If you know me, or at least know my work, you’ll know I like music. A lot. I write a comic book about music and bands. Music is a big part of my life. In fact music is probably as much a part of my life now as it was 20 years ago. I’ve written before about certain bands and albums that made me who I am today, and if I was asked to name my favorites it would be easy to rattle off ten at a time without having really to think about it.
It’s quite easy to have a “relationship” with a band. Bands like U2 and The Pixies are ones I’m in a lifetime relationship with. Might as well add Nirvana to that list. There are also bands you’re into for a time then lose interest in only to re-discover what you liked about them in the first place (Pearl Jam, R.E.M.). The bands you like become like friends you catch up with every few years. They’re older, you’re older but you’re both essentially the same, and it’s nice to catch up and see what’s new with them.
But not every relationship is for life. You fall out of love, you find you have less and less in common with the other band/person the older you get, you move away. And one day, you realize you’re just not into them anymore. It’s like the line of your life and theirs crossed paths at one point, and maybe you were on the same road with them for a bit, but they went their way and you went yours.
So what about the bands that are a short-time fling? The ones who you’re “with” for an album or two, and two, maybe three years, but then they go their way and you go yours and you never cross paths with them again? For me there’s four that spring to mind.
For the record I still love The Ghosts That Haunt Me, their 1991 debut. It was huge in Canada, but they didn’t achieve US fame until their follow-up, 1993’s God Shuffled His Feet. You know that one, just like you know that song Mmm-Mmm-Mmm-Mmm. It was everywhere in ’93. In ‘91, it was Superman’s Song you couldn’t escape in Canada.
Thing about the Dummies is they were (and remain) a pretty good band. Once you stepped outside their catchy if somewhat twee singles, they were like a less sloppy version of The Pogues. And Ghosts remains to me, a gem of an album about death and dying that somehow manages to remain chipper about it. Naturally it had enormous appeal to a gloomy teenager like me. I bought the cassette sometime in early 1992; I know this because it was winter, and the album will always be a winter album; where you start your car up and wait for it to warm, as your breath steams in the light of the console, and this album just happens to be in the deck. It’s a winter album because me and three friends drove to Kingston that March to see them, and almost got into an accident on the way back. It’s a winter album because it’s a chilly one, with the warmth of a fire on the hearth at the center. I listened to it enough, that when I listen to it as I write this, I still know the lyrics to pretty much every song.
But those songs and that album faded almost as quickly as I discovered the band. By spring, when the snows had melted and the days got warmer and longer I was listening to something else. By the time they released their follow-up in ’93 I couldn’t quite muster the effort or interest to go out and buy it. It was their breakthrough album and their biggest seller to date, but they slipped from the spotlight in its wake.
I still listen to Ghosts every now and then, and I picked up God Shuffled relatively recently. But that was it for me and the Crash Test Dummies.
I have two Faith No More albums in my collection; 1989’s The Real Thing, which everyone had, and its 1992 follow-up Angel Dust. And if you were to ask 1992 me what album I was most looking forward to, it would have been Faith No More’s. They hit big in that short, sweet spot between the decline of hair metal and the onslaught of Grunge. That funk-rap-metal hybrid aided by the Anthrax/PE mash-up of Bring The Noize, and Ice-T unleashing Body Count.
Yeah, I was a fan. A big fan. They were unique and fresh and exciting, and I nearly wore out my copy of Epic the summer I bought it. Every little bit of information I could find about their upcoming album was like Indy finding more clues to the Ark. I was so stoked for Angel Dust, especially when the early reviews proclaimed it a masterpiece. I watched with baited breath when MM’s The Wedge premiered the video on a Friday afternoon. I drove to the local record shop to plunk down money for it. It played in my car constantly that summer and in my dorm room at college that fall.
And by spring 1993, I was done.
