FROM JASON’S PLAYLIST — I’ve never understood the people who want 30 gigs of music on their iPods at once. I guess I’m pretty selective about what I listen to — it always has to match my mood — and I tend to loop small numbers of songs endlessly for two or three weeks at a time.
So what’s on my Nano right now? Only about 50 songs. Here’s a taste:
1) The Cure — Lovecats
Robert Smith’s rotating-door band is one part Tim Burton, two parts bass guitar, a splash of proto-goth invention, and a hell of a lot of new wave angst. I was born four years after Smith launched the first incarnation of The Cure in 1976, but every time I listen to this track (and four others on the iPod right now — by far the most prolific inclusion) I feel 17 again.
Hidden in the folds of Lovecats, Boys Don’t Cry, Just Like Heaven, Lullabye, Disintegration, and a host of other titles were the first commercial hints of alternative. The Cure makes it good to feel bad.
The video above is suitably 80s. Smith’s sporting that vampiric white facepaint and mascara, there’s a pretty damned dark cat puppet, and we get the obligatory negative shots. The best part, though, is that the band seems to be making a point of how juvenile the whole piece is, and reveling in it.
2) The Violent Femmes — Kiss Off
Take Brian Wilson, cram him full of anger and jaded self-mockery and you have Gordon Gano of The Violent Femmes. The band is legendary for experimenting with dirty-sounding, jangly riffs and loose, twangy bass — which The Pixies would later pick up, too.
Most GenX-ers are at least aware of TVF’s Blister In the Sun, but few know it was first released in 1982 on the band’s self-titled album. Thanks to MTV and Claire Danes, it was spun back into the pop-culture spectrum in the mid-90s again. That first album — yes, it was released on vinyl — is responsible for three tracks in my iTunes Top 25 Most Played list: Add It Up, Kiss Off, and American Music.
The Violent Femmes always struck me as doing something incredibly unwieldy and hard to emulate; they made hippy drug music popular to yuppies. Gano’s whiny delivery, backed by the band’s laid-back college garage punk aesthetic took a decade to find a toe-hold in Seattle.
3) The Pixies — Hey
Nirvana gets all kinds of credit for leading the alternative revolution, but The Pixies had already discovered the 90s alt-rock-grunge sound several years earlier. These guys (and gal) weren’t trying to be rock stars in the conventional sense — they didn’t try to be cool or even try to be mockingly cool (like The Ramones). They just got up there in T-shirts and sang.
The music was often discordant and the subject matter jarring. Not exactly Hall & Oates, The Pixies sang about the socially inept, about incest, alarming anthems on Biblical violence and extraterrestrial visitors. Drugs were probably an inspiration; it doesn’t matter. What came was a Bowie-ish surrealism without the folk or glam trappings.
Although from Boston, the band got very little airplay in the States, mainly thanks to its not-so-radio-ready lyrics. If you like Hey, try also Where Is My Mind, Debaser, Gigantic, and Here Comes Your Man.
4) Ben Folds Five — Army
I grew up listening to my parents’ LPs — Chicago, Kenny Rogers, Styx. Ben Folds did a lot to take some of those classic horns, piano, and snares and make them both uncouth and melancholy — and completely lovable.
Army taps into that deep well of loser-ly self-doubt everybody feels about the choices they’ve made and then reassures you that everything will go as well as can be expected. I was awkward
in high school at some point in the dim past, too, and Ben seems to know all the right spots to draw sympathy.
Using very specific references to loser culture, the song doesn’t have to be very detailed about its drop-out-to-riches story while still getting its rambunctious point across. Oh, and the piano-turns-into-a-car gag is hilarious, too.