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.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 28

“That’s What I Get”
Nine Inch Nails
Pretty Hate Machine

Once again, it’s all about the flow within the playlist here. “Batdance” somehow fits perfectly against the synthesized steel drum percussion opening Nine Inch Nails’ “That’s What I Get”. It’s a song that is musically stark, devoid of softness. The only real emotion is conveyed by Trent Reznor’s vocals. Interestingly, though, the beats of Pretty Hate Machine’s leadoff single, “Down In It”, suddenly appear in the latter half of this song.

Thematically, “That’s What I Get” is all about the nihilistic place I found myself in between Pam leaving and my further self-exploration at Bowling Green in 1989. It’s as if every word of this song was ripped from my heart as I tried to navigate my victimized feelings over Pam’s departure. 

Just when everything was making sense
You took away all my self-confidence
Now all that I’ve been hearing must be true
I guess I’m not the only boy for you

That’s what I get

How could you turn us into this
After you just taught me how to kiss you?
I told you I’d never say goodbye
Now I’m slipping on the tears you made me cry

That’s what I get

Why does it come as a surprise
To think that I was so naïve
Maybe didn’t mean so much
But it meant everything to me

The song’s sentiment is echoed in hundreds of different variations throughout my writings of the era. Portrait of a Tortured Punk Poet as he attempts to find his way through both his feelings and the larger world, dressed in black, smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, and approaching his freshman college responsibilities more as “guidelines” as opposed to requirements.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 27

Batman (Original Soundtrack)

Alright, this one might be hard to justify on an alternative soundtrack to the late ’80s, but hear me out…

Ten albums, including three soundtracks, one of the most infamous bootlegs of all-time, and a stunning complement of B-sides. Prince’s work from 1980 to 1989 is an untouchable musical evolution that spans R&B, funk, dance, new wave, pop, and rock. From guitar-soaked sex to lilting spirituality, Prince mastered the decade artistically and commercially.

In truth, I could have picked virtually any track from any Prince album from the ’80s, and it would have been appropriate here with regards to personal influence. Under the Cherry Moon was a foundational movie for Pam’s and my relationship, giving Parade an edge. John and Jen can tell you how I used to camp it up in the dorm room to Controversy’s “Jack U Off” when we were just hanging out. But the Prince track that probably most deserves to be on this playlist (but isn’t) is “Bob George”. Pam gave me my first copy of The Black Album on cassette tape in early 1989. Within a year I was laying down $50 for the bootleg CD at Madhatter Music Company in Bowling Green. For whatever reason, it was onto “Bob George” from that album that I transferred all my fury over Pam’s move to San Francisco to be with her ex-boyfriend earlier that summer. The distorted vocals, the self-deprecating references, the overt violence… it’s a track that completely encapsulates “dirty” Prince.

For the sake of playlist flow, however, I went with the Batman single, “Batdance”. Part of a campaign that changed the way blockbuster movies are marketed in the same way Jaws defined the summer tent pole nearly 15 years earlier, goth auteur Tim Burton’s Batman was ubiquitous in the summer of 1989. The movie worked for both the alternative culture denizens who worshipped at Burton’s quirky Pee Wee’s Big Adventure/Beetlejuice alter, and the hegemonic mainstream.

The collection of songs Prince offered up as accompaniment to the movie range from excellent funk workouts (“Electric Chair”) to downright silly (“The Arms of Orion”), and marked the beginning of the end for any level of consistent quality output from the artist. “Batdance” is a sample-heavy track (fitting in nicely next to Front 242’s “Welcome to Paradise V1.0”) that cleverly intertwines the words of Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, and Kim Basinger into the song. The omnipresent nature of both the movie and this song in 1989 resulted in snippets of the movie’s dialog permanently etched on the brains of virtually anyone consuming pop culture that summer – John and me included.

