Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 35

“Ziggy Stardust”
Swing the Heartache: The BBC Sessions

Track 35 was the final track of the original Bowling Green two-disc mix CD set. And it ended where it began: with Bauhaus. Never more popular, mainstream, or obvious than they were with their cover of Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”, this is where the boys wear their allegiances on their sleeve.

It seems obvious to the point of awkward just how much Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy wishes he were Bowie when you listen to this track. At the time of this version’s release in 1989, Rykodisc was gearing up to churn out well-produced and thoughtful reissues of Bowie’s own catalog on compact disc for the first time. (I devoured those discs as voraciously as anything else. Chock full of rarities and outtakes, Rykodisc did a great job giving the pioneer’s early work its due.) But this BBC session version by the Goth godfathers is as career defining as “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”. There is a rawness to this version that belies its faithfulness to the original.

Bauhaus were as much a part of that first year of college for me as Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Love and Rockets, and all the others. And an absolutely appropriate way to close out that original playlist and conclude the first half of this particular exercise. It’s a natural stopping point, and I’m going to take a break from these for a while.

End, Part 1

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 34

Nine Inch Nails
Pretty Hate Machine

The original two-disc compilation I made for the Bowling Green collection each carried its own subtitle. And, like Track 09 of this playlist, the subtitle for what was the second disc was taken from a Nine Inch Nails song. This time, “Sin”. And while the previous subtitle (“Just a Fading Fucking Reminder of Who I Used to Be” from “Something I Can Never Have”) is open to all sorts of interpretation, this one’s a bit more straightforward. After all, college (and the reminiscences of that experience) is about nothing if not “stale incense, old sweat, and lies, lies, lies.”

“Sin” is a song that always reminds me of John, if only because I know it’s his favorite track off Pretty Hate Machine. It’s a nice little nihilistic ditty about giving everything – sexually, I assume – and not having the emotional weight of the encounter reciprocated by the partner. Like much of the album, “Sin” takes life experience and runs it through the buzz saw angst of young adulthood to blistering effect.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 33

“Every Little Counts”
New Order

Just like its three previous album covers, New Order’s fourth album featured striking Peter Saville sleeve art. This time, though, he decided to forego color-coding the album title in the cover, and instead it’s a photograph of a sheet of Titaanzink metal. It’s sterile, gray, unyielding… a lot like the perception of synthesizer-based bands in the ’80s (and certainly New Order’s live show reputation). But the last song on the original album’s running order is anything but antiseptic.

John turned me on to this little ditty from Brotherhood. It’s a fun, sarcastic, off-the-cuff song that I think Bernard Sumner might have just made up the words to on the spot. The song opens with the wonderfully mischievous “Every second counts / When I am with you / I think you are a pig / You should be in a zoo” before Sumner looses his straight face and devolves into a fit of giggles. More laughter follows later in the song when he misses a note. In the interim, he sings of the stupidity of the song’s subject, but any sort of mean-spiritedness is disarmed by the orchestral splendor of the accompaniment. 

Much like the Cure’s “A Few Hours After This…”, “Every Little Counts” combines a musically symphonic idea of strings and mixes it with a playful sense of humor in the lyrics and delivery. It’s at once completely incongruous and perfectly matched, right down to the Beatles-esque finale and record scratch ending.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 32

Throwing Muses
Lonely Is an Eyesore

I picked up Lonely Is an Eyesore in the import case at Digital Daze before I ever started working there. I listened to Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil prior to this album, but here is where I connected the dots identifying the ethereal, atmospheric sound typical of the 4AD label. Of course, this compilation does its damnedest to disassociate itself from that description by also including Colourbox’s “Hot Doggie”, Clan of Xymox’s “Muscoviet Mosquito”, and Throwing Muses’ “Fish”.

While “Muscoviet Mosquito” is the track I remember hearing played at Thursday’s, the military drums and surreal lyrics of “Fish” are intertwined with both my Akron punk friends and Bowling Green. Back at the CD store, I put this album into rotation as much as any other of the era when it was my turn to pick what we listened to. And, we would sit in my friend Nancy’s basement bedroom and listen to this album alongside Christian Death’ The Scriptures and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Kaleidoscope and Juju.

Once I got to Bowling Green, Throwing Muses became an integral association with Jennifer for me. She played “No Parachutes” off of that same year’s Hunkpapa LP, and the ridiculous obviousness of that song’s opening line (“Pushing a ribcage / Makes it hard to breathe”) quickly seared itself into our lexicon. As far as the band’s Lonely Is an Eyesore cut goes, it sort of became our group of friends’ unintentional theme song. There were three items on our mini-fridge that freshman year (The Year of the Fish?) that tied directly and not-so-subtly to fish….

