Monday, September 01, 2008

That Sounds...Comforting

If you have ever 1) read this blog, 2) met me, 3) been anywhere remotely near me, 4) ever heard me talk about anything, you're at least a little familiar with the movie High Fidelity. For those of you who aren't at least a little familiar with the movie High Fidelity, here's a brief synopsis:

High Fidelity (2000). Based off a Nick Hornby novel. John Cusack plays a record store owner and pop music aficionado. Prompted by his most recent break-up, he meets all his former flames to find out what's wrong with him, and why he can't find love. Pop music--and bad decisions--are his guide. Also, Jack Black works in his record store and makes fun of him and Catherine Zeta-Jones looks good for the last time.

Cool? Cool. Well, at one particularly mopey moment for Rob, our protagonist, he decides to re-organize his record collection. Not chronologically, or alphabetically, but autobiographically. When his employee sees this master plan, he responds, "No fucking way. That sounds..."

"Comforting? It is."

...And what I'm trying to tell you is this, Blogworld:

I just finished the Complete and Definitive 96X Anthology, Volumes 1-13.

Okay, let's back up. I grew up in Memphis in (for all intents and purposes) the 1990's, four years younger than my brother. When grunge broke in 1992, he was 12, I was 8. For the next 6 years, we learned about pop music by listening to one radio station: 95.7FM, aka 96X, aka Your Modern Rock Alternative. 96X existed from (roughly) 1992-1998, then changed formats to the Oldies. For those 6 years, it was single-handedly responsible for my entire musical education. There were three things that 96X played:

1) Completely awesome alternative rock as it came out.
2) Completely awesome alternative rock that had already come out, but still during the station's lifespan ("Jeremy" and "In Bloom" were still in heavy rotation in 1995, three years after their release.)
3) Completely awesome alternative rock that pre-dated 96X, but was now retro-actively discovered by the public at large.

This meant that, by 1994, a twenty-minute listen to 96X could reveal "Alive," "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Give It Away," some new single called "Basket Case," That Old Spin Doctors Song and (yes, somehow) "I Am Superman" (which was now, four years later, a successful single, because people weren't listening to Warrant anymore).

But here's the kicker: not only was 96X exceptional at juggling all the alt-rock heavyweights, it was the best at finding quasi-singles by marginally popular bands and giving them major rotation. Do you know about Tripping Daisy's "I Got a Girl"? Because in 1995 96X did. And so did 12 year-old Milam.

Anyway, 96X played everything that anyone ever wanted to hear during the 90's, all at a time when I was first discovering 1) music 2) girls. It was (if this is possible to say) quite literally the soundtrack to my youth and adolescence.

My friends, my brother, and all his friends, have always enjoyed throwing old "96X Staples" onto mixes, making a run of "Cumbersome," "Found Out About You," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," etc. I always talked about what an undertaking it would be to compile every song that got heavy rotation on 96X from 1992-1998...all the failed Bush singles, all the incredibly obscure one-hit-wonders, all the bizarre alt-rock gems that we know by heart.

Then one day last month I got bored and DID IT. The process--at its outset--wasn't too difficult, because I'd already been stockpiling 96X Staples for years, unofficially cataloguing it all for future use. Lots of Amazon-based research later, and suddenly I had a complete chronological listing of every noteworthy song 96X ever played. 13 Volumes-worth.

If it sounds comforting, it's because it was. Now I can put in Volume 1 and remember my brother singing along to "Jeremy," mimicking Eddie's frantic "woo's," and thinking, "I don't know who this band is but they're annoying me." Four years later they had retroactively become my favorite band, due largely to 96X's heavy rotation, due somewhat to the fact that Justin had, by then, stopped singing "woo" falsettos.

I can put in Volume 3 and remember my mom turning vetoing a Beck purchase in Cat's Music, because half the songs on the back cover featured some version of the word "fuck." Soy un perdidor, I was seemingly the only kid in 2nd grade who wasn't a loser, baby, and so was a loser, baby.

I can put in Volume 7 and remember hearing "Say It Ain't So" for the first time at a 6th grade dance, and how my friend and his girlfriend had just broken up at the dance, and he was telling me about it as "Say It Ain't So" was on, and how breaking up at a 6th grade dance while the final chorus of "Say It Ain't So" blasts is maybe the most intense experience an eleven year-old can have (we didn't realize, or care to, that the song was about alcoholism).

I can put in Volume 8, hear "Hey Man Nice Shot" (Filter) and "Mighty K.C." (by, you guessed it, For Squirrels) back-to-back and remember how I didn't feel the impact of Kurt Cobain's death until it was already way too late. And how sad it made me that I wasn't old enough to appreciate Nirvana when they were around, and now I just had Filter and For Squirrels to pay homage for me.

I can put in Volume 10 and hear "Pepper" (Butthole Sufers) and "Popular" (Nada Surf) and remember how incredibly bizarre pop music became in the mid-90's.

I can put in Volume 12 and hear "Semi-Charmed Life," one of the last big singles during the 96X era. I can remember calling 96X to request "Two Princes" by the Spin Doctors (Volume 3), high-fiving my friend Jay when "Semi-Charmed Life" played 5 minutes later, because we thought it was "Two Princes," and cursing this awful band called Third Eye Blind when we realized they were not, in fact, the Spin Doctors. They were no Spin Doctors at all.

I can validate years of saying, "I don't know...that probably came out in 95 or 96" by looking at the track listing chronologically and realizing, "holy crap, everything actually did come out in 95 or 96" and wondering if 95-96 might rival 65-66 for Best Two Years in the History of Pop Music, then realizing that 92-93 were actually better than 95-96, but I'll be damned if 95-96 weren't at least the Funniest Two Years in the History of Pop Music.

For the next few weeks, I'll be taking one song from each volume and talking about it, or its impact on me as a music fan and, later, musician. At the end I'll release the track listing for the entire anthology, for all you 90's nostalgists who want/need to recreate it.

For now, put in Purple and put on your Doc's and spazz yourself out. Trust me...it's comforting.

--CM

P.S. Who can name that band in the picture?

3 comments:

Michael said...

The Toadies?

Amy said...

I love this post, and where can I buy this anthology?

Chris Milam said...

Gin Blossoms, Mike. Toadies were a great guess. Thosee guys were lunatics and, also, the raddest.

Amy you can buy this anthology from me. It comes in a special box set, with packaging made entirely out of Stussy t-shirts and slap bracelets. Retail goes for $9600.

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