So maybe “Batdance” doesn’t fit perfectly under the “alternative” umbrella, but within the flow of the playlist and as a signpost for the end of the eighties, I’d be hard-pressed to find a more fitting inclusion.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 26

“Welcome to Paradise V1.0”
Front 242
Front By Front

Before I packed up all my worldly belongings and moved to Central Florida in the Summer of 1990, I threw a party. It was one of those amazingly cool events where all my worlds collided on one now-very hazy night. My parents were out of town, and I took that opportunity to throw a good-bye bash for myself. High school friends were there, co-workers from Warehouse Club showed up, and friends from Bowling Green all drove in town for the party.

I’m going to plead “hazy details” in order to avoid incriminating myself or anyone who was in attendance, but I remember playing DJ that night. Deep into industrial, Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Nitzer Ebb, Severed Heads, and Front 242 were staples in my musical diet at the time. And, as much as I associate NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine with New Year’s Eve 1989, I associate Front 242’s “Welcome to Paradise V1.0” with my going away party.

The band brilliantly subverts samples of televangelist Farrell Griswold into twisted mini-treatises on sex, poverty, and religion. At the time, I just loved the shock value of the content (much in the same way NIN’s “The Only Time” and “Get Down Make Love” rocketed to the top of my Catholic Upbringing Rebellion playlist), but as an adult I see there was depth to the provocative challenges. “Welcome to Paradise V1.0” is a criminally underrated track that took what Brian Eno and David Byrne were doing with samples at the beginning of the decade on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and exploited it to take on everything from ’80s consumerism to the hypocrisy of religion in five-plus minutes of buzz saw synths and jackhammer percussion.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 25

“Get Down Make Love”
Nine Inch Nails
Sin Maxi-Single

It’s kind of shocking to me that Nine Inch Nails’ “Get Down Make Love” was nowhere to be found on either of the original playlists. It’s probably my favorite NIN song alongside “The Only Time”. The first time I heard “Get Down Make Love” was at the Phantasy Theater on the Pretty Hate Machine Promo Tour at the end of the decade. I attended the show with coworkers from the CD store I worked at, and when my boss (a classic and prog rock dinosaur) yelled over the din, “This is a Queen song!” my mind was completely blown.

It was a crazy thing to see Nine Inch Nails live in the late ’80s. Surrounded by anger and bathed in aggression, those early shows were physically demanding of both the band and the audience. The ferocity of the performance lent an unpredictable air of excitement to the proceedings. It was antagonistic. It stirred you, pulled you in. I’m not a big guy, but this is the music that could draw me into the fray. Jostled and bruised, you would emerge from the cornstarch haze of the venue and head out into the Northeast Ohio night carried on an adrenaline surge. 

This was the first of an inspired list of Nine Inch Nails’ covers, leading directly to Pigface’s “Suck”, Adam & the Ants’ “Physical”, Joy Division’s “Dead Souls”, and beyond. Recorded or live, “Get Down Make Love” feels so much more raw than the rest of Pretty Hate Machine. This song is all about attitude. Opening with a sampling of the insistent sexual history interrogation from 1962’s The Cabinet of Caligari (co-starring Glynis Johns of Mary Poppins fame!), the slow menace of Queen’s original is transformed into a spiraling nightmare. There is a sense that this shit was just thrown together – the raging percussion, the screaming chorus. It’s all open wounds and bloodied knuckles. And, frankly, some of the best industrial pop you’ll ever hear.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 24

“Her Way of Praying”
The Jesus and Mary Chain

A polarizing album, Automatic is The Jesus and Mary Chain one that finds the Reid brothers acting as a duo, splitting vocal duties and fleshing out their sound via drum machine and a synthesizer for bass. Embracing late ’80s bombast, the album sounds big and encompasses everything from fuzz-laced feedback to acid-fueled trips. “Her Way of Praying”, though, has always been my favorite JAMC song.

