. I spent a lot of afternoons that summer glued to the groundbreaking “reality” series’ second season, the one in Los Angeles with the drunken Irish “music critic,” (he was shown fleetingly at a club show holding a notepad, so that makes him a music critic, right?), the obnoxious, glowering “stand-up comedian” who got kicked out of the house for general assholery, and didn’t seem to have a funny bone in his body, and the jaw-droppingly awful “country singer” (his act was shown at least a dozen times, and it always consisted of one song: “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.”) Some argue that The Real World reached its peak with the next season in San Francisco (a.k.a. “Puck and the AIDS Guy”), but I was already growing bored with the format by then.

It reached a point where “Two Princes” seemed to saturate the very air itself that summer. You would be out for a quiet walk, and then suddenly…a whiff of patchouli, and Chris Barron’s lazy, beard-y voice would be carried faintly through the breeze: “One, two princes kneel before you, that’s-a what I said now…” And you would curl up on the sidewalk and wait for help to arrive. This album had been kicking around since ’91, and showed no signs of going away.

(But never fear, a follow-up was in the works. And if there was one follow-up that was worse than Soup, it was the Spin Doctors’ Turn It Upside Down. It’s a poorly-kept recording industry secret that most artists try to front load their albums with the stronger tracks. The Doctors’ idea of a lead-off track? A gem called “Big Fat Funky Booty,” followed by the single (!) “Cleopatra’s Cat,” an exercise in scat-singing so repugnant it would make Cab Calloway claw his own eyes out.)

#92. “(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles” – The Proclaimers

Originally released by Scottish folk-rock duo the Proclaimers in 1988, and a fair-sized European hit at that time. As we all know, Europe doesn’t really count, and it remained unknown to American ears until its re-release and inclusion on the soundtrack of 1993’s Benny And Joon, a good-natured movie so slight that it dissolved in your mind upon viewing, like cotton candy, leaving only the sweet, sticky residue of Johnny Depp’s Buster Keaton imitations, and the Proclaimers singing over the closing credits in their thick Scottish burrs about “havering” and other nonsensical Euro notions that aren’t really words. The film was in theaters for about a day and a half, but the accompanying re-edited music video – now featuring clips from the film interspersed with the rather spastic Proclaimers (“Dah-DAH duh, dah-DAH duh”) – stayed in rotation for the rest of the summer.

I wanted to get hold of the song in an idle kind of way, not to the point of buying it or anything (still jobless, remember?). I resorted to an old trick from my younger days. I propped a cassette recorder against the television speaker and recorded the audio right off of MTV. In my formative years, I did this with the audio of George Carlin VHS tapes the clueless liquor store clerk would rent to me. (Remember when liquor stores rented movies?) Yes, I was the only twelve-year-old on the middle-school playground who had hours of George Carlin material memorized flawlessly. Explains a lot. Continue reading

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