Thursday, October 13, 2016

When the music's over...

By 1987 I switched coasts from left to right.  I belonged in L.A.; the city of the fallen angels was a part of who I was. I'd spent an internship at UCLA writing for the LA Reader and the Hollywood Reporter and worked it, but New York was like its clubs, cordoned off with velvet rope. Suddenly I was a part of the fringe, and watched from afar. That was me at the Tunnel over at the railing by the tracks. I was at Spiderman's wedding reception, peed next to the Hulk (I think he was the best man). New York was surreal and I was writing it down, but I wasn't a part of it. (You were rude to me, if I recall; it's okay, I remember.) As a writer I watched as the new wave club scene evolved into house, then acid house. I was there at Nell's and Area, from the Saint through Mars; the club scene was vibrant and alive in New York, but it wasn't about the music, it was about the scene, about Michael Alig and James St. James. It was no longer about me.

Still, the music wasn't over. The list from '87 is sublime: "Just Like Heaven" (The Cure), "Girlfriend in a Coma" (The Smiths), "Strangelove" (DM), "Lips Like Sugar" (Echo and the Bunnymen), "True Faith" (New Order), "Dear God" (XTC). As it turns out, the music is never over ("Turn out the light…") It evolves, it transmogrifies, it steps back in time, but it's never over. The 90s tried to kill it. What started out as promises (Nirvana, Pearl Jam) never hit its stride, but sparse as they were, the 90s gave us Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer and NIN.
Two of the 90s best moments:
Odelay Beck (1996, AM10) I wouldn’t ordinarily admit this, but I can't say it better than Rolling Stone (2011): "The Woody Guthrie of the Pizza Hut proves he can do it all on Odelay, as the Dust Brothers slip him a funky cold medina and set the stage for him to get real, real gone for a change. Beck shimmies in and out of his musical guises, whether he's strumming his folky guitar in 'Ramshackle,' rocking the Catskills hip-hop style in 'Where It's At' or blaming it on the bossa nova in 'Readymade.' Odelay could have come off as a bloodless art project, but Beck gets lost in the jigsaw jazz and the get-fresh flow until his playful energy makes everyone else sound tame."

Wildflowers – Tom Petty (1994, AM10) Wildflowers resonates with relaxed confidence, joyful wonder and melancholy beauty. The earthy, crisp sound is a perfect complement to both Petty's voice and his songs. The simple instrumentation (powered by Steve Ferrone's minimal drumming) hides the complexity of the work, and lyrically this is Petty's strongest, if simplest album. "You Don't Know How It Feels" and "Hard On Me" deal with the pain of isolation. "Only A Broken Heart" and the title track are almost reassurances, like it's okay to suffer the pain 'cuz you're headed somewhere better. In "Wake Up Time," a fitting coda, Petty especially confronts his age with wisdom, reflection, even a little pessimism and wonder ("You were so cool, back in high school, What happened?"). "It's Good to be King" is an inarguable classic, a mellow, stirring tome on which Michael Kamen lends his beautiful orchestration and a piano melody by Benmont Tench enhances the already gorgeous ending to the nth degree. It's almost hypnotically sublime.