First, there was a blue crayon rubbing John did of the word “FISH” from a headstone in Oak Grove Cemetery on campus. The cemetery itself was over a hundred years old by the time we arrived. It had a low stone wall along Ridge Street, just west of the Student Rec Center (where I had racquetball class), Moore Musical Arts Center (where I took multiple classes and first met Maria), and the Student Health Services building (where I had to go once freshmen year when I got crazy sick). Oak Grove was a wonderful place to go and wander. I spent plenty of days among the peaceful quiet of the headstones, both alone and with various members of our circle of friends.

Next was a yellow and blue and red handmade construction paper fish by our friend Erin. Last was a handwritten and illustrated fish-related joke from me: “Q: How many surrealist artists does it take to change a light bulb? A: The fish!” I don’t remember where I originally heard the joke (my apologies if you’re reading this and you’re the one who told me it), but it lived on for years in our world.

Throwing Muses lyricist and lead singer Kristin Hersh is just this side of crazy (she’s been very public about her bipolar disorder struggles), and because of that I’ve always given her a pass for her songwriting eclecticism. Much like that opening line from “No Parachutes”, the opening whimsy of “Fish” is one that has always stuck with me, an absurdist statement I have rolled out on numerous occasions (“I have a fish nailed to a cross on my apartment wall / It sings to me with glassy eyes and quotes from Kafka”). And the compilation album’s title is from this track: “Lonely is as lonely does / Lonely is an eyesore / The feeling describes itself.” A wonderfully twisted sentiment.

(Quasi-related side note: Years after college, an installment of Adam and Jeff’s ’80s Alternative Rewind took place when he, his wife, and I saw Bob Mould at the Grog Shop in November 2005. Hersh opened for him with a solo acoustic set. It was a train wreck. We weren’t there to see Hersh, and unfortunately the vibe from her performance carried over for us and Mould’s set ended up being a bit of a disappointment, too.)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 31

The Land of Rape and Honey

While home for the holiday break between the fall and spring semesters, I saw two shows, both at the Phantasy Theater. The first was Nine Inch Nails on the Pretty Hate Machine Promo Tour a few days before New Year’s Eve. The second was Ministry on the Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste Tour on January 5, 1990. What I remember about the show is somewhat spotty, but here’s what I’ve got: KMFDM opened for them. A huge chain-link fence went up between the performers and the pit before Ministry took the stage that the band climbed on. There was a stocky guy dressed in black with a GIANT wooden rosary around his neck. In my memory, the cross was something like six-inches tall and the rosary “beads” were nearly ping-pong ball sized. It was practically a weapon. I attended the show with Jen and Nancy and my coworkers from Digital Daze.

Jen (not to be confused with “college friend Jen” from Columbus) was a small, Italian catholic spitfire. My parents’ house (where they still live) is on the county line, so I attended one school, and my next-door neighbors were in a different public school district. Turned out Jen grew up and lived around the corner from my house, but in that other school district. We soon realized Jen knew my next-door neighbors, my godparents and their kids, and other acquaintances outside of the punk scene. Jen is also the person who introduced me to Pam.

Jen and Nancy and Pam were all friends from high school. I met Jen when I started working at the Warehouse Club, and she got Pam a job there in late 1988. The four of us ran with a motley bunch from work, hanging out, getting into things we most certainly shouldn’t have been. After Pam moved, Jen and Nancy were whom I went to the bars and shows with regularly.

At the Ministry show, Jen and I were down in the pit, and at one point I was standing behind Jen when her head snapped back and she reeled into me. I pulled her out of the pit and back to where our group was standing at the back of the theater. Jen’s mouth was bleeding from where she’d been cut from getting hit.

This show was also where I picked up the Ministry sticker that I put on the back of my black leather biker jacket. The sticker had the band’s name in thick, dark gold lettering with the skull x-ray image from The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste album cover.

There are songs I like just as much as “Stigmata” off of The Land of Rape and Honey – the title track, “You Know What You Are”, and “I Prefer” all spring immediately to mind, and The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste is a stronger album overall – but “Stigmata” was the one that put them on the industrial-metal map. It was played in every alternative club and guaranteed to fill the dance floor with its aggro drums and primal screams. The video was a staple on MTV’s early morning two-hour alternative program, and even earned a spot on the initial two-volume Never Mind the Mainstream… The Best of MTV’s 120 Minutes CD compilation celebrating that show. Like all of Ministry’s post-synthpop music, “Stigmata” is one of those songs that stir something in me even to this day.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 30

“Party of the First Part”
Swing the Heartache: The BBC Sessions

When I worked at the now long-gone Digital Daze CD store in Akron, I rarely took home an actual paycheck. I was always one for being compensated in the form of shiny little discs enfolded in cardboard longboxes or rare gems from the import case. Among my “take-home pay” over the years I worked there were the 1988 Beggars Banquet UK catalog issues of Bauhaus’ Mask, Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape, The Sky’s Gone Out, and Burning from the Inside with the “ripped” CD insert motif and full of extras.

