Tag Archives: 1990s

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 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.

#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 (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.)

#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, 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.

#93. “Slam” – Onyx

#94. “Push Th’ Little Daisies” – Ween

#95. “Thunderkiss ’65” – White Zombie

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.)

#96. “Creep” – Radiohead

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.)

#97. “Whoomp! (There It Is)” – Tag Team

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.

#99. “Soul To Squeeze” – Red Hot Chili Peppers

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.

#100. “Cannonball” – The Breeders

“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…

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 10: Cashing In My High School Chips

#85. “Everybody Hurts” – R.E.M.                      Our six-minute dinner theater performance of Pyramus and Thisbe (see previous entry) did not require intense rehearsal, and once that show was performed, there was no reason to go to drama class at all. My duties as a teacher’s aide were rapidly becoming non-existent, and we still had an open-campus lunch. It was the onset of “senior-itis,” so if you went looking for the Holy Bee in the halls of his high school between the hours of about 10:30 to 1:00 that spring, you would not find him. I was usually in the company of Jeff McKinney (who played “Lion” in P&T), loitering in some of Yuba City’s finer fast food establishments, or simply cruising around town aimlessly, looking for targets for our Super Soakers. Squirt guns were quite a fad the last few weeks of senior year. Everyone had a Super Soaker under his car seat, and a smaller “piece” in his backpack. Sadly, this silliness would never be tolerated at a post-Coumbine high school.

I had a definite feeling of closing shop, putting up the shutters, and taking in my shingle. I received my letter of acceptance to CSU Chico (the only university to which I bothered to apply), but decided – in the Great Holy Bee Tradition – to follow the path of least resistance and put some time in at the local community college for awhile. Continue reading This Used To Be My Playground, Part 10: Cashing In My High School Chips

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 8: Automatic Hatred For Stone Temple Pilots

My research tells me that the biggest smash hit of the summer of ’92 was “Rhythm Is A Dancer” by Snap! Upon listening to the song now, I have to admit I have absolutely no recollection of it. I must have heard it multiple times, but tuned it out (which doesn’t seem difficult.) That summer also saw the release of the Madonna song which gives this blog series its title. Is it on the playlist? Nope.

#68. “Human Touch” – Bruce Springsteen

Few artists are big enough to pull off the release of two new albums simultaneously. Guns N’ Roses had pulled it off the previous fall, and in 1992, Bruce Springsteen followed suit. The difference was, Use Your Illusion I and II were essentially two parts of the same big album. Bruce had recorded an album – Human Touch – and then, while insipiration was still running high, kept the tapes rolling for a hasty follow-up. Ironically, the afterthought album – Lucky Town – was to most people’s ears the superior one. Human Touch was polished and labored, whereas Lucky Town was loose and spontaneous. The biggest bright spot on Human Touch was its title song, an understated plea for making an emotional connection with someone. It’s a song I would come back to for solace in later, darker years. At the time, the video was just a constant presence on MTV all that summer, and I didn’t pay it much mind. (Pointless Note #1: Bruce’s E Street Band was on hiatus, so American Idol’s Randy Jackson plays bass on this song.) (Pointless Note #2: See above for correct use of the term “ironically.” It doesn’t mean “amazingly” or “coincidentally.” The more you know…)

If you’re a Spingsteen fan, don’t bother trying to turn a younger friend or relative on to him if he/she is below a certain age. The appeal of Springsteen is a very adult appeal, lost on anyone who hasn’t experienced a certain amount of real life. As a budding music nerd, I owned 1982’s Nebraska and 1984’s Born In The U.S.A. years before their themes had any true resonance for me.

#69. “Tears In Heaven” – Eric Clapton

Originally recorded as part of the soundtrack to the film Rush in late 1991, “Tears In Heaven” became the official Downer Song of 1992 as the centerpiece of Clapton’s massively successful Unplugged TV concert/album. When we weren’t debating over The Cure and Depeche Mode, Stephanie and I were agreeing on the awesomeness of Clapton. She had the Rush soundtrack cassingle of the song (see earlier entry for discussion of “cassingles”) months before Unplugged became the soundtrack of the summer of ’92. (The TV episode, that is. The accompanying album didn’t come out until late August. There’s a noticeable lack of crowd reaction in the video when he begins the number, because it was a brand-new, unfamiliar song at the time the show was taped.) An ode to his young son that died after a fall from an open high-rise window, “Tears In Heaven” was shamelessly manipulative and maudlin – but damned if it didn’t work. A testament to Slowhand’s songwriting ability, which is often overlooked in the rush to praise his virtuosity.

