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 Stephanie 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 some alt-music roots: Primus’ live debut Suck On This, and Nirvana’s 1989 Sub Pop debut Bleach. Steph’s new vehicle reflected her new employment status 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.
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 (not a split-second of his stand-up act was ever shown to my recollection), and the stomach-churningly awful “country singer” (his act was shown — at least a half-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.
Anyway, 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 superstrong 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.)
Originally released by Scottish folk-rock duo the Proclaimers in 1988, and a fair-sized European hit at that time. As we all know, it’s not the 17th century anymore, and Europe has little to no importance to anything. (Keep playing soccer, guys. It’s riveting.) Therefore, the song 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.
Three songs put on the map by being featured on MTV’s cartoon Beavis & Butthead, which debuted in the spring of ’93. Crude, shocking, and controversial at the time, B&B has been outpaced in terms of envelope-pushing content by later shows like South Park and Family Guy, but there was a time when B&B was truly Appointment Television. Later in college, I knew a couple who would stop having sex when they heard the distinctive opening riff of the B&B theme song in the next room, and come running in, frantically buttoning and tucking. The plot lines for each fifteen-minute episode were hit and miss, but the times when the two dim-witted title characters would sit and critique full-length music videos in their distinctive and often-imitated (by me and everyone I knew) voices were what kept me tuning in. Not everything was comedy gold, but there were frequent moments – you were guaranteed at least one in each episode –when a subtle turn of phrase or vocal nuance would bring down the house. (Butthead’s response to the Sting/Rod Stewart/Bryan Adams collaboration “All For Love” – a quick, nauseated “Oh dear Lord” – was a long-time favorite of mine, and like most of their antics, loses something in the translation into the written word. So just watch for it at about 3:11 in this clip.)
Remember when Radiohead wrote songs? Sometimes really good ones. So if you ever get tired of Thom Yorke draaaaaaaaaaging out his vowwwwwwwwwwwels over minimalist keyboard plunking, which has characterized every Radiohead song since 2001, do yourself a favor and re-introduce yourself to 90’s Radiohead. The “Creep” single was originally issued in the fall of ’92, several months in advance of the Pablo Honey album, but it did not connect with a large listening audience. Capitol Records, savvy bastards that they are, put it out again in 1993, and ears were more attentive – alas, it was immediately lumped in with all the other post-grunge flash-in-the-pans like Bush, Everclear, and Dig. An unfair categorization, perhaps…but sales soared, and they proved their staying power with subsequent releases. (I was going to make a snide joke about the guy from Dig putting too much foam on my latte, but a quick Wiki shows that he’s currently a successful record producer and a highly-paid composer for commercials and the Discovery Channel, while I sit here and write a blog in my underwear for six semi-regular readers. And I may be overestimating my readership.)
Like whatever “it” it was talking about (I’m assuming “booty” or some such generic raunchiness), this song was certainly “there” during the summer of ’93, taking up valuable airwaves with its pointlessness. I never paid much attention, though. Maybe there’s some deeper meaning I’m missing in the verses. [Goes to check lyrics.com.] Nope.
#98. “Runaway Train” – Soul Asylum
Call this the male version of 4 Non-Blondes’ “What’s Up?” Why is the singer so traumatized? Dunno. It doesn’t seem to matter, as songwriter Dave Pirner (hair tousled by a professional hair-tousler) frantically clutches your sleeve and pours out his tale of woe and tries to overcome you with his powerful earnestness rays, and never, ever gives you a clue as to what the fuck he’s talking about. And someone needs to buy the guy a rhyming dictionary, so he can get more options out of “train” beyond “pain” and “rain.”
The video for the song was something of a cause celebre at the time, done as a public service message, showing pictures and names of over thirty missing or runaway children.
Remember back in Part 2 when I said I owned exactly one cassette single? This was it. Pretty much every CD in my expanding collection was transferred to cassette so it could be played in the Mattmobile. The Peppers’ late-’91 magnum opus Blood Sugar Sex Magick clocked in at an awkward seventy-five minutes. Too long to fit on one side of a 90-minute cassette, but not long enough to fill both sides. I padded the last fifteen minutes of my cassette’s Side Two with three non-album Chili Peppers tracks: “Sikamikanico” (from the Wayne’s World soundtrack, which I already owned), “Show Me Your Soul” (from the Pretty Woman soundtrack, borrowed), and this song from the Coneheads soundtrack. My anal-retentiveness forced me to pay three bucks for the cassingle so my Blood Sugar Sex Magick tape wouldn’t have five minutes of blank space at the end.
I almost sprung for the full soundtrack, because it was pretty good (R.E.M., Digable Planets, Paul Simon), but not quite good enough to justify a purchase. Still unemployed. But I was being proactive! I mailed in a resume in response to an ad for a new video rental store that was set to open in north Yuba City that August.
And hey, remember the Coneheads movie? Didn’t quite hit it out of the park cinematically, but it had its moments, and the cast featured a who’s-who of early-90’s comedy: almost a dozen past, present & future SNL cast members, people from Seinfeld, bit parts from Ellen DeGeneres and Drew Carey when they were still struggling stand-ups, three of the girls from Dazed and Confused (released the same year, and soon to become one of my favorite movies), and…uh, Sinbad. And Tom Arnold. Well, they can’t all be winners.
“It’s on!” Stephanie yelled from her room one August afternoon, and I came running to see this new video, my introduction to the whimsical world of video director Spike Jonze, and to a lesser extent, former Pixies bassist Kim Deal and her new combo, the Breeders. Stephanie had caught the video the night before, and was struck by its overall visual coolness (and it’s a good song to boot). We kept kind of a half-assed vigil until it repeated itself the next day, which was exactly the type of shit we still had time for. Those days were rapidly ending.
I soon learned Ms. Deal was something of a cult figure amongst indie-rock fans. Allen Maxwell had a homemade sticker of her peeping slyly out of the rear window of his pickup. I was a little too young to get into the Pixies when they were at full force (’86-’90), and despite listening to them hundreds of times over the past fifteen years, I still don’t quite get why they were/are such a big deal (no pun intended.) That and my extreme distaste for the fucking Smiths are the gulf that divided me from my new college/coffee shop friends I was about to make.
But that was still a little ways ahead. I started college not long after seeing the Breeders video (both seem to have about equal weight in my memory). Yuba College was like any junior college – “high school with ashtrays” in the wordsof John Hughes. But unlike high school, you only had to be there for a few hours a day. And sometimes, if you played your cards right, not even every day! Holyshit! I loved college! I don’t know if I had a plan or program, but my first semester sure seems like beautiful randomness: Western Civilization, General Psychology, Intro to Mass Comm., Public Speaking, and Intro to Film. Higher education seemed like a complete cakewalk. Three Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes, a Tues-Thurs evening class, and a Thursday-only evening class.
Last day of summer! Just before I kicked off my collegiate career, I got called for a job interview. First Run Video, a six-outlet chain based out of Redding, California, was opening a Yuba City store…
Folks, I am proud to have been a professional educator for twelve years as of 2012…but I was born to be a video store clerk. Too bad it’s a dying breed…