So, with this, we’re finally through the 25 Songs That Made Me Zombie. I agree with Zelmo (and Z, dude, you should feel free to use a real name on the S-Fest-Blog. Or don’t it’s the internet, who cares? It’s not like the NSA doesn’t know who you are anyway) , I like re-reading this every so often, it reminds me of all these great songs and how they led me to this place.
Which is, of course, SummerfestBlog just two days before the Gig becomes Big. And even if I am such a slacker that I don’t get a beer before 1:15 (and hey, paleo, you’re welcome to come down early on Wednesday just to make sure I make it in there at Noon) Opening Day is still a fine time, and we are back in the swing of things by early evening, when the Violent Femmes are back on the Paying Our Legal Fees Tour. There won’t be any new music, but what the hell? Some of the Femmes’ best shows have happened when they are ready to go all Police on each other.
Gonna try a little something different this year, have added a Twitter feed over there on the right. Up-to the minute shenanigans reports!
Without any further delay, here’s part 5. Probably won’t be back till opening day, so fill up the comment threads! Make me feel alive!
Songs that made me rotten, 21 – 25
• 21 Shadow of a Doubt, Sonic Youth
This showed up as the opening track from a comp tape I copied, created by a guy I shared a studio with in college. I had not really heard much of SY before that. This song starts with a nearly subsonic drone, and Kim Gordon pretty much speaking lyrics of alienation, eventually building to a screaming, instrumental assault. As with so many other songs on this list, it was unlike anything I had heard.
It wasn’t really punk, but it didn’t fit into any other genres either. A couple of years later, they had a near-hit with “Teenage Riot” from the epochal album Daydream Nation, but the single/video version of that song omits the chiming, chanting extended intro that precedes the atonal guitar riff.
Oddly and amazingly, the band has remained intact and active in all the years since. [ edit update. Kim and Thurston split a little while ago, and the band has gone on hiatus or dissolved, depending on who you listen to] Their recent stuff has dwelt more extensively on a subdued droning pseudo-psychedlic sound that doesn’t challenge the listener, maybe, as much as before; this may have something to do with a burglary of their instruments, many of which had been modified to play on certain songs, and their loss made it difficult to play some of their older songs.
I saw them open for Neil Young and Crazy Horse to a largely hostile crowd of yuppies at the local barn, but it was fine show nonetheless and they hit the stage name-checking local noise-meisters Die Kreuzen. (The show also featured Social Distortion. It was a noisy night). Recently, they played the Pabst Theater, a much more intimate venue, and the trippy psychedelic sound ruled the night. But while it was a slow start, the constant building tension they created eventually subsumed any reservations I had. The less aggressive posturing was maybe less immediate, but more penetrating; maybe more reflective, more indicative of the distance the band, and a large number of us fans, have traversed in the intervening years.
In the end, Sonic Youth has always made the noise that they wanted. Radio airplay has never been an end, commercialism and sales are only relevant in their relation to being able to continue doing what they want. Perhaps this is what has enabled them to endure, and with every release, I still hear the impulses that I heard on that tape. Middle age mutters and groans, where youth used to scream.
PS. I still have that tape. Kent had skillz; thanks, brother.
• 22 Radio Free Europe, REM
All through this series, I’ve been talking about the sounds that restructured my brain. In 1982, this was never more true than when the first REM disc dropped. I recall that I bought it based on word of mouth from a music review.
From this Brave New Century, it’s hard to imagine, I suppose, a time when there was nothing – NOTHING! that sounded like this. REM blazed the trail for College Radio; I played this album incessantly, for everyone who crossed my path.
I can’t even begin to relate how much this album and song changed the things I thought about music.
REM were the anti-radio band. The guitars were too sharp, the lyrics were diametrically opposed to love songs (when they were not completely indistinguishable) and the band hated nearly everything to do with the music business apart from actually making music.
This song charges from a brief clattering intro into one of Stipe’s rarely discernible lyrics about the miserable state of radio at the time. Although REM eventually conquered the music industry, the state of radio is even worse today. [Edit moar. Radio? Who listens to radio? Even SatRad has gone down the tubes, Zelmo]
After this, I’ve followed the band through it’s career, even managing to see them at two peaks: in a small theater on the tour (Camper Van Beethoven opening !) and at a shed on the Green tour. I even like the new stuff. I still hear the shimmers and mumbling from that improbable band in 1982 and it still echoes through the hollow spaces in my head.
• 23 I Hate To Wake Up Sober In Nebraska, Free Hot Lunch
Long Story. Feel free to get a drink. In fact, make me one too.
