Friday, February 6, 2009

Accomplishment #26: Listen to New Music (#5)

When I was an intrepid new wave teen, it was very important to me to be cutting edge. I had to know all the new music -- and had to have all the new music -- before anyone else did. In fact, I was so bitchin that I had the twelve inch MAXI SINGLE of "Hold Me Now" by The Thompson Twins BEFORE THE WHOLE RECORD CAME OUT. That, my friends, is not messing around. It had a "special dub mix" on the other side. Did anyone else at Monte Vista High School in 1983 have that record? I highly doubt it.

Okay, okay, it wasn't all that cutting edge, considering that song was doomed for high school dances and Easy Listening radio stations.

But back then, it was so much easier to find new music and hear new music and get really excited about it, and even wear pins to advertise one's allegiance to it. It was all so new to me then, and I was completely invested in it. We had an awesome "alternative" radio station called The Quake that I listened to religiously, and if I heard something I liked, I saved up my measly allowance (or my lunch money) and went to the record store and bought it. (And would sit on my bed and study the album cover and the liner notes and lyrics.) And it was easy enough to explore back then -- if the people on the record cover had even slightly weird haircuts, or if it was in a thrift shop and from the 50's or 60's, I was all over it.

I loved making mixed tapes for my friends, carefully choosing songs that segued into each other and that sounded good together, and that had meaning. I happily sat on the floor in front of my stereo, amidst piles of records and tapes, waiting for the perfect moment to hit "pause" between the songs, and cursing when the tape ran out before the song ended. Worse was when it wasn't just the usual snap, crackle and pop of records, but when it would skip -- I would wince and just flick the needle, and more often than not left it. (My friend Leslie used to call it "The Karen Finlay Special Remix Version.") While the songs played, I tried to think of witty titles for the tapes, and decorated the inserts by hand with colored marking pens (adding to the piles of records mess), experimenting with different handwriting and fonts. I spent hours working on those tapes, and loved giving them out. (Rumor has it that some of those tapes are still out there -- I love that, too.) And I loved it when people made them for me, too.

Of course, I wasn't all that knowledgeable or cool. I was a dopey kid from the suburbs with a 12 pm curfew and limited access to MTV. (I only got to watch it at friends' houses -- my dad thought it was all crap and he refused to subscribe.) So it's not like I really knew anything too obscure, but I certainly hated all the mainstream stuff that the other kids at my school were into. (Heavy metal was like totally gnarly!) I didn't know about college radio, and I wasn't angry or brave enough to be into the whole punk rock thing. But music was my life, and I took it very seriously, proclaiming my love by scrawling band names all over my blue cloth binders and PeeChee folders.

When I got to college, I had a roommate with big hair and an unnatural tan and a penchant for All Things With Lips On Them. My side of the dorm room had Style Council and Aretha Franklin posters and pictures carefully cut out of Interview magazine on the wall; she had airbrushed posters of lips. And a lips phone. And pens, mugs and stationery with lips on them. And since it was her side of the room, I woke up every morning to the sight of a poster of a pair of shiny lips sucking on a succulent lollipop or something ridiculously phallic. She woke up to my poster of Paul Weller and milk crates full of records and tapes that I had lugged from home, most of which she deemed "weird." "Why do you have so many records?" she asked. (Her music collection consisted of Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet" and Janet Jackson and Cameo tapes she played in her Nissan Sentra.) "Isn't that, like, a guy thing?"

"A guy thing?" I asked, confused. "Why would it be a guy thing?"

"Because guys are all into records and music," she said, using a pik to fluff up her bangs. "Girls are, like, into clothes and stuff."

Score zero for feminism. Needless to say, we hated each other by Christmas break.

So, okay, maybe I was a total geek and socially maladjusted in my betty roommate's eyes (and ohhh, what I could have retorted about What It Means To Be Obsessed With Airbrushed Lips Posters), but that meant that most of my friends were, too -- boys and girls alike. Back then, and to this day, most of my friendships have music as the common ground, or at least that's how they started out. I have met so many of my friends through shows and clubs or events, all revolving around music. Being part of a subculture (or a few, depending on how you look at it) was a big part of my life, and the music -- even possibly more so than the clothes and accoutrements -- was the driving force. In a lot of ways, the music I listened to was my identity, and I was passionate about it.

