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GLINT


If you could save me fom the ranks of the freaks who suspect they could never love anyone: 2.9.14


First, hi there. It’s been a while.

Second, since I am well trained by McSweeney’s over these many years, I know the secret to writing when you really don’t want to write. Or don’t know what to write about. Or question whether you really even write anymore. You make a list. And in so doing, you find yourself writing. It’s better if you can think of a quirky, witty little theme to your list. But it’s not required.

So, since this turned out to be much more of a Chihuahua-sized dog leg off my typically beaten path, I’m back in Chocolate City (can you still call it that after last year’s census results?) on a daily basis. The last few weeks have left my poor little blithering, semi-exhausted brain dribbled out along the train tracks between here and there. These days, I spend about 40% of my time in this new jobbie talking and about 30% writing down what I talk about. And where, you little mathaletes are wondering, does the remaining 30% of the time go? Well, minus the 10% commuting tax, the rest of it gets tucked into that little side pocket of time I like to refer loosely to as ‘my social life.’ But more on that later. Before this magical stage of existence in which I now find myself, I was apparently preoccupied with my little post-grad experiment (which worked!) for the past year to see if I was doctorate-ready. And before that…well, I wrote this. It’s starting to exceed its shelf life, so before it becomes too stale and I lose all interest, I figured I better throw it out there.

This is much more of a McSweeney’s list rather than, say, your Hornby-esque list. I didn’t start writing this to catalogue my favorite albums but to capture something more abstract. These are impact albums, not pure listening choices. These are a set of musical markers of self-awareness, self-discovery, even self-absorption. Music just matters. Maybe it was the way I was raised so it’s sui generis. It always has. I don’t remember ever questioning it. You must know that most of these albums are just bottom of the heap albums now. They aren’t what I love or necessarily listen to that frequently, and they certainly don’t stand out in my music collection as gems of obscurity or great finds. Looking over the list, they seem almost cliché, and maybe they are. But they mattered and still do. I just decided to try to write about why. It’s a list of ten albums. These are the first five.


Let It Be-The Beatles, age 7

I grew up listening to what my mother listened to at that time in her life—holdovers from her beatnik period before she married my father like Peter, Paul, and Mary, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Judy Collins, some Edith Piaf. Sometimes, as a treat, she would pull out her collection of singles from her teendom, all still stored in her (by then) vintage cardboard record file that would fan open like an accordion when she lifted the cover. My sister and I would mouth Leader of the Pack right in time to the Shangri-Las while miming the story in swoony, melodramatic gestures and twist to Elvis’ Hound Dog, heedlessly pawing the single’s miraculously mint original sleeve to retrieve it over and over again.

I am forever thankful that my mother cared about her music enough to seamlessly transfer that to me. On my 16th birthday, she gave me a 45 of The Crests singing 16 Candles and took me to the West Village so that I could go to Bleeker Street Records, where I recall I bought The Cure’s newly released Standing on a Beach, and then proceeded to fervently lecture my mother on its existential ties to Camus over a coffee shop espresso. Undoubtedly, she enjoyed the sweetly symmetrical irony of that day.

More than the folk music or her earlier doo wop though, the one constant on our living room turntable during the day-before my father got home from work and the sounds turned strictly jazz or classical-was The Beatles. My mother owned their entire catalog, from Please Please Me to Let it Be . Their last release is not my favorite Beatles album by far. Yet, I have a distinct memory of being about 7 years old and hanging over the record player watching the red apple in the center of this album spin around. The photo-realistic whole and halved Apple disk labels seemed somehow child-friendly to me then, as did the mere mention of a pony in the second track and the silly wordplay in I Me Mine. In Across the Universe, my child hearing transposed John Lennon’s “Jai guru” chant to Jackaroo, which simply made about as much whimsical sense as anything else that came out of his mouth did to me at that age. I always pictured a strangely hybrid giant hare bounding off upright on its bent kangaroo haunches, journeying through the strange, psychedelic landscape where Lennon’s lilt always invited me, an endless Sergeant Pepper’s carnival.

Listening to the album later in college, the happy childish simplicity of it felt far away. This was a harsher edged Beatles, roadhouse roughed up bluesy and so Americanized. And there are trails of bittersweet melancholy blazed through it—certainly in Paul McCartney’s title track, which my mother played often. Today, that song is one that I rarely play, reserving it for deep, sometimes darkly inquisitive moods of introspection. I wonder now how my mother heard it then, and why she played it as much as she did.