The sex-as-prayer analogy of “Her Way of Praying” fell right into my religious-questioning, lust-craving late teenage wheelhouse. It’s a song (and album) I have always associated with Maria, who I dated after my relationship with Kari imploded. Here’s what I’ve said about Maria previously…

That fall semester at BG, I took a music appreciation class of some kind (it’s a little fuzzy at this point) in the Moore Musical Arts Center. The first day of class, this cute girl and I chatted briefly and began a classroom friendship, but neither pursued anything beyond that until the end of the semester rolled around. Through small talk in class, we realized we were both from Northeast Ohio. She went to Central Catholic and grew up right in the geographic center of my high school social world. We decided to get together while home for the holidays.

I was at the peak of my punk phase at the time... my hair dyed jet black or blue-black or maroon or purple depending on the week, eyeliner, black nail polish and lipstick, my ears pierced a half-dozen times. She had a simple, girl-next-door beauty. And a boyfriend. Despite my appearance and her ties, her parents and I got along well-enough, and Maria and I spent a large part of those weeks home together. There were many late nights getting to know each other while we drank bottomless cups of coffee and I chain-smoked Marlboro Lights in a booth at the Denny’s on Everhard Road, and hanging out at her parents’ house.

Perhaps not the healthiest of relationships, in retrospect I suppose that’s what dating and youth are all about – the mistakes are a means to an end for finding one’s identity.

Automatic was released just a few months before the holidays, and I was hot and heavy on it through the winter. It got plenty of airplay while home for break and well into the spring semester back at school. All of this plays into the notion that a current album by an artist while you’re deeply immersed in a genre is more important than any other album that artist will release, and that is certainly the case for me and this collection of songs from 1989. While another track from this album will appear later on the playlist originating on the Thursday’s compilation, this album track will always evoke Bowling Green and those Northeast Ohio nights while home for the holidays.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 23

“Lips Like Sugar (12” Mix)”
Echo & the Bunnymen
Just Say Yes

Surprisingly, Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Lips Like Sugar” is the only Bunnymen song on the playlist, but like Xymox’s “Blind Hearts”, it was originally found on both the Thursday’s and Bowling Green mix CDs. This track definitely earned its spot on both collections, though. Echo & the Bunnymen was a staple among my Akron friends Jen and Nancy and me on those Northeast Ohio nights spent driving around, as well as out on the dance floor at Thursday’s.

As for my Bowling Green associations with the song, well, that’s a somewhat longer story…

I’m pretty sure Labor Day weekend was the first time my college friend Jen took me home with her. During that period, my relationship with my parents was still pretty rocky, so instead of trying to find a ride back to Northeast Ohio or asking my parents to come pick me up, I accepted Jen’s offer to come home with her for the long weekend. She had a beat-up Datsun 210 dubbed “Bob” that she kept at school and drove us down to her mom’s house in Columbus in it.

I can still see the interior of her mom’s old house, and I remember Jen walking me through it and how it just sort of spiraled upwards as we made our way from the ground floor up to her attic room. We passed an ironing board in the room at the bottom of the attic stairs (that I’m fairly certain was wood paneled) that had one of those old 12x12, heavy stock record cover art posters used in record store displays. I’m not certain, but I think it was either Prince’s Lovesexy or a Depeche Mode album cover.

On the drive from her mom’s house to the Short North for the monthly gallery hop that end-of-summer Saturday night, we cranked Echo’s “Lips Like Sugar” and sang along at the top of our lungs. That night at the gallery hop, we met up and hung out with many of Jen’s local friends from Columbus’ alternative scene, but here’s where details get hazy… I know we ran into one particular girl Jen had gone to high school with, and, for whatever reason, Jen and I both broke into “Lips Like Sugar” after we parted ways with the friend. I think it was something goofy and (embarrassingly now) maybe slightly derogatory or mean-spirited on our part, but I’m not certain all these years later. I just know that it cracked us up for the rest of the weekend, and carried over with us back to campus when we returned to BG.

This version of “Lips Like Sugar” was originally available on the US 12” release in August of 1987, but I found it on Just Say Yes: Sire’s Winter CD Music Sampler released a few months later. (Sire’s music samplers produced seven volumes between 1987’s Just Say Yes and 1994’s Just Say Roe. By and large, they were treasure-troves of alternative music rarities, where you could find everything from remixes to non-album tracks.)