But a funny thing happened on the way to getting older -- the music got too loud.

I don't know exactly when or how it happened, but I kind of lost the zeal for finding new music. I get 6 radio stations in my car (thanks to an Unfortunate Incident with an antennae and a car wash), all of which pretty much suck. There's no one station, like we had back in high school, that I turn on right away -- I push the buttons over and over, hating it all. (But, well, 6 stations doesn't leave me with many choices, I'll admit.) The "alternative" station is the worst. The Fall-Out-Chemical-Romance-Boy crapola (Good God, I sound just like my dad) makes me want Tylenol -- with cyanide in it. MTV and VH1 doesn't play music anymore, and when I go into a music store or open itunes, I just feel kind of lost. More and more I revert back to the music I loved when I was younger, and listen to mostly music from the 40's to the 60's, which is what I've always loved anyway. I'm hardly bereft -- my tastes are all over the place and there's plenty of music to fill it. But new music? I know barely any of it anymore, and lack the inspiration to search.

But I do miss that thrill of discovery, and the excitement of hearing a song and then going to seek it out. So when this Accomplishment popped up, I was pretty happy about it. And I had A Plan. A nefarious, greedy, and lazy Plan.

Last year I was invited to join a CD Club with 11 strangers, and we all had a month where we made 11 cds for each member of the club. I loved the idea -- after all, I had loved making those mix tapes. And while I did get to hear some great new music, not all of it was my cuppa tea. (And I'm sure mine wasn't theirs, either.) So when the year was up, I didn't renew my membership, instead deciding to branch out and start a club of my own.

And hence, my Plan. I could hear new music, and pick out the people that I would personally ransack their record collections, all for the price of blank CDS and postage, and have it all delivered to my doorstep. AND Accomplish something for the Blog. Nefarious, greedy, lazy AND fabulous.

So I picked out about 10 people, all of whom are musical afficiandos within their specific genres with enough diversity to make it interesting, and who I figured would be into it. "New" music wasn't necessarily a focus, but rather "new" to me and others in the group. And then, it EXPLODED.

Because it was such a good idea, someone told their two friends, and so on and so on, until it was like that old Faberge Organics shampoo commercial and suddenly we had 25 people in the group. Which was more than fine with me. All the more music to enjoy, right? Two CDS in a month, why that's back to the old days when I used to walk out of Amoeba records with a bag of CDs!

And I must say, it has worked out beautifully. (Except for CD Clubber for December Jeff who STILL hasn't sent his out... AHEM.) We've gotten to hear music in R&B, Northern Soul, Rockabilly, Country, Mod, Garage, 60's, pop... and yes, even NEW music. And we only started in September, so we still have a long way and a lot of CDs to go.

Mine was last month, in January. And like I used to make those mix tapes long ago, I carefully picked out songs that segued into each other and sounded good together. And some of them had meaning. And because I take this blog verrrry seriously, I tried to be creative and stretch and find some songs that were even recorded in this decade, and songs that might be "new" to the other people in the club as well. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed doing it. And though it was all through my laptop and itunes, so there weren't piles of records and tapes and magic markers, I still gave it a cute cover:

cd club cover
Okay, it wasn't by hand. But I love this image and thought it went well with the theme.

So in doing the CD Club, I am fulfilling the Accomplishment of Listening to New Music. But I also found something from my past that I had forgotten that I had loved to do, and for a few hours there, I felt like the "old" me -- inspired and falling in love with the thrill of not just discovery, but sharing that discovery as well.

And here are some discoveries for you:

A guy I know has an excellent music blog that you should check out:

Like Dynamite to Your Brain (good, rare 60's gems, and links to other music blogs as well)

And a girl I know has an excellent music and photography blog, too: All Eyes and Ears

And let me share one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE songs with you:

Karen by The Saturn V

So screw my old roommate. It's not a "Guy" thing. Music is universal. Old OR new.

Twenty-six down, 71 to go.


gswolfe said...

Your old roommate was Chrissy, wasn't it? I didn't realize living with her was so traumatic! Oh well, you survived it, and she...well, I don't know if she did or not. Just as well.

