24 March, 2010

Confessions of an MTV Generation Traitor

Those who haven't heard the story before, and know what a big part of my life music is these days, might be surprised to learn that I didn't even start listening to music until at least halfway through high school, when I finally turned on to the music my parents had subconsciously planted an appreciation for in my head, by playing it throughout my formative years. That, of course, would be the music of their generation, focused on the late 60's and early 70's. Guitar-based rock n roll, with a heavy blues flavor (which is a refinement I later picked up on).

As for the music of my generation, it never really hit me. And I also, to an extent, consciously distanced myself from it because I've always associated it with my peers, and I never felt particularly like I could relate to my peers. But that doesn't mean that a song or two wasn't able to break through my defenses now and then. I have, in fact, (a while ago now) collected a disc's worth of those songs together in a compilation that I'm not especially vocal about having - because, although I might "like" these songs (albeit not on the same level as the songs I'm more vocal about liking), I don't want to give people the impression that I like this kind of music, because I don't especially, and I'm not exactly eager to get a bunch of like-minded recommendations. After all, these are mostly songs I noticed before I realized what it was I liked about music (which also implies that these songs don't have it, at least not nearly to the same extent (and if I had to take a guess as to what "it" is, I would say compelling electric guitar leads)).

But in the spirit of Satanic Thoreau's recent foray into pop music, I thought maybe I'd dust these songs off and pull them out of hiding, once and for all. Though instead of pop, most of these are probably what would be called "alternative".

Ironically, this collection is titled "Modern" even though, by now, all of these songs are at least a decade old. I guess nothing stays modern for very long. I'll take suggestions for a new title if you've got any.

No Doubt - Don't Speak [1995]
To me, this was a powerfully emotional song. Just in the way it sounded and the melancholy lyrics and all. "Don't tell me cause it hurts." Unfortunately, whatever respect I may have once had for Gwen Stefani was tossed out the window with Hollaback Girl. I don't know what a "hollaback girl" is, all I know is that I want her dead.

Garbage - Push It [1998]
And this is what I thought of as an "intense" song back in the day. I always liked the line (and the way it was presented in the song), that goes, "this is the noise that keeps me awake; my head explodes and my body aches", and then bam! "Push it, make the beat go harder."

Pearl Jam - Do The Evolution [1998]
Despite my stance against admitting Pearl Jam into the pantheon of Classic Rock this is one song by them that I've always liked. It's a pretty good rocker, and I like the vocals, and I remember it having a pretty neat amazing animated music video that caught my attention once upon a time. "It's evolution, baby!"

Rammstein - Engel [1997]
German band with a kind of "industrial" flavor. It's a pretty good song, and I like the dynamic that exists between the male and female vocals. (I won't mention the topically relevant Eva AMV).

Radiohead - Paranoid Android [1997]
Radiohead - Karma Police [1997]
These Radiohead tracks were added later on, as I have no recollection of being aware of any Radiohead songs specifically when Radiohead was fresh (although I do recognize the video for Karma Police (the video for Paranoid Android just confuses me - and not in a good way - but the song is good)). My only connection to them really is through a guitarist/friend of mine I knew in college. I didn't quite agree with him that Radiohead was the logical progression in bands to listen to after the likes of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd (generation gap, anyone?), but I certainly don't hate these songs. (Fake Plastic Trees came a little bit later still).

Natalie Imbruglia - Torn [1997]
It's funny, because this song also turned up on Satanic Thoreau's Immaculate Pop collection (linked above). The one thing about this song that really stands out is the lyric "lying naked on the floor". That was all it took for me. Also, though I don't usually go for the short hair look, I have to admit Natalie is pretty cute in the video. Interestingly, I remember when she first came on the scene, and in an MTV news break, Kurt Loder (I presume) came on to inform us all that the 'g' in "Imbruglia" was indeed silent.

