Saturday, March 7, 2009
20 Albums That Changed My Life
This was a chain letter going around on Facebook and I had so much fun writing it that i decided to post it here, too. The internet begats the internet.
Guns N Roses “Appetite for Destruction”
This was the first rock record I got, and man did it set the standard high! I love that somewhere in L.A., sometime in the ‘80s, some dudes were chugging one of those three-liter bottles of Carlo Rossi and going, “Let’s start a band that sounds like Aerosmith on sherm,” and one of those dudes was half Black, just like me.
Metallica “Ride The Lightning”
I had “…And Justice for All,” and worked backwards to this one after I borrowed the “Cliff ‘em All” video from a guy on my Little League team. I heard “Creeping Death” and was like, “This is what metal’s supposed to sound like!” I was an expert. I was ten.
Green Day “Dookie”
When I was fifteen, my family was moving from Boston to Richmond, and we stayed with my aunt in Connecticut for a while. We’ll call this time the Middle Passage. Anyway, I was sleeping on her couch at night, watching “The State,” and in the day, I’d try to skate on the hill that she lived on. One night, the video for “Longview” came on and it hit home because it was a song about spending your summer being bored and angsty, beating off on the couch. And what was I doing that summer? I was being bored and angsty on the couch, beating off. If my memory serves me right, at the end of the video, I hopped off the couch with my dilznick in my hand and yelled, “This is MY music, yo!” But, that’s probably not what happened.
Gang Starr “Step in the Arena”
For Christmas in seventh grade, one of my aunts got me a $10 gift certificate to Strawberry’s or Sam Goody or something. This was when an album usually cost $8.99 and we had to walk uphill both ways to get to the junior high. Anyway, my dad took me to the record store. They kept the sexually unfettered Negro music behind the counter, and there on that shelf was Gang Starr. I’d heard good things and just got into “The Low End Theory,” so I got this album. I was twelve, and my suburb was beginning to feel small, so it was great to hear this hip-hop group with Boston connections, and let my own town feel all the cooler. Since Gang Starr really championed Brooklyn on their later (and better) albums, it’s little known that Guru actually grew up in Boston. For a minute there though, they were ours.
This was awesome in seventh grade because it was a perfectly timed point of entry into this esoteric punk/indie world that created inside jokes and made junior high tolerable. Then in eighth grade it was super confusing when all of the preppie girls started dressing like skaters, but still wouldn’t talk to me.
Fugazi “Steady Diet of Nothing”
People cut on this album a lot, but I like it. It was the first one I heard. In seventh grade, my friend Matt taught me how to ollie on a skateboard, he told me about Fugazi, he chastised me when I mixed them up with Nirvana, and he called his sister a slut when she came downstairs, tucking in her shirt, after her boyfriend left the house when their parents weren’t home. Seriously though, give this album some love. What twelve year old boy won’t pop a new kind of semi to lyrics like “Lying on our backs/This is your parents' bed/A good place to be laid 'cos it's so neatly made/Staring at the ceiling/Vein to vein the lines look the same…”
Social Distortion “S/T”
I got a used tape of this at a shady record store on Broad St. in Richmond. A couple years later, my band practiced upstairs. A couple years after that, it became college dorms. It may be a Five Guys now. Does anyone remember Record Exchange on Broad St. in the mid-‘90s? The tape’s case is part melted. It’s plodding, snarly guitar music played by people who call rock music “rock ‘n’ roll,” but not in the way that black people do when they make fun of white music. It’s so vacuous that I played it every day at the beginning of twelfth grade, after I got dumped by a straight edge girl and was too depressed to listen to any of my records that had “deep” lyrics, like Sensefield or Texas is the Reason.
Jawbreaker “24 Hour Revenge Therapy”
Speaking of music with “deep” lyrics, me and said straight edge girl played this tape twice through when we drove from Richmond to DC in her Jetta to see a museum exhibit on beat poets. We started dating that day. I remember looking at her driving to “I love you more than I ever loved anyone before or anyone to come. Someone said your name and I thought of you alone, but I was still the same, twenty blocks away.” I really liked the “twenty blocks away” part, being relatively new to city life and enamored with the idea of lives piled on top of other lives. This was the first album I had that I associated with a relationship. Like many other punky couples in the mid-‘90s, Jawbreaker was “our” band. Mountain dew was “our” drink. We broke up. Jets to Brazil was a letdown. She wound up in a halfway house. I drank on twenty-five pounds.
Run DMC “Raising Hell”
The first record I ever got. Still have it and it still has abrasions at the beginning of “It’s Tricky,” from where I scratched it one morning on my Dad’s old record player. I was probably wearing sweatpants. I was in third grade. I still have that record player. The next year, my Dad took me to see “Tougher Than Leather” at a seedy movie theater in Boston. What a cool guy. Just got this email from him: “DUDE!!!!!!!!!!!! You are MUCH better looking that Justin Timberlake!!!!!!!!
Michael Jackson “Bad”
My parents would clear the coffee table out of the living room and play “Thriller” while my sister and I danced to it. We couldn’t go to the back of the room because then we’d make the record skip. I’d hide behind my Mom’s legs when Vincent Price came on “Thriller.” “Bad” was the first time I was excited about the impending release of an album; the first time I remember counting down to the release date so that I could finally hear it. Years later, my dad told me he thought it was a letdown, but in 1986, my mother bought a pair of glittery silver gloves, and I got the left one because I’m a lefty, and my friend Dave got the right hand one, and we all know that shiny gloves trump the opinions of forty year old men forever plus infinity.