I love the "new to you" music kick. I give it a shot once in a while. Although I draw the line at country/western and hip-hop, I've had a bluegrass phase, a mariachi phase, a celtic phase, an african phase, and classical baroque phase, among others. Hell, my ex-wife even got me to appreciate opera while we were married. None of those "phases" lasted too long, but all were worthwhile in the sense that we really need to broaden our horizons a bit lest we all start to think that the whole world is like us. I have a friend who is convinced that the whole world (or at least 90% of the USA) listens to Melissa Etheridge and just can't wait to go protest at the gate of one or another military base. Kind of a sad place to live in if that were really the case. I'm glad it's not!

Anyhow, good topic and a great exploration of it! Can't wait for the next "97 Things" installment!

MsYvone said...

This hit a chord with me..I also LOVED finding new music when I was in college, in the '80's. Like you though, I am finding that current music just isn't thrilling me. I was getting a bit despondent about it. Every once in a while, a little gem will pop up that will be different and intriguing, but not in the mass sort of way that they used to.

My husband is a music FREAK (owns over 2000+ cd's and buys them in bulk still...) and still makes mixed cd's that he and his friends share as well. so I get a little of his overflow from that.

Anyway, found your blog entry because you're a contact of mine on flickr and saw your CD album cover. Thanks for letting me know I'm not the only music child of the '80's that is not so enamored by the stuff they put out these days!

The Sardonicist said...

first of all, please accept my extremely sarcastic "thank you" for getting "hold me now" stuck in my head. yes, i, too, was a rebel, but i never liked the thompson twins. it was about at this point i had discovered the beatles, and the rest of the music world be damned (with the notable exceptions of the who and the stones...and the jam)

second of all, i agree with the maticulousness of tape making. i actually had a tape that ranged from simon and garfunkle to jimi hendrix- a masterpiece if i do say so myself- and it was lost to the unwashed masses when my walkman was stolen.

lastly, if you haven't seen the movie "hi-fidelity" with john cusack, you need to.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I totally get this post. I loved making mix tapes for people and I was totally into the the new wave music scene in my high school and college years. I still make mix tape style CD's for people.

I found a great resource for free new music on the web, it's a web site that has a track or two of downloadable or streamable music from new artists. It's call and I've found some great new music on it. In fact, if you like send me via email your snail mail address and I'll burn you a CD of some of the ones I really like that you may like as well.

Keep on rockin' Miss Hottie!

Dane said...

I could have written this myself (of course, right?) The teenage passion for music and mix tapes and the intense work and concentration they took. The trying desperately to scrape up enough allowance to afford that imported 45, and then the waiting ...

I kind of want to go back in time and kill your old roommmate. Maybe "music is a boy thing" is something she still remembers saying and when it pops into her head, she involuntarily cringes. We can hope.

Thank you so much for the plug but mainly for saying you approve of my taste in music. :) I am pleased with that.

Sparkleneely said...

Scott -- yeah, Chrissy. And yes you knew it was traumatic -- why do you think I was in YOUR dorm room all the time? THOSE LIPS WERE THE WORST. I mean, that is TACKY personified. Anyway, I think phases are good, and yours are all over the place which is great! Did I ever tell you that Leslie and I saw Captain at a bluegrass night at the local burrito place? All of that's an odd combo, but it was fun...

MsYvone (The Most Beautiful Woman in the World?;) -- exactly! I do get despondent about it. And it's hard, too, because then you feel so OLD and UNCOOL. But you're right, there are a few gems. I get frustrated because I don't find enough of them, and I just don't know how or where to look anymore. And my boyfriend is a HUGE music collector -- 1000's of records and cds as well. So like you, I get the overflow... so I'm still lucky. But sometimes I think the thrill is gone, though I do love finding out I'm not alone in this! Thanks for finding and reading my blog!

Sparkleneely said...

Skorpeo -- HOLD ME NOW... whoooaaaah... I KNOW, I KNOW. that's why I put Saturn V at the end to get that brainworm out...

anyway, yeah. See, I'd grown up with The Beatles from my sister (14 years older than me), and Sinatra et al from my parents. When I was in HS, I listened to The Beatles EVERY DAY, but liked the other new stuff, too. And you know, the Thompson Twins thing... One time I saw them at THE MALL. Not kidding. But I do think they are one of the things that make "Sixteen Candles" so great...