Madonna - Frozen [1998]
I was too young for Madonna's first wave, but I remember her "comeback". Although I've never invested much time or attention into Madonna's music, I always quite liked this particular song. I remember at one time thinking that it could be enhanced with some passionate guitar licks over top (or even in place) of the humming. I still think so. Beautiful video, by the way. "You only see what your eyes want to see; how can life be what you want it to be? You're frozen, when your heart's not open."

Soundgarden - Black Hole Sun [1994]
In truth, this is a good song, but even if it wasn't, I'd still like the title, because it's a fascinating concept. I recall the music video being pretty surreal, which adds to the appeal. But the idea of the sun, giver of all light, changing into a black hole, to suck everything away, is deliciously fatalistic. "Hang my head, drown my fear, till you all just disappear."

Orgy - Blue Monday [1998]
I would say that this is merely an okay song, but the driving beat and repeated line "how does it feel" is pretty infectious. Also, I like the distortion. Very fuzzy.

Fiona Apple - Criminal [1996]
This was, hands-down, without a doubt, the sexiest music video I had (and still have) ever seen. For a long time it was a guilty pleasure not because I didn't want to admit to liking the song, but because I was afraid to admit to watching such a sexy video. But damn. Ok, so it's kind of sleazy, but wow is it hot. And the truth is, the real point of this entire post was to give me an excuse to admit that. Yep, I just had to come clean. "What I need is a good defense, 'cause I'm feelin' like a criminal." And I'm not even kidding.

Fastball - The Way [1998]
I don't even remember the first time I heard this song, but during the Summer of [Shattered] Dreams, it was played in my presence, and to my surprise, I recognized it, though I knew not from where. Regardless, it's not a bad song. If it has a kind of dull, plodding atmosphere, the lyrics make up for it. Nothing like the dream of picking up your bags and heading off into the sunset in search of "eternal summer slacking".

Metallica - Nothing Else Matters [1992]
Being in the "metal" vein, which I've always eschewed for rock (even before I got into rock) Metallica is a band I've never really gotten into, although I have come across some songs of theirs that I like. This is one of them, and like the Radiohead songs, it came in a bit later than the rest. I also like Fade To Black, which I heard two guitarists perform at an Open Mic at college, but it's this song's lyrics that spoke to my sensitive heart during my "unrequited love" period.

Bush - Comedown [1994]
I recall hearing this song on the radio in a half-sleep daze, and getting stuck on the chorus - "I don't wanna come back down from this cloud; it's taken me all this time to find out what I need". For some reason, I was caught on it, so I hunted down the song. It's not a bad song. Strong bass line.

Godsmack - Voodoo [1998]
Ok, this is a pretty repetitive song, but like the snake's venom, it sinks into your veins and you just can't get it out. The repeated lyric ("I'm not the one who's so far away...") is like a chant that refuses to cease. I had it stuck in my head a long time ago, then I forgot it, then I heard the song again in yet another half-sleep daze, and it got stuck in my head again, so I had to seek out its source. It's kind of hypnotizing.

If I were to add another song, I might consider Nine Inch Nails' Closer, just for being so damn ballsy (it's better with the equally ballsy video). Going back and watching all these videos, I should make this a DVD compilation of video clips rather than a CD comp. I'm actually impressed with how much the dates for these songs matched up. They're all from the 90's, with the majority from around 97/98. Which makes sense, as that was about the time - plus a year or two for the songs to get airplay - that I discovered classic rock and switched over, never to look back. Maybe at that time, even before I switched on, my body was craving music. And these were the best I was stuck with until I found what I was truly looking for. Interesting.

I'll also mention here, since it's relevant, that I'm a fan of Alanis Morissette's album Jagged Little Pill from 1995. Although I like a good female vocalist (see Janis Joplin), this isn't really the type of music I listen to, but the conviction shines through on this album and it really makes a difference. Ironic is probably the popular pick from the album, but my personal choice would be You Oughta Know.

