Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mix Tapes I Have Known #3: "M------," 1994

Ah, cassettes. They still seem fashionably retro to me, a spot I realize CDs in general probably occupy for everyone under the age of 30. The box of mix tapes dating from my pre-millennial youth still sits in the garage, a bit dusty and cobwebby, but full of strange memories. Here's another dive into the navel-gazing world of nostalgia:

The tape: "M------"

Year created: Spring 1994

Who it was for: Let's pretend the wife doesn't read my blog. This one was for an old girlfriend, who we shall call "M" here as frankly we're all old and married and have kids and stuff now. But once upon a time, I was a worldly college senior and she was a dimple-cheeked freshman, I was full of ego and she was extraordinarily kind, and we hooked up for a few short weeks. Time was the enemy, though - we got together about 6 weeks before the end of the school year, and I was off to New York City for a big fancy internship with "Billboard" magazine and she was off to New Orleans. Can you keep a relationship that's just started going when you spend an entire summer apart?

The answer, of course, was "no." Although I wrote her often (real letters, no email then!) and we tried, we drifted apart over those three months. When we all came back to school in the fall, she had another boyfriend and that was that. The summer of 1994 is an exceedingly strange time in my mind, even now -- all by myself in the biggest city in the world, the universe full of potential and every detail of sprawling Manhattan etched in my mind.

I sent her this tape as summer began, trying to hold on to things.

Track listing:


1. To Sir With Love (Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant) 2. Swimming In Your Ocean (Crash Test Dummies) 3. May This Be Love (Jimi Hendrix) 4. Into My Life (Colin Hay Band) 5. All I Want (Toad The Wet Sprocket) 6. Gentleman Who Fell (Milla) 7. Bottle Of Fur (Urge Overkill) 8. The One I Love (R.E.M.) 9. Somebody (Depeche Mode) 10. Different Light (The Bangles) 11. When I'm 64 (The Beatles) 12. That's All (Genesis) 13. Stay (Amy Grant)


1. The Best Is Yet To Come (Frank Sinatra) 2. That Feel (Tom Waits) 3. I Would For You (Jane's Addiction) 4. Bent Out Of Shape (Replacements) 5. Tear In Your Hand (Tori Amos) 6. Do You Love Me Now? (Breeders) 7. Within You (David Bowie) 8. That Voice Again (Peter Gabriel) 9. Wink (Blue Mountain) 10. Luna (Smashing Pumpkins) 11. All Apologies (Nirvana)

What this says about my music tastes at the time: Actually, I'm not as embarrassed by this one as I am by some other mix tapes I made. Kurt Cobain was recently dead and so was grunge, and there's a nice mix of pop, alternative rock and out-of-nowhere clangers. I was getting to be a bit more eclectic in my tastes, I think.

What was I thinking? But then again, there's an Amy Grant song here. Amy freakin' Grant. I honestly don't even know how that got on there.

This song could totally be taken the wrong way: "This one goes out to the one I love / this one goes out to the one I've left behind / another prop has occupied my time." - R.E.M., The One I Love

Seriously, I think I overdid it: "Love" is in at least four song titles and most of the songs here are on that topic. Considering we were only dating a few weeks, I probably came on too strong.

Clever left-field choices: You can't go wrong with a dash of Tom Waits, and I love the jaunty feel of the Sinatra song kicking off side 2. I've always thought Crash Test Dummies were rather unfairly maligned as one-hit wonders, and "Swimming In Your Ocean" is a nice little gem off their "God Shuffled His Feet" album.

Totally obvious choice: I think I used "That's All" by Genesis on at least 75% of the mix tapes I ever made. I love that song, but yeah, kind of a cliche. And ending with "All Apologies" seemed quite poignant just weeks after Cobain's death, but might be a bit forced now. Still, overall, I rather like this tape and what it was about the wide-eyed boy from Mississippi I was then, off to New York City for a summer that - cliches be damned - kind of changed everything for me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I'll look it up in the encyclopedia

I realise that there is an awful lot of things that Peter, age 8, may never really grow up with that his dad, 40, took for granted. The notice today that the Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer produce a print edition was another one of those little milestones on the road to the future.

I remember spending an awful lot of time idly paging through my parents' old encyclopedias growing up -- a rather ancient World Book set that was so old I think Harry Truman was still listed as US President, another "newer" set that probably was out of date around 1970.