The song itself comes from the Bunnymen’s self-titled album from the same year. Arguably, their most commercially successful album, it’s a collection of songs that captures the jangly neo-psychedelic, synthpop of the Liverpool post-punk scene that also spawned Big in Japan, The Teardrop Explodes (including extensive cross-pollination and acrimony with Julian Cope), Dalek I Love You, and Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark. Echo & the Bunnymen contains the playful “Bedbugs & Ballyhoo” and the shimmering “All My Life”. The latter – a sort of spiritual successor to The Beatles “In My Life” – was a song I played extensively that year at BG, letting it inspire me and my writing with its beauty.

Taking the notion of the unattainable girl to swirling pop heights, it’s clear why “Lips Like Sugar” was the biggest hit from the album. Ian McCulloch’s vocals are melty, and when combined with Will Sergeant’s luminous guitar work the result is a near-perfect song of unrequited love.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 22

The Cure

Like Siouxsie’s Peepshow album, the Cure’s Disintegration was blasted far too loudly from my dorm room that freshman year at Bowling Green. It sets a mood, to be sure, and that mood was often the morose, brooding, angsty mindset of a gothy punk poet on the verge of young adulthood.

“Closedown” is the album track that really gets the blood churning, and I had this to say about it in 2011:

The liner notes on the original album say “THIS MUSIC HAS BEEN MIXED TO BE PLAYED LOUD SO TURN IT UP,” and the opening tribal drums of “Closedown” are relentless. You feel them thrumming in your chest with urgency at any volume. The immediacy of those four minutes of music – one of the shortest songs on the album – is underscored with a mere 11 lines of lyrics compacted into 40 seconds of song, making every turn of phrase, every word matter. The lyrics are well within lead singer Robert Smith’s doom and gloom wheelhouse, but the music feels uncharacteristically hard. While Cure songs of the era are typically dense, “Closedown” actually seems to apply pressure, actively pushing the air out of the listener’s lungs, suffocating them.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The End of the Eighties, Track 21

Siouxsie and the Banshees

Freshman year at Bowling Green, I roomed with John. It wasn’t all easy going. We tried each other’s patience and strained the limits of our friendship during that time. But our friendship ultimately survived, despite my handily kicking his ass at a year-long game of Rummy. Down the hall from us, our bear of an RA, appropriately named Mark Justice, kept watch over the floor. Mark is one of those guys who, though physically intimidating, is completely approachable and quick to put you at ease.

Mark was a few years in front of me in the Creative Writing program, encouraged me to be a part of the college’s literary magazine Prairie Margins, and was a member of the infamous BG band The Escaped Fetal Pigs. Mark was the guy who made his way back to the dorm with bags of plastic piggy banks that he found at the Dollar Store, excitedly rambling about how they were going to use them in the band’s stage show. Mark was the guy who, when the ATM across the street from campus ate my card, drove me downtown to the Western Union to collect the money my parents wired me. He was also the guy who would have to come down and police me for blasting my stereo far too loud.

I believe it was the last day before spring break because that is the only time I remember my dad coming to pick me up by himself. Most everyone else on the floor was gone, and I had Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Peepshow BLASTING from the stereo. I probably had my dorm room door propped open as well. Because that was enough to bring Mark down the hall to tell me to turn down the music, I have always associated Peepshow – at least, in part – with him.

Among the brilliant kaleidoscopic vision from hell that is Peepshow, the gothic hoedown of “Burn Up” has always shone a little brighter for me. The static fadeout of Nine Inch Nails’ “The Only Time” is both jarring and appropriate next to the bows-on-strings screeching of the “Burn Up” opening. The song builds with an immediacy as the listener comes to realize amid percussionist Budgie’s raging drums and vicious harmonica that “All fire and brimstone, this Jack-O-Lantern / He likes to watch the buildings burn!” Four-and-a-half minutes later, both the song and its protagonist are raging out of control around a blazing musical bonfire of nursery rhyme as Siouxsie Sioux chants about Jack jumping over the candlestick.