Also, there was a time when I enjoyed listening to Mariah Carey, believe it or not. I've heard her get a lot of flack from people who like the kind of music I listen to, but I liked the way she sang. And I thought she was pretty attractive too. It's strange, because that whole aesthetic isn't really my scene, but for some reason she was an exception. I recall a particularly interesting video involving a jet ski chase.

More than anything, MTV teased me with a glorified view of having a social life - with shows like Real World and Road Rules, even if I don't like to admit I ever watched them, and the idealistic dream world of Spring Break, where it's warm, you're on the beach, watching a live outdoor concert, and you're surrounded by bikini-clad beach babes, and people are doing crazy things that often involve getting naked, and Girls Gone Wild is probably somewhere nearby, too. I simultaneously despised that world - the social world - and I desired it. I blame biological programming, but I've never been satisfied with the loner life I've lead out of necessity. For the little bit of time that I let it, MTV gave me a chance to be a tiny bit closer to that world that I was missing out on.

But there are better worlds, after all, to discover. Worlds I am more suited to.

[Postscript: Reading the comments on these videos is enlightening. Hearing people wax nostalgic about the 90's and how today's music ain't got the same soul really puts my own 60's/70's elitism into perspective. There's no question that the music from those decades had something that's lacking in most music today, but that's not to say that today's music isn't as good (except, of course, on a subjective level), it's just different.

And of course, growing up with music really helps to imprint it on your mind. I wonder how I would feel about the music I love if I hadn't listened to it as an impressionable infant. And yet, I'm mad about bluesmen like the three kings, and I'm pretty sure my parents weren't blasting records by them, so there's some element to my taste in music that isn't purely nurture.

Perhaps I was just lucky to be exposed so early to music that complemented my tastes so well. I suppose it's just a shame it took me so long to realize that. If I had gotten into music earlier, it might have changed the whole course of my life, potentially. I might have had a band in high school! :o

They flutter behind me, my possible pasts...]


  1. I never watched MTV... and of those songs you listed, I've only ever heard of three or four, and only ever heard one.

    Count me out of the so-called "MTV generation." >.>

  2. This is such an awesome post that I'm going to end up writing a huge reply of considerably inferior quality. Sorry.

    Don't Speak was considered for my pop collection. Great song. Pearl Jam and Rammstein are both great bands (and those are good songs) even though neither band would be near my pantheon. And if PJ is classic rock, that opens the door for all those 80s bands so heeelll no on that.

    You like some Radiohead?? You gotta check out their On The Beach, then. I'm not familiar with those two songs but I love Creep and Fake Plastic Trees. As much as it sucks to have such a trendy song as Creep express how I feel, you gotta admit that it's pretty damn dead on, isn't it? I've had people dedicate that song at karaoke to me 'cause they can tell just by looking at me that it's how I feel. Are you familiar with Creep?

    Torn! I liked it for the same exact reason. But later I've decided it's really a fanastic song even without that wonderful lyric. It's just so utterly vulnerable, which is why it ultimately took the place of Don't Speak on my collection.

    Not a big Soundgarden guy but Black Hole Sun is a sweet song. Fiona Apple is my future wifey. She's a total loner. I don't know if I showed you, but when she was on with Craig Ferguson she said she doesn't leave her house or her neighborhood and that it's "not a sad thing." There's no shame in liking Fiona, she is a woman of astounding character and... what's that word... cleft? Taft. Tift. Let's just say taste.

    I have no love for modern (REALLY modern) music. Immortal Technique is the only pantheon artist from that era. But the 90s? Shit. I'd make love to the 90s if I could. Definetly my favorite decade. I mean 6 out of my 10 favorite artsits are Classic Rock, but they're spread across TWO decades (and Petty was best in the 90s). With the 90s you have half my favorite albums just from 90-94. 'Course if you could cram 67-69 into the start of the 70s... In any case, if the 00s were 20 years ago, I think I'd like them. I mean, a pretty obvious example of the time gap is how people feel about early 90s gangsta rap. To hipsters from the 80s, gangsta rap was mindless crap. But to modern hipsters, those same albums are indelible classics. I hate most of the music genres of the 00s, but I'd definetly like them more if they were further in the past. I don't feel comfortable reinterpreting things that are currently happening, probably because of the peers thing like you said.