Before they turned into a cut-rate Silver Bullet Band, the Constantines sounded like Bruce Springsteen and Paul Westerberg singing for Fugazi. I first heard these guys in a tattoo parlor on Bowery. My friend Myles was working there and Sharon and I had stopped in. I was twenty-five, starting to leave the band life behind. I found this album used and played it while cooking, kicking myself, amazed that someone else had started a band that sounded like what I wanted my own music to sound like, and there I was, winding down playing music, frying tofu, tying one on and screwing up at my office job.
Saturday Night Fever OST
An all-time low was when I was standing in line in a Dunkin’ Donuts on 6th Ave. in Manhattan, wearing thrift store Dockers, on my lunch break from my stupid office job, bobbing my head to “Staying Alive.” Before ordering a donut and iced coffee, I realized that that week, two years before, I’d been at the beginning of a 100-day punk rock band tour, having sex in a car in a rainstorm, and then sleeping on a beach. What happens to our priorities as we age?
Leonard Cohen Best Of
Bought this and Karp’s “Suplex” on my way home from work when I was sixteen and grounded because my parents had caught me smoking pot in the apartment. Cohen has this great way of using self-deprecation to put the subjects of his songs on a pedestal. He also gave glimpses of this tempestuous, jet-setting bohemian life that I began to aspire to while in eleventh grade.
Beck “One Foot in the Grave”
A couple long weeks after we moved to Richmond, my best friend from Boston was in Baltimore, visiting his grandmother. My parents were nice enough to make a daytrip to Maryland so I could see him. I was already into “Mellow Gold,” and found this CD at a strip mall indie record store in Baltimore. Within fifteen minutes, I had to say goodbye to my best friend, be bummed that I had to drive three hours to find a good record store, and then get in a car back to Richmond, after getting about a third of the way back to Massachusetts. I played this album at night when I couldn’t sleep and was tired of reading Sherlock Holmes stories. I was staying in my father’s childhood bedroom. The street we lived on was super narrow, and the boomin’ systems in cars would set off the alarms in parked cars up the block as they cruised by. I loved the photos on the insert. It looked like Beck was this weird stoner guru who lived in a big house with these other guys who all jammed with him, and they made records in the living room. I’d hope that life in Richmond would be like that. This was the first album that got me interested in the idea of boiling down a song until it’s just a person and a guitar.
Wu-Tang Clan “Enter The 36 Chambers”
This guy Gabe who insisted that Jeru was “Jeru the Dah-mah-zhah,” not “Jeru the Damager,” taped this for me when I was in ninth grade. It sounded like it was from another planet where thugs were also geeks and they hung around together all the time, making up new words.
Convinced my uptight punk rock ass that hip-hop was still awesome even though I’d stopped paying attention in 1995 when it was “too materialistic” and I held all artists to unfair ethical standards. I first heard it when I was smoking pot with one of my friends from class and his roommate who was one of those weird white guys who was racist but didn’t realize it. I remember we got all stoned, then the roommate guy put this album on and talked about how it made him “just want to sit around on the porch, eating chicken.” Then I got the munchies, and ate one of their pot brownies, and when I got home that night, the brownie kicked in and I just lay on my bed replaying the rain noises at the beginning of the first Black Sabbath album. Other things about those guys: They had an Insane Clown Posse-influenced band that had a fast punk song that was an ode to me. The racist guy was the primary vocalist, and he mainly rapped. But, he also talked about how the “nigger basketball players” on his dorm floor made too much noise. Confused yet? Isn’t it weird that I was so jumpy about my music, but still hung out with the likes of this guy?
Prince “Purple Rain”
Just a favorite record. I heard it on the radio all the time when I was five, and then my Dad played it at home a lot. It’s amazing. Prince is amazing. He didn’t change my life because I feel like he’s always been a part of it. This record’s got something for most every mood. I’ve cried to it, I’ve danced to it, I’ve thrown it on for the fuck of it. It’s all things to me. I love it.
Pharcyde “Bizarre Ride II”
The soundtrack to the end of eighth grade, when I was just old enough to go into the city on my own. I was about to go into high school and was listening to a crew of friends, just out of high school, telling all of the embarrassing and crazy stories of their teenage years, but making all of the lousy shit just seem light-hearted. Favorite lyric, “I got more flavors than 7-11 Slurpees/If Magic can admit he got AIDS, then fuck it, I got herpes.”
Elliott Smith “Either/Or”
Back to the “one guy with a guitar” thing. I played this every day summer of 1998 when I was first living on my own. I’d even take bummed out walks with it on my headphones when I couldn’t sleep. It was kind of a guilty pleasure because it was a lot wimpier than the hardcore I usually listened to, or the 1970s glam that my macho older brother-figure roommate would play.
The Newton Free Library
I need to just give props to the public library in the town where I grew up. In eighth and ninth grade, I taped a lot of albums that I checked out from here. It’s how my $5 a week allowance having ass got into punk. It’s where I first heard the Velvet Underground, The Cramps, The Buzzcocks and The Clash. This Jose Cuervo Silver shit ain’t bad. On sale at Jewel/Osco as I type!
PS - Photo stolen from Nick Pinkerton. I assume it's his back.