For years I couldn’t figure out how a band I was into that much was one I could lose interest in so quickly, but looking back on it now I realize that Angel Dust was the climax of that relationship. I had anticipated it so much and for so long that when I got it finally it felt like I had reached the finish line. I listened to much of their later work and it didn’t have that same connection with me like they did before. I’d lost that groove. I’d found other music, other interests, and while I still like listening to those two albums, I haven’t bought a FNM album in 20 years. But listening to them now though, it feels for a moment like 1992, which is what all good albums and bands should be able to do; transport you.
At Lollapalooza 92, amidst Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and the RHCP, I was less interested in Ministry … but that was before I saw Ministry. Picture the scene. The sun is setting, and as night falls me and my friends realize these dark clad figures — Goths — have appeared in the crowd, seemingly out of nowhere. A wave of them is washing towards the stage, and the moment the sun slips below the horizon, Ministry takes to the stage. And the place goes INSANE. They are LOUD. Their stage set-up is INTENSE. Lights blasting, sound blasting, very theatrical – as a budding film student the show’s imagery had me in its spell. And when it’s over I know I have to discover more about this band.
A few weeks later I picked up Psalm 69, their newest album, and it became my soundtrack for frosh week as I settle into my residence room. Trips thru the local used record shops shagged me The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste and The Land of Rape and Honey. I blasted them constantly, prompting my roommate* to ask who they are. I dubbed him copies, and pretty soon he was hooked — really hooked. He was transformed from a slightly geeky, shy kid to a full blown industrial music addict. Ministry became his gateway to NIN, Front 242 and Sudbury’s own Malhavok. When they swing through Toronto that fall and play just up the street at Maple Leaf Gardens, roommate and I and one other snag tickets and are battered to a pulp in the pit as Ministry pummels our eardrums. It was a great show and a great night.
I realize now that show was the climax to my relationship with the band. I listened to them on and off in 93, but by the time they released Filth Pig in 96, I was kind of done. A taste I’d acquired and binged on, and then lost a taste for. I still spin Ministry from time to time, but it’s always that sweet spot of those 3 albums. The albums I fell in love with when I transitioned from High School to College life.
Okay, something of a confession; I’ve never really liked Smashing Pumpkins all that much, even though I have everything from Gish through Adore in my library. I even saw their headlining show at Lollapalooza ’94. Coincidentally or not that was the last Lollapalooza show I attended. They were good, just like their albums were good, and their songs were good, but they never quite reached nirvana (the state, not the band) with me.
I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that they were one of those bands I read about before experiencing. Butch Vig, who produced Nevermind, was producing their major label debut Siamese Dream, and SPIN had been talking them up relentlessly, giving the album a “green” light in an early review. Remember this was small-town Ontario in the early 90s – non AOR radio was as rare as a four leaf clover – so you looked to other outlets to find out what was cool. So I bought Siamese Dream cold, without having heard anything by the band. And as Cherub Rock unfolded, I knew I had made a great choice. Siamese Dream is a great album, and still holds up pretty well. I snapped up Gish, and a few years later their epic 2-album set Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I think that’s where I started to sour on them, only to realize I wasn’t that into them to begin with. They were just fine, and while I tried to stick with them and make it work, it turned out that they were going one way and I was going the other.
I think the Pumpkins are the musical equivalent of Anime or Manga. If it hits that sweet spot and you find yourself into it, you’re into it body and soul. And Pumpkins fans are into that band to the degree I never was. There’s nothing wrong with that; just that music affects different people differently.
So all of these bands were important to me at a point in my life, and for a relatively short period of time. Like those friendships that drift apart because you’re in a different place then they are. You may have moved on, you may periodically check in to see what they’re doing, but you pretty much realize it’s all over. But, you’ll still have the memories and the music.
* Know what’s sad? I actually can’t remember the name of that roommate. The set-up in my res was we shared a suite but the bedrooms were separate. He was in engineering, I was in film, and our paths didn’t really cross. He was from Edmonton, a town I lived in briefly in the early 1980s. Funny how some stuff you’ll remember clear as day, and others are lost to the murk and mire. Dude, if you’re out there and reading this, shoot me an email so I can apologize for forgetting your name.