So when I said I’d begin the “Suburban Bizarre” series “tomorrow” I apparently meant “over a month later,” but really, who cares? Obviously I’m less interested in writing about all this stuff ever since I actually finished the full image for “Personal Pop Music History,” but that’s only a detail from it above. See, I cheated a bit and crammed in everything I’d listened to or heard frequently from my childhood, middle school, and high school—1976 to 1995—and frankly you don’t want to read about that and I don’t want to write about all of it either. However, we’re stuck with each other, so I’m just gonna spit out some stray, link-free observations and pretend it was a real post, okay? Hold on to your panties:
Top left: Nominally freshman year of high school (1991/92, the bigger albums) but also middle school (1989/90 and 90/91 smaller stuff on the left) and everything before that (extreme top left and top). Biggest album of the year for me was Sting’s “Soul Cages,” which shows you how totally out of touch with 1991′s teen spirit I was, but so what? I still listen to that album 22 years later, and I don’t care what that means. Anyway, I appreciated Nirvana like any other red-blooded hair-metal-hating boy for killing Poison and Warrant, but sadly I also had some Genesis cassette singles from their truly awful “We Can’t Dance” album, and—
…hang on, we’d better start earlier. The old-school R&B, soul, and rock & roll albums are there (mostly) because I absorbed much of my parents’ taste. That covers almost everything:
- “bedtime Beatles” tapes my parents made for my siblings and I that basically introduced us to music, period
- KRTH-101 staples like the Four Tops, Coasters, Chuck Berry, Temptations, Otis Redding, James Brown, Aretha and Smokey
- ’70s yuppie-rock like the Eagles and Pink Floyd (strong memory of my dad driving us back from Laughlin on I-15 at night to “Hotel California” and “Dark Side of the Moon”)
- the late-’80s Doors revival that swept my middle school, coinciding with Oliver Stone’s film starring Val Kilmer
Well, maybe not everything, but most of the ’80s wrapped up with solo careers from people in those bands, plus some big contemporary hit albums: “Synchronicity,” “So,” “Graceland,” “Brothers in Arms,” stuff like that. And then came junior high, where most of my taste was either incredibly awful (MC Hammer? LL Cool J? C + C Music Factory? Yikes) or eminently redeemable (Janet Jackson, Prince’s “Batman” soundtrack). The less said about middle school, the better—but I did pick up some more Jesus Jones (“Real Real Real” still rules rules rules), R.E.M., Tom Petty, and Prince (Holy shit, “Gett Off”) over the summer in 1991 before high school.
Fall 1991 was a fun time to be a freshman, or at least for me it was. I was hopelessly sensitive and totally average, but never got bullied, and totally bowled over (and slightly terrified) by the guitar-heavy rock that rescued all of us from that foul year of 1990. At the time, I was still sneery and dismissive of most ’80s synth-pop, but did I run out and buy monster-rock classics like Metallica, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, and the like? Well, no—I already told you, I was learning how to be a narcissistic bassist from Sting and his ruthlessly sober album about the deaths of his parents. But whatever.
’91/’92 kind of established a pattern that I’ve repeated ever since: there’s a big album that totally sucks me in all year, surrounded by some other big blips from that year along with some token retro purchases, where (often) I’d go back and get (meaning usually copy/tape) all the albums by one or more of the big artists I was into that year. Freshman year of high school, that meant all the Police albums before “Synchronicity.”
’92/’93 (top right) wasn’t that different, and it also established another pattern: the late-interest-generating album. I heard (and loved) U2′s single “The Fly” in fall 1991 thanks to KLOS DJ Joe Bensen, but I didn’t actually buy “Achtung Baby” until I’d already got the first 4 singles on cassette, round about summer ’92 (deep into the Zoo TV tour). I’ve written elsewhere about my obsessively goofy U2 fandom, so I’ll just say that “Achtung Baby” was my big high school sophomore album and leave it at that. Other influential stuff that year: the Peter Gabriel album “Us,” Jesus Jones’ epic flop “Perverse,” and the back catalogs for U2, Gabriel, and some of my dad’s Springsteen stuff (spurred by the “57 Channels and Nothin’ On” single). Pearl Jam sneaked in there via my younger brother’s taste, but they’re more Bryn’s band than mine. Los Lobos and Dylan rounded out the parent-rock quotient that year.
’93/’94 (bottom left) was my junior year and had another late-breaker as Big Album: R.E.M.’s “Automatic For the People” from the previous year (and their old catalog backwards to “Eponymous”). Thanks to the radio and MTV I also got exposed to more Nirvana, Beck, the Beastie Boys, the Breeders*, Tori Amos**, and the softest Alice in Chains single. Thanks to my brother: the second Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins albums. Thanks to my dad: Dylan and Clapton box sets. Thanks to I can’t remember for the life of me why: 10,000 Maniacs. The Police box set from that year was in the mix, too. Oh, and the U2 obsession continued with “Zooropa.”
* via 2 cassette singles, “Cannonball” and “Divine Hammer,” for the Breeders and
** the “God” cassette single by Tori Amos
’94/’95 (bottom right) was a relatively weird mix of disparate stuff: the earnest, hypersensitive, listened-to-his-girlfriend’s-music Keir hoovered up Counting Crows, Cranberries, Sheryl Crow, and Toad the Wet Sprocket. Earnest sensitive Keir was taught to earnestly rock by Ryan Crosby blasting Jeff Buckley out of his Jeep’s stereo. That Keir also enjoyed R.E.M.’s “Monster” album. In-touch-with-his-feminine-side Keir listened to the first Weezer album with a room gloriously full of junior class girls. However, good-son Keir still also had plenty of time for classic rockers like Clapton and Petty. One-of-the-guys Keir also took a dip in ’60s retro with Jon, Nick and Kevin, peeling out of the high school parking lot blaring the Beatles, Stones, Creedence, Hendrix, Van the Man, and the Eagles. That Keir used the Pulp Fiction soundtrack to jump into classic surf rock (along with Bryn and Adam), paving the way for future adventures with the Mojo Wire.
How’s that for glossing over 18 years’ worth of white boy suburban pop/rock enthusiasm? We’ll take it even more excruciatingly slowly next time—but I have no idea when that will be, so that’s plenty of advance warning then, isn’t it? You’re welcome.