That whole “what ten albums meant the most to you” thing went around a few weeks ago, and it got me thinking that it wasn’t really albums that were the soundtrack to my adolescence. Oh, there were albums of course. Some stuff I heard on the radio, like Nirvana. Some I got from friends, like Portishead and (so you know I’m not making up better taste than I had) Sublime.
But it was mix tapes that really sort of opened up the sonic world to me. I got one or two from kids at summer camp – there was an older boy from New York who had a big collection of hardcore tapes by bands like Sick of It All and Minor Threat, which my father described as “music for assholes.”
I must have been in 10th grade when a friend’s cooler older brother, who went to a cool sort of alternative school, got a tape from his even cooler friend (I never met her, but I remember being awed that someone could be named Zee), and made a copy for me. Needless to say, I never saw the videos on MTV or heard the songs on the radio, and the tape didn’t even have liner notes. I didn’t know the names of most of these bands. I found a few over the years and bought some of the albums. And I mean years – I was listening to some of these things for ages before I found out who wrote them.
That tape was the one that introduced me to trippy stuff like The Orb’s “Little Fluffy Clouds” and the oddly beautiful noise of Medicine’s “Arcua” (Give it a moment. Give it several moments. Let it play until you think it’s never going to be anything but screeching… and then it collapses into a melody. It’s beautiful.)
And oh boy, The Drowners, by Suede. It sounded best with the bass turned up way too high, so that fuzz in the lead guitar riff hit you right in the gut, and it sounded positively pornographic. It was transgressive and dirty and bad and you just KNEW your parents were going to hate it. It was perfect.