Buried among those bonus tracks on the The Sky’s Gone Out was “Party of the First Part”. This quirky little bass-drum-keyboard workout consists of dialog sampled from the 1978 Canadian Halloween animated special, The Devil and Daniel Mouse by Nelvana Ltd. It’s like watching the show while the bad practices. The only non-sampled dialog is, I assume, a band member commenting that “the interview circus is so absurd, and so silly” near the two-minute mark. The song itself is nearly five-and-a-half minutes long, but the sampled dialog is finished before the three-minute mark, leaving two-and-a-half minutes of groove to carry the song out.

The song received proper US distribution a year later, with the release of Swing the Heartache: The BBC Sessions. As much as I listened to the original albums on the UK releases, it was Swing the Heartache that got the most airplay on my stereo because of the rawness of the Peel Session tracks and nice sampling of the band’s overall catalog. This is where “Party of the First Part” really became ingrained in my musical lexicon. It’s one of those eccentric numbers that helped endear Bauhaus to me. Like so many other pop culture artifacts, I know every word, every well-timed pause and vocal inflection of the dialog from the song. And, given how often I played The Sky’s Gone Out and Swing the Heartache in the dorm room freshman year, I would bet John could recite it, too.

There are a couple of tangential pop culture items of note regarding The Devil and Daniel Mouse source animation:

First, it was the basis for Nelvana’s 1983 animated full-length film Rock & Rule, featuring music by Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Cheap Trick, and Earth Wind & Fire. Aired incessantly on HBO in the early and mid-’80s, it held a place alongside Heavy Metal among our regular late night viewing. The voice of The Devil and Daniel Mouse’s B.L. Zebub, Chris Wiggins, could also be found on Rock & Rule, among dozens of other classic ’80s animated shows, including The Care Bears, ALF: The Animated Series, Star Wars: Ewoks and Star Wars: Droids.

Second, Nelvana is responsible for arguably the only redeeming value of the mythically bad (and, yes, I remember watching it when it originally aired in November 1978) Star Wars Holiday Special. Apparently, George Lucas was a fan of the studio’s work and tapped them to create the 10-minute animated short that introduces the character of Boba Fett nearly two years before his feature film debut in The Empire Strikes Back.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 29

“**** (Jungle Law)”
Love and Rockets
Love and Rockets

Appropriating the Signifyin’ Monkey found in African folklore, Love and Rockets apply the trickster persona to a writer “spreading ugly lies like it’s some horrible disease” in “**** (Jungle Law)”. Assuming bad blood between the band and the press adds an extra layer of subtext as the song’s protagonist confronts the “signifying hack,” knocking him around a bit before letting him “go back to the trees” and to his typewriter. But when “the mother” eventually falls to his death, he notes that “there’s a new one in the obituary, and it shows four stars where the name oughta be!”

Musically, Love and Rockets is a 180-degree departure from the folk leanings of their previous album, Earth * Sun * Moon. Peppered with driving, feedback-laden tracks, the album feels considerably harder than anything they produced earlier in the decade.

The album was released just before graduation. It’s one of those CDs that I can tell you exactly where and when I bought it: Magnolia Thunderpussy. Pam and I drove the two hours south to Columbus after prom. We wandered around the Continent and actually ran into John and Julie at the Columbus Museum of Art. (I still have the little card with a black and white image of John Singer Sargent’s Carmela Bertagna on the front and information about the painting on the back that I picked up at the museum that day filed away somewhere with my senior prom mementos.) We also hit the record stores around the Ohio State University campus, and I bought Love and Rockets that afternoon at Magnolia Thunderpussy. I’m certain it was from Thunderpussy and not Singing Dog because for the longest time I actually had the receipt tucked into the CD booklet. In fact, it was probably still in there when I replaced it a decade ago with the two-disc expanded edition. (Replaced again with the new 5 Albums UK set just released earlier this year.)

“Bad Monkey”, a radical reworking of “**** (Jungle Law)” saw the light of day first on the “Glittering Darkness” EP in 1996, and later as a part of the Swing! project finally released on disc two of the Love and Rockets reissue. It’s fairly unremarkable, meandering even, interesting only as an artifact of just how pissed off the trio really was over whoever they were feuding with in the press.

Back in the day, oversized subway posters of alternative bands were all the rage. I had a Love and Rockets one for the song “Motorcycle” off this album mounted on the ceiling of my bedroom at my parents’ house, but I am not sure if it made it to the dorm room at Bowling Green. The weird thing is that I honestly can’t remember where I got the poster. I might have had to special order it from the CD store I worked at, but I can’t be certain. I also had a smaller Love and Rockets poster of the band that might have been Pam’s. That one did make it up to BG and hung over my dorm room desk freshman year.