War-U2, age 11

I hate ruining my list with the uber-band so quickly. But I have to be honest. This doesn’t land on the list by virtue of being my favorite U2 album, not by a long shot. It appears here because this is the first album I bought with real purpose. This purchase, bestowed upon me by my father, felt important, the first time I felt like I was onto something that I knew would matter. Not just some newly breaking wave of a sound that would matter to everyone, but something that would matter to me. It started innocently enough.

One 7th grade night, I went over to Jeanette Gerrity's house to listen to records in her basement. This night closely followed the night of Jeanette’s birthday sleepover earlier that fall, which had coincided with the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. This was not a happy synchronicity for me, as I found myself sprawled across Jeanette’s rug between my two best friends wondering why this new music was eliciting such pleased squeals of admiration and if the other girls at the party really thought they looked anything less than totally ridiculous trying to dance to P.Y.T. In true ‘tween fashion, I kept these questions to myself, feeling the start of a grinding friction that would impede my pop acculturation only until I learned it didn’t have to. But on this night, I sulkily slumped through multiple listenings of the album, all the while feeling the first twinges of: I don’t have to like this. I know there’s something else but I just don’t know what it is yet. (Note: I did several years later come to appreciate Thriller, especially P.Y.T.)

Just a few months later, I found that first better thing right there in Jeanette’s basement, courtesy of her older sister, an utter Anglophile who had just returned from having spent time in the UK. I vividly remember looking down and seeing this album cover learning against the wall next to the record player, viscerally projecting the black and white photo of the boy whose violently troubled stare and bloodied lip alerted me to the fact that there were deep, complex problems in this world that I could not hope to understand. Eventually, I would learn to leave that up to Bono Vox, humanitarian extraordinaire.

But at the time, there was less mythos and more music to U2, and the first ricochet drumbeats of Sunday Bloody Sunday invited me into that, and held me enthralled all the way through to 40, the last track on the second side. Not that the album’s political consciousness was lost on me. It only added to the complexity of the songs, all of which were far more musically dense and driving than the sugary radio hits we’d all been cutting and rotting our teeth on so far. This was real music, The Edge’s nimble guitar layered over vague yet surely meaningful messages of hope and loss and uprising. This? Was no Thriller.

The next time I found myself downtown at Tower Records with my father—a frequent occurrence back then, usually culminating in my trailing away from him in the classical section to be found ogling people in the pop/rock section, trying to understand based on outward style and appearance who was drawn to what bins of which artists and why—I prevailed upon him to buy this album for me, heavily noting the gravitas of its geo-political significance. It was a small victory when he grudgingly agreed, my own personal coup, and as I paraded the album back home aloft in my garishly bright red and yellow bag, I knew the revolution could begin.


Life’s Rich Pageant-R.E.M, age 13

Someday, I picture myself with a nephew or a niece perched at my knee raptly soaking in the stories of my youth. And I will say to him or her, “Imagine, if you will, a time before R.E.M. It’s difficult, but trust me, it’s real. I was there.” Sometimes, something momentous happens to you and you realize it in the moment. Sometimes, you don't, and it isn’t until later that you realize. If you’re lucky, sometimes both happen. You’re hit with this tremendous lightning spike, and then, like a delayed reaction, the thunder kind of rolls up on you, later but with an equally surprising jolt. I got lucky with R.E.M.

In the summer of 1987, I was in Maine, at the lake house of my best friend at the time. We spent the days canoeing, kayaking, swimming, sunbathing, hiking, and of course, being 13-year old girls, bored as hell. In general, you understand. Nothing was exciting enough then. So, near the end of the vacation, when we were recruited as extra hands to help my friend’s brother move into his dorm at the University of Maine, we dully acquiesced. And that is how I found myself face to face with my first college hipsters.

Growing up down the road from my own state’s university, you’d think I’d encountered this phenomena before, and I had, but only from afar. I remember clomping up the 3 three flights of steep stairs in the massive Victorian converted dorm and entering a huge, sunny room. There were books and albums scattered, a giant King Crimson poster, and probably that Here’s Johnny poster from The Shining and such too, along with the requisite beers and bottles strewn, as well a wall randomly checkerboarded with art postcards and photo snaps, and inexplicably—I recall very clearly, for whatever reason—hardened toaster waffles nailed in. My friend’s brother’s roommates and friends were there, lounging in washed out t-shirts and courdoroy cut offs and chucks, the girls in vintage sun dresses. With my 13 year-old impeccable eye for mimicry, I remember standing there, sweaty and awkward, cataloging it all. And of course, they were listening to R.E.M. To be exact, Life’s Rich Pageant .

