Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Lost in the Supermarket

American Music Club
Originally uploaded by bsglaser.
Artist: American Music Club
Albums: California, Everclear, Mercury, San Francisco, Love Songs for Patriots, 1984-1995, Come on Beautiful: The Songs of American Music Club
Source: All bought new, except for San Francisco, which was bought used

Despite some toe-dipping into the river of music downloads (the legal kind, mind you), there’s something about it that is deeply unsatisfying. Apart from the absence of an object, one that you can look at and hold in your hands, there’s also the great thrill of record shopping that iTunes and eMusic and the like are missing.

Simply put: I love the experience of being in a record store. Not even necessarily shopping, either; there are countless times I’ve browsed the racks of a good record store for an hour or more and left without buying a thing (my sincere apologies to the store owners). But I always learn so much from flipping through the racks. From the time I was able to get myself to a good record store (like Tunes and Record World in NJ; Utica’s The Last Unicorn in college; later Third Street Jazz, the Philly Record Exchange, Other Music and the Downtown Music Gallery) it was just a joy to walk around, doing a form of research, gleaning what I could from the song titles, release dates, album covers and personnel listed on the packaging. And don’t even get me started on the score of finding something amazing and long-sought buried in a cut-rate used bin.

As a result, I seem to not only have memories associated with the music on the various discs that make up The Beast, I also have lots of specific recollections associated with the moment when I actually shopped for and bought them. American Music Club was a band I’d heard a little bit about my freshman year of college (they got good write-ups for their Everclear album); by my senior year, I’d heard enough about AMC, it was now time to actually hear them. So, home on a break from school, I drove over to Tower Records in Cherry Hill to pick up the then-new Mercury.

I still have a perfect memory of holding the cardboard long-box in my hand (this was back when CDs were still sold in wasteful cardboard packaging so that record stores didn’t have to reconfigure their LP-sized racks) and looking up to see Girl M. She was my high-school girlfriend, my first grown-uppish relationship (well, as grown-up as you can be at 17) and one that had flamed out slowly at first, then crashed badly. All totally my fault, I might add; M was never anything but good to me, and I fumbled the transition to college badly. When she said she didn’t want to talk to me anymore, she was probably right.

Anyway, there she was and she said hello. I responded haltingly, not sure where we stood, and asked the small-talk, “How’ve you been?” question that one asks to acquaintances. She said something like, “A lot better now,” and gave signals that we were back on speaking terms again. We still are. She lives far away, with a great husband and a cute-as-a-button baby, and whenever we talk via e-mail or (occasionally) in person, it makes me glad. M is one of those people that I will always have an affection for and that I hope will always have some place in my life. That she was willing and able to forgive me for my youthful dumb-assness speaks to just one of her many good qualities.

I’m not sure if that meeting colored my reaction to AMC once I got the disc home, but I instantly fell for the band. Mark Eitzel’s songs and the contexts that the group provides are amazing; they have experiments that both fail (the self-referential pop-lunge of “Hello Amsterdam”) and only mildly succeed (Eitzel comes closer to making the “Johnny Mathis’ Feet” fantasia work than anyone has a right to), but so much of it is so right on. Try to listen to “Firefly,” “If I Had a Hammer” or pretty much every note of Everclear without feeling that this band is more than “the spokesmen for every tired thing.” They say more than either their words or notes would suggest, and their songs are sturdy enough to hold up to both time and the range of interpretations on the Come on Beautiful tribute album.

SISOSIG? While it seems I could probably cut some chaff from the two or three inches of shelf space my AMC collection takes up, truth be told these are some of my favorite records. If there’s a loser in the bunch, it’s probably their first-phase swansong San Francisco, but between the stellar cover of “California Dreaming” and the spot-on-ness of “What Holds the World Together” and “Fearless,” there’s still enough there to make it worthwhile.


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