When: 22 November 2008
Where: San Joaquins en route south
Who: Assorted strangers
Book: More Information Than You Require by John Hodgman
The first time I went home from San Francisco, I was more nervous than I’d ever been. The bus connecting me to the station at Emeryville left the ferry building downtown at 4:00 AM, and I’d booked it not wanting to lose any time during Thanksgiving Break. I didn’t want to be late; in high school I had recurring nightmares about missing the bus which, to be fair, only came once an hour, and it was still in my system.
My answer to this was to wait until the last minute to leave my dorm, catch the last M Car, chill out in the subway station for the next three hours until it was time to go. The station closed at 1:00, so I was left to sit outside. It was Embarcadero Plaza, on the water, in the middle of the night in November. It was freezing and terrifying. I passed the time listening to Radiolab and reading More Information Than You Require under whatever light I could find. Finally the bus came. It started to get light in the East Bay, and I was on the train almost immediately.
I’d heard this song before, but found it conducive to the fast-moving bucolic landscape between SF and LA. I’d be home in time for lunch.
Next: Meet the Roommate
When: Evening, April 1994
Where: My mom’s ’88 Corolla
Who: My mom
In the ’80s, “pop music” stopped meaning “popular” and started meaning “if we call it disco, people won’t like it.”
The meaning of “Alternative” similarly decayed in the early ’90s. Alternative music first began in the late ’60s with Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground, but it didn’t fully come together until punk rock.
“Alternative” lost its meaning the moment Nirvana released Nevermind. This is the month Kurt Cobain died, and when Weezer came out to take their place, they were similarly “alternative.” Calling an entire genre topping the charts “Alternative” is kind of unfair to actual alternative music like Shoegaze, which had spent the last six years cutting a plethora of records.
In America at least, shoegaze peaked with this #44 single, Mazzy Star’s Fade Into You. With downloading and payola and Clear Channel, it’s impossible to know what is actually popular. We’re told “Pop” is popular even though everyone outside of Jersey seems to hate it. And “Alternative” was popular, but it isn’t called popular. The alternative to the alternative is Indie, which is equally meaningless and likely more popular than the rest of the bunch; it just isn’t included because it’s bought by people who know how to use a computer. From now on, let’s call things as they are.
Next: Disney goes into the VHS market, takes over the world.
When: April 1991
Where: My dad’s ’88 Corolla (radio tuned to KROQ-FM)
Who: My mom
The first time I heard this song, my uncle Jay was still referring to me as “The Baby,” so excuse me for what happened next.
“There’s No Other Way” by Blur has the honor of being the first song ever to get stuck in my head. After 1991, I never heard it. Which is why, after a while, I became convinced that I’d invented it. All I remembered of that song was Graham Coxon’s iconic opening riff. No lyrics, no band name, no information to speak of from the DJ.
Flash forward to February 2009. Things weren’t going so well at college, and I decided to get into Blur. I downloaded their first album, Leisure, from back in their shoegaze days and I play the first song, which is kind of long, so I skipped to the second track. What happened at that moment was the best possible outcome of this long, impossible situation. The very next thing I did was enter it into the playlist.
My teaser for this article was “What do you do when a song gets stuck in your head for 18 years, and you don’t know the name of the song, the artist, or the lyrics?” The answer unfortunately is nothing. I came across this song out of dumb luck. And it isn’t the only one I’ve had this problem with. Sadly, humming into your computer microphone will not get you very far.
Note: Certain memories are stronger than others, and as such I tend to focus on the song itself when it’s weak.
Next: The People vs. U2