Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

You Hadda Be There

Artists: Built to Spill
Albums: There's Nothing Wrong With Love, The Normal Years, Keep It Like A Secret, Ancient Melodies From The Future
Source: Bought new (all)

There are few things as annoying as the Hadda Be There People. These are the folks with whom you share an affinity for a particular band or artist, yet they refuse to share a peer-level kinship with you because they heard said band/artist in a different era. Which, of course, is the only/correct era that could lead to proper appreciation.

On the surface this is just bullshit (and usually a particular brand: Sixties Bullshit). The idea is that if you listen to Blonde on Blonde or Beggar's Banquet in the here and now, you somehow can't hear it correctly. Nevermind that the fidelity of the CD remaster might be better, or that you (ie, me) might actually know more about Dylan than the interlocutor... Nope. No dice.

You hadda be there.

As someone who listens to lots of music way outside of my technical demographic (a large portion of The Beast could lead one to the conclusion that I'm an octogenarian African-American, rather than a GenX white guy), having my love of Miles or Neil or whomever dismissed because I wasn't in the audience at the Vanguard that one time in 1959 or de-seeding my bag in the gatefold of After The Goldrush really pisses me off. A lot.

On the other hand, I totally get it. I mean, is there a point in discovering Black Flag now, in the early Oughts? They weren't a "soundtrack to an era" or whatever reconstructed hippies like to think their youth's music meant, but Rollins and Ginn and Kira made music that reflected their time and place in a very specific way. You might dig TV Party just fine now, but I'd have to side with the Hadda Be Theres and say that there will be something taken away with Regan dead and buried instead of on the air from the Oval Office.

And even that is just a little ahead of my Prime Rocking Era (hence the total absence of Black Flag CDs in The Beast--though no shortage of other SST nuggets, I s'pose). But I was totally there for Built to Spill, man, and...well, I find myself wondering how a fresh pair of ears would take this stuff in.

Doug Martsch's music just kind of sounds like the soundtrack to a basic-cable original series called The Clinton Years. Way post-punk and a little bit post-Nirvana, teetering on the cusp of the Lo-Fi Revolutions and the ProTools Uprising, BTS records capture the freedom of the moment when you showed up to work in jeans and went home late with blurry vision and a pile of stock options. We were between wars (or so it seemed, at least), between recessions, and between the rise of the Alternative Nation and the collapse of the record industry.

BTS always tried hard to sound great, but never tried too hard to be cool. They aped prog-rock's extended guitar solos before that had become OK again, and managed to rock like mad without ever rising too much above mid-tempo. The songs often went nowhere in particular, but lyrics like, "I wanna see movies of my dreams" cut deep and swung wide. They referenced and covered codified Classic Rock unironically, smack dab in the middle of the High Ironic Age. The band even had beards before that was an indie-cool calling card.

And now...well, I can't help thinking I'm still hearing BTS in context. They sound like they don't care much what you think of them...which just happens to line up with a moment in time when it didn't matter much what I did or didn't do. They irresponsibly delivered to their major-label champions indie-rock tunes that clocked in the double digits (at a time when compact brevity was a general alt-rock rule), and it just so happened that I had no real responsibilities at the time, either. When Girl R asked me to kiss her during the long jams on Perfect Sound Forever (which is in my rack of vinyl, along with a few other bits of BTS missing from my CD holdings), it seemed to hardly matter that it was a terrible idea to say yes. And on Doug's guitar went, with no particular destination on the agenda.

To reduce all of that to something era-like, I guess BTS sounds like the mid-90s. Or, put another way: they were there at the time I was there for. And if you don't quite hear any of that in these records...well, you hadda be there.

SISOSIG? Will the Geezer Version of me think of Built to Spill as "the music of my youth"? That might be overstating it just a bit (or just a lot), but I do continue to have a timeline-based affection for these records. To be honest, Ancient Melodies is the one I reach for least (it pretty much sounds like Keep it Like a Secret, but with more short songs), but really I like all of these and still spin them all from time to time. And when it sometimes seems like the Bush Years will never, ever end, it is a breath of freshly backdated air to get to hear from a time before so many things slid so far downhill.


  • What no Ultimate Alternative Wavers? Man, you should have been there then. Brett from Caustic Resin was in the band then too, I think.

    By Anonymous nivekholodeck, at 4:03 PM  

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