Friday, March 31, 2006

Alt 80s

Very few people have had more fun with the advent of MP3 files than I have. Being a music fanatic from the age of 14 onwards, I’ve bought hundreds of albums and cassettes, about six eight-tracks and thousands of CDs – literally over 3,000. When MP3s came along, I immediately sensed a revolution, took up my pitchfork and joined the surly mob of downloaders. As I’ve noted to friends in the past, thanks to MP3s, I now have the attention span of a five-year-old on crack.

And I can now create these massive music trend overviews: Country, Blues, 50s Rock, 70s Soul. Whenever I get an urge to delve into a music trend, I simply wade through my drawers of CDs, pick out the right tracks, transfer them to MP3 files, usually get help from a few friends who want in on the project and, last step, either legally or illegally download a few missing pieces to round it out. Some of these collections run over 500 songs. The concept of doing a 78-minute CD is now old hat – but I’ll do that on occasion to remind myself how most adults still listen to music.

The most recent collection I pulled together is Alt 80s, clocking in at roughly 550 songs, still growing and will continue to do so as I feed off CD-R copies to various other fanatics and they offer input. Giving these collections to friends is always a kick. The 1978 equivalent would be walking up to someone with 50 albums and saying, here, have a listen. It’s that much music – simply overwhelming.

Listening to Alt 80s helps me reclaim a strange part of life I’ve almost abandoned: my college years, 1982-86. And those were exciting times music-wise, with the birth and full flowering of the alternative music scene, British new wave, ska revival, the birth of alt. country, etc. All kinds of shit was going on, most of it good. But a few impressions:

Early REM is wildly over-rated. Before this project, I was of a mind that every REM album up to Document was gold, that they got weird and too big/dull after that. But listening to them again, I realized what a pompous dick Michael Stipe was, even when he was shy and had hair. Mumbled, artsy lyrics, berets, the winsome stance – it hasn’t aged well. Musically, the band was tight – hats off to Peter Buck. But Stipe, in his own quiet way, was suffering from Lead Singer Syndrome as badly then as he is now. I can’t believe I worshipped these guys. Then again, I was a pompous dick college student, and this was part of the deal. Lest we forget the trip from State College, PA to Bucknell to see them play the field house on a mini pre-tour for Fables of the Reconstruction. And we got to hang out late at night after the show with Michael Stipe in the graveyard on campus, man! How cool was that? In retrospect, not very. Just glad he didn’t hit on me.

The song of the 80s: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2. Simply put, the band’s signature song. Unlike most of their songs, it has a recognizable Irish beat, the Edge’s tingly guitar sound and manages to overcome Bono’s pretentious lyrics. I remember hearing this song playing on radios while walking around Venice Beach, California in the late 80s, in my very doomed/very short stab at West Coast life and thinking, “I need to get out of here.” For all the shit U2 takes for being too over the top – which is well deserved – every now and then you listen to a song like this (or “Bad”) and realize they hit it out of the park enough times to merit superstardom.

Lost 80s Band Most in Need of a Comeback: Big Audio Dynamite. Forget about The Clash. While Joe Strummer fumbled around for a few years (eventually growing into a very cool world music/vaguely punk sound before his passing), Mick Jones immediately got it right with a strange electro-pop/found sound/dance hybrid band that sounds fresher than most of what’s going on now. I’d say the same for INXS, but, uh, they’ve ruined it via their reality TV search for a new singer – their stuff from the 80s still sounds good. I always thought Michael Hutchence was cheesey, the kind of guy who would lick a woman's face in public, but, again, Lead Singer Syndrome should not be held against an otherwise good band. These days, the entire band looks lame trying to pull off that “48-year-old guys with $200 hair cuts and leather pants who were once rock stars” look. Give it up already, you vampires.

The good thing about the 80s, for me, is the good thing about college – since I never go back to State College, PA, I rarely over-indulge in any nostalgia trips to that time. I had a great time in college, but because I can’t picture the place in mind, not having been there in a very long time and not going back very much after graduating, I don’t dwell on it the same way I would with high school or my hometown (which I see on a regular basis). There is no past to live in for those places. Most of my friends from Penn State are scattered all over the country – still friends, but not hanging out on that stoop on College Avenue on a sunny day, checking out chicks and planning that night’s debacle. Great fun while it lasted, but I don't miss it.

Similarly, the music of that time still feels fresh to me – partially because it was so good, but also because I can’t seem to tie in too many memories with the songs. I’ve realized that much of music’s allure is that it allows you to hold on to certain parts of your life – the song reminds you of a person, a place, things, emotions, whatever was going in your life when that song first struck you. Maybe it’s because I tie in this 80s stuff with early adulthood, and leaving behind childhood, that I still hear it as fresh in my mind.

Who knows. What I’d like to do here, if possible, would be to post MP3s to this site, of anything that strikes me, but also a lot of these lost 80s bands and songs that would be great to get out there again. Is that possible on a freebie site like Blogger? If so, how would I do it? Can anybody out there help me with this? I know I'd have to put up a copyright disclaimer basically asking that if an artist or band had problems with my posting, I would immediately remove the MP3. But I'm just wondering how I'd technically do something like this -- because it would be a real kick, believe me.

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