So while my friend and I, finally not so bored, tried to prolong our stay by sipping our sticky cans of Sprite slowly, letting the college kids pokingly tease us about high school and assuring them their cigarettes didn’t bother us, the album played all the way through in the background. I remember feeling like we were competing in conversation, like we were interrupting the dense narrative Michael Stipe was spinning, all through Cuyahoga’s poem and Fall on Me’s soaring refrains, and especially through the rockling profundities of I Believe.

When things trainsitioned over to the incandescent oil slick modernity of the first cd’s a few years later, this was the first album I bought. I did so almost without thinking, knowing that it was just a basic of that new library of jewel cased albums I’d build over the next many years. It already felt that classic.


Psychocandy-The Jesus and Mary Chain, age 15
Distortion. Dusk. Summer. Loud. Driving. Feedback. Over and over again, repeat play. Perfect.


13 Songs-Fugazi, age 16

One of my favorite nostalgia-fueled rants goes like this: There was a time when you had to make an effort to actualize your musical tastes. There was a time when you had to actively go seeking discovery of that not quite yet popularized sound. You might have gone looking in the most obvious place first—the record store, simply pawing through the album racks and relying on whim and luck, maybe a vague sense of instinct. Or, you might have wrestled your radio dial down among the lowest frequencies, jockeying it into position to pick up the weak signal of the nearest college station, remaining persistent through the static and patient through the set, to hear the run down of songs and bands delivered in that unshakable, deadpan undergrad monotone, maybe with a dash of commentary.

Or, you might have just done what I most often did, which could mildly be defined as stalking the cool. Less mildly, it could be defined as unabashedly latching on to whatever person or group of peers I deemed stylistically intriguing and musically inclined, and then just eavesdropping the hell out of whatever they might be listening to. Miraculously, if I was lucky, a handoff of Maxells in the high school hallway between periods would soon follow, with a casual, ‘Hey, made you a mix—there’s some Joy Division on there,’ or ‘Double sided Ramones for you.’ And I could hardly wait to pop open the plastic lid of my walkman right there and press play. But the point was you had to work for it. Or more accurately, you had to network for it.

This could not have been more true for the emergence of dc hardcore in the mid-80’s. By this point in my teens and musical tastes, I had fully honed my cool stalking skills to be stealthy, strategic, and much more aggressive. I was on the hunt then, and I wasn’t after the easy prey anymore. I wanted the bands that released their demos on tapes before studios even had a whiff of their scent to pick up on. I wanted the most obscure, most elusive, most prized. I wanted the underground. Sure, there was plenty of it, with albums from new bands like Gang Green and The Misfits snaking down from Boston and New York. But ironically, the luck of proximity and timing granted by living in the dc suburbs made the most cutting edge underground around almost immediately accessible.

But do you know what was better than cutting edge underground at age 16? Straight edge underground. Straight edge was an obscure term to me at first, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that it meant all-ages shows, starting and ending earlier, mushrooming out of damp church basements or pounding out of brightly lit community centers or electrifying the twilight in public parks. And that meant I was just old enough-just!- to mix in.

Which meant I had seen Fugazi live many times before I ever heard them recorded. Which, in turn, meant I barely thought about sitting in a room or a car just…sitting and listening like you would to any other album. Those shows were intensely intensified intensity. In other words: intense. Lester Bangs (music critic par excellence, circa the birth of punk) has this great shtick about whether a band is righteous or not. He never fully defines what this means, but it’s clearly some amorphous quality that lies somewhere between punk rock and authenticity of feeling, intent, and passion. To me, that adds up to: intensity. Probably, Ian McKaye would rather be thought of as righteous, but so what.

But I remember when J. gave me a cassette of 7 Songs, I played it endlessly, and then went down to Smash! in Georgetown-then, unbelievably, one of the few spots that carried Dischord-and bought 13 Songs on vinyl when it came out. By that point it was undeniable: obviously Minor Threat, then Bad Brains, Government Issue, Dag Nasty. There was something piercingly original and acutely direct about dc hardcore, Fugazi in particular. They came from where I just happened to be and turned it completely unfamiliar, so intoxicatingly subversive. Fugazi was stupefying. Fugazi was, more than anything I had heard yet, so terrifyingly present. I still feel lucky for having been there.


reflect - reinvent ....rayclaire@gmail.com... what i think... what i hear... what i see... where i'd like to be...


the black apple... the girl who... sarah brown... thunderpie... evany... jenny b harris... posie... claude le monde... artsy... fartsy... jeff... random person in texas... another rachel... smitten kitchen... more of me... still more of me... even more of me...and yet still more of me...more of me but not for free...


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