    I understand what you mean about not getting recs (not that I was going to give you any,) since I thought the same thing when I made a recent post about pop music on a board. Even though I love those songs with all my heart, you'd need a million more years of human psychological research to really discover WHY I like them. I mean, I can tell you all the things I like about them, but if you gave me a collection of songs with all those same qualities, odds are I wouldn't like them.

    The feeling you express about the Spring Break World is basically exactly what I believe the chorus in Smells Like Teen Spirit describes. "Hello, hello, hello, how low." To me it's like when I would stand in the corner of The Den watching the kids my age hookup and I'd be filled simultaneously with both extreme disgust and extreme envy. (In SLTS it's like you're saying hi to everybody but it's deplorable to be like that -- guess I always had some anti-social tendancies).

    It's interesting you can trace the social envy to MTV because I've never known where mine has come from. I guess I must have watched those shows too, in fact I vaguely remember watching real world, but I have no strong recollection of anything that far back in the past. I like to blame it on Tom Petty and Neutral Milk Hotel but it was the driving force behind my actions for many years before I ever heard those guys.

  3. (Part Two didn't fit)

    I *constantly* think about what my life would be like if I got into different music. If given the opportunity, I would be too afraid to actually change anything because I love the course my taste has taken and I wouldn't want to lose anything of what I have.

    But... if I had gotten into Nirvana & AIC at age 13/14 instead of Zep, 15 I'd be listening to Pantera instead of Neil Young and I might have been much more outgoing in my youth. Pantera is, in fact, the band that helped me to quit school and start living a good life, whereas Neil Young personifies the attitude of staying home and brooding about cute chicks, on songs like Out on the Weekend. Then I'd be listening to Burzum at age 17, just in time to be a totally hip teenager and start an awesome band. And right now instead of listening to pop, I could be getting those same feelings by listening to Neil Young for the first time! 'Course there's the question of whether I would have been able to enjoy those bands at those times, but I like to think I could have gotten into them if given the right culture/encouragement. 'Course it just as easily could have been an utter disastour, ending with me going to jail.

  4. I wouldn't say that MTV caused my social envy. It was there as far back as I can remember, even going back to my awareness of the divide between the kids hanging out at pre-preschool daycare, and my own feelings of mortal terror and abandonment (obviously ruining any chance I might have had at enjoying the company of my peers). If anything MTV was like a pill that made life slightly more bearable because I could pretend that I had anything to do with that world. Like, just by watching people (in shows like Real World, and on Spring Break), I was closer to them, if not socially, then at least in understanding their world (or at the very least, what their world looks like). Although, it definitely also fueled my envy. I know what you mean about simultaneous disgust and envy.

    I'm willing to believe Creep is a fine song, but I've never liked it purely for the aesthetic. The whole self-loathing, "pity me" thing. I'm probably misinterpreting it, too, but I don't like to think of myself as a creep. I'll accept "freak", but I take exception to "creep".

    Did you watch the video for Karma Police? It's really good. If you were to compare Radiohead to Pink Floyd, I think what's missing from Radiohead are two of the things I like most about Pink Floyd (well, popular Pink Floyd) - Roger Waters' biting vocals, and David Gilmour's searing guitar licks. I guess you could say, Radiohead isn't "rock" enough. Although I've only heard a few of their songs, so my analysis could be off.

    Their On The Beach sounds good, I especially appreciate the tone of the one guitar - it's spot on. But I wouldn't say it really adds anything to Neil Young's version.