In the summer of 1998 I got a job working at Tower Records, in a perfunctory way fulfilling my lifelong dream of being a snotty, college record store dude. I would have been shocked to learn that a mere dozen years later this particular breed of insufferable teenager would be a dying one. It’s as if a light has gone out of the world.
When I had some free moments away from making people uncomfortable for buying Barenaked Ladies and/or Limp Bizkit albums, I took advantage of the store’s employee discount to fill out my record collection. I bought albums by groups like The Psychedelic Furs, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Replacements, X, and Gang of Four and discovered somewhat newer bands like Mercury Rev, Sleater Kinney, and Girls Against Boys through promotional albums sent to the store.
I came out of the experience with an obsession for arranging my CDs in ever more complex organizational systems and an unhealthy taste for distorted Shoegaze pop that I’ve never really been able to shake. Here are some more songs on the countdown:
In the winter of 1996, my friend Anne lent me an LP titled 30˚ Everywhere – the first full-length record by Milwaukee’s The Promise Ring. It was a slightly odd entry point into a world of independent music – especially for someone living in DC during the reign of Fugazi – but the raw, intensely personal sound of the album was like nothing I’d ever heard.
My experience with 30˚ Everywhere opened up a world of bargain bins and indie record stores and out-of-the-way venues that had previously passed me by, and I began to devote large amounts of time attempting to immerse myself in a burgeoning scene that I knew existed but that never seemed to get any attention on the radio.
I made some stunningly bad album purchases during this period, and was forced to make more than one quick retreat from some dismal, unfriendly skate punk showcase (I’m thinking particularly of an ill-advised attempt to see the opening act at a Gameface show at The Black Cat in 1998), but I had successfully discovered a real alternative to the confusingly dubbed “alternative” music that was dominating the airwaves and the reviews sections of my Rolling Stone and Spin subscriptions. I began to feel a personal connection and sense of involvement with the new music I was hearing, and the effect was exhilarating.
Not that I stopped listening to the Counting Crows or anything. I mean, let’s be real here. These are 20 more songs:
In the summer of 1991, my parents took me and my cousin Tim to Chincoteague, Md., for a week’s vacation in a beach house. I remember particularly that there were red jellyfish, and that we discovered a bottle of gin hidden in a secret cabinet in the bedroom we were sleeping in, and that Tim, who was four years older and about ten years cooler than I was, had brought just one cassette to play as we cruised around the island in his busted-ass hatchback Honda Civic terrifyingly attempting to “pick up chicks”. And that it blew my fucking mind.
After a week nonstop of listening to Out of Time, I went home and bought the tape for myself, and then scrounged up the pocket money to buy everything R.E.M. had ever made, as well as an abysmally written book called Remarks: The Story of R.E.M., where I studied up daily on R.E.M. trivia in case I ever found myself sitting a surprise final exam on “all the most important pop music ever”. I would later learn that there were other bands.
Eight years and a couple of thousand trips to the record store later, the entire world would be destroyed by the Millenium Bug, but I managed to listen to some wonderful songs along the way. Here are some of the best of them, ranked, absurdly, from 200 to 1.
I’ve been told that people on the Internet won’t read prose anymore unless it’s been cut down into bite-size, manageable chunks for Web consumers. Nuggets. That if you want to grab someone’s fleeting attention on this speeding superhighway of information and reach the front page of Digg.com, your best bet is to distill the information you want to convey into a Top 10 List.
I am therefore very pleased to announce that this blog is now less focused on “writing” and more focused on compiling easily digestible lists of things.
Here is my first Top 10 List. I hope very much that you and your short attention spans enjoy it.
1. From a Letter of Recommendation I Was Asked to Write
Mr. Ryder has been a colleague of mine for more than two years (we share opposite sides of a desk), and what he lacks in creativity he more than makes up for in boisterousness. In Charles, you will find an employee who is never at a loss for words, which he adeptly strings together at all times and in no particular order. It is my great pleasure to recommend him for employment in your organization – not just because I will at last have an entire desk to myself (I am not so shallow!) but because I genuinely believe that he will thrive in an environment where his garrulousness is allowed free reign and his intellect is not overtaxed. If your office is such a place, then I am wholly convinced that he will fit right in.
2. From a Post-It Note, to Remind Myself of Something
Don’t forget! When you’re in a bad mood, the combination of gin, painkillers, and uppers can sometimes ruin a friendship! :0)
(Also, lunch with the Andersons is off this Sunday.)
3. From a To-Do List
1. Prepare To-Do List
2. Decide on Items to Include in the List
3. Write List in Entirety
4. Read over List
5. Mentally Separate Those Items That Have Been Completed From Those That Have Not
7. Cross Off Completed Items
4. From an E-Mail to My Mother
Dearest mother – thank you for your kind and forceful invitation to come and visit you in St. Catherine’s. Sadly, I fear I must remind you that my engagement on this latest archaeological expedition has been extended into the indefinite future. I assure you that as soon as I return from Kharkhorin, it will be my first priority to stop by with news of my travels and to investigate the unfortunate incidents with the staff in your ward that you have so diligently enumerated in your latest e-mails to me. Goodbye for now, or as they say here in Mongolia, Bayartai!
5. From a Response to a Judicial Summons
I would also like to complain about the language used by the arresting officer during our encounters. On both occasions, Sgt. Wooster stated that “anything I say can and will be used against me in a court of law”. If it is indeed true that everything I say will be repeated in court, then I should like to take this opportunity to state for the record that Sgt. Wooster is an ass and a cretin, who wouldn’t recognize a tautology if it knocked him down and read him his Miranda rights. I am aware that a restraining order is a restraining order, and that – as you have astutely pointed out – ignoring one brings appropriately dire consequences. But must the violation really be met with such willful vapidity?
6. From a Shopping List
1. Sandwich Fixin’s
2. Picnic Basket
3. Magazines (New Yorker, Harpers, The Economist)
4. Wool Sweater (Black)
5. Ski Mask (Black)
6. Camouflaged Treestand
8. Digital Video Camera
9. Change of Underpants
7. From a Sympathy Card
What I remember most about your son (and my dear neighbor) is not that he owed me 15 dollars from our bet that he could not jump from his balcony to mine, nor that he had just consumed half a bottle of my very best rum, nor even that he tragically landed on my brand-new Schwinn touring bicycle. What I remember most is his youthful vivacity, his tender nature, and the fact that he could always be counted on to pay his debts. Shall I send the bill to your address or to his executor?
8. From a Note Left on Someone’s Car
So sorry – I think I accidentally broke your right front headlight when backing out of my parking space! Please do not try to find me, or I will be forced to come back and break the left one as well.
9. From a Posting in the Personals Section of Craigslist
m4w: SWM seeking d/df, hwp SF who also likes acronyms.
10. From a Discarded Blog Entry
Top 10 Best Things About Being Alone
1. Having lots of time to yourself.
2. Not having to go out because no one has invited you out and you don’t want to go out anyway.
3. Spending time with the cat.
4. Cats are unable to file restraining orders.
5. They just scratch.