Flipping through the dusty volumes was a good occasional pastime for a bookworm kid, if I wanted to know about mining bauxite or Greek history or what classification of animal a tapir was, it was the place to go. I was never quite as obsessive as A.J. Jacobs who read every word of the Britannica in his very funny book "The Know-It-All" but it was a place to gather the bits and bobs of the world, which seemed a lot more mysterious then than now. I loved any slightly offbeat reference books, like the wonderfully esoteric "Book Of Lists" series that I read to pieces, or the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, 1982 edition, that I absorbed like a sponge.

When so much information is available so instantly today it's kind of hard to imagine those pre-Wiki days, when you had to hunt to find out things you didn't know. I don't really miss those days too much, practically speaking -- it's fabulous to be able to learn the details of the T. Rex discography from no less than a dozen or so authoritative sources online instantly, just to use one recent example. And as a journalist, the Internet is a reporter's best friend. But there is something sepia-toned and nostalgic about the way so many things we once thought were essential - a set of encyclopedias, a fancy stereo system, a rotary phone - are going away. Bookstores close and I will miss them. I'll miss the encyclopedia, in its clunky analogue way, even if I haven't actually looked at one in probably 20 years.

My childhood in the 1970s will seem as far away to Peter as he comes of age in the 2010s as the Wild West or Civil War. He was only about 4 or so when the phrase "Google it" came into his vocabulary, a true son of the Internet. Dad still has his mountains of books and actual CDs and comic books to reassure himself -- as much as I love my iPad and iPhone and iPods, I am warmed somewhere deep inside by the notion of the physical too, comforted somehow by a full plump bookshelf bristling with titles. It's not the best thing for a guy who works on the internet to admit these days, but I don't quite trust people who haven't any books in their homes.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Concert Review: Urge Overkill, Auckland, March 6

Some bands will always take you to a certain time in your life. For me, Urge Overkill is the sound of 1993.

Urge were a bit of the odd man out in the mid 1990s, the era of grunge. I loved the whole grunge thing, but Urge's vibe were more old-school 70s arena rock - taking a tip from bands like Cheap Trick and Kiss, but with songs also steeped in the Husker Du/Replacements style of gritty punkpop. The band dressed like hipster dandies and never wore flannel. They even had a logo, for crying out loud - how un-grunge!

But I loved Urge Overkill, particularly the one-two punch of their great power pop albums "Saturation" and "Exit The Dragon," their last gasp before the band broke up in the mid 1990s. Their biggest popular hit was their cover on Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" from the movie Pulp Fiction, a great song but not really representative of the Urge's full talents. At their best, Urge were hard-rocking, witty, and slick in a groovy kind of way.

Because no bands ever break up forever any more, a reunited Urge Overkill came to the Kings Arms in New Zealand this week for their first show in decades - whippet-thin frontman Nash Kato looking barely aged a day since the 1990s, with his sunglasses and floppy hair. Eddie "King" Roeser and Kato traded off vocals and guitar licks in a fun hour or so set. Pal Bob and I went to check it out.

I remember listening to "Saturation" incessantly in 1993, living in this wee tiny trailer with cinderblock bookcases. At 22 or so, at a point when you have no idea where you're going to end up in life, Urge's "Positive Bleeding" was a kind of anthem for me -- "I live my life with no control of my destiny / I can bleed when I want to bleed."

There was a heap of 1990s nostalgia going on for the Urge's reunion show down here. Sometimes muddy sound and a smallish crowd didn't dim the band's terrific energy. Highlights includes a great show-opening turn on "Positive Bleeding," plus welcome takes on "Saturation" album cuts "Bottle of Fur" and "Heaven 90210," two of my favorites. Urge also dipped into their fun new "comeback" album "Rock 'N' Roll Submarine" a few times, which maintains the feel of their 1990s work very well. "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" was hauled out for the encore with a raggedy loose version, while the pounding "Sister Havana" wrapped things up. Urge put on a tight, good-natured show, looking happy to hit New Zealand on their second life. Glad to see you guys too, and thanks for making me feel like it was 1993 all over again for an hour or so.

Another review, with cool video here: The 13th Floor

And the great video for "Positive Bleeding":