Because it’s late on a Friday night and I’m not sleeping, here’s a belated second helping of that thing I started and now kind of regret. Last time got a bit out of hand, what with the whole 18-years-in-one-go thing, so this one’s limited to the four (or so) years I was in college at UCSB: summer 1995 to spring 1999.
Top left: freshman year (1995/96): a poor contemporary-college-rock choice at the beginning (the first and only worthwhile DMB album) was quickly demolished in a wall of retro college-rock, thanks to the presence of cheap used CDs at Morninglory Music in Isla Vista. September 1995 will always be hot and dry in my memory, with R.E.M.’s “Murmur,” “Reckoning,” and the rest of their I.R.S.-era albums in the background. I’d also left most of my CDs at home, so a quick and narrow education in alt-rock thanks to 97.5 FM (which I can’t remember the call letters for, and it’s been long dead anyway) introduced me to an army of glorious rocker chicks: PJ Harvey, Bjork, Elastica, and Garbage. The one oddball selection at the time was U2’s “Passengers” album, which I had to read about in the Daily Nexus to discover (and here I’d thought I was a diehard fan).
Now, if you know UCSB in the mid-‘90s you’d know it was a wild and crazy place—but I didn’t know that. I took the train home to OC almost every other weekend during fall quarter, so I barely knew my dorm-neighbors and was totally ignorant of Isla Vista beyond the music store. Much of that changed when I helped destroy not one, but two long-distance relationships in quick succession, throwing me into Annoying Angst mode until a new friend at school introduced me to Morphine. I marinated in “Yes,” (my album of the year) “Cure for Pain,” and “Good” for three months, playing my new Fender P-Bass, and going home to join my brother’s new retro-blues-surf semi-joke band. We binged on anything with three chords or less from the ‘60s: BB King, Dylan, Clapton, the Stones, and…uh…the Stray Cats. Still, it was as good a place as any to start.
That summer (1996) I was back home, juggled being in a “band” with seasonal work at the community college bookstore. Half the time Stevie Ray Vaughan was on, and the other half belonged to the Mermen’s suite-like surf epics. Work always had a triple-A, “80s and 90s” format radio station on, and that seeped into my ears for better (Petty, R.E.M., Pumpkins) or worse (Wallflowers). By the time the ’96/’97 year started at UCSB, I’d already picked up my album of the year (“Peace Beyond Passion” by bassist Meshell Ndegeocello) thanks to a glowing Rolling Stone review and seductive Bill Withers cover, and subsequently went both retro with R&B-rock like Prince and ultra-contemporary with Tricky’s first two trip-hop albums. Yep, college hookups and all points south, for sure.
I surfaced for air just in time to score an assignment for the Daily Nexus, which exposed me to sprawling messy epics like Wilco’s “Being There” and Beck’s “Odelay.” Speaking of sprawling messy epics, yet another rollercoaster romance exploded in my face, and I mainlined anything to balance it out: new U2, Morphine, and Chemical Brothers albums. As for the rest of that year, the less said about crazy Iranian roommates, pot-fueled beachfront poker games, bleach-blond dye jobs, aimless road trips, and the bizarrely sheltered life of upper-class dorms, the better. On balance, UCSB wasn’t agreeing with me, so I changed majors, signed a lease for fall, and went back to O.C. for the last time in June.
What happened then has become the stuff of legend, at least if you were a Mojo Wire fan. Our band scored a new name and some new gigs when Bryn and Adam finished high school, but I was still trying to keep a job and struggled to keep up with the Class of ’97’s brutal partying pace. My ’97/’98 junior year was a haze of glorious misadventures (some reaching as far as Mexico), ironically set to morose epics like Radiohead’s “OK Computer” (my album of the year) plus more Bjork and Tori—but almost no retro binges. The Anglophilia continued that fall: the Verve, Spiritualized, Cornershop, Supergrass and Portishead reigned supreme until the Cranky Old Coot version of Bob Dylan swept them all away with “Time Out of Mind.” My time at the Nexus was ending, and also thrown aside (again in quick succession, and not by me) were two more failed relationships; Certifiable Keir would have been sucked into the abyss yet again were it not for my bandmates and a very patient girl who played me some Elliott Smith and Sean Lennon (and she still does that to this day).
Senior year (’98/’99) thus started a bit better before getting much uglier, but then evening out again. A holding-pattern summer was eaten up by Lucinda Williams’ “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” and chased by a retro-’70s binge centered on Dylan and (oddly) Dire Straits. Fall was front-loaded contemporary with Elliott, Beck, Superdrag, R.E.M., and the Pumpkins, and Emily slowly chipped away at my ‘80s-phobia with the Cure/Smiths/Depeche Mode heavy hitters. Eels, Lauryn Hill and Liz Phair were in there too, but most important was the return of Cracker (album of the year “Gentleman’s Blues”) and left-turn-retro binge on David Lowery’s back catalogue all the way to the first Camper Van Beethoven album. It’s all a strange soundtrack to 1) a death in the family, 2) a disintegrating “band,” 3) strained friendships, and 4) imminent graduation- and job-seeking-related fear. Plus all the attending psycho-socio-emotional fallout. I guess I was lucky that it all only really cost me (literally) the hair on top of my head.
Got a little messy there at the end, but that was the cliff-notes version of my music fandom in college—and really, since it’s college, the cliff-notes version is probably more appropriate than an all-facts or all-fiction approach. I’d love to say that I avoided Serious Young Man Syndrome, but I didn’t—in fact it got worse before it got better—but that’s another self-absorbed story for another self-absorbed time. We’ll see.