And yes, I have seen High Fidelity, and while it's great that they used Thirteenth Floor Elevators and even a shot of a Mummies album, it still doesn't beat the book. In the late 90's, it seem like every guy I knew (and dated) claimed that book was written about them. If you haven't read it, do so -- and check out Nick Hornby's other books as well!

(And now I've got Elvis Costello in my head!)

Sparkleneely said...

Monkey -- there was always something so great and creative about making those tapes, and such gratification. That's why I had so much fun with them and was VERY PROUD of them, too. I'm glad you know what I mean...

We're not allowed to stream at work, so I never really check out those sites. I did try Pandora once, and it was kind of cool but some of the selections left me with, "Wha?" I goofed around and typed in "The English Beat" and was happy for a few songs and then it got crappy fast. I even did that with "Doris Day" and then just turned the whole thing off.

But I would LOVE a mixed CD from you! Thank you!!! I will be happy to send you my CD Club mix if you want it, too... Yay!!!

Sparkleneely said...

Dane, ohhh yes. And remember being so intrigued with those imports??? Even if it was the exact same song, it just seemed more exotic. And if it was a different version of the same song... WOW.

Yeah, I'd like to go back in time and smack her, too. I mean living with me was no cakewalk, either. I would wake up, turn on the stereo and it was always Frank Sinatra, Petula Clark or Yma Sumac and she thought I was crazy. And I was crazy homesick, too, so I wasn't a peach... But yeah, it was oil and water. I STILL don't understand that comment, but I think it was her girly, teenage way to try and hurt my feelings. I was already insecure enough as it was, so she just added onto the pile. (I wish I could post a picture I have of us -- it's hilarious how opposite we are.)

But see... I more than just approve your taste in music, I LOVE it. We're alike (in so many ways!) in the sense that you love the odd and the whimsical AND the good. Your blog delights me and I love the creativity and the partnership between the photography and music. it's like you're making a virtual mix tape for the internet masses. :)

Monica said...

Like everyone lese her I couldve posted this, I was SOOOOOOO into music as a teen and it was sooooo important to me, We had WLIR here on Long Island in NY , I loved making mixed tapes and now, I dont know, I hear a song or two here or there and I like it but nothing seems to thrilling to me anymore, everyone still has my mixed tapes!!!! I spent HOURS making them! :)

Anonymous said...

I have to say, I'd love to get my hands on those 25 CDs you are going to be getting! (But I am too lazy/busy to make my own to share.) Heck, I'd love just ONE copy of one of the CDs as I know they are gonna kick the crud out of most anything we hear today. It must feel so good to be re-living those teenage years, making music to share with your friends. For me it was The Smiths.... and I still love them to this day. Some things never change. PS- I had a Thompson Twins poster in my locker in 1983, does that count?! lol

Sparkleneely said...

Monica -- ohhh, I know. I KNOW!!!!!! And don't forget you had KROQ for a while there, too. I think about it altogether too much. :)

Liz -- if you want a copy of mine, I will be happy to send it to you! twitter me with your address! And yes, that, like, toooootally counts!

Will S. said...

BTW, what the heck did "special dub remix" mean? I mean, I remember those "remix" versions on the 12-inch singles, but the "dub" part I didn't get; I thought "dub" was a kind of reggae/dancehall music.

Will S. said...

(Oops; I forgot to check the email follow-up contents box; done.)

larajanepark said...

As usual, your blog enhances the foggy memories of our shared teenage years. YOU have ALWAYS been brilliant with details and your memory is's like reading my "olden days". I love the KAREN song you posted by Saturn V. Can you believe I've never heard it before? Sounds right out of Gidget (the tv shows with Sally Field that summer I had Mono...remember??) xoxox lara

Sparkleneely said...

Will -- Oh God, no idea, really. yeah, dub is the old reggae dance-hall stuff, but this? I think this was "instrumental" with weird sound effects and the chorus. Anything to sell something to impressionable teenagers with dumb haircuts... ;)

Lara -- I know, totally! I'm sure I made you some of those infamous tapes. And the song Karen... it was originally done by The Beach Boys for a TV show called "Karen" (part of another TV show called 90 Bristol Court -- very much like our beloved Gidget!), and then by The Surfaris. But The Saturn V was a fantastic local band that I loved, and I dated the drummer/singer of "Karen." So the Karen in the Saturn V version is ME. It's my claim to fame!!!

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