We wound up at the Hoist House in midafternoon; the A/C slotted in over the door struggled gamely to keep up. We ordered a pitcher of Augsburger Dark, but the heat made it hard to drink it with much enthusiasm. Not to say we didn’t soldier on, of course.
The day changed when someone walked by with a couple of gin and tonics. Glistening and seductive, filled with ice, smelling faintly of lemon; I nearly passed out from thirst. We passed the time in a happy fog of gin and ice. One memory I have is of my roommate introducing us to his new preppy girlfriend complete with Izod shirt. Fueled by an afternoon of alcohol, I graciously shook her hand, leaned over and ripped the stupid alligator off of her shirt with my teeth. She took it with humor; it wasn’t the first time this sort of thing had happened with Dave’s friends. I bought the next round.
A band started setting up, but we barely noticed. In the early evening, a band member came over and tried to hit us up for the cover, and the only thing that kept us from leaving was the bartender’s intercession; we had spent all afternoon blowing our money on drinks, and he talked them into comping us.
Fortunate? It was the beginning of a most improbable relationship. FHL, from Madison, played a mutant mix of jazzy, folky, kinda country tunes with a dose of Buffett and fueled by tequila, and nothing could be further from the kind of things I liked to listen to. But the band were (are) ace musicians, talented songwriters and gifted singers with a tremendous sense of humor , and a truly staggering collection of hawaiian sportswear. Which we fans have adopted with a twisted enthusiasm, and more than once the band has mentioned that from the stage the audience looks like a technicolor yawn.
I have no recollection of what they played. I know that we laughed uproariously all night; I vaguely recall my friend coming back from the bar with a tray full of tequila shots, which we shared with the band. I remember heckling the band, and being mocked in return. Coming to the next day, I found I had purchased their full line of merchandise. I wrote a barely-coherent letter to my then-girlfriend.
Funny thing about the music. When I’ve played it for people, they usually look at me sideways, wondering what I am hearing. While pleasant and likable, their studio recordings never quite capture the essence and it seems that to really get Free Hot Lunch, you have to see them perform. Which we have, o my yes.
There’s no way to count the number of times we’ve seen them play. In many different cities. We went to Hawaii to see them reform after 15 years. We saw them in Florida on a two night gig. We saw them at the legendary Club De Wash in Madison on New Year’s Eve. Summerfest, time after time at Summerfest, sometimes playing twice a day. They recently released a DVD of a Barrymore Theater performance, and we can be seen numerous times in the front row, dancing and singing. And drinking.
I learned how to drink tequila with this band. I’ve seen the band stop playing in mid song because someone brought tequila to the stage. I’ve also seen the band stop playing when someone left to go to the bathroom, waiting patiently for them to come back. They also once forced me to leave the bar before they started playing, run back to the apartment, and bring back the forgotten toy chainsaw, an indispensable part of Trees In Love. We toilet papered the Kenwood Inn, and left uncounted numbers of shot glasses in the light cove and threw Oreos at the band.
We all got a lot older. But when a song like Reiba’s Cantina or Mambo Man come up on the iPod, some of the years drop away, and I feel, for a couple of minutes, like I’m twenty something again, and all the load drops from my mind…. Wa-Ha, friends, wa-ha indeed.
This is the only full album on this list. And why not? Is there a song on this album that isn’t essential? These tunes were tempered by playing to hostile punk crowds who had little patience for the acoustic instruments and whined vocals, and every song was reduced to an ungainly, sharp-edged purity. Not a bass line out of place, every choppy guitar lick essential. It took a chance encounter with James Honeyman of the Pretenders to bring the band to the attention os the record label Slash, and even Rolling Stone took notice.
• 25 Heartbreaker, Led Zeppelin
So this one year, I received an AM/FM transistor radio. Avocado colored. With little round speaker holes Completely 70’s.. And at 4 AM, this happened to be one of the things I grabbed as we crept back up to our bedrooms to get an early start on the Day. Unpacked, plugged in batteries (did they come in the package? Don’t even remember. Unimportant details, my friends). And tuned in to some Madison rock station…
The sound, THAT SOUND, drilled directly into my synapses from my tiny ear-holes, kicking my pre-adolescent brain-stem like you’d kick a rented flatulent orange dog.
It’s a song that everyone has heard, of course, countless times. It’s maybe not that great a song, it’s probably not even that great a Zeppelin song. But that winter morning, it realigned something fundamental in that little Rotten head and every time I hear, I remember that undefinable excitement of feeling that here-HERE- is something with power. OF Power.