#70. “Remedy” – The Black Crowes

As the summer wound down, I needed money. The only person more obsessed with raw capitalism than me was Stephanie. Her father was a part-time salesman at one of the seedier used-car lots in Marysville. In fact, the only thing seedier than this particular lot was its associated used-RV center immediately adjacent. Some of the flagship Winnebagos nearest the street were OK, but as you penetrated deeper and deeper into the lot, the vehicles began taking on a distinctly Cousin Eddie “tenement-on-wheels” appearance. Continue reading This Used To Be My Playground, Part 8: Automatic Hatred For Stone Temple Pilots

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 7: Cure-ination & Urination On Prom Night, and A Sad Interlude

First, A Sad Interlude…

#63. “Jeremy” — Pearl Jam

Jumping ahead slightly from where I left off, in the late summer of 1992, MTV began airing a video that kind of made all of us in the Yuba City area shift uncomfortably whenever it came on — it served as a reminder of the events of early May. Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” was the last narrative (non-performance) video Pearl Jam would make for the better part of the decade. It depicts the violent suicide of a misfit child in front of his classmates. Thanks to some oblique editing, the video can also be interpreted as the “Jeremy” character shooting those classmates, which is the scenario that played out at Lindhurst High School on May 1, 1992.

Eric Houston did not have the fortitude to off himself, despite being a self-confessed miserable piece of shit. Instead he came to Lindhurst High School, about nine miles away from where I sat in Creative Writing at Yuba City High School, and began shooting. He killed three students and a teacher, and held eighty-five more as hostages late into the night, before being led meekly away in handcuffs.

It was the third day of the L.A. riots in the wake of the Rodney King verdict, so when an announcement came over the YCHS public address speaker stating that all students should go “straight home” after 6th period, I assumed that it had something to do with the tension and unrest that had been all over the media, and humming through the school, for the past couple of days. It had been a year of student protests and sit-ins for a variety of (mostly petty) causes — the infamous “Codom Man” incident was still fresh in everyone’s minds — so I genuinely believed that the YCHS administration was trying to defuse some kind of uprising by a group of mostly middle-class high school students acting in solidarity with disenfranchised inner-city African-Americans 400 miles away. As it turned out, it was the deadly situation rapidly unfolding at LHS to which they were reacting. Continue reading This Used To Be My Playground, Part 7: Cure-ination & Urination On Prom Night, and A Sad Interlude

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 6: Schwing And A Hit

#43. “Alive” — Pearl Jam

Ohhh, Pearl Jam. The perpetual #2 in the Great Early 90s Seattle Band ranking. The Stones to Nirvana’s Beatles. The Wyatt Earp to their Tombstone. The Munsters to their Addams Family. Pearl Jam were much more open about their classic-rock influences than Nirvana, and P.J.’s slightly-less-experimental approach gave Nirvana the much sought-after credibility edge. Kurt Cobain once summed up Pearl Jam in one sneering word – “jocks” – the implication being that cool, popular guys like Pearl Jam were once the guys that beat up arty misfit punks like Nirvana. It was all a crock, of course — neither band really matched those reductive descriptions. It was all a part of a “feud” between the two bands whipped up by the media to sell the magazines that were beginning to pile up in the corner of my room.

Sometime in early ’92, I was cruising aimlessly around town on a Friday night in Brian Cunningham’s much beloved sky-blue Chevy stepside (mentioned in a previous entry.) Also on board was Jason Van Zant, a free spirit who favored floppy denim hats and those rough-hewn, loose-fitting hemp pullovers that I thought had a name, but I guess are just called “rough-hewn, loose-fitting hemp pullovers.” The proper social order was maintained, as I rode in the middle of the truck’s bench seat (as a junior) while Cunningham and Van Zant occupied the proper “adult” seats befitting their status as seniors. Van Zant was very into music, like I was, but his taste skewed a little more toward metal. He was one of those dabblers who always knew a few guitar chords and occasionally scribbled some lyrics into a Mead notebook.

“Vedder stole my thunder,” Van Zant was saying.

“Huh?” I asked, never having heard the name at this point.

“Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam. I’ve been working on getting that tremolo into my singing voice for years, and now this Seattle clown is making a mint off it.”

Continue reading This Used To Be My Playground, Part 6: Schwing And A Hit

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 5: Smells Like Teen…age Fanclub?

There are many pieces of advice floating around out there when it comes to dating, most of them grade-A horseshit. It’s in matters of the heart where human behavior least conforms to set patterns. (Matters of the crotch are where human behavior most conforms to set patterns, but that was still a couple of months in my future.) “The prettiest girl never gets asked out because the boys are too intimidated” was one old saw that came a-cropper with the Marla Berry Christmas dance invitation. “Girls are attracted to confidence” was another bald-faced lie. I was far more confident than my track record entitled me to be, and was getting skunked left and right. “It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it.” I never stopped looking for it, and it happened.

On Wednesdays and Fridays in Creative Writing, we put our desks in the “sharing circle” and read aloud our works in progress. When circle time came, I usually ended up next to a senior named James Williams on my right, and on his right was another senior named Stephanie. James and I had grown into a comfortable acquaintanceship, and he was clearly a close friend of Stephanie’s. I don’t recall ever saying a word to Stephanie before, mostly because she was a senior girl, and I didn’t quite pack the gear to talk to senior girls. One Wednesday in mid-December, James was reading some of Stephanie’s poetry aloud for her. For reasons described earlier, I was in a fairly irritable and snarky mood that month, and certainly ready to call any feminine prima-donnaism on the carpet, even if it was a senior. Continue reading This Used To Be My Playground, Part 5: Smells Like Teen…age Fanclub?