“It was 1990 give or take I don’t remember
when the news of revolution hit the air
The girls hadn’t even started taking down our posters
when the boys started cutting off their hair
The radio stations all decided angst was finally old enough
it ought to have a proper home
Dead fat or rich nobody’s left to bitch
about the goings’ on in self destructive zones”
~ M. Cooley ~
1994. I was a sophomore in high school. At fifteen years-old, I was really starting to discover who I was. This online journal is about music-related things, so I’ll spare you the drawn-out psychological profile of a confused teenager. I’m not interested in writing the world’s most boring coming-of-age novel. The short backstory… I was an artistically-inclined clueless adolescent with low self-esteem who lived in Simpsonville, South Carolina. I was terrified of drugs and alcohol, so I never got into trouble. I was terrified of most things, so I rarely had any fun. I had a horrible wardrobe, an even more horrible haircut, and absolutely no idea where I belonged. So, like most fifteen year-olds in the early-90s who just “didn’t fit in,” I was obsessed with “alternative” music. Of course, all I knew of “alternative” music was what I heard on an alternative music radio station or what I saw on MTV’s 120 Minutes. I never had an older sibling who introduced me to punk or The Pixies or Sonic Youth. I was too shy to strike up a conversation with the clerk at the record store. I lacked guidance, and I didn’t even really consider myself a music junkie at this point in my life. I had spent much of the last three years immersed in all those so-called “grunge” bands that were really just rock and roll bands. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains, a little bit of Soundgarden… Remember the Singles Soundtrack? Cameron Crowe had created an alternative music handbook for kids in small-towns across America with that one.
My sophomore chemistry class that year included a few students who shared my enthusiasm for all things “alternative.” We all kind of huddled together in the back of the classroom hoping to disappear in the background somewhere. It was our first class of the day, so we had plenty of time before the bell rang to have grand discussions about music. This was the first time I ever had any exposure to this type of pop culture forum. Three panelists in particular come to mind, and they were the ones that would usually hold court. To protect the innocent, I will refer to them as Bobby, Tim, and Assbag.
Bobby was very similar to Bender from The Breakfast Club. He was huge, reeked of cigarettes, and was at least 19 years-old. Bobby wore only black t-shirts and jeans. The t-shirts ranged from Pink Floyd to Iron Maiden, and Bobby would reference anything from King Crimson to The Misfits during our morning meetings. Bobby was unique. At first glance, I would have pegged Bobby for a typical burnout redneck, but I didn’t know any other rednecks who listened to King Crimson. Of course, I knew nothing about those bands. When Bobby held court, I just kept my mouth shut and nodded my head in agreement.
Assbag was a friend of mine at the time, however, we were in the process of growing apart. He lived right behind me, and we were really good friends in middle school. Assbag played football on the JV team our freshman year. Our sophomore year, he hung up the jersey and cleats for a pair of shredded jeans and combat boots. Basically, Assbag didn’t have a clue who he was either, but he had made a strong commitment to who he was going to be. He just didn’t take me along for the ride. Or… maybe I just didn’t accept the ride because of all that stuff I was terrified of. Nonetheless, Assbag was the most knowledgeable guy in the group when it came to music. It also meant he was very opinionated. “Stone Temple Pilots are what Pearl Jam would be if Pearl Jam had any balls.” He was always making full-of-shit proclamations like that. He was also one of those guys that would immediately drop a band as soon as they achieved any fame. One day he would be talking about how great Green Day was, then the next week they would be wiped from his collective conscience as if he suffered from some form of self-righteous amnesia. Assbag was all about the underground. I didn’t know where he discovered these bands. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized, all you needed was a subscription to Ray Gun or Spin. He was always “refining” his taste in music. The kid had a The The t-shirt for fuck’s sake. The fact that The The even had a t-shirt was mind-boggling to someone like me. I’m still not even convinced he really listened to them. I think he just thought it was funny there was a band called “The The,” and he bought the t-shirt. It was always the kids that tried the hardest, that were really the biggest posers.
Finally, there was Tim. He was a complete goofball. Really hyperactive. He had a hard time focusing. He also (much like me) didn’t really fit in to any one particular crowd. We were pretty decent friends for much of our sophomore year. Tim and I shared more of the same taste in music. Really, it was whatever was “hot” at the moment. He gave me a lift home from school every day during second semester. I discovered a wide array of music on those car rides home. Tim introduced me to a lot of darker/heavier stuff. Nine Inch Nails, Helmet, Danzig, etc. The soundtrack to The Crow was in heavy rotation. That was how I discovered The Jesus & Mary Chain. From what I can recall, I think his older sister had a boyfriend that worked at a record store in one of the malls in our area. That’s where he was coming across most of what he listened to. One day he popped in a cassette that the record store boyfriend had recommended. It was the Red Hot Organization compilation – No Alternative.
This compilation was a road map. Each individual song was a a starting point that led to somewhere else. Tim let me borrow the cassette. I was obsessed with it. Eventually, I bought the CD and returned the cassette to Tim. I was familiar with some of the bands already – Soundgarden, The Breeders, and Nirvana (they had a hidden track at the end). Some of the bands I completely ignored. Some of them, I would return to several years later. However, one song completely changed my life. Not in some exaggerated, over-emotional, “best band EVER!!!” way. This song changed my life, because it actually exposed me to an entirely different world of music that has remained a constant in my life to this very day. It was a cover of CCR’s “Effigy” by Uncle Tupelo. You might think I’m being dramatic. I promise you that I’m not. Uncle Tupelo didn’t just introduce me to other artists that I idolize. Uncle Tupelo’s music was the score to many memories in my life. Hell, Uncle Tupelo is responsible for entire friendships.
Tim and I never remained good friends. We kind of lost touch over the summer after our sophomore year. A lot of my friends were now behind the wheels of cars and driving towards freedom away from the confines of their suburban homes. I was a late bloomer when it came to that. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was another thing I was terrified of. While the other kids my age were off racing in the streets, and I stayed close to home playing pick-up basketball games in the neighborhood. I have no idea what Tim is up to these days, nor do I really care. It’s just funny to think how such a short friendship could be so influential.