Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I'm having trouble coming up with a better name for this essay than "The Dookie Hits the Fan." Any ideas, guys?

I suppose if I'm going to write about all the music that I liked when I was younger, the best place to start would be the first album I ever bought. I'm always afraid to tell people that the first album I purchased was Dookie by Green Day, not because I'm embarrassed to have liked Green Day. Everyone, at one point in their lives or another, liked Green Day. I'm afraid that the moment I tell people that my first CD was Dookie, they'll know that I was born exactly at 6:21AM on May 4, 1985. Then again, I suppose the point of this blog is to date myself. It does have “high school” right in the name.

Anyhow, Dookie was released February 1, 1994, with an accompanying single and major label promotion. The album was played on every radio station in my town. By “every” I mean “the rock station AND the Top 40 station.” My tiny, nine-year-old brain was no match for this media bombardment. Advertising works on children. That, and the fact that every single person I knew who was even halfway cool owned a copy of Dookie. I didn't want to be the only kid in town who didn't know the non-radio songs. I'm not some kind of square-mo. Soon I started mowing lawns to save up and buy the record. It took a month to get the eleven dollars (plus tax), but I marched right down to the Strawberries Records on Barnstable Road and snatched it up as soon as I could. Neither the shop clerk nor my parents asked about the parental advisory sticker. Frank Zappa: 1, Tipper Gore: 0.

Dookie manifests itself in my memory as the back of a school bus. Every day, to and from Marstons Mills East Elementary. We'd all sit in the back, talking about whatever fourth graders talk about. Proust? Sure. Then a Green Day song would come on the radio, and we'd all stop and sing along. In my memory, it was everyone singing. In actuality, it was probably just six or seven of us. But that's still a lot of people, if you ask me.

The success of this album with elementary schoolers marked the end of Green Day's indie cred. You can't be cool as well as popular, you know. In hindsight, it's hilarious to think of Green Day fans being disgusted by the band's critical and commercial success. Spiritually similar to Dylan going electric, the “selling out” of Green Day was an unforgivable betrayal to the Old Guard of [folk/punk] that led to bigger and better things in the mainstream rock world. Much like how Bob Dylan's best album, Highway 61 Revisited, was a direct result of his transition to electric guitars, Green Day's best – and arguably only good album came as a result of cleaning up their instrumentation, hiring a professional producer and writing hookier songs. There's nothing wrong with pop music. Sometimes things are popular because they're good.

I've given this album a few listens over the past week. I'm fairly certain it's still good. With this particular album, I can't tell if it's good or not. I spent so much of my time listening to it as a kid, every single world and note and chord is burned into my psyche. It has to be good because it's such a part of my development as a human being. It turns out that I didn't even really need to buy the album again. It's just so etched on my auditory cortex that, despite having no musical talent whatsoever, I could probably perform this entire album through a series of doots, boops and da-bum-dums. I believe this is known as a capella.

Since I can't not like this album, let me say this: I do hate every album Dookie spawned. This album paved the way for the great pop punk boom of the 90's. Every Blink 182, Sum 41, NOFX, and Offspring. Worse yet, that paved the way for the ska punk wave. Thanks for nothing, Goldfinger. And then New Found Glory. And Fall Out Boy. And Good Charlotte. And then holy shit, if you thought the music got worse – which it did – the band names sucked even harder. “Forever the Sickest Kids.” “Cute is What We Aim For.” “Kids in Glass Houses.” “Panic! at the Disco.” “These Kids Wear Crowns.” Fuck each and every one of you bands. And the greatest plague of all, American Idiot, by *GASP* GREEN DAY. Quasi-political, fish-in-a-barrel-shooting, corporate corporate-protest rock.

