When I was in high school a lot of my friends (the ones already getting pot regularly) started leaning toward dirty hippie music. I was more interested in fiendishly distorted guitar, though, so I couldn’t in good faith follow them down that Grateful Dead path. We could, however, agree on Jimi Hendrix. I, like most teenagers for the past 40 years, fervently believed he was extra-human. No mortal man could make those sounds come out of a guitar and be such a good songwriter. For a speech class, one of our assignments was to transcribe a favorite song and read it in front of everyone. I wrote down all the words to Purple Haze before realizing what it was about. I opted, then, to transcribe The Wind Cries Mary, which to this day I still feel has some of the best lyrics written, at least for a dirty hippie in the late ’60s. The traffic lights say turn on blue tomorrow? What were you smoking, man? Oh. Right.
» Listen to The Wind Cries Mary by Jimi Hendrix
Like a posthorn in a Pynchon book, or the appearance of a lost friend in a dream, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska has been haunting me for the past few years. I’ve never heard this particular album, but the right friends (those whose taste I have some respect for) kept bringing it up in conversation. The right web sites told me that this was Springsteen’s best. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Springsteen, even if I never actively listened to much of his music. This CD was just staring at me from its rack, though, with that beautiful red sale sticker glaring suggestively. I took it home and finally put the pieces together. It’s all true. Springsteen is the Boss. This album in particular, stripped of the E Street Band and before all of the Born in the U.S.A jingoism isparadoxicallyheartbreaking, soothing, and haunting all at once. I’ve been through Nebraska. This is exactly what it should sound like.
» Listen to Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen
A similar thing happened with Teenage Fanclub. I’d been relatively ignorant of them, and then, sometime just after high school, noticed that a lot of my friends were dropping the name here and there. I was in a pawnshop one day while my buddy James, an electronics technician/mad scientist, was rooting through the busted radios and amps looking for something salvageable. They had about 20 CDs at the shop, and one of them was A Catholic Education. It was $1.99, or, rather, an incontrovertible sign. I listened to it later that day while cleaning the bathroom. It rules. Later I tried to talk to another friend about Teenage Fanclub, now that I was a fan. He had only heard Bandwagonesque, though, while I had only heard Education. Now we can finish that conversation.
» Listen to What You Do to Me by Teenage Fanclub
Velvet Goldmine came out the year after I finished high school; I was working at a Blockbuster Video in Tallahassee. I caught the Bowie references, and I had a passable knowledge of Iggy Pop’s place in punk/glam history. I’d never heard of Marc Bolan though, an egregious error I soon corrected, and I had never knowingly heard a song off Lou Reed’s Transformer. Satellite of Love soon became a cherished staple of my glam diet. Friends and I will still launch into harmonized bom bom boms whenever the mood strikes. I can’t believe it took me this long to actually get my own copy of this, but I feel like I’ve earned it. Now it’s kismet. I was finally in the right place at the right time.
» Listen to Satellite of Love by Lou Reed