You know what? I fucking hate Dookie and I fucking hate Green Day. Fucking sellouts. Rot in hell, you miserable pricks.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

High School, Musically

There was a time in my life where every moment of every day, I was tethered to a Sony Discman. From approximately 1997 all the way through 2005, it is likely that I was not listening to a word you said. It was used primarily to drown out the sound of my parents or teachers or church leaders. I can't really remember who, I wasn't paying attention. In any event, my musical development came at a time where music piracy was the most important thing in the world. Napster had blown up, and Justin Timberlake was being investigated by the feds, if memory serves. Internet radio was kind of, sort of, maybe a thing? None of us were really sure. There was a period where I though I was really into techno because I knew a place where there was a techno station online. That was the coolest thing I had ever participated in to that point. I was listening to music... on the internet! Since the internet is the future, and the future is cool, and this music was on the internet, this music had to be cool. It was not.

This new, unending fountain of music was a wonderful way to hear one or two songs, but this was before torrenting (by which I mean iTunes), so there were really only two ways to buy albums. Record stores and record clubs. The idea of a record club is so amazingly antiquated now. Columbia House was one of the greatest scams of all time. You'll recall – or not, if you're still in high school – the Columbia House ads in Rolling Stone, Time, et cetera. Buy ten CDs for only a penny, plus shipping. How exciting. The catch, of course, was that you need to buy a dozen CDs over the next two years at “full price,” which was usually something like eighteen dollars. Plus shipping. The large print giveth, as Tom Waits once said, and the small print taketh away. There were various other ways they scammed you, but that's of little relevance right now. I'm pretty sure those record club scams were deemed unconstitutional or anti-trustworthy or whatever. Ralph Nader and the Better Business Bureau. You get it. Before they were shut down, however, I managed to give Columbia House so much of my parents' money, it would make your head spin. I got so good at running that scam, it's not even funny. I'd convince my parents that they wanted to buy the full price CDs, and I got the dozen for a penny. I think I signed up using six different forms of my name. Josh Grimmer, Joshua Grimmer, Joshua R. Grimmer, Santos L. Halper, J. Robert Grimmer and O. Henry. Good for me. At one point, I had close to 1,000 CDs and zero girlfriends.

Music has always been the most important medium in my life. I'm not a good reader, and while I enjoy movies and television, that's just not how my brain likes to work. I am at my best when I am analyzing and consuming music. I judge a man by the content of his CD shelf, because that is the content of his character. One of the most important things you can do is to analyze and examine the content of your character regularly. For me, this means sorting through my CDs and figuring out what they say about me. It's very High Fidelity, but I don't have friends to do this with. Sometimes I try to talk about music with my wife, but she gets annoyed. Probably because I turn into a less interesting Chuck Klosterman. I work at a movie theatre, so I never really get to talk about music there. I just listen and analyze on my own, and that's where this blog comes in.

Last night, I listened to an album that was of great importance to me in high school - Everything Sux, by the Descendents. I was struck by how much I truly hated Everything Sux. I remember listening to it for a month straight when I first got it, now I never want to hear it again. Everything about it that I liked ten years ago just put me off. I figured, well, an album about arrested adolescence just doesn't work quite as well now that I'm an adult. But the first Violent Femmes album – an album that is rooted in perpetual teendom and teen angst - is still good, right? It must be. All those songs are great. Just like all the songs on Everything Sux. Shit. Does Violent Femmes suck? Man, I hope not. That's where all of this is going. The goal of this blog is to reexamine the music I liked in high school, and decide whether or not it's still good. I'm going to analyze the album both on its own merits, as well as the circumstances surrounding its role in my life. I guess this is going to be like Rob sorting his records autobiographically in the aforementioned High Fidelity, especially for the albums that remind me of my exes, which I'm sure will be most of them.

I have a feeling that this will more than likely be painful for me. I'm willing to bet the house that most of the music I stopped listening to isn't going to hold up. I'm sure there will be a few Smashing Pumpkins albums that will make me queasy. I can't wait to relive my Tori Amos/Ani DiFranco phase. I might have to devote an entire month to They Might Be Giants, and why I'm preemptively dreading John Henry. At this rate, I'm not even sure if Ben Folds Five is safe. On the other hand, while writing this essay I was reminded of a band called Dakota Suite whose music I kind of, sort of remember liking in tenth grade. I just bought their album Signal Hill on Amazon, and it's better than I remember. It's very Elliot Smith-y. I home time is as